If you have a shower over your bath then there is one big decision to make: shower screen or shower curtain?
So which is the better option? There is no clear winner because both have their strong points and both have their weaknesses.
Shower screens come in a variety of different designs and there is a massive choice of shower curtains. Amazon has a great selection of both if you are in the market (as an associate we earn a small commission on any qualifying purchases). Click the image below or click to find out more
The wide range of options in both systems means that certain models can outperform others. This is why picking a clear winner is not straightforward. Let’s look at the two solutions in a bit more detail.
Bath Shower Screens
Shower curtains used to be the main method for keeping shower water inside the bath. But the move towards a more minimalist approach to bathroom design meant that something less obtrusive was required.
Shower cubicles are the perfect way to have a shower because the glass panels keep all of the water inside the shower. So designers came up with the idea of utilising the glass as a screen for use over the bath.
The degree to which they work varies quite a bit because there are many different types of bath screens.
Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of the different designs.
Fitting A Bath Screen
The myriad designs of screens all have one common attribute – they need to be screwed to the wall.
In most rooms, fixing things to the wall can be straightforward. Hollow walls can be a bit more problematic but there are special fixings that are designed to work in these situations. The big difference in a bathroom is that you will need to drill through tiles to be able to secure the fixings. This is not a major obstacle but you have to be careful not to crack the tiles when drilling.
So, there are no easy options like there are with curtain rails but they are quite straightforward to fit if you have the tools and use the correct techniques.
Bath Shower Screen Sizes
The major complaint about standard shower screens is that they are not wide enough. A shower curtain will cover the whole length of a bath whereas a standard screen will stop well short.
A bath is usually 1700mm long. But looking at a representative sample of single-pane screens, they averaged only 800mm. This leaves over 50% of the bath completely exposed! You might get away with this if you have a gravity-fed shower or an electric shower. These tend to have lower pressure or lower flow rates than a power shower. But even then you can be sure water will escape the showering area.
The floor will get soaked if you have a powerful shower. Now, this can be a problem depending on the type of floor that you have installed in your bathroom. Some surfaces deal with spills and splashes a lot better than others. We have a guide on the best flooring for the bathroom here.
There are shower screens that are longer than this. They are usually made up of 2 or more separate panels that are hinged together. But even the biggest of these will leave a gap at the end of the bath. 5-fold shower screens enable you to angle the last pane inboard slightly which can help alleviate water escaping.
Are Screens Any Good In A Tall Household?
People are getting taller. That’s a fact. But shower screens are not.
This means that for many people a standard-height screen is just too short and will result in water escaping over the top. Looking at a representative sample of sizes, most screen heights seem a little short.
The average screen height is under 1400mm. You then need to add on the depth of the bath. Add the two together to see if the overall height will work in your household. Again, you might get away with a shorter screen if you have lower pressure or a lower flow shower in this situation.
How Well Do Shower Screens Seal to The Bath?
Well, it depends.
The screen needs to move to be folded away or to allow access into the bath. So the seal has to be flexible enough for this to happen without the screen sticking when moved. In general, the seal will do its job – especially when the unit is brand new. But once it starts to wear or split its performance can drop.
There are also some poorly designed screens that have problems with leaks at each hinged section. The amount of water that escapes can be minimal but it is far from ideal. And if you have a 5 sections screen with this problem you will have 5 points where it could potentially leak.
Make sure you choose a reputable outlet if you are buying online. Check the reviews to ensure the product lives up to the claims and that there have been no issues with the screen in use with customers.
There are universal seals available should yours ever split but their success will depend on how close it resembles your existing seal. You can usually make them work with some adjustment or trimming. Check if your manufacturer sells spares before you buy. If they do then it might be worth buying a spare seal before you start.
Do Bath Screens Fold Away?
Some do, most don’t.
A standard, single-pane screen will swivel inboard but it can’t be stowed flat against the wall. There are two reasons for this:
1. The screens are usually 800mm wide and baths are only 700 wide. So they hit the back wall before folding flat.
2. If the taps are at the shower end of the bath they will also impede the screen from folding back flat.
4-fold or 5-fold screens overcome both these issues. So they will fold away although they are quite chunky and can hardly be said to disappear from view.
You might also be able to stow a one-piece screen by pivoting it out rather than in but this would depend on the room layout and is not really that practical.
A shower over the bath is going to need something to stop the floor from turning into a paddling pool when in use. And the easiest way to do this is by fitting a shower curtain. They are a tried and tested solution but they do have some shortcomings. Curtains also have some advantages over screens depending on the particular situation. So what are these shortcomings?
Shower Curtain Shortcomings
The first shortcoming is the degree to which the curtain is effective at stopping water from escaping the bathing area.
A curtain is simply pulled along the rail until it touches the shower wall. There is no “seal” as such. This can result in water escaping around the side of the curtain and especially at the bottom where it crosses the top surface of the bath.
Lightweight shower curtains can sometimes be made to cling to the wall when wet. But this does not always work and does not always last for the whole time it takes to have a shower. The leaking problem is exacerbated if the curtain material is more heavyweight and less flexible. One solution is to fit a mini-screen at the end of the bath. But this sort of defeats the object and you might as well just do away with the curtain and fit a full screen in the first place.
Power showers also cause a problem. The jets of water that they emit are very powerful and can push the curtain out over the rim of the bath. The spray can have a different effect if it does not touch the curtain: the fast-moving water reduces air pressure inside the shower slightly. This causes the shower curtain to be pulled inwards and it can then cling to your body.
Cleaning A Shower Curtain
The next problem is cleaning. Shower curtains can harbour mould and start to look dirty after some time. Some curtains are machine washable but not all are. Soaking the curtain in the bath with some sterilising tablets can help to keep the mould at bay. The stiffer, more soild type of curtains do not have the same problem with mould but the trade-off is the inability to flex and prevent water escaping.
You should get many years of use out of a shower curtain. But, as with most products, you get what you pay for. Very cheap curtains might start to fray or tear after a while. They are also less likely to be machine washable.
But it’s not all negative. There are some advantages to shower curtains.
Advantages Of Shower Curtains
Curtains, unlike shower screens, do not suffer from visible limescale buildup. Limescale will build up on hard surfaces in areas of the country where there is “hard” water.
In these areas, the water picks up calcium and magnesium compounds that get left as hard white deposits on surfaces in contact with the water. This limescale is hard and brittle. On flexible surfaces, such as a shower curtain, it will crack and come away naturally. But on hard surfaces, like shower screens, it can build up and become unsightly.
Cheap Shower Curtains
One of the great benefits of shower curtains is the price! Even the most luxurious shower curtain will be relatively cheap. It is true that some shower screens are available that are also very cheap but if you want one that folds away it will be several times the cost of a curtain.
A quick search on Amazon led us to find shower curtains for under £10 – click here to see for yourself
Curtains Are Easily Replaced
This is another area where curtains excel – fitting a replacement.
It is just a case of unhooking the existing curtain and clipping the new one into place. If you have the type of curtain with a hookless design, you will need to remove the curtain pole at one end and simply slide the old curtain off. Prepare the new curtain by folding it in a concertina fashion and sliding it onto the pole. The pole is replaced and you are all set to go!
Use The Curtain To Change The Look Of The Room
Another great advantage of curtains is that they can be used to change the look of the room. So if you want to go white or muted with your design there will be hundreds of options. Similarly, if you want to go bright and bold you will be spoiled for choice. You can express your individuality with a vivid picture theme or even get a curtain made to your own design.
You can leave the curtain open if you want the design to have maximum effect. But this might not be the best idea in a small bathroom because it will make it feel more claustrophobic. Usually, it is best to tuck the curtain away to make things look neat and tidy. A towel ring is ideal for this purpose.
Sometimes There Is No Alternative
There are situations where a shower curtain is the only viable solution.
An example of this is when there is a shower over a free-standing bath. With no wall to attach a shower screen, the only option will be a shower curtain. This would usually be fitted to a circular or oval rail. The rail will need a very solid fixing especially if it is attached to the wall rather than the ceiling above the bath.
Curtain Rail Designs
There are rods, poles, tracks and modular systems available but they all serve the same purpose. The design you choose will be influenced by several factors.
Some designs work on a spring-loaded mechanism that holds the rail in place through friction. These are ideal in small bathrooms. They do not require drilling which is another great advantage if you don’t fancy the tricky job of drilling through tiles.
The downside of this type of rail is that it can move or even fall down if pulled. And they are not always suitable for use with cladding if you have used this as a bathroom tiling alternative. The outward pressure can damage the cladding so it is best to drill through into the wall and use an alternative rail design (drilling through cladding is much easier than tiles)
The modular rail kits are useful as they enable you to form the rail into different shapes that suit your bath and your room. Try to avoid L-shaped rails that only have an anchor point at both ends. Ideally, you need a support strut at the corner or the rail will tend to droop with time.
It is possible to fit the rail at a greater height if there are very tall people in the home. This will prevent shower spray from being deflected over the top of the curtain. Fitting a modular rail kit directly onto the ceiling can also be an option. This results in a very sturdy installation but it will not always be possible to do this. You will require a longer shower curtain if you do this but these are readily available.
So Which Is Best – Shower Screen Or Shower Curtain?
So, as you can see in the battle for supremacy, there is no clear winner between the two. Both have their plus points and both have their shortcomings. Showering over a bath is always a compromise so it’s no wonder the barrier options are also a bit of a compromise as well.
Shower screens will look the best in a modern, minimalist bathroom design. A shower curtain might be the only option in a traditional design with a roll-top bath.
In the end, it will be down to your own personal taste and whichever product you feel will serve your purposes the best.