Tearing out old-fashioned tile walls can help revitalize your otherwise dated bathroom interior. But what can you use to replace bathroom wall tiles? You may be surprised by the wide variety of walling materials available for use in a bathroom.
Rather than relying on tile, consider decorating your bathroom walls using wood, brick, glass, wallpaper, stainless steel, stone, or a variety of different walling materials. By using other materials besides tile, you can put some zest back into your bathroom and create an entirely new interior design.
If you’re unsure which materials to use for your bathroom walls, keep reading! I’ll cover some of the best alternatives to tile and explain how you can use them to freshen up your at-home oasis. But remember, because the bathroom is one of the most humid rooms in your home, you’ll need to waterproof it using a thin membrane installed behind whatever material you choose to put on your bathroom walls.
(And if you do want to include at least some tile in your design, read 21 Tips for Perfect Bathroom Tile, my ultimate resource on the topic.)
If you want the look of real stone without paying the cost of real stone, we recommend finishing your bathroom walls in microcement.
Microcement is a highly pliable concrete-based composite material used to decorate interior spaces. It can be spread incredibly thin, down to a thickness of just 3 mm. It’s suitable for walls, ceilings, floors, and just about any surface you can imagine.
Microcement is naturally waterproof and can withstand impacts and knicks without taking any damage. You can apply microcement directly over existing tile, making it far easier to install than other materials. Simply spread the mixture over your walls and let it dry before using your bathroom.
Wallpaper might not seem like a standard replacement for wall tiles but it can make quite a difference in your bathroom. By switching out your old tiles with wallpaper, you can create a stately, Victorian aesthetic, similar to what you’d find in a high-class hotel or manor house.
If you’re concerned about humidity in the bathroom, rest assured that plenty of wallpapers are made to be waterproof and steam-resistant. Just be sure to do your research before buying a product to guarantee that it’s bathroom safe.
Many homeowners avoid using brick in their bathrooms because of its naturally porous texture. These pores can lock in moisture, leading to mildew and mold.
However, brick doesn’t have to be relegated to other areas of your home. If it’s good enough for the outside, it’s good enough to go in the bathroom. If you’re still concerned about humidity, simply coat your bricks in waterproof paint. (And install a smart bathroom fan with a humidity sensor.)
Compared to other materials, brick creates a down-to-earth, industrial feel, similar to what you’d find in many of the factories now converted to apartments in St. Louis, Nashville, and Detroit. Use it to create contrast with other walls or create a bottom flare by lining the lower section of the wall with brick.
Check out these 4′ x 8′ cork panels on Amazon. Made by Manton, they can be glued to backer board and then stained or painted to match your decor.
Cork comes from the bark of the cork oak, which grows throughout the Mediterranean. It’s sustainably removed without damaging the tree and is completely non-toxic. It’s also naturally waxy, making it water-resistant and a poor vector for mold and mildew.
Cork panels can be designed in a variety of textures, patterns, and styles, and create a unique aesthetic, unlike anything your friends or family have seen before. Be sure to properly install cork walls to prevent water damage and avoid using it in the shower. And apply a waterproof sealant.
Wood may also seem like a bad choice considering that it’s prone to swelling, warping, and spawning mildew, but keep in mind that civilizations around the world have used it to build saunas and steam rooms in the winter freeze.
A simple splash of oil-based paint or a coat of varnish can help waterproof wooden panels before you install them in your shower or along the bathroom walls.
Wood helps create a warm, earthy feeling, grounding your bathroom in the outdoors and bring a Zen vibe inside. Read this post for more Zen bathroom ideas.
Also, consider accentuating a wooden interior with a few bathroom-friendly plants to transform your otherwise boring bathroom into an architectural marvel.
6. Laminate Wall Panels
Other than ceramic and porcelain tiles, laminate panels are the most commonly used bathroom walling material.
They are relatively inexpensive and can be installed over existing tile, making them far easier to install than other materials. They are naturally waterproof and come in a wide range of colors and styles.
Although they’re not as exotic as wood or as stately as wallpaper, laminate wall panels provide nearly endless opportunities as you start designing your new bathroom interior.
They are incredibly low-maintenance and last longer than many other materials. You can install them without using grout or caulk and finish your remodel in just a day. The only downside is that they often look similar to tile.
7. PVC Vinyl Wall Panels
This makes them a wonderful addition to interior bathrooms that lack proper ventilation. If your bathroom is especially humid, PVC wall panels will stand up to mildew and mold far better than other materials.
You can purchase PVC wall panels in a variety of colors, designs, and patterns to match your dream aesthetic. For example, interlocking vinyl wall panels (pictured above) from Dumawall are waterproof. They are easy to install with nails or adhesive and come in a pack of eight. Click here to see Dumawall panels on Amazon.
If you’ve heard of using Pergo vinyl planks on your bathroom floor, you can now expand the possibilities and use it on your shower walls too.
You can even have PVC wall panels custom-made to suit your needs. And installation takes far less time than putting in traditional tiles, saving you quite a bit on the cost of labor.
8. Stone Slabs
If you’ve ever dreamed of bathing in the Taj Mahal or a grand Italian palace, we recommend installing stone slabs in your bathroom.
Although more expensive than other options, stone slabs create a regal and luxury aesthetic similar to what you’d find in the presidential suite of a Las Vegas hotel and casino. You can also play around with different types of stones to personalize your design.
Order pre-cut slabs of stone from a quarry or from your local home interior store and pay an outside contractor to install the stone in your bathroom. The installation should only take a few days to complete, leaving you with a wonder of a bathroom.
For a side-by-side comparison of these materials, read my post about quartz, marble and granite bathroom vanity countertops.
There’s nothing simpler than painting a room. If your bathroom wasn’t built with preexisting ceramic or porcelain tiles, you can simply paint the plaster walls in whatever color you like.
Painting gives you nearly endless options of colors and you can even create unique designs by getting creative with some blue painter’s tape.
If you’re worried that the humidity in a bathroom will affect the longevity of your paint, we recommend using water-resistant bathroom paint.
Check out my article on which waterproof bathroom paints are best.
And then visit GoColorize.com, a site that will give you all the details you need to DIY the painting job yourself.
If you’ve never heard of Ceramin, it’s the latest technology sweeping the world of interior design. It’s a high-tech flooring and walling material made from a composite of non-toxic and recyclable compounds.
Ceramin is highly versatile and can be designed to imitate wood, stone, porcelain, and even ceramic tiles. It’s a wonderful alternative to real tile, especially if you’re looking for a sustainable option.
Thanks to its versatility, you can find Ceramin panels in just about any color, style, or design. Use it to transform your primary bathroom into an at-home spa, sauna, or marble-like palace. It’s less expensive than the real thing and can be easily installed in just a few days.
Glass is another popular and highly versatile material, perfect for your bathroom walls.
Use small sections of glass around your shower and bathtub or change out your boring ceramic tiles for panels of back-painted glass. You can even create a wall of glazed glass bricks to let in light without compromising your privacy.
Check out this post to see how to use a wall of glass to create a waterproof backsplash against a bathtub.
Glass is easy to clean and can be installed far faster than other materials. We recommend contacting a contractor to install glass walls, in order to prevent possible breakage.
12. Epoxy Foam Panels
You can use epoxy on foam panels to create magically swirled wall panels around your shower and bathtub.
Epoxy is low-maintenance and completely waterproof after it dries If your walls ever become dingy, simply wipe them down to keep them clean.
Using epoxy, you can create interesting designs reminiscent of bamboo, grass, clouds, or even flowing water.
What to Consider Before Picking a Bathroom Wall Material
If you decide to stick with tiles, check out our bathroom designer’s article on how to choose the best bathroom tiles.
The walling materials you use will greatly affect your bathroom’s overall aesthetic. We recommend using a variety of materials to keep the design interesting and add texture.
Create contrast by adding brick or stone accents, add color using paint or resin, or add metallic finishings for a modern, sleek aesthetic.
What to Put on Bathroom Walls Instead of Tile
If you’re planning to remodel your bathroom, put some life back into the design by changing out your old tile walls.
There are plenty of alternatives to tile for your bathroom walls that can help you create a modern, classic, or chic design.
But whatever material you pick, be sure to properly waterproof your bathroom to prevent mold and mildew. And if you do want to use some tile in your bathroom, be sure to check out my post on 17 Beautiful Bathroom Tile Materials.
Note: If you’re about to embark on a bathroom remodel, get my free Save Big $$$ Cheat Sheet. I’ll send you genius designer hacks that can literally save you thousands of dollars.