Well, the short answer to the question “Are bathroom wall panels any good?” is yes.
Are they perfect? No.
They do have a few shortcomings. But then so do all of the other alternative options.
So what are the pros and cons of this type of wall covering?
This article will give you all of the details.
Totally Waterproof By Design
PVC panels are 100% waterproof and are unaffected by water. Laminate wall panels have a totally waterproof surface but the wooden core is subject to problems if exposed to water. But water should never come into contact with the core if they are fitted correctly.
In all fairness tiles are totally waterproof too. What lets tiles down is the grout that has to be used to seal the joints between each tile. This can be poorly applied with small gaps that are hard to spot. It could be that a non-waterproof formulation has been used. Or it can crack with movement or large temperature swings. Once this happens it stops being waterproof and can lead to problems.
Bathroom wall panels do not use grout. They have a tongue and groove joint that lets each panel slot into the next one. The joint can be made totally waterproof by running a thin bead of silicone inside the groove where it will not be seen.
It is grout that lets down the performance of tiles over time. They look great when freshly installed. But over time the grout can start to look grubby and start to develop mould. In the worst instances it can fail completely and let water through into the wall behind. Why? There are numerous reasons – this article has more details.
You might be able to treat or coat the surface of the grout to get it looking white again. Or it might require raking out and re-applying. Either way, it is a complete pain.
Tiles made from natural stone might require a degree of maintenance themselves. Some types of stone require sealing and this might have to be re-applied during the lifetime of the product.
Whatever the cause, grout will take up valuable time in the battle to keep it looking clean. By doing away with grout you are doing away with the maintenance.
Long Lasting Good Looks
Once you install wall panels you can basically sit back and admire them for years and years without the need to lift a finger. The surface will last for ages if looked after properly. And that means no scouring or scrubbing.
The surface of PVC panels is coated with a layer of lacquer. This can be a gloss finish or provide a matt effect depending on the make. You need to ensure that you do not use any form of abrasion on this surface as it will not cope with it. And there is no need.
The panels provide a smooth, wipe over surface that is easily cleaned with a soft, soapy cloth. Nothing else should be required. For stubborn marks you can use a cream bathroom cleaner but test that it is not too abrasive in an inconspicuous area first.
Panels Are Recyclable
The fact that the panels look good for so long is a real benefit.
Single-use plastics are rightly criticised for taking years to decompose. But this quality is actually a bonus when it comes to building materials made out of plastic.
They do not need replacing, they require no strong chemicals to maintain their looks and they are totally recyclable when they have done their job. Something you can’t say about tiles because they break when they are removed.
Not only can panels be recycled, they can even be re-used. A bit of care is required in removing them but if you take your time you can take whole sections off in one piece. We have another article that deals with the whole process here.
Environmental impact is becoming increasingly important. So when you are asking yourself “Are bathroom wall panels any good” you can justify your choice with this knowledge.
Little Or No Preparation Required
This is a real game changer.
Tiles need a smooth, flat surface to fix on to. So walls have to be skimmed and plastered to provide the levels that are needed. This is a slow, messy and expensive process. Each layer has to dry thoroughly before the next is applied.
If you try tiling over an uneven surface it will kick out the tiles and the grout lines will emphasise the problem. Dark tiles with white grout highlight this issue even more.
But panelling is a much more forgiving product. It can be stuck straight onto block-work or bricks. It can be fitted on tops of walls where the tiles have been hacked off. Or, most impressively, it can just go straight up over your existing tiles.
This enables a really quick and easy installation process. It also means that DIYers can fit the product because it is very easy to cut and very easy to work with. You just measure, cut and stick. We have several article that show just how easy a process it can be – like this one.
Ease of Cutting
Another great advantage.
Tiles are not the easiest of products to cut. Specialist tile cutters are required for many cuts and certain ones might even require a diamond cutter. It all depends on the thickness of the tiles, how brittle they are and the shape of the cut required.
PVC panels on the other hand and are very easy to cut. You can use any saw with fine teeth. Avoid using anything with coarse blades as you could chip the panels. The same goes for power tools such as jigsaws. Use a metal cutting blade, if you have to use one, and turn off the pendulum motion if it is an option.
A cheap tenon saw is perfect for cutting long straight lines. You can use this together with a craft knife for any detailed trimming. Hole saws are ideal for cutting apertures for recessed lighting in this type of panelling.
Laminate panels are not quite so easy to cut as PVC but they are still easy to work with compared with tiles. Power tool cutters are more relevant for use with this type of panel but again you need to be careful that you do not chip the surface.
What If You Prefer The Look Of Tiles?
There are plenty of wall panels that look just like tiles.
Tile effect panels will provide the appearance that you prefer but with none of the drawbacks.
There are designs that look like butt-joined marble as well as designs that look like grouted tiles. Some ranges even have mosaic effect panels for those who like a smaller tile design.
You can fit them around the whole room or limit their use to a feature wall. A common area for feature walls is inside a shower cubicle or above the bath.
These tile effect panels are slightly harder to fit as you have to be a bit more accurate with your cutting especially if you want the grout lines to line-up perfectly
So What Are The Downsides Of Wall Panels?
The main downside of wall panels is durability.
This is mainly an issue for PVC panels – laminate panels are pretty robust which is why they often get used in commercial situations. But in general, PVC panels are more than adequate in domestic situations. They also get used extensively in hotels, student accommodation, sports clubs, leisure centres and guest houses.
If you do happen to damage a panel it is possible to switch one over in-situ – this article has more details.
Some designs can look a little “plasticy”. This occurs when the gauge of the PVC is too thin and the ribbing becomes visible in certain lights. There are some ways to ensure this does not affect you.
Choose good quality panels and make sure you get samples beforehand to check for yourself. Tile effects and mosaic effect help disguise this problem more than plain or light coloured marble panels. Matt finish panels tend not to be affected at all.
There are hundred of thousands of tile design on the market but the choice of wall panels is lot more limited. Saying that, a huge proportion of tile designs are very similar to each other. And panel manufacturers create patterns that emulate the most popular of these.
You need to be careful around heat sources. This is more of an issue when the panels are used in kitchens but there are occasion where you need to be wary in bathrooms. If you have a boiler in your bathroom you need to be aware that the panels might get affected if installed to close. They can only cope with temperatures up to 60deg C. Radiator and towel rails should pose no worries as they don’t get hot enough to cause damage.
As we can see, bathroom wall panels are not perfect. They have a few drawbacks but none of them are that problematic really.
No wall covering is perfect and in the battle against its greatest rival, tiles, it comes out on top in most circumstances. It looks good and remains looking good for years and years.
So are all panels any good? We would say that yes, they are.