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How to Choose Bathroom Flooring

Set the stage for your dream bath by selecting the ideal material for underfoot.

By Jan Soults Walker

There are so many attractive options for bathroom flooring. How do you decide which one is best for your space? You can narrow your search when you weigh these considerations with some popular options.

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Susan Fredman

Know the space

Before you shop, think about the answers to a few targeted questions:

  • Who will use the bath?
  • How will it be used?
  • What amount of traffic do you expect?

Answering these questions can help you determine what material provides the function you need. A master bathroom that hosts one or two people every morning and every evening, for example, needs a stylish spa feel that must stand up to frequent use and maybe some steam from a luxury shower. A children's bathroom likely receives a constant parade of tiny feet as well as lots of splashes and maybe even spills with potential to stain.

A guest bathroom or powder room, on the other hand, typically receives less traffic so flooring that's ultra-durable and water-resistant isn't as critical.

For any bathroom, but especially one frequently used, you'll want flooring that's both durable and easy to maintain. In a bath for children or elderly users, slip-resistance is a particular concern.

Make it fabulous underfoot

Armed with your answers, check out some potential candidates for bathroom flooring.

Ceramic or porcelain tiles, with unlimited choices in colors and textures as well as lookalikes that include stone or wood, remain popular for bathroom flooring. A strong clay body and rock-hard glaze make these surfaces impervious to water and stains, so they're sanitary, durable, and easy to clean with mild detergent and water. Avoid glossy tiles designed for use on walls or you could end up with a slippery mess. Instead, select from matte or textured finishes that toes can safely grip. Another option that looks great and offers slip-resistance are mosaic tiles—the numerous grout lines offer traction, even when wet. 

Stone tiles and mosaics include such varieties as marble, onyx, limestone, granite, and travertine (or terrazzo, which features marble chips imbedded in concrete). Choose any one of these to create a look of substance and luxury while offering lots of design options. Most stones are durable and easy to clean, but keep in mind that many of these surfaces require regular sealing to ward off stains. Hard surfaces such as these are also unforgiving—drop a glass on it and it will likely break, and standing for long periods on stone (or ceramic/porcelain, for that matter) can be tiring. Stone, ceramic, and porcelain tiles are cool underfoot. In climates with cold winters, consider installing a radiant heat system beneath the floor so you can step out of the shower and onto a comfy, warm surface.

Get ideas with Intricate and Awesome: Mosaic Tile Bathrooms.

Vinyl floors have come a long way, offering new levels of luxury, beauty, and durability while remaining one of the most affordable flooring choices. Advanced manufacturing technology produces planks, for example, that closely mimic wood. Yet vinyl stands up well under moisture and offers a surface that's easy to clean. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for, and cheaper vinyl floor products may not hold up over the long run. 

Wood floors, whether solid hardwood or engineered planks (wood veneer on a plywood substrate), bring a warm, natural look to your bathroom as well as comfort and give underfoot. Bathrooms generating lots of splashing (such as in a children's bath) and steam from a master bath shower (not to mention potential toilet overflows in any bathroom), make wood planks a poor choice for a frequently used bath because of the potential for warping and stains. Instead, you may want to consider wood floors for a powder room or guest bath only.

Laminate floors feature a photographic image (protected by a durable finish) that's bonded to a plywood or melamine substrate. This flooring, while more affordable than wood, presents potential problems in the bathroom similar to wood: Steam and standing water can damage the surface and cause bubbles and warping. Save this material for installation in a powder room or guest bath. Even then, select a laminate recommended for use in a bath and follow instructions for sealing the installation.

Carpeting feels cozy and comfortable under bare feet but can also absorb water and other liquids, drawing them into the padding. If you really want carpeting in the bathroom, consider only those designed to repel water and stains or select a line with a built-in moisture barrier that prevents fluids from soaking into the pad.

For more home design ideas and advice, check out:

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