Who Needs Tiles?

Who needs tiles when wall panels look as good as this?

There will be those who always insist on tiles. Whether it be for enviromental reasons or something else. The improvments in the aesthetics of bathroom wall panels is certainly making it harder to overlook them.

Lets look at some of the issues in more detail.

Modern Alternatives To Tiles

This whole debate has only cropped up because there are now many alternatives to tiles. These usually take the form of panels which are used to cover the wall surface where tiles would have been used in the past.

The bathroom wall panels are made from various materials – each type has its own benefits and characteristics. We have a short video available explaining the different materials here:

The rise in popularity and the availability of these alternative wall coverings is what has led to questions being posed about tiles. Rather than being the automatic choice they are now one of many different solutions to the same problem.

So What’s Wrong With Tiles?

Nothing really. It is the grout that is the main problem.

Tiles are generally impervious to water (providing they are glazed). So they are 100% waterproof. The same cannot be said for grout.

There are many formulations of grout. Quite a few of these formulations are not waterproof. Hardly any of them are flexible. Grout needs to be both flexible and waterproof for use in bathrooms. Otherwise problems will occur.

Cracks and pin-holes will allow moisture to get into the grout. Mould will then start to grow and the grout will discolour. You can bleach or paint the affected areas but it will keep returning. If water gets behind the tiles it will affect the adhesive, the substrate and the wall itself and eventually loosen the tiles.

See the following article for more information about problem grout and how to deal with it:

How Do I Get My Grout White Again?

silicone sealant mouldy

Mosaic Tiles Are Problematic

Mosaic tiles have two main drawbacks. They emphasise any unevenness in the wall and they use a lot of grout.

The preparation for mosaics is extensive. You need to plaster the wall and ensure it is completely flat and level. As the tiles are small they will “flow” around any bumps and unevenness. The grout line will highlight these areas as they will not run parallel. Larger tiles enable you to smooth out imperfect walls but this is not possible with mosaics.

And then we are back to grout. In comparison to a large tiles mosaics use a huge amount of grout. The more grout you have the more problems can present themselves. Especially in the long run.

Beige mosaic effect panels

Are Tiles Or Cladding The Best Environmentally?

This is a tricky one.

Cladding is made from plastic which is obviously an issue. One of the main issues with plastic is that it does not deteriorate over time. For bags and packaging this is a major downside. But for building materials this is a real plus point.

Bathroom cladding is designed to last for years and years with no maintenance. And when you have had enough of it or you think it is time for a change it is possible to remove the panels and re-use them elsewhere. If you don’t want to re-use them then they are 100% recyclable. Something you cannot do very easily with tiles.

Tiles take a lot of energy to make as they have to be fired at very high temperatures for a long time. They are also heavy to transport. So although they would appear to be the better option environmentally this is far from a clear cut case.

And when you add all of the bleaches and cleaning agents required to keep the grout looking pristine then cladding starts to look less problematic.


Would Natural Stone Be A Better Option?

As this is a naturally occurring material it doesn’t need firing. So it can be seen as better environmentally. But natural stone needs to be sealed with a chemical coating and need re-application over time.

It does look amazing through. So it is no surprise that panel panelling manufacturers have tried to emulate the look of natural stone in their designs.

The majority of patterns tend to be glossy, marble effect. These are supplemented by sparkles and wood-grain panels. But there are some designs that offer a more natural look.

Slate is one such design.

Natural slate is a dark and striking colour. It can be used to dramatic effect as part of your bathroom design. Either as a feature wall or in selected areas. You can use it around the whole room but you need good lighting to prevent the room feeling too enclosed by the dark surfaces.

Orion Slate

Advantages Of Tiles

We have discussed the problems associated with tiles but do they have any advantages over modern panelling systems?

The short answer is yes. They are incredibly hard wearing and are therefore the go-to product for use in commercial areas. They can be scrubbed, bleached, disinfected and wiped over with virtually any cleaning product. Cladding needs to be treated with care. No abrasives should be used on them and no strong chemicals.

But these properties are no real advantage in a domestic setting. Plus there are many instances where bathroom cladding has been used very successfully in commercial environments. Sports centres, hotels, bed & breakfasts, rental properties and student accommodation blocks have all used panelling systems in their bathrooms.

And many commercial kitchens have used large hygienic cladding sheets for years, helping to provide clean, wipe-over surfaces that meet guidelines in these areas.


It can be seen that tiles are far from perfect and are now being challenged by many newer, superior alternatives. Although there are some issues around their environmental qualities in general there is no clear winner in this department. But from a practical point of view the modern panelling systems are quicker to install, easier to install, require much less maintenance and are 100% recyclable.