Bathrooms are demanding areas for floors so getting the right product is important. This article will help you decide what is the best flooring for a bathroom. There will be an overview of the main materials together with the pros and cons of each one.
So before you take yourself down to the sales for a bargain make sure you know which type of flooring will work best for you.
In general, the main flooring options used in the bathrooms are:
- ceramic floor tiles
- bathroom carpet
- carpet tiles
- laminate flooring
- vinyl flooring
Each of these coverings has its strong points but they also have limitations. Often, it is the sub-structure of the floor that will determine the best solution. But personal taste, availability and budget will also be considerations.
Keep Your Existing Floorboards On Display
For the majority of older house types, the upstairs floor will be made from joists and floorboards. If you are looking to include a period style bathroom then keeping the floorboards exposed is an option. Obviously, this is a cheap option as it means you do not have to buy new flooring. But they will need to be sanded smooth and ideally should be sealed with a varnish. Being made from wood they are relatively warm underfoot.
There are some downsides, however. They can be draughty and let cold air into the room. Spilled water can get down between the boards and affect the ceilings in the room below. Glossy surfaces can be slippery when wet.
If you opt to keep your floorboards exposed they will need maintenance to keep them looking good. There are washes and stains that will help transform the look of the floor if you want a change from the natural colour. Bathroom mats or rugs are a must to reduce traffic wear and prevent water spillage problems.
Although this is not the most common floor covering it is still widely used. There are specialist bathroom carpets available with waterproof backing and hard-wearing surfaces. Carpet is the warmest underfoot of all the floor coverings.
There is a large selection available and it is quite cheap. Very often one cut of a standard roll will be enough to provide two bathroom carpets. If, after a few years, the first piece of carpet gets grubby you can remove it and use it as a template to cut the second piece.
It is non-slip which is important if there are children or older people in the house. But its major downside is that it is difficult to keep clean and can harbour odours.
Carpet tiles are popular as contract flooring but are not used that often in bathrooms. They offer all of the same advantages as bathroom carpets but there are a few additional variations.
If the bathroom starts getting grubby, individual tiles can be removed for cleaning or replaced with spare tiles. This is a great advantage over standard foam-backed bathroom carpets. There also tends to be less wastage with carpet tiles, as you buy the exact amount you need.
Carpet tiles are relatively easy to fit. The only real downside in comparison with bathroom carpets is a more limited choice.
Ceramic Floor Tiles
Regardless of the design you choose for your bathroom, there will always be a tile design that will complement it. This is because there is such a wide choice of colours, styles, sizes and finishes.
Whether you decide to opt for tiles will depend on several factors. Some of these factors will not apply to other forms of floor covering. Tiles perform reasonably well on solid, masonry floors. But on wooden floors, they require a special backer board, special adhesives and special grout. Proceeding with standard materials in these circumstances will result in tiles cracking and grout failing.
Most ceramic tiles are relatively smooth but there are some non-slip finishes available. It is best to have a bathroom mat or rug available for drying off as tiles get very slippery when wet.
Wetrooms are now very popular, where the whole shower room acts as a giant shower cubicle. If there is a solid floor then ceramic tiles are suitable. The correct “falls” need to be built into the floor to ensure adequate drainage. If the floor is not solid then it might be better to opt for a vinyl finish.
Tiles are easy to clean initially but the grout is always a problem area. It will end up turning black unless you are very careful with its specification, application and cleaning.
Laminate And Hardwood Flooring
Many manufacturers will not guarantee laminate flooring for use in bathrooms. You need to exercise caution if you are considering using this and be aware of its limitations.
Most laminate floors are made from a fibreboard core. If water penetrates into this core, damage will result. There are specific ranges of laminate flooring designed for use in kitchens and bathrooms, but even these will have severe restrictions attached to them to ensure they are not affected by spilled water.
Another issue to consider is the installation method. Manufacturers that make bathroom laminate flooring may stipulate that the floor must be installed using the “floating floor” principle. Toilets, bidets, pedestals and some free-standing baths need to be anchored to the floor. But fixing them through the laminate will stop the floor from “floating” and can invalidate the guarantee.
Providing the sub-floor is perfectly flat and level, installation can be a very quick process, especially with the advent of the glue-less “click” systems.
Hardwood floors are not really suitable for bathrooms. Bamboo flooring (which is not technically a wood) might be suitable as it is mostly unaffected by moisture. But check with the manufacturer to ensure they endorse it for use as a bathroom flooring.
Vinyl flooring comes in various forms. There are tiles, strips and also large sheets cut off a roll. There is a huge choice of designs and styles and it is relatively cheap to buy.
The advantage of the large sheets is that they can provide a continuous, totally waterproof floor with no joins. This is ideal if you think there might be spillages from a bath – if you have kids for example. The downside of large sheets is that they are more difficult to lay than the smaller versions.
Cove-formed vinyl floors are used in wetrooms where one continuous sheet covers all of the floor and is returned up the wall slightly as well. This is a specialist job and not something that is easily undertaken by a DIYer.
Vinyl floor tiles are easier to install, as are the strips. Both are designed to resemble laminate flooring or ceramic tiles in size and appearance. Cushion flooring is a popular form of vinyl flooring that is slightly padded underfoot making it more comfortable to walk on.
So if you like the look of tiles there are designs that emulate this. If you prefer a wooden effect these are available also. But unlike the products they are designed to look like, the flooring will be totally unaffected by water. There will be no grout to turn mouldy. There will just be a smooth, easy to clean surface.
Vinyl flooring can become very slippery when wet, but there are some types of vinyl available with a non-slip finish. Or you could use rugs to help provide an absorbent and non-slip area.
Whichever vinyl you choose it will need to be laid on a smooth surface to avoid any irregularities showing through. A common method is to lay large sheets of hardboard over existing floorboards. This will smooth out any irregularities.
Vinyl Laminate Flooring
This is a hybrid product that combines many advantages into its design.
It consists of small planks of flooring that click together. This is the same system used by laminate flooring. The difference with this flooring is that it is made from 100% PVC. So it has all of the advantages of a vinyl floor. There is nothing to swell up, rot or warp.
The panels are easy to install and be laid over your existing flooring as they are thinner than wood-based laminate.
Although they are totally impervious to water they are not designed to be used as a flooring for wetrooms. This is because the joints between each panel are made for easy installation with no adhesives or sealant. The joints are not designed to be waterproof.
Wetrooms are the most demanding application for bathroom flooring so tiles or vinyl sheet should be used here. And even then you have to pay great attention to the falls in the room to ensure shower water will drain away quickly.
Click here to see our article with lots more information on wetroom flooring, wall coverings and drainage.
So, what is the best flooring for a bathroom?
There is no obvious winner. As can be seen, there are too many factors to declare one type of floor superior to all of the others. Overall, large vinyl sheets have the fewest drawbacks and will provide a totally waterproof, maintenance-free surface. But not all appreciate its aesthetic qualities.
All materials will work to some extent but try and choose the one that ticks the most boxes and is the most suitable for your sub-floor.