Shower wall panels are the modern alternative to tiles.
They have been around for decades but many people are not that familiar with them. There are a number of different types of panel which can lead to confusion.
We will help explain exactly what shower panels are, what they are made of and how they perform.
What Are Shower Panels?
Put simply, a shower panel is a sheet of waterproof material that is used to line the wall of a shower area. They are used in the shower instead of tiles.
Why not stick with tiles? Well, tiles can prove to be problematic. Specifically, the grout used to seal in between each tile is where the issues arise. Not all grout is waterproof. If the grout is not applied properly this can also cause problems.
So a better alternative was sought out and shower panels were the answer.
There are several different types of shower panels. But all of them have one advantage over tiles – they do not use grout.
Bathroom Cladding In Showers
Bathroom cladding is the cheapest and easiest to fit of the various shower panels.
These panels are made from a hollow section PVC. They have a tongued edge and a grooved edge running the length of the board. This enables them to slot together.
The most common size for these panels is 250mm wide by 2.6m long. Thickness can vary from 5mm to 10mm
We would recommend running a bead of silicone inside the groove of the panels. This ensures the joints remain watertight.
In recent years a heavy-duty version of this product has been made available. These panels are much bigger – 1mt wide – making them ideal for use in showers. If your shower is less than a metre square it means that you do not need any joins. But they still slot together if you have a larger area to cover.
Laminate Shower Panels
These panels have a plywood or MDF core. A layer of laminate material is bonded onto this core. Sometimes they have a tongue and grooved edge to enable them to be joined together. But not always. In the past, we have come across panels made from this material that are not suitable for use in the shower. So always double-check.
These panels are much more solid than bathroom cladding. But this makes them harder to cut. They are also a lot larger – up to 1.2 m wide. This can make manoeuvring them into place a bit of a challenge, especially in small bathrooms.
Solid PVC Sheet
This type of shower panel is used extensively in the commercial world. They are regularly fitted in commercial kitchens because of their smooth, wipe-down surface. But they are also totally waterproof so are ideal for use in showers. One of the biggest names in this field is Altro
The sheets are very large and flexible so can be a bit harder to work with for DIYers. They also need to be installed on a relatively flat and level surface.
There are some variations to this type of panel. Some are made from a thicker gauge plastic making them stiffer and easier to handle. Others have a tile affected routed into the surface. And other types of plastic can be used in place of PVC such as acrylic.
These panels have a square edge. So if you want to join them together for a large wall you would need to use a joining strip. These are easy to use but are a bit unsightly.
What Is The Best Material For A Shower Panel?
All of the shower panels described above have their advantages but they all have their downsides too.
Let’s start with bathroom cladding. Being the smallest type of panelling it is easier to handle in confined spaces. It is the easiest to cut. Cladding also has the advantage of being the cheapest which should not be overlooked. Bathroom makeovers have a habit of creeping up in price.
On the downside, it is hollow in construction so it can get damaged. This is not really an issue in domestic bathrooms. In commercial settings, it might be more of an issue. It has been used successfully in plenty of hotels, guest houses, sports centres and student accommodation blocks. The larger, heavy-duty panels overcome this shortcoming to a great extent.
Laminate panels have a much more sturdy construction. This is great for resilience but not so good for cutting. Their size makes them harder to handle. The cores of these panels should not be exposed to water. If it is, it can swell up or warp. These panels are also more expensive than bathroom cladding.
Solid plastic sheeting is a bit easier to cut than laminate but it is still large and unwieldy. Prices can vary considerably depending on the make, size and thickness. There are some patterned panels available but most are just one, plain colour.
Overall, we would say that the best material is the heavy-duty bathroom cladding. This type of panel ticks most of the boxes of what you need in a domestic shower. It is also relatively cheap.
Are Shower Wall Panels Any Good?
As well as good looks, shower panels offer a range of benefits over traditional wall coverings such as tiles:
- easy to install – no expensive preparation required
- install over existing tiles – so no mess, no hacking, no disruption
- maintenance-free – fit them and forget about them
- totally waterproof – say goodbye to leaking showers
- wipe-clean surface – nothing to scrub or bleach
- warm to the touch – they also offer a degree of insulation
- reduce condensation problems – a perennial problem in showers
Shower Panel Designs
Shower wall panels come in a wide variety of colours, styles and effects.
The designs include tile effects, mosaic effects and the ever-popular marble effects. There are natural stone patterns, such as slate and travertine, as well as plain colours.
The size of the bathroom will have some effect on your choice of colour. Light colours work best in small bathrooms. Dark colours are better in large rooms. We have a guide to choosing colours for your bathroom design here.
There are a huge variety of tile designs on the market. There are fewer options with regard to shower panels. But even so, there are still plenty of choices. See the following page for more ideas: shower panel designs
Are The Panels Easy To Fit?
Shower wall panels are very easy to install. They can be fitted inside existing showers or as part of a new installation.
Quick, clean and with little or no preparation needed. The PVC panels can be installed by any competent DIYer or tradesman. The laminate or solid PVC panels are a little more tricky. But all of them are considerably easier than tiling.
They can be installed over existing tiles. This is a huge advantage. It means that there is much less disruption, the installation process is quicker and the cost is less. See this page for more information: panelling installation
Shower Panel Sizes
There are a number of different sizes of wall panels available for your shower room. They are not supplied made to measure. So you need to choose panels that are large enough for your needs. They are then cut down to size when you fit them.
Are larger or smaller panels best?
There are pros and cons to both. 250mm wide bathroom cladding is easy to cut, easy to manoeuvre and easy to fit. Larger panels are more robust and can line most showers without the need for a join.
Any joins inside a shower should be sealed with a good quality silicone. With this in place, there will be no difference in performance. Both types of panel will be 100% waterproof.
Some panels might not be long enough if you have very high ceilings. Bathroom cladding is usually the best option because these are regularly available in 2.7m lengths. You can use ceiling cladding if you need an even longer length. This is made the same way as bathroom cladding. There are 4.0m lengths that can be cut down to suit your room. Most panels are white but some manufacturers make coloured versions.
Shower wall panels are easy to install and require no maintenance making life easier for you.
Where Can They Be Used?
Shower panels do not have to be limited to the shower enclosure. You can fit them around the whole room.
And the more of this system that you fit around the room the less maintenance you will have in the long run.
There are many shower wall panel applications – whether you are installing them in a cubicle, wetroom, or over your bath.
Some people cannot move away from the look of tiles. But that’s OK because there are panels available that emulate them perfectly:
Tile Effect Shower Panels
Have a look at our article discussing the panel options in one of the most popular shower cubicle designs:
Panels In A Quadrant Shower Cubicle
Do you have an existing shower? Thinking of installing a new one? This article will provide lots of help and advice on what to do with the walls of your shower:
Shower Wall Lining
Shower wall panels can help if you are suffering from a leak in your shower – see this post for more information:
Leaking Showers – Problems And Solutions