Smart Tips for Choosing Bathroom Flooring

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

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Homeowners demand a lot from their bathroom flooring. They want it to be moisture-proof, stain-resistant, have a nonskid surface that's safe when wet, and stand up to constant foot traffic. In addition, a bathroom floor should be good-looking and fit the budget. So, when you search for bathroom flooring for your remodeling project, consider your priorities -- cost, kids, safety, and eco-friendliness.

Mimics Wood but Is Durable

Luxury vinyl plank flooring comes in many styles and feels and looks like hardwood flooring. The planks are usually thicker and more durable that standard vinyl planks, which means they'll stand up to wear and tear from kids and pets.

Highlight: LVP is less expensive and lower maintenance than wood, and is also easy to install.

Drawbacks: Some of the material in LVP can't be recycled or easily disposed of. Home buyers often prefer wood floors, so the return on investment for LPV may be lower than for wood.

Cost: $1.50 to $10 a square foot for the material, with installation costs ranging from $1.50 to $6 a square foot, depending on the material and substrate, according to FixR.

Tip: It's generally harder to install thick and thin planks than mid-range planks, which increases cost per square foot for labor. 

The Designer's Choice

Ceramic tile bathroom flooring is the preferred choice of 64% of respondents, according to a survey by Floor Covering Weekly. 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: This option is a clay-based tile fired at high temperatures. Ceramics last forever and resist 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: $2.50 to $10 per square foot; installation adds about $12 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 invite water to seep between tiles and soak the subfloor. Eventually they can cause 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: $1 to $2 per square foot; installation adds $2 to $5 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: $3 to $7 per square foot, plus 20% to cover tile cuts and potential breakage; installation adds $4 to $32 per square foot, plus 20%.

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: They 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 is available in a wide range of color.

Cost: $2.50 to $4 per square foot; installation of natural stone flooring costs $3 to $7 per square foot. 

Best Green Option

After being upstaged by 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 resists 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: $2.50 to $3.50 per square foot; installation adds $3.50 to $5 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 unattractively. To test how much iron a tile contains, soak it for two days, let it sit for two days, and see if/how the color changes.

Cost: $4 to $20 per square foot; installation adds $50 to $70 per square foot.

Related: 5 Materials to Never Use in Your Bathroom

John Riha
John Riha

John Riha has written seven books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He’s been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.