Smart Tips for Choosing Bathroom Flooring

Choose the right bathroom flooring based on your priorities — cost, kids, safety, and eco-friendliness.

Image: Armstrong

Bathroom flooring serves many masters. It should be moisture-proof, stain-resistant, have a non-skid surface that’s safe even when wet, and be durable enough to stand up to constant foot traffic. In addition, your bathroom floor should be good-looking and fit within your budget. 

That’s a lot to ask from flooring. So when you search for bathroom flooring for your remodeling project, consider your priorities — cost, kids, safety, and eco-friendliness.

Low Cost But Tough

Vinyl flooring comes in an array of colors and patterns at a relatively modest cost. Although the price can be as little as $1 per square foot, you’ll find fewer style choices among the least expensive varieties. 

Highlight: Sheet vinyl and vinyl tiles are considered the lowest-cost option for bathroom flooring. Vinyl is tough flooring, and the best brands offer 20-year warranties.

Drawback: Vinyl tiles aren’t best for bathrooms — too many seams for water to seep through.

Cost: $1 to $5 per square foot; installation adds $1 to $2 per square foot, depending on the complexity of the project. 

Tip: In general, the thicker the vinyl, the higher the quality and the cost. Thicker vinyl can feature a textured surface, and some types do an excellent job mimicking the appearance of real stone and wood.

The Designer's Choice

According to a survey by the National Kitchen and Bath Association, ceramic tile bathroom flooring is the preferred choice of 83% of respondents. With good reason: Ceramics come in a huge array of sizes and shapes, and can be mixed to create endless custom patterns — it’s the ultimate designer’s medium.

Highlight: Ceramic tile is a clay-based tile fired at high temperatures. Ceramics last forever and are resistant to scratches, cracks, and chips.

Drawback: Ceramic tile can feel cold in the morning. If you have sensitive feet, install a radiant heating mat underneath.

Tip: Decorative edgings and inlays can boost cost considerably; you can save and still create great-looking designs simply by using same-sized tiles in different color combinations. 

Cost: $1 to $20 per square foot; installation adds $5 to $10 per square foot.

Best for Kids

Water, water everywhere! That pretty much sums up bath time at households with young children. In addition, kids have a knack for dropping the shampoo bottle and conducting bathroom experiments. If protection from water and stains is a high priority, sheet vinyl is the choice for you. 

Highlight: Vinyl resists stains, is impervious to moisture, and is tough and durable enough to stand up to heavy use — and abuse. Smooth-surfaced vinyl can be slippery when wet so select textured varieties that provide traction.

Drawback: Avoid installing vinyl tiles. Although vinyl tile with self-adhesive backing makes a tempting low-cost DIY project, the many seams are opportunities for water to seep between tiles and soak the subfloor, eventually causing the subfloor to rot, leading to an expensive repair.

Tip: Sheet vinyl comes in 12-foot-wide rolls that make a bathroom installation virtually seamless. By properly sealing the edges with waterproof caulk, water and spills can’t penetrate to the subfloor.

Cost: $2 to $5 per square foot; installation adds roughly $1 per square foot.

Best for Safety

Glass and glazed ceramic floor tiles with an anti-slip finish are designed to provide superior traction. Look for tiles certified to meet slip-resistance standards specified by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Highlight: Grout lines between glass and ceramic tiles provide texture that increases traction. Mosaic tiles — 1-inch-by-1-inch or smaller — produce lots of grout lines.

Drawback: Don’t use glass on shower floors, because glass scratches and can become dull from cleaning.

Tip: Use a light-colored thin set behind glass tiles to enhance sparkle.

Cost: $4 to $14 per square foot; installation adds $5 to $10 per square foot.

Best for Durability

Quarry tiles are stronger and more wear-resistant than glazed tile and are made with a slightly rough surface texture that makes them slip-resistant.

Highlight: Quarry tiles give you a natural look, last a long time, and gain character with age — just like stone in the wild does. 

Drawback: Quarry tiles with natural ridges can feel rough on sensitive feet. And, unlike glazed ceramic tiles, quarry tile must be treated at least every two years with a clear tile sealer to prevent staining.

Tip: Don’t use quarry tiles if you want a uniform look, because nature’s not into matchy-matchy. The stone has a wide range of color.

Cost: $4 to $10 per square foot; installation adds $7 per square foot.

Best Green Option

All but forgotten only years ago due to the popularity of vinyl, linoleum is staging a comeback as a green flooring option.

Highlight: It’s made with renewable, biodegradable materials including linseed oil and cork, and produces no harmful vapors. It comes in many colors and patterns. 

Drawback: Linoleum can be used in bathrooms because it stands up well to traffic and is resistant to moisture, but it’s susceptible to staining. For this reason, some manufacturers add a protective coating that helps guard against stains and scratching. 

Tip: If you buy linoleum without a protective coating, polish it every two years to keep it looking good.

Cost: $2 to $4 per square foot; installation adds $5 to $7 per square foot.

When Money is No Object

Looking for a little pampering in your master bath? Stone floor tile — granite, marble, limestone, slate, and travertine — gives a bathroom a luxurious feel.

Highlight: They’re beautiful, durable, and water- and stain-resistant.

Drawback: Honed and polished stone tile can be slippery when wet, so choose stone that has a textured, skid-resistant surface. Tumbled varieties of stone — stone that has been mechanically mixed to knock off rough edges and soft spots — have rustic textures that provide good slip resistance.

Tip: Marble is stunning in bathrooms, but don’t choose marble with thick veins that could contain iron and age unappealingly. To test how much iron a tile contains, soak it for two days, let it sit for two days, and then see if/how the color changes.

Cost: $2 to $100 per square foot; installation adds $5 to $10 per square foot.

Related: 5 Materials to Never Use in Your Bathroom