Although wall panels are growing in popularity they are still an unknown quantity to many people. If you are thinking of installing panelling in your bathroom then it can be a confusing exercise.
There several different types of bathroom wall panel materials. All of them perform the same basic task. They each have different qualities that you need to be aware before making your decision.
We have concentrated on the four main panel types available for domestic use in the UK:
- Laminate panels with an MDF or plywood core
- Laminate panels with a foam core
- Acrylic tile panels
- UPVC hollow section panels
There are some other bathroom wall panels available. But many of these require specialist installation so we will not be covering these in this section. All of the panel materials offer an easy to clean, maintenance-free wipe over surface although each has its pros and cons.
Laminated Panels With A Plywood Or MDF Core
Originally a commercial product these panels have been growing in popularity for use in domestic bathrooms.
A laminate sheet is bonded to a stiff MDF or plywood core. A second sheet of laminate is bonded to the reverse side to stabilise the panel and prevent it from warping.
There are two versions of this panel. One version of these panels is available with a tongue and grooved edge enabling them to be joined together. This is great for covering larger walls side to side without the need for an obtrusive joining strip. The second has a square edge. These are fine for standard sized shower cubicles where no joints are required.
Laminated Bathroom Wall Panels
Foam Core Laminated Panels
This is a new development of the laminated panel. The plywood core is replaced by a stiff foam layer.
This resulting panel is slightly flexible and, being lighter, is easier to manoeuvre into restricted areas – such as existing shower cubicles. Foam core panels are not available with a tongue and groove edge so they need to be joined with a trim.
Foam core panels are much less popular than wood based panels. They are not readily available off the shelf and may have to be made to order.
Acrylic Tile Effect Panels
Acrylic bathroom wall panels are made from a thin sheet with a tile effect routed into the surface.
This provides the effect of a tile but with none of the problems associated with grout. They are light, flexible and easy to cut but they are not tongue and grooved so a joining strip needs to be used for larger areas.
The wrong adhesive could damage the panels and be visible on the front surface so i is vital that the correct adhesive is used for these panels. Solvent based adhesives adhesives need to be avoided.
Acrylic Tile Panels
PVC bathroom wall panels are made from an extruded plastic with a hollow “honeycomb” centre. The surface is printed with the tile, marble, wood-grain or stone effect and then lacquered to a high gloss finish.
They are tongue and grooved along the sides to enable them to be joined to cover large areas. Of all the bathroom wall panel materials these panels are easy to cut and easy to install.
Their only real downside is that they are not as resilient as laminate panels or tiles for heavy duty commercial applications.
There are plenty of instances, however where these panels have been used commercially including hotels, guest houses, nursing homes, holiday shower blocks, sports centre changing rooms, pubs, student accommodation. If this type of panel gets damaged it is possible to replace it in-situ – see this article for more information
All wall coverings can be damaged if there is enough intent and in most instances PVC panels are more than adequate.
So Which Material Is Best?
It really depends on the application.
For domestic bathrooms PVC would be our recommendation as the best overall. They are easy to install, they are less than half the price of laminate panels and, as you can see in the photo above, they look amazing.
Laminate panels are more expensive and harder to cut and fit, but they are ideally suited to heavy commercial applications where impact resistance is the main priority.
Acrylic panels are fine if you are happy with plain white but for anything more decorative you will need to look elsewhere.