If you’re looking for something to inject character into a room, wooden wall panels can be a great choice. But when it comes to installing them in a bathroom, you may have some worries.
After all, bathrooms are demanding environments. We’re far more used to seeing ceramic, porcelain, glass or stone tiles on the wall. So are wooden wall panels suitable for a bathroom?
That’s what we’re here to find out! We’re going to review the evidence and give you our verdict. So read on to find out more!
What makes a bathroom different?
There are key differences between the environment in a bathroom and the other rooms in your house.
One of them is the amount of water that’s splashing around. Even a kitchen isn’t likely to get as much water on the floor and walls. That goes double if you have a little one who enjoys bath-time!
The second difference is the humidity level. That goes hand in hand with all that moisture. There’s the shower or bath sending clouds of steam into the air. And then there are the damp towels left out to dry.
Humid air is great for the growth of microbes, mold and mildew. As well as being hazardous to health, those can play havoc with the integrity of decorating materials.
Wood, water and humidity
In its natural state, wood will absorb water. That means that if it gets very wet, it will swell and distort. And when it dries out, it will shrink back. The movement will weaken the wood, and may cause it to crack.
Moist wood is also an excellent place for mold and mildew to grow. And over time, the moisture can cause the wood to rot.
It’s the same story when it comes to humidity. This is simply moisture in the air, so wood will absorb that too. And you’ll be faced with the same problems of swelling, distortion, mold and rotting.
So does this mean that wooden wall panels are out of the question? No – but it does mean you’ll need to find a way to protect them from water and humidity.
Tips to Use Wooden Wall Panels In a Bathroom/Shower
1. Location, location, location
One easy way to protect wood paneling in the bathroom is to keep it away from baths and showers. Combining it with tiles can look great. And by using the tiles in the shower and on walls behind baths, you’ll prevent your paneling getting excessively wet.
This technique does, however, have some disadvantages. After all, one of the main purposes of using wooden panels is often to create a focal point. And that usually means using it behind the bathtub.
So if you want more freedom about where to position your wood panels, is there anything you can do? The good news is that there is …
2. Reduce humidity
If you’re trying to manage humidity levels in your bathroom, a good starting point is to know what they are.
There are some easy visual clues to high humidity to look out for. Condensation on windows and damp patches on ceilings or floors are a giveaway. And you may also smell a musty odor.
But by the time those signs are there, the damage may already have been done. By far the better option is to invest in a hygrometer to measure the relative humidity accurately.
The Environmental Protection Agency recommends keeping relative humidity to between 30 and 50 percent. That will be good for your health, as well as your décor. But it can be challenging to achieve in the moist environment of a bathroom.
The good news is, there are gadgets that can help. A dehumidifier or simple extractor fan will help remove the moisture from the air. If your bathroom doesn’t have a window, an extractor fan is essential. Get it wired up so that it switches on automatically with the bathroom light.
Some fans have humidity sensors too. These switch the fan on automatically when the humidity in the bathroom reaches a pre-set level. Delta Electronics are amongst the brands that offer this feature.
And you can also help keep humidity levels under control by reducing the temperature of your bath and shower. Less steam means less humidity. Cutting the length of time you bathe for will help too.
And when you’ve dried off, remove damp towels from the bathroom. That will prevent their moisture entering the air.
3. Choose the right timber
As well as managing humidity, it’s important to choose the right timber for your wood paneling.
Hardwoods will generally cope better in a bathroom than softwoods. That’s because it’s more difficult for water to get into the closer packed grain.
Teak, white oak, cypress, black walnut, jarrah, mesquite, Ipe, eastern red cedar and chestnut are all good options. They’re tough enough to be used as benches in a shower area, so any paneling made from them will be fine.
Some of these woods are even hardy enough to cope with getting wet in their natural state. But you’ll get even better protection by adding sealant.
Sealant adds a waterproof layer to the top of your wood paneling. There are a range of different types available, but they will need to be reapplied over time. And different options have their own pros and cons.
When it comes to creating a beautiful finish, oiling your wood is a winner. A mixture of Tung oil and linseed oil will both protect the timber and give it color and depth.
Danish oils are also a good option. These consist of oil blended with a thinner, so it’s quicker and easier to apply.
You’ll need plenty of ventilation when you’re oiling your wood. And it will take time to dry. It’s also best for wood that will only come into incidental contact with water – the occasional splash from a bath, say. That should be fine for most paneling in your bathroom.
But if you want a longer-lasting and heavier-duty sealant, synthetic options will suit you better. Oil-based varnishes with urethane are a good bet. These are made from man-made resins and drying oils, with thinner mixed in for easier use.
These types of varnish set quickly. When they do, they form long chains of molecules that act as a barrier between the water and the wood. But they can give off toxic chemicals. Look for low-VOC options for better air quality in your home.
5. Wood stains
Depending on the appearance you’re looking for, wood stains can be another option. You can find either water-based or oil-based products.
Oil-based stains require longer to dry. But they penetrate more deeply and need less maintenance. You may also find it easier to get an even finish.
Water-based products, on the other hand, are breathable. And unlike oil-based options, you won’t have to worry about toxic chemicals affecting the air quality in your home. They’re not flammable either, and they provide a richer color that will last longer.
Water-based stains are also great at resisting mildew and mold. And they’re easier to clean than oil-based stains, requiring nothing more than soap and water.
The kind of wood you’re planning to stain can also dictate the best choice of product. If your timber is naturally resistant to rot, water-based stains are the better choice.
So for the bathroom, a combination of a robust hardwood coated with a water-based stain will be very effective.
6. The case for wood paneling
All this means that if your heart is set on wood paneling in the bathroom, go ahead and install it. Just be prepared to take the necessary steps to keep it in good condition.
That’s important for both your décor and your own health. Moist wood that’s growing mold and mildew can cause respiratory and other problems. So choose your timber wisely, position it with care, and seal it well.
But if all that sounds like a lot of hard work, there are alternatives. Stone, glass, porcelain and ceramic tiles, or acrylic wall panels, can all provide a waterproof surface.
But if you want the look of wood without the hassle, consider vinyl. There are some very realistic wood-look vinyl panels out there. And while most are designed as flooring, they can work just as well on walls. Just be prepared to add extra adhesive to glue-down products.
As with wood paneling, you’ll need to take care to get the join between each plank as tight as possible. Even if you’re using the click-and-lock variety of vinyl planks, it’s a good idea to add glue at the edges. That will help provide a watertight seal.
For the most authentic look, search out vinyl planks that are “embossed in register”, also known as EIR. These have a textured surface that matches the printed wood grain. They’re hard to tell apart from the real thing.
And choose products that are FloorScore certified. That way you’ll know they’ll have low levels of VOC emissions and won’t impair the air quality in your home.
Ready to make your choice?
That brings us to the end of our look at the question of whether wooden panels are suitable for a bathroom. The short answer is yes – as long as you choose the right ones and seal them carefully. Taking steps to manage the humidity in your bathroom will help keep them in good condition.
But if that sounds like too much hassle, there are plenty of other options. Stone, glass and ceramic tiles look great, and don’t have a problem handling moisture and humidity. And vinyl can mimic real wood with less effort and expense.
Whichever option is right for you, enjoy your bathroom renovation!