It is quite reasonable for householders to ask “What are shower panels?”
This is because they are not as well established as tiles. There are also various types of shower panels so things can get a bit confusing. That is where this guide will help.
We will look at the different materials and concepts. We will also compare the various options and pit them against the most common form of shower wall lining – tiles.
A shower panel is basically just a large sheet of waterproof material. They are either rigid or semi-rigid depending on the type of material chosen. Some types of shower panels slot together to enable large areas to be covered.
At the end of the day, all that is required from the material is that it is waterproof so anything that meets this criterion can be used. There are quite a few different shower panel materials and as a consequence, this can lead to confusion.
Let’s look at a few of the more popular options in a bit more detail.
Laminate Shower Panels
These have been around the longest. Laminate shower panels are made from a solid cure usually MDF or marine plywood. This is covered with a waterproof laminate surface. They usually have a second laminate surface on the back side to balance the panel and prevent it from warping.
Some of these panels have a tongue and groove design. This enables them to be slotted together to cover a large area. You could fit them around the whole bathroom not just in the shower cubicle. Check with the manufacturer because not all makes will guarantee this type of joint inside a shower.
The panels are not as easy to cut as some of the other materials. They also are prone to swelling up if the core is exposed to water.
The laminate surface is very heard-wearing and probably only second to tiles in its durability. But, as with all panel systems, it has the huge advantage of being completely maintenance-free.
PVC Shower Panels
These are relatively new product on the market. PVC shower panels are a hollow-section extrusion with a decorative effect on the front surface.
They were derived from bathroom cladding which is a much narrower product. Shower panels are usually 1metre wide whereas 250mm would be a standard width for bathroom cladding.
PVC shower panels are also made from a thicker gauge plastic than cladding so they feel a lot more robust.
They are tongue and grooved enabling them to be slotted together with ease. The joints are showerproof if fitted without sealant but not waterproof. The joints should be sealed inside the groove with a good quality sealant to ensure no water can get through.
They are reasonably durable but their hollow design makes them more vulnerable to impact than laminate. In most domestic situations this is not really an issue and is more of a consideration for commercial applications.
This is a straightforward product in that it is just a plain sheet of plastic.
There are various thicknesses available as well as different colours. But the vast majority of the panels made from PVC are just plain, gloss white.
The panels are stuck in place to cover the wall of the shower. They are not tongue and grooved so a joining strip is required if a large area needs to be covered. These strips are not the most attractive items so these panels are best used in smaller showers where no joins are required.
PVC sheet was introduced as a wall covering in the catering industry to provide a wipe-over surface for food preparation areas. There are different grades available some of which have a hygiene rating. This higher-spec sheet is not necessary for a bathroom setting as it is more expensive.
Acrylic Tile Panels
These are a cheap and cheerful form of shower wall panelling.
Acrylic is a harder plastic than PVC – it is the material that most modern baths are made from. The surface is very glossy and retains its shine over the years. It is possible to polish out small scratches. This is not possible with PVC panels as the plastic is too soft.
The surface of these panels has a tile effect routed into the material. Most other types of shower panels have a smooth surface – even tile effect ones. But this type of panel has a physical, recessed grout line. So it is slightly harder to wipe over but nowhere near as problematic as tiles.
This is another type of shower wall panel that does not have a tongue and grooved edge. A joining strip is required to enable it to cover large areas.
Glass shower panels are one of the materials used in the walls of shower pods. There are glass shower panels available for standard showers too. But they are quite expensive in the face of competition from other materials.
Fibreglass panels also appear in the construction of shower pods but are not regularly used with standard showers.
Marble panels could be an option but they would be seen as a luxury item. They would also be extremely heavy and difficult to install in a standard domestic bathroom.
You could make your own shower panels by lining the walls with marine plywood and then covering them with a waterproof material like Formica. But this just doubles the amount of cutting required and probably works out no cheaper than buying an off-the-shelf solution.
What Shower Panels Are Best?
There is no one correct answer to this question.
All shower panels will out-perform tiles when it comes to ease of use. They all offer a wipe-over surface that requires no maintenance.
All of them will be easier to fit as well. Tiles require careful preparation and a very flat surface in order to be installed correctly. Panels are much more forgiving. Tiles are the most resilient of all the options though.
We have more information on choosing the best shower lining in this article.
The choice of tiles on the market is massive. Panels have not been around as long so the choice is a bit more limited. But even so, there are now thousands of different designs available so there should be something out there that will suit your needs.
Marble effects are still the biggest seller but other designs are growing in popularity. There are tile-effect shower panels that provide the look of tiles but with none of the shortcomings.