We don’t ask much from bathroom surfaces.
Just that they be beautiful and withstand every cleaning chemical invented, steamy showers, piles of damp towels, and, did we mention, tantrum-induced line-drives with bath toys?
Oh, and they should be easy to clean. That’s all.
So what materials can live up to the ask? We asked the experts. Here are 10 they recommend:
#1 Engineered Stone Countertop
Dying for a white marble countertop? Join the club. But get ready to seal, reseal, and reseal. Then repeat. Year after year.
Or, go for engineered stone, which can mimic marble (and other stone materials) for about the same cost, but minus the hassle. It’s non-porous so it resists bacteria, mold, stains, and water damage better than the real thing. Better! And it never needs sealing!
#2 Glazed Porcelain Tile Floor
Moisture is Enemy No. 1 for bathroom floors, and glazed porcelain tile is its most-worthy adversary.
It won’t hold onto water like laminate and porous materials, and porcelain tiles glazed with glass are nearly stain-proof — as are today’s high-quality epoxy and urethane grouts, which don’t require sealing.
#3 Vinyl Floor
Time to rethink vinyl. Hear us out. Luxury vinyl tiles, which mimic stone and wood, are awesome at resisting moisture.
Other affordable options like laminate just can’t keep up. Plus, vinyl sheets are so large, you can cover a small bath without a single seam or grout line, making it easy on the eye and easier to keep clean.
#4 Plywood Cabinets
Yup. We said plywood. But today’s “grade A” offering isn’t your mother’s plywood. (Or your Swedish cousin’s, which is actually particleboard.)
Composed of pressed layers of alder, birch, or cedar, “grade A” plywood (also known as furniture-grade) remains more stable in the face of moisture than solid wood, which will shrink and swell in response to bathroom humidity (causing cracks in painted surfaces and even warped panels).
As for the finish, you don’t need to spring for anything fancy: The factory finish applied to cabinetry nowadays will hold up to the moisture. Isn’t living in the future great?
#5 Tempered Glass Shower Doors
While you need your glass to be tempered for safety, you don’t need a special spot-resistant treatment or upgraded texture to have crystal-clear shower doors.
“Glass is easy to clean,” says Ebony Stephenson, a certified kitchen and bath designer. “I tell my clients, ‘I’ll give you a squeegee and you can save $2,000. It’s a lot of money when you can just wipe off your glass.’” So definitely get tempered glass, but skip the add-on treatments that promise no spots.
#6 Glossy or Semi-Glossy Paint
The No. 1 thing to stop mold in a bathroom is an exhaust fan. It may not be sexy, but that mildew-y smell in your bath isn’t exactly “come-hither” either. Mold and mildew are real concerns, even on the walls, thanks to bathroom humidity. So paint sheen matters.
A full-on glossy paint has a shiny, sealed surface that blocks out moisture and wipes clear of residue, say from hairspray, without leaving a mark like a matte finish will. But the sheen can be a bit overbearing on anything more than trim, and calls attention to wall flaws.
A semi-glossy finish will hold up nearly as well to cleaning and moisture, without calling quite as much attention to bumps, dents, and other imperfections.
#7 Cast Iron Tub
A tub forged from molded liquid iron is likely going to be the toughest thing in your house — maybe even your neighborhood, depending on where you live.
You may need extra support for your floor (and your pocketbook) to bring it home, but cast iron won’t chip, scratch, or dent like fiberglass, acrylic, and even porcelain can.
This tub is your forever tub. And probably your children’s forever tub. And their kids’.
#8 Porcelain-on-Steel Tub
Don’t let its acronym, POS, misguide you: Heat-fused enamel on steel will resist corrosion, abrasion, and chipping better than synthetic materials, and it is much more affordable than cast iron.
#9 Acrylic Panel Shower Walls
Despite their lightweight, acrylic wall panels, often called shower surrounds, are not lightweights. They resist chipping, cracking, and peeling, and are much easier to maintain than stone tiles or slabs. Unlike tile, they nail directly to wall studs or glue to the wallboards, so they don’t require grout. Acrylic is tougher than fiberglass and colored all the way through — so it’s less likely to scratch, and even a deep cut won’t be as obvious. They’re also more affordable than tile and available in textured patterns, if you want to look like you splurged on a fancy design.
#10 Stainless Steel Sink
Stainless: not just for kitchens anymore. Corrosion- and stain-resistant, it won’t melt under a hot curling iron like acrylic can, and won’t dent or chip like porcelain if nail clippers plummet down from the medicine cabinet.
And it’s the perfect match for the industrial-chic look that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
Related: Uber-Organized Bathrooms For a Spa-Like Experience