If you’re tired of scrubbing molds and fungi off of tile grout each time you clean the bathroom, maybe it’s time for a change. There are grout-free alternatives to bathroom tiles, each with its unique advantage over traditional ceramic or porcelain.
If you’re planning a bathroom upgrade, or are in the process of building your house, you need to know what options you have. The bathroom is such an integral part of any home — it’s used every day, is subject to a lot of foot traffic, and is prone to drips and splashes. Aside from water and waste matter, it also takes in chemicals — from harsh cleaning agents to hair sprays to spilled toiletries. Young kids and pets bring their own sets of punishments, as do green thumbs who keep plants inside the bathroom.
So it’s crucial to choose the right material for your bathroom floor and wall requirements.
Best Alternatives to Bathroom Tiles
The high-end type, called “luxury vinyl“, are synthetic tiles made of a rigid core. These are waterproof and have beautiful digitally printed finishes that mimic wood, stone, ceramic, and marble. They come in square tiles or plank formats.
Sheet vinyl – $.50-$2 per square foot / Vinyl plank $2-$7 per square foot, installed.
Vinyl is inexpensive, durable, easy to clean, water-, stain-, and mold-resistant. Styles come in a broad range of patterns and colors. They’re comfortable underfoot, sound absorbent, and have anti-skid types. They are easily installed and replaced and come in D-I-Y peel-and-stick kind and inter-locking varieties.
Over time, some vinyl tiles develop bumps or air pockets particularly if the subfloor underneath isn’t level and smooth. They also don’t stand up too well to heavy loads and may be difficult to repair if sharp objects fall on them. Because they’re made with synthetic materials, they are not eco-friendly when disposed of and may also have a potential for outgassing of volatile organic compound (VOC)’s.
Decorative concrete is an economical yet stylish option for a ground-floor or basement bathroom that already sits on a concrete foundation or one whose flooring was given a fresh overlay. Any concrete slab, old or new, can be stamped, ground down, acid-etched, stained, painted and polished for a smooth, shiny finish. The great thing about stamped and etched concrete is that you can customize the indentions, asking the polishers to cut grooves only on select spots like pathways and areas around the sink, shower, and bath.
$2-$6 per square foot, $8-$15 extra for elaborate staining or stamping treatment.
Water-resistant, easy to clean, little or no maintenance. Reduces allergens. The best in durability, concrete floors can last a lifetime.
Cold and hard. It can be slippery when wet if not given any traction during treatment. Requires occasional resealing.
Clean, elegant, and contemporary-looking, bamboo is gaining popularity as a sustainable, eco-friendly option for flooring material. Although it is actually a type of grass, bamboo will last about as long as traditional hardwood floors. Uncarbonized and strand-woven bamboo, in particular, can be as hard, strong, and durable as red oak.
There are 2 main types of this material: solid planks that are glued or nailed down on a subfloor upon installation (usually by professionals); and the engineered and laminated kind in which strands of the grass are sliced and shredded, then compressed with heat and adhesives to form the boards. This kind uses the click-lock floating installation method and can be handled by D-I-Yers. It’s also a cheaper variety.
Around $2-$8 per square foot.
Low maintenance, it cleans up fast and easy — just sweep, vacuum or mop with water and mild soap. Compared to traditional hardwood, solid bamboo planks are just as durable with the added benefit of being slightly more resistant to stains, warping, and water damage. It’s also very cheap — prices run as little as half the price of other wood floorings.
The inexpensive variety is susceptible to scratches, dings, and discoloration so it needs to be re-finished as needed. Most bamboo flooring may not hold up in extreme weather — they could shrink and crack when the climate is too hot and dry, and swell then buckle when it’s very humid. The colors are also limited to just a few tones and shades. Some brands may contain glues and formaldehyde that emit toxic VOCs.
Usually found in toddlers’ playroom, basement, garage, rec room, or laundry, rubber is finding its way more and more in kitchens and bathrooms. This durable and versatile material is available in sheet form or interlocking 12-inch, 24-inch, and 36-inch squares, in a wide selection of colors, patterns, and textures. To prevent moisture from seeping from underground, a water-resistant sub-layer needs to be installed beforehand.
$3-$10 per square foot; higher quality at $12-$15.
Soft, warm, feels great on bare feet. Absolutely non-slip — ideal for households with children, elderly, and pets. Very resilient, with a high “give” or “bounce back” ability. Almost impossible to scratch or dent. Water-resistant and easy to clean. Reduces noise. It lasts about 20 years. Low in VOCs, high in recyclability. Easy D-I-Y installation and replacement.
Rubber “tile” seams may not hold a lot of water, so the tile variety isn’t ideal for areas where heavy splashing may occur — such as the immediate area around the shower or tub. Use the sheet kind instead. It also has a slight “rubber smell” when new (but it wears off over time).
Made from naturally shed bark of cork oak, cork is a favorite “green” option among the environmentally conscious. It is soft, warm, and beautiful, but care should be taken in considering its many pros and cons.
$2-$12 per square foot
Warm, resilient, and soft underfoot. Slip- and shock-resistant, ideal for seniors or those suffering from joint pain. It is also sound-absorbent. Because cork has anti-microbial properties, it is naturally resistant to mold and mildew. It is made from organic and renewable material. Easy to clean and maintain, cork is also hypo-allergenic.
Cork tiles require resealing every few years. Heavy objects placed or dropped on it can leave a mark, and sliding furniture across it can mar the surface. Cork may not be the best choice for areas subject to standing water because the material used for the foundation of the planks is not waterproof. If you choose this option, make sure you install a vapor barrier underlayment plus a coat of seam sealer to make it impenetrable by water.
Too much humidity may also cause cork tiles to plump up and expand, with a possibility of popping out of place. Skip this option if your area is prone to very high humidity.
Also, cork may be costly — prices come close to those of good quality ceramic tiles.
Links on Houzz (up-close photos of engineered hardwood):
Durable and beautiful, engineered wood flooring looks genuine because the top layer is an authentic hardwood veneer. It is on the expensive side, though, and because it uses organic material, it needs to be properly treated to withstand water damage. If you’re going for this option, use a mat or area rug near the sink and bathtub.
$8-$15 per square foot
Engineered hardwood comes in a wide variety of species, forms, and textures. Because its core layers block moisture, it’s not prone to swelling or warping. It is more dimensionally stable than solid wood and bamboo.
Engineered wood tiles are more expensive than all of the above options. Sanding and refinishing may need to be done to double their lifetime, but some brands have a very thin layer of veneer, and over-sanding can ruin it.
Options For Your Wet Wall
There’s also a variety of grout-free options you can consider for your shower wall surrounds. Not only are they waterproof, but they’re also seamless — so there’s no chance water can seep into joints, causing damage to your bathroom’s foundation. Plus, they’re extremely durable, easy to clean, and are very quickly installed. They’ll give your bathroom a smooth, clean, and modern look at just a fraction of the price and effort you would’ve invested for traditional tilework.
Polyvinyl chloride is generally the cheapest kind of shower panels you can find in the market. PVC is the world’s third most common type of plastic, and its popularity is mainly due to its ability to be formed into rigid or flexible forms. PVC panels come in an endless array of colors and textures, made to look like marble, slate, stone, or even wood tiles. They are durable and very easy to clean.
Though slim in the form (usually just 4-5mm.), acrylic panels are reinforced with glass fibers which make them hard-wearing and water-resistant. They’re not prone to scratches, cracks, or dents. They also have a reflective finish that creates an illusion of space.
FRP (or fiberglass-reinforced plastic) is made of layers of tiny interwoven glass strings heated together, molded, shaped, then sprayed with a resin gel coat. It’s more affordable than acrylic and is just as easy to install. However, it’s more prone to scratching and fading.
Marble has been used in bathrooms for centuries, most notably in Greece and Italy. It’s used in high-end and luxury bathrooms and comes with a high price tag. Because marble is a finite resource, unlike modern man-made options such as engineered hardwoods, vinyl, and imitation cultured marble described below, marble must be extracted from quarries and imported so that adds to the cost. While it looks great, the main disadvantages of marble are that it is very porous and absorbs so anything from harsh cleaning supplies or brightly colored cosmetics can damage the surface. If you do install marble you have to be extra careful to avoid damaging your investment.
Cultured marble is a man-made mixture of limestone and fiberglass resin, molded and shaped then covered with a gel that bonds them together. It is elegant and beautiful, and comes in a variety of colors and “veins”. Unlike its genuine counterpart which is rigid, cultured marble is pliable — it can easily be cut to your specifications. So you can use the same material for your countertop and vanity to achieve a unified, cohesive look.
Featured Image by GregoryButler