The Best Flooring For Bathrooms
The bathroom may not host the same foot traffic as the kitchen or family room, but the constant exposure to water comes with its own set of flooring challenges. Some floorings (tile) perform better than others (hardwood). The best flooring for bathrooms stands up to humidity and extended water exposure. Bathroom flooring also needs to be easy to clean because bathrooms get all kinds of messes we’d rather not discuss. Of course, there’s also the matter of cost, appearance, and durability to consider, too.
Tile: Ceramic and Porcelain
Tile reigns supreme as a best flooring for a bathroom for a good reason. It’s durable, affordable, highly water-resistant, and easy to maintain. Today’s tiles come in an impressive array of styles, shapes, and colors, including large planks that look like hardwood and natural stone.
The most popular types are ceramic and porcelain. Technically speaking, porcelain is a subtype of ceramic tile. The main difference between porcelain and other types of ceramic tile is the water absorption rate. To be categorized as porcelain, a tile must have an absorption rate of .5 percent or under, as certified by the Porcelain Tile Certification Agency (PTCA). Other types of ceramic tiles can still be used in the bathroom. They just won’t have the same performance as porcelain.
Tile has its weaknesses. For example, it’s slippery when wet and stays cold underfoot. However, you can install a heating element under the tile or use radiant heat to warm the entire floor. As far as slippage, many tiles used in the bathroom have a textured surface to give you extra grip when the floor gets wet. Lastly, tile is hard. If you stand on it for a long time, you might feel discomfort in your feet, ankles, knees, and legs.
Pros and Cons
- Made in many shapes, colors, textures, sizes, and styles
- Water resistance and water absorption
- Can be heated
- Easy to clean and maintain
- Slippery when wet
- Cold unless heated
- Hardness can cause foot and leg discomfort
Vinyl: Tile, Plank, And Sheet
Vinyl has come leaps and bounds since it first hit the market. Today you can find it in tiles to mimic porcelain or ceramic, planks to rival hardwoods, and sheets for a more traditional (and inexpensive) option. Vinyl can mimic stone, travertine, marble, and many hardwood colors and finishes.
This durable material is highly water-resistant and easy to maintain. You don’t (and shouldn’t) need to use harsh abrasives, ammonia, or other strong chemicals. In fact, using them can damage the finish on the vinyl, shortening the floor’s lifespan. After tile, vinyl is one of the best flooring for bathrooms and one of the most affordable.
However, keep an eye on quality. Vinyl ranges in thickness from 2 mm to 8 mm, with the thicker variety offering the best quality. Thin vinyl easily scratches and dents, making floors look less than attractive.
Pros and Cons
- Highly water-resistant
- Can visually mimic other materials
- Softer underfoot than tile
- Difficult to determine quality even among luxury brands
- Difficult to remove
Laminate is a distant cousin of hardwood, and it holds up better in the bathroom than real hardwood. However, it’s more susceptible to water damage than other flooring choices. Laminate is made of a wood chip base with a resin-filled paper topcoat. That paper has a picture of the wood the laminate mimics. While the resin top layer is highly water-resistant, the wood layer underneath isn’t.
If you use laminate in the bathroom, you need to take extra precautions. Standing water is the downfall of laminate flooring. Cleaning and maintaining it is easy, but be sure to avoid any standing water when mopping or at any time. The seams between the boards should be as tight as possible to prevent water from seeping into the wood base. Laminate is a relatively easy DIY installation, but in the bathroom, you might need a professional.
Laminate that’s had too much water exposure will bubble and peel. Once the damage is done, there’s nothing you can do to fix it.
Pros and Cons
- Affordable alternative to hardwoods
- Easy to maintain
- Cannot be repaired
- Easily water damaged
- Can be slippery
Stone resists water in nature, and it does so in the bathroom as well. There are many options, including but not limited to limestone, granite, marble, and slate. They look beautiful, hold up well in a humid/wet environment, and add to the resale value of your home.
The downside: stone flooring presents a significant financial investment, making it not the best flooring for a bathroom on a budget. It also has a couple of other negatives, mostly that it’s cold and slippery when wet. For the temperature, you can do radiant heat to warm up those cold floors. As far as slipping goes, some options, like slate, have a natural texture, while others can be sandblasted to add texture.
Pros and Cons
- Highly durable
- Naturally water-resistant
- Adds to a home’s resale value
- Can be used with radiant heat
- Cost prohibitive
- Cold underfoot
- Can be slippery
Engineered wood stands on the border between laminate and real hardwoods. It has a thin hardwood top layer bonded to a plywood bottom layer. It’s more durable than laminate and allows you to refinish the floor like hardwood, though not as many times throughout the floor’s life. It’s also less expensive than hardwood, but it’s still pricey.
If you absolutely love wood, engineered wood performs better in the bathroom than hardwoods or laminate (which isn’t technically wood). Engineered wood resists water damage better than laminate, but it’s more susceptible to water damage than tile, vinyl, or natural stone.
Pros and Cons
- Most durable wood flooring option for the bathroom
- Can be refinished
- Real wood top layer
- Susceptible to water damage
Bathroom Flooring Don’ts
We’ve gone over the best flooring for bathrooms, but what about the flooring that’s a no-go? Yes, there are certain types of flooring you want to avoid.
Hardwood’s gorgeousness just doesn’t do well in the bathroom. The only protection it has from moisture is its thin topcoat. It’s far too susceptible to water damage, and it’s expensive to install and replace. Hardcore hardwood devotees can use due diligence to give their bathroom floors a fighting chance. Professional installation results in a tighter seam, keeping water out. Also, opt for site-finishing so that the seams get treated with a protective coating, too.
Was carpet in the bathroom ever a good idea? Carpet soaks up water and holds onto it far too long to be a good bathroom flooring choice. It’s slow to dry, making it susceptible to breaking down, growing mold, and just plain being gross.
A Final Note
Your budget, style, and bathroom layout influence the best flooring for your bathroom. Weigh the pros and cons and whether you want to take on installation yourself. There are even some less-common ideas that could create a huge impact if you're willing to have some fun.
With the right flooring, your bathroom can be a home spa experience that lasts for years.