When it comes to choosing bathroom flooring for a new home, it has to be one of the toughest choices to get right. Not only does it have to look good and complement the chosen wall finish, but it also has to stand up to water and humidity, as well as being slip resistant and low maintenance.
Porcelain and ceramic tiles are often the default option and for good reason, but LVT (luxury vinyl tile), stone, rubber, polished concrete and even engineered wood flooring can be options too. Before looking at materials or different styles, the best place to start is to ask who will be using the room. Establishing this will enable you to work out your priorities.
In general, most surface types will work for a family with older children or adult inhabitants — but if you have very young or older people at home, certain hazards must be addressed.
Family With Young Children
This will need a floor which can withstand frequent splashes and puddles of water during bath time.
Suggested bathroom flooring: Rubber and vinyl are hard wearing and withstand water well. The vast choice of colours and patterns means more opportunities for a playful and fun design scheme. What’s more, rubber and vinyl are much softer should your little ones take a tumble.
An Elderly Person
The bathroom will need to be accessible with a good level of slip resistance, and a floor which is soft underfoot in the event of falls.
Suggested bathroom flooring: Vinyl is a great choice as it comes in a variety of finishes and can emulate stone and wood. Rubber is good from a maintenance and comfort point of view, but it can be very slippery so choose one with a high slip resistance rating. Engineered wood floors look great and are warmer than tiles (and not as hard), but they do require a bit more care to be kept in good condition.
It’s important to note that porcelain and ceramic are not the same material. Porcelain is made with denser clays and fired for longer and at a higher temperature — it’s subsequently a hardier and less porous material. The pattern and/or colour of a ceramic tile is typically fired on as a surface layer, whereas porcelain tiles tend to be (but are not always) through-coloured.
Expect to pay around £20/m² for porcelain tile flooring.
Porcelain tiles are:
- Impervious to water
- Resistant to stains
- Easy to clean
- A hygienic surface minus the allergy issues of soft finishes like carpet
- Versatile and available in many finishes (some can be matched to wall tiles too)
- Uniform in size
- Easy to lay
Bear in mind:
- Tiles designed for the wall should never be installed as bathroom flooring.
- Some products are suitable for both floor and wall but always check with the supplier.
- Tiles can come glazed or unglazed. Glazed do not need to be sealed when installed (unglazed do) but they are vulnerable to chipping. Unglazed are less slippery, so better from a safety point of view.
- One complaint with tiles is that they can be cold and unforgiving underfoot, so they are often paired with underfloor heating for comfort.
- You should use cleaning products which are recommended by the tile manufacturer — some household cleaners can be abrasive and damaging.
- The grout will need extra attention when it comes to cleaning (but remember wider grout lines aids slip resistance).
What the Experts Say
“With the sheer number and variety of porcelain tiles now available, they’re more affordable than they used to be; porcelain has taken over from ceramic.” – Richard Hibbert, KBSA representative and managing director of bathroom and kitchen design and install specialists KSL Sudbury.
“They [tiles] tend to be resistant to stains from makeup or other beauty products. Tiles provide a hygienic surface — there’s little issue with allergies as there is with soft floor finishes such as carpet. There’s a particular trend for closely matching the bathroom flooring finish with the wall at present, and this is entirely possible with tiles. With tiles, materials like stone and wood can be replicated so that it’s hard to tell the difference; tiles no longer just repeat patterns like they used to.
“The difference between pure glazed and unglazed tiles has become a bit of a grey area. But where safety is the primary concern, then unglazed is best.” – Craven Dunnill’s Steven Whitehurst
The latest trend for bathroom walls and bathroom flooring clad entirely in slate is testament to stone’s lasting popularity. It’s a material, however, which can divide opinion.
Stone will set you back £30/m², but some slate tiles can cost as little as £20/m².
- Not as prone to waterproofing issues as it used to be due to advancements in treatments such as Lithofin Stain-Stop
- Widely available and there is lots of choice
- Stunning when honed or polished
- Very hardwearing
Bear in mind:
- It can be higher maintenance than options such as porcelain and vinyl.
- Stone is porous, so slate marble and some limestones (which all have a lower porosity) are more suitable for bathroom floors.
- Stone requires sealing prior to and during installation.
- Although stone is durable, it does need to be looked after properly with the right cleaning products and resealing every couple of years.
What the Experts Say About Staining and Sealing Stone
“In the past, people were more wary of using natural stone in a bathroom due to waterproofing issues, but advancements in treatments such as Lithofin Stain-Stop means it is perfectly feasible to create the entirety of your bathroom in natural stone.” – Jo O’Grady, managing director at Stone Age.
“All stone tiles have a basic set of rules as far as sealing and maintenance is concerned. You should clean and seal the tiles before grouting and then again once the grouting has been completed and cleaned. Good cleaning with the right products will mean that the stone only needs resealing approximately every two years, based on an average family or footfall.
“There are some great products like LTP or Fila, but often people make the mistake of using overly harsh household chemicals to clean the stone — all this does is strip the sealer and damage the aesthetic beauty of natural stone.” – Paul Owen of Mrs Stone Store.
Forget memories of cheap sheets with naff imitation wood or stone patterns, today’s luxury vinyl tile (LVT) offerings come really quite close to looking like the real thing. That said, there are great printed roll vinyl flooring options too, which are cheaper and a great choice for those wanting to print pattern or colour to their floor.
Luxury vinyl tiles cost about £30–40/m², while decent vinyl or linoleum (a vinyl type material made from natural materials bound together with linseed oil), can cost £20/m² or less.
Luxury vinyl tiles are:
- Softer and warmer underfoot than stone or porcelain
- Works well over underfloor heating
- Thinner than stone so easy to retro-fit
- Hardwearing with guarantees of 12 to 20 years
- Available in wood and stone effect, as well as a number or exciting, dynamic finishes
Bear in mind:
- Many LVT manufacturers sell directly, or via bathroom design and installation companies.
- Installation tends to be the job of a specialist, although there are click systems and products such as Karndean’s LooseLay which are DIY friendly.
- There is a common misconception that silicone sealant is needed when fitting vinyl in a bathroom, but this is not the case when the tiles are fitted correctly with no gaps.
What the Experts Say
“Our guarantees [for LVT] operate the same in bathrooms as they would in any area of the home — which ranges from 12 to 20 years.” – Steve Cochrane of Karndean Designflooring
Engineered wood flooring can be introduced to bathrooms, but specification again comes down to the application. Unlike solid wood, which consists of a single piece of timber, engineered is made up of several layers. A wear layer of wood (higher-quality products tend to have thicker wear layers) sits above layers of either wood or plywood, arranged at right angles.
Good engineered wood flooring will cost in excess of £30/m².
Engineered wood bathroom flooring is:
- Much more stable and less prone to movement in humid conditions than wood
- A far more appropriate option than laminate which warps and swells if water penetrates the seams.
Bear in mind:
- Where specified, simple maintenance is key to avoiding problems — don’t leave wet bath mats and towels on the floor and mop up water straight away.
- It is not really suited to a family bathroom where younger members of the family may be less attentive when it comes to cleaning up spillages.
Wood Effect Alternatives:
If you want the look of wood, without any worry of water penetration, there are a few options.
- There are manufacturers such as Aqua-Step however, who claim their laminate is 100 percent waterproof. These alternatives are often resin based, rather than having any wooden components and they are available in large DIY outlets from £30/m².
- Wood effect porcelain tiles are also proving popular, as the texture and patterns are much improved. They’re also cheaper than real wood.
What the Experts Say
“Wood-effect tiles have come and gone in the past, but this time it’s different. I’d put this down to the fact that the pattern, texture and feel of the tile is so good now that it’s hard to tell the difference installed. They don’t tend to be as expensive as real wood, and are also ideal for bathroom flooring. They’re extremely popular.” – Craven Dunnill’s Steven Whitehurst
“Wood isn’t always the best option for family bathrooms used by young children. With lots of splashes, spills and tiny, wet footprints to contend with, which will need to be wiped up immediately, it could be easier to keep the stunning wooden floor for a grown-up bathroom or en suite. Don’t leave wet bath mats and towels lying on the floor and wipe up any spills and splashes immediately.” – Peter Keane, director of The Natural Wood Floor Company
Water resistant and available in bright colours, rubber is the perfect choice for the children’s or family bathroom flooring. It looks great with white walls and sanitaryware, for a fun look that can be easily evolved.
Rubber flooring could cost anywhere between £30–60/m².
- Tough wearing
- Soft underfoot and shock absorbent
- Available in pretty much any colour, pattern or texture
- Perfect for creating a hygienic surface which is easy to clean
- Easy to maintain
Bear in mind:
- Rubber can be slippery when wet so opting for a textured finish with a high slip resistance rating is a good idea.
- Abrasive and acidic cleaners should be avoided.
- Rubber often comes as tiles but can also be fitted as one single sheet. The latter is great from a hygiene perspective as it has no joins for dirt to lurk in. However, tiles are more easily replaced if a few become damaged, whilst a single piece cannot be patch repaired in the same way.
What the Experts Say
“Rubber is tough wearing, warm and soft underfoot; a design-savvy choice for bathroom flooring.” – Harvey Maria’s managing director, Mark Findlay.
Preparing the Subfloor
The subfloor is vital to the longevity of your floor finish. If sound and level, surfaces like porcelain and LVT can last for years. A self-levelling compound may be required on an uneven floor, however there are some situations in which an entirely level floor is not going to be achievable such as in old homes. What’s more, concrete and timber subfloors have a different set of requirements.
- Newly laid concrete or screed, for example, will need to be left to dry out thoroughly (as cracks in screed will result in cracks in your tiles).
- Timber floors may need to be topped with a membrane or marine plywood and flexible adhesive before being topped with your chosen flooring.
- Stone tiles can be laid on timber floors, but because they’re heavy, you’ll need to ensure the structure can support the extra weight.
It is recommended to install floor finishes across the entire floor rather than cut around sanitaryware. This is for futureproofing purposes as replacement sanitaryware may be smaller or wall hung, leaving gaping holes in your flooring.