Which Flooring Should I Choose for My Bathroom?
Expert advice to help you decide on the best flooring for your bathroom
Start by considering who will be using the bathroom, and therefore how robust the flooring needs to be. Then think about what kind of look you’re aiming for – rustic or contemporary; pretty, striking or simple; wow or wonderfully practical? Here, as part of our Bathroom Planning guide, we lay out the pros and cons of 12 flooring options.
Professional advice from: Katherine Campbell of Amberth; Lydia Robinson of Design Storey; Michelle Johnson of Michelle Shakallis Interiors; Sharon Lillywhite of Oliver Burns
More in this series: How to Choose a… Shower; Shower Head; Shower Enclosure; Shower Tray; Bath Material; Basin Tap; Vanity Unit
Starting your bathroom project? Read How to Plan for a Bathroom Renovation
Porcelain tiles are one of the most popular choices for bathroom floors, and for good reason. “Porcelain is a mix of quartz, clay and feldspar fired at a high temperature, making it very dense and non-porous,” Katherine Campbell says.
“The tiles come in a wide range of sizes, colours and textures, so you can create a traditional, modern, natural or luxurious look as required,” she says.
“Porcelain tiles can mimic natural materials, such as marble [as pictured here] or wood, if you want a certain look for a lower price,” Michelle Johnson adds.
Pros of porcelain flooring: Super-tough, scratch- and stain-resistant, non-porous so hygienic, stain-resistant, compatible with underfloor heating and doesn’t need sealing. Colour runs through the whole tile, so chips are less visible.
Cons of porcelain flooring: Cold and hard underfoot. “Dirt can build up in the grout joints, too,” Katherine says. Michelle adds, “I often use dark grout on the floor, so it doesn’t show the dirt.” Tiles can chip, though this is unlikely, and they’re unrepairable if they do.
How to maintain porcelain flooring: “Remove dust and dirt with a broom or vacuum cleaner,” Katherine says, “then clean with a damp mop using a multi-purpose household cleaner.”
Generally made from clay with a glaze on top, ceramic tiles are softer and more porous than porcelain, so they’re usually cheaper. “They still come in a huge range of styles, though, and can also mimic other materials [as seen in these wood-look ones], so it’s easy to get a good look on a budget,” Katherine says.
Pros of ceramic flooring: Durable, stain-resistant, low-maintenance and compatible with underfloor heating. Softer than porcelain tiles, so easier to cut.
Cons of ceramic flooring: Cold and hard underfoot. Less durable and more likely to chip than porcelain, and chips are more obvious, as the colour doesn’t go all the way through.
How to maintain ceramic flooring: “As with porcelain, sweep or vacuum, then clean with a damp mop using a household cleaning product,” Katherine says.
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Usually featuring beautiful patterns and rich colours, encaustic cement tiles have a handcrafted, authentic look. They’re made from mineral pigments mixed with cement pressed into a mould.
“Be aware that cement tiles are porous, though,” Katherine says, “so it’s important to seal them to avoid damage. They need two coats of penetrating sealer before grouting.”
Pros of encaustic cement flooring: Slip-resistant, scratch-resistant, durable, and compatible with underfloor heating. They’re very unlikely to crack as long as they’re on a perfectly level surface. “If chipped, it won’t be obvious, because of the thick colour layer,” Katherine says.
Cons of encaustic cement flooring: “The tiles can be pricey and they can change colour over time,” Katherine says. “Even if well-sealed, spills should be mopped up immediately.” Because the tiles need to dry thoroughly before being sealed, and the sealer needs to dry before grouting, the entire laying process can be lengthy. “Typically 10+ days,” Katherine says.
How to maintain encaustic ceramic flooring: “Clean the tiles with a pH-neutral soap – no ammonia, acidic or alkaline cleaners – then use a wax (for marble), which enhances the colours and protects the tiles,” Katherine says. “Difficult stains will need to be removed using oxalic acid then the tile resealed.” It’s also possible to lightly sand stains away, as the pigment runs deep.
More: How to Care for Encaustic Cement Tiles
“Travertine is a natural, luxurious stone with a high-end look,” Katherine says. “It comes in numerous textures, including etched, sandblasted, honed and tumbled, but for a bathroom, make sure you choose a slip-resistant finish.”
Pros of travertine flooring: Hardwearing, easy to clean, compatible with underfloor heating, and cracks can be filled.
Cons of travertine flooring: “Natural stone is expensive and generally higher maintenance than other flooring,” Katherine says. It’s heavy, so it needs a strong sub-floor, requires frequent sealing, can scratch, and can feel hard and cold underfoot.
How to maintain travertine flooring: “Use a neutral cleaner and plain water – no ammonia, acidic or alkaline cleaners,” Katherine says.
Dark, velvety slate creates a beautiful base, particularly for a white bathroom. Variations in tone and markings make each tile unique. Choose from honed or polished finishes.
“These [pictured] are Brazilian honed slate floor tiles and they each have an individual natural pattern,” Michelle says. Some slates, such as Brazilian and Welsh, are more durable than others.
Pros of slate flooring: Easy to clean, hardwearing, long-lasting, and compatible with underfloor heating. Cracks can be filled, though this should be done as soon as possible to prevent further damage.
Cons of slate flooring: “Slate needs to be resealed every 12 to 18 months,” Michelle says. It’s also susceptible to scratches and is hard underfoot. Needs a strong subfloor, as slate is heavy.
How to maintain slate flooring: Sweep or vacuum to remove grit, then mop with plain water or a mild neutral detergent.
If it’s a touch of glamour you’re after, marble is your friend. “Marble gives a timeless, modern luxe feel that emanates natural beauty,” Sharon Lillywhite says. “It continues to be the stone of choice to create a dramatic finish in a bathroom.
“Paler marbles such as Carrara are good for flooring and make smaller rooms look lighter and more spacious,” she says. “Large slabs (minimum 80cm x 80cm) are best, even in small bathrooms, to give the illusion of more space.”
Pros of marble flooring: Compatible with underfloor heating, easy to clean, cracks can be filled, available in a wide range of patterns and colours, and each tile is unique.
Cons of marble flooring: Marble is porous, so it should be sealed before grouting and again afterwards. “Marble is very susceptible to stains, even with sealing,” Michelle says. “It can also scratch and chip, especially during installation. It will need sealing frequently.”
“In a wet area, it can be a slip hazard,” Sharon adds. “It’s a high-value item, not just in terms of the cost of the stone, but because you need specialists to install it, otherwise it can crack.”
How to maintain marble flooring: Frequent dry sweeping with a soft mop helps to remove any dirt that could scratch the floor. Mop with plain water or a specific, pH-neutral marble cleaner.
Engineered wood floorboards bring in the natural look and warmth of solid wood, but, as they’re made from layers of hardwood sandwiching a layer of ply, they’re more stable in a moist environment. They come in a variety of widths, wood species, styles, colours and finishes.
“Engineered wood works nicely with underfloor heating, as it performs well in changes of temperature,” Michelle says. “However, it cannot exceed 27ºC. I’d go for a mid-level thickness, as the thicker ones will obviously take longer to heat up.”
Katherine agrees, adding, “With underfloor heating, boards should be no more than 14mm thick.”
Pros of engineered wood flooring: “Boards look warmer than other floorings,” Katherine says, plus they feel softer and warmer underfoot. They can be sanded and refinished several times, depending on the thickness of the veneer. Easy to clean.
Cons of engineered wood flooring: “Water damage is always a risk from spills over time,” Katherine says. Lacquered boards are sealed and robust, but lack some of the beauty of raw, unfinished wood.
How to maintain engineered wood flooring: Don’t leave standing water. Sweep or vacuum before mopping to remove any particles that could scratch the surface. Wash with a damp, rather than wet mop. You can buy special engineered wood cleaner – simply add a few drops to water. Don’t use wax-based cleaners or harsh detergents.
More: How to Choose the Right Engineered Wood Flooring
“Laminate is one of the most affordable bathroom flooring materials, so it’s a good choice if your budget is tight,” Michelle says. Made from a fibreboard core topped with a photo covered in a tough, transparent wear layer, laminate can mimic the look of wood, stone or ceramic tiles.
“Some laminate can be prone to scratching,” Michelle says, so look for a good-quality product with a scratch guard. “You can have 10 years warranty on the protective layer,” Katherine adds.
Pros of laminate flooring: Fibreboard laminate is moisture-resistant, easy to clean, doesn’t need sealing, and comes in many colour choices.
Cons of laminate flooring: “With wear and moisture exposure, the layers can peel,” Michelle says. Not suitable for most underfloor heating, though there are exceptions.
“Laminate won’t resist standing pools of water,” Katherine says. “It can’t be refinished, it adds less value to a property than porcelain tiles or engineered wood, it can warp from direct contact with water, and it can feel hard underfoot.”
How to maintain laminate flooring: “Use a vacuum or broom, then clean with a slightly damp mop using water or laminate floor cleaner,” Katherine says. Make sure you dry the floor after mopping.
A brilliant purse-friendly option, vinyl can give you the look of wood, stone or tiles, or bring in pattern, such as geometrics or polka-dots.
Pros of luxury vinyl tiles: “It’s waterproof and stain-resistant, and it feels warm and soft underfoot,” Katherine says. It’s compatible with underfloor heating (but check any temperature restrictions with your supplier), and is durable. “Up to 20-year warranties,” Katherine adds.
Cons of luxury vinyl tiles: It can scratch, mark or fade over time, though the surface can be refinished. “It can feel plasticky,” Kathrine says.
How maintain luxury vinyl tiles: “Sweep frequently with a soft broom, and mop with warm, soapy water or a recommended floor cleaner. Never use anything abrasive,” Katherine advises.
“Cork is a versatile material that’s been transformed since the days when those little orange tiles were used in 1970s bathrooms,” Lydia Robinson says.
“It now comes in an engineered board form, too, with the option of a moisture-resistant core, and there’s a host of different colours and looks available,” she says.
“It can be used in wet and dry areas seamlessly, from a bedroom through to an en suite, for example, without the need for thresholds,” she adds.
Pros of cork flooring: Resistant to mould and mildew, making it hypoallergenic, good sound insulation, recyclable, warm and soft underfoot, durable and sustainable.
Cons of cork flooring: Cork is light-sensitive, so it’s likely to fade in strong sunlight. “It’s also difficult to repair,” Lydia says. It needs sealing and isn’t suitable for underfloor heating.
How to maintain cork flooring: Frequent vacuuming and light cleaning with a damp mop. Should be resealed every two to thee years.
More: What Do I Need to Know About Cork Flooring?
For a modern, slightly edgy look, you can’t beat concrete. “Concrete is a robust and durable material that provides a more industrial look,” Lydia says.
Make sure, however, that it’s laid correctly. “Installation can vary, both in terms of quality and cost, depending on the level of finish you want to achieve,” Lydia advises. “It’s important to fully consider this – a specialist contractor will usually give you a more refined result. The colour, finish and overall look are very dependent on the installation.”
Pros of polished concrete: “Concrete is extremely versatile: it can be cast in any shape and custom tinted in any shade you wish,” Michelle says.
“It’s durable and compatible with underfloor heating,” Lydia adds. It’s also easy to clean, won’t harbour pests, and actually gets tougher over time.
Cons of polished concrete: “Because it’s porous, concrete can stain without frequent sealing,” Michelle says. “With time and settling, small cracks can develop. It’s extremely heavy and will need strong support beneath it.”
How to maintain polished concrete flooring: Wash with a damp mop and plain water, or a mild, non-acidic detergent.
Rubber is sleek and modern, but with a softer look than concrete. It’s available as tiles, but a seamless sheet will ensure it’s neat and waterproof – meaning you don’t have to worry about spills. “It’s perfect for families with young children,” Katherine says.
Pros of rubber flooring: “It’s good value for the cost, durable, sustainable, comes in a wide colour choice, is comfortable to walk on, and is hygienic because it’s seamless,” Katherine says. It’s also compatible with some underfloor heating, but check first with your supplier.
Cons of rubber flooring: “Not very scratch- and mark-resistant, can fade in sunlight, hard to repair, and polished rubber can be slippery,” Katherine says.
How to maintain rubber flooring: “Remove dust with a broom or vacuum cleaner and wash with a damp mop using the detergent recommended by the manufacturer,” Katherine says.
Do you have any of these floorings in your bathroom? Share your experiences in the Comments.