What Are Shower Wall Panels?
Shower wall panels are waterproof interlocking sheets that attach to your wall and come in various finishes and materials. They are generally installed in paneled sections, creating a seamless finish.
Shower wall panels were initially designed to support showerheads, hide holes, blemishes, and plumbing. They have now become a stylish and less expensive alternative to ceramic tile.
Pros and Cons of Shower Wall Panels
- Better Than Tile Shower wall panels are less expensive and easier to install than tile. Also, unlike tile, shower wall panels leave behind no mold or mildew.
- Waterproof. All shower wall panels are inherently waterproof, and some materials like acrylic even repel water.
- Interchangeable. Shower wall panels can be easily uninstalled and changed out for a different style or material.
- Hypoallergenic. Shower wall panels will not rust or leave behind mold or mildew, making them hypoallergenic and safe for your lungs.
- They Do Not Last for Life. Shower wall panels will not last for your entire life and will generally last for 15 years, but certain materials can last for up to 25 years.
- Difficulties with Curved Walls. Shower wall panels were meant for flat straight walls, so you will have difficulties installing them on a curved wall.
- Specific models Can be Heavy and Hard to Move. Certain shower wall panel models that contain granite or marble are quite heavy and will require help to move safely.
- Ceramic Tile is Considered more Eco Friendly. Because shower wall panels only last for 15 to 25 years, they are considered less eco-friendly than ceramic tile, which can last the life of the bathroom.
What Types of Shower Panels Are Out There?
There are numerous styles and finishes out there to help meet your needs. The style, finish, and material that will suit you best will depend on your bathroom’s size, color palettes, budget, the type of shower you have, and personal taste. Below is a quick summary of each style, finish, and material to give you an idea of what would be best for you.
Shower Wall Panel Styles & Finishes
Matte-finished shower wall panels offer a smooth, sleek finish that is great at covering messes, fingerprints, and imperfections. Matte finishes blend best with darker color palettes such as black and grey. Matte finishes absorb light, making them the opposite of a more shiny and glossy finish. If you dislike light-reflecting, have a dark bathroom, and want something that can hide almost any imperfection, then a matte finish is for you.
High Gloss is the opposite of matte. High gloss shines and shimmers, making every imperfection visible. High gloss panels are the easiest to clean. High gloss offers a bright reflective surface making it an excellent combination for vibrant color palettes. High gloss finishes are also known to be quite durable. If you prefer something bright yet rugged and easy to clean, I recommend a high gloss finish.
Stone Tile is a style, not a finish, unlike matte and high gloss. Stone tile can be customized to fit any color palette. Stone tile does not shine, nor does it absorb light. It is neutral. Stone tile is definitely a tough and durable material. It is also easy to clean. Stone can both hold heat and keep a room cool, making it great for temperature control. If you need a tough material that can help control the temperature, then stone is for you.
Subway Tile is a popular style for showers. With a sleek subway station brick wall design, subway tiles are considered a classic look for any bathroom. Subway tiles are known to brighten up spaces and soften the lighting in the room. If you desire a timeless look for your shower space and want something that can brighten up your bathroom, subway tiles are the way to go.
Shower Wall Panel Materials
Many of the fiberglass shower wall panels on the market are made of fiberglass and plastic composite. Fiberglass panels are lightweight and inexpensive. Another benefit of the fiberglass panels is all the styles and varieties that are available. There are fiberglass panels that imitate marble and stone. Fiberglass panels can be finished with high gloss or matte paint if desired. The downfalls of fiberglass are that it can discolor over time, and it is somewhat easy to scratch or damage.
Acrylic panels are known for their sleek and smooth finish. Acrylic panels are generally heavier and more expensive than their fiberglass counterparts. Acrylic panels are priced in the midrange. But unlike fiberglass with acrylic, you are getting a more durable scratch-resistant material due to the special coating sprayed on acrylic panels. The downfalls to acrylic are the panels are heavy and hard to move, and the finish, depending on the model, is not seamless.
PVC, which stands for PolyVinyl Chloride, is a plastic material that has been popular for bathrooms due to its ability to handle moisture. PVC composite panels usually also have fiberglass and plastic within them. PVC is waterproof, fireproof, and lightweight. PVC panels are easy to install by simply gluing them to your wall in some cases. But all these advantages will cost you. PVC panels are even more expensive than acrylic. Price is PVC’s one major downside.
Granite has been the leading choice for bathroom countertops for years, so it makes sense granite would work well for your shower also. Granite shower wall panels come in some beautiful styles. Granite can be cut into any shape you wish to fit any bathroom. Granite panels are priced similarly to acrylic panels on the low end and can be even more expensive than PVC for custom work. The major downside of granite is that it requires maintenance through resealing done usually once a year.
Marble shower wall panels can look fantastic in any bathroom. You can choose from a brushed or polished finish to match your fixtures. Many marble panels come in the subway tile style that adds that timeless look. Most marble panels are not as expensive as granite and cost about the same as acrylic panels. But just like granite, marble’s disadvantage is that it needs to be resealed every 12 months.
Laminate shower wall panels are the most versatile when it comes to styles and finishes. You can get laminate panels that imitate stone tile, marble, granite, wood, and even ceramic tile. Laminate panels are easier to clean and maintain than their genuine marble and granite counterparts. Laminate panels are priced at the midrange level comparable to acrylic panels. The downfall of laminate is that it does not deal with moisture as well as the other materials on this list, which can present problems down the road.
Solid surface has been known for things like kitchen countertops. Like laminate, solid surface panels can imitate a variety of materials such as stone and subway tile. Solid surface has a vast price range stretching from panels that sell around the price of fiberglass up to high-end panels priced similar to PVC. The disadvantages of solid surface panels are they are not heat resistant and may discolor or get damaged through scratches.
How To Choose The Perfect Shower Wall Panel
My Top Choices Based on Budget
If you are on an extremely tight budget, fiberglass shower wall panels are the most inexpensive panels on the market. To save even more money, stay away from any fancy designs or styling. You will still get a panel that will perform up to basic standards. Fiberglass panels are also lightweight and easy to install. You must take care of these panels because they are easy to scratch or damage and that damage usually occurs during the installation process.
Solid surface shower wall panels are another viable option if money is an issue. Like fiberglass, stay away from the subway tile styling and imitation marble to keep the price low. Solid surface panels perform great when you know how to take care of them. Any type of flame or scorching hot material placed on or near the panel’s surface will permanently damage the panel. Solid surface panels are a little more durable than fiberglass but can still be scratched and damaged.
My Top Choices Based on Ease of Installation
Laminate panels are lightweight, making them easy to install. Many heavier panels such as marble, granite, and some acrylics can weigh a lot, requiring two or more people just to maneuver the panels into place. One person can easily handle laminate panels. Installation usually requires measuring and cutting trim pieces and panels, then using silicon to apply the panels to the wall. You also don’t need to worry about damaging them while installing them as you would fiberglass.
PVC composite panels are your other choice for easy installation. Just like laminate panels, they are light and have the same installation process. They are also durable, making them less problematic to install. Though the price point of PVC is higher than laminate, you get a panel that is easy to install and easy to maintain.
My Top Choices Based on Ease of Maintenance
Acrylic panels are elementary to maintain and keep clean. A clean rag and some water will work in most cases. Use soap and hot water for tougher stains. Do not use any harsh chemicals or solvents on acrylic panels as these strong chemicals could damage the panel. Due to the special coating sprayed on these panels, they will never mildew and repel water, preventing stains and discoloration. Acrylic panels never require resealing.
With all the beneficial properties of PVC, such as its waterproof, fireproof, and rustproof components, it is easy to maintain. Using some hot water and a rag will keep your PVC panels clean. You may have to use soap for tougher messes. Like acrylic, no solvents or chemicals should ever be used. You can easily clean your PVC panels simply by taking a hot shower.
My Personal Favorite
Marble shower wall panels are not the least expensive. They are also not the easiest to install or maintain. But I love the style and fantastic look that they can add to any bathroom. With a bruised or polished finish to match your fixtures, in my opinion, they are the best-looking material. But marble does take time and care and must be resealed once a year and cleaned regularly.
Can you drill into panels (to install accessories)?
You can drill into shower wall panels. Drilling into certain materials such as stone or acrylic will require a specific drill bit. Anytime you drill into a panel, you need to apply a silicone sealant to ensure that your panels remain waterproof.
Is installing shower wall panels a DIY project?
This depends on your skill level, the tools you have, and the material you are working with. Heavier materials such as granite will require a helper to move the panels into place. You will require tools such as a fine tooth saw, measuring tape, a drill, and silicone. If you consider yourself an amateur handyman/handywoman or beyond, then completing this project by yourself should be in your wheelhouse.
Can shower wall panels be painted?
Yes, some panels can be painted, but this depends on the material you want to paint. Painting fiberglass or solid surface panels is a good move if you do not like the finish of the model you purchased. Just make sure you use waterproof paint. Painting acrylic panels can ruin the coating, and painting marble, for example, would destroy the look and feel of having stone in your bathroom.
How long do shower wall panels last?
Shower wall panels generally last for up to 15 years. But there are certain materials such as granite, marble, and PVC that, with proper care, can last for 25 years or more. In general, the better you clean and maintain your panels, the longer they will last.