How to compare grout free shower and tub wall panels – 6 options for easy to clean walls
Updated November 9, 2019
If you’re tired of cleaning and repairing grout in your tub or shower enclosure you’re not alone! The hassle, time and expense of dealing with dirty, moldy grout joints is causing many homeowners to switch from tile to various styles of grout free shower wall panels (ranging from fiberglass, acrylic, high gloss acrylic, PVC backed composites, solid surface and laminated wall panels).
The article below will provide an overview of the features of these 6 types of grout free wall panels (ranging from color, pattern, finish and pattern options as well as ease of installation and sizing) and link at the end of the article for more in depth information.
Option 1) Laminated shower and tub wall panels
Laminated wall panels are hot and taking the United States by storm. These 3/8″ thick x 2′ x 8′ sections are durable, simple to install and available in patterns to work in a wide variety of interior design styles. They’re not only used in single family homes but as shower wall panels in Airbnb rentals and as bathroom walls for hotel rooms.
• Colors, textures and finishes – Laminated wall panels come in 21 different patterns. These include transitionalist, minimalist, 3D textured slates, Modern Farmhouse and high gloss panels. There varied styles also include large format tile patterns which can make a small room look bigger. This can be an important for a small shower in a rental property. You’ll be able to feel texture on the front surface of the tile and stone selections. The high gloss patterns come in white, ‘glass green’ and ‘sky blue’ colors. Sky blue is shown below.
• Patterns and finishes – Patterns can range from 24 x 18 tile patterns to 24 x 24 rough wood looks to smooth gloss panels. This product is available in both modernist high gloss finished and popular matte finishes (which don’t show spotting like the high gloss options).
• DIY and sizing options – Laminated panels can be used in either standard or custom sized tubs and showers. Since these panels are modular (2′ x 8′ in size approximately) – the last panel in the width of the shower is cut to size with common woodworking tools.
• Price – mid-priced.
Option 2) Fiberglass wall surrounds
Fiberglass surrounds are the largest selling type of shower and tub wall panels because they are cost effective, readily available in home center stores and made in most standard sizes. They aren’t the most exciting – but if you need cheap (in standard sizes) they’re still quite popular. The features of this material include:
• Colors, textures and finishes – Fiberglass is usually only available in a white color in either a smooth (or faux tile) finish with a high gloss appearance. The faux tile patterns look very ‘faux’ – realism in fiberglass panels is not very high. It’s cheap – in both a positive and negative perspective.
• Patterns – there are generally no patterns in fiberglass. They are made without a big focus on style to appeal to the widest range of bathrooms. Make a lot of them. Make them in standard sizes. Keep them cheap. Sell them through home centers.
• DIY and sizing options – There are fiberglass systems which are easy for a DIY’er to install. Fiberglass systems are only available in standard sizes (this material doesn’t work in custom projects – it’s a ‘crank it out cheap’ option).
• Price – low, bottom of the barrel.
Option 3) Decorative PVC composite shower and tub wall panels
With advancements in digital printing technology new looks are possible which 10 years ago would have been unthinkable. This is certainly the case of PVC backed wall panels which has patterns of real stone fused into the surface. They’re stylish. They’re light. They’s super-easy to install.
• Colors, textures and finishes – 20 multi-colored options are available on a smooth surface in a semi-gloss finish.
• Patterns – Digital imagery allows the realistic (it’s an exact replica) look of stone in a shower or tub wall project (like the one shown below).
• DIY and sizing options – These walls are very DIY friendly. They can be cut with a carpenter knife or standard woodworking tools. They are available in standard sized kits or panels which can be cut to size for a custom project. You can use them in any project – and even get recessed niches and corner seats to go along with your wall panels.
• Price – mid priced.
Option 4) Acrylic shower and tub wall panels
Acrylic (which is often confused with fiberglass) is more flexible, provides more decorative patterns and styles and is generally longer lasting than fiberglass (although it’s pretty similar on the ‘realism’ scale to fiberglass (they can look cheap when you get the simulated stone and tile patterns). Some of it’s features include:
• Colors, textures and finishes – There are 14 different colors in solid, granite, marble and stone looking finishes. Most of the colors are variations of white and neutral color tones – all coming with a high gloss finish.
• Patterns – Acrylic is available in smooth and simulated tile patterns (sizes include 4” x 4”, 6” x 6”, 8” x 10” and 12” x 12”). With today’s fashion styles some of the simulated tile patterns are frankly behind-the-times. Acrylic wall panels give a ‘cheapened-look’ of real stone or tile because they are a molded product (and IMHO – they look it!).
• DIY and sizing options – This product is not a DIY friendly – it is mostly available on an installed basis only. The reason it’s not DIY friendly is it can expand and contract when it’s cut and the butyl tape used on the walls is quite frankly – a pain to work with. Since the panels come in various sizes, acrylic can be used in standard or custom sized shower or tub area.
• Price – mid priced (but it must be professionally installed – so if you’re doing a DIY project you’ll find it tough to source this material because the ‘bath in a day’ companies will likely refuse to wholesale it to you).
Option 5) High gloss acrylic shower and tub wall panels
This 5/32″ “optical grade” acrylic is in no-way like the ‘standard acrylic’ discussed above. It’s cool. It’s sleek. It’s contemporary. It gives you the back-painted glass. That’s the good stuff. The bad stuff is it’s not a ‘cheap date.” That’s a nice way of saying if you’ve got a tight budget this one ‘ain’t happening! (but you can check out the laminated wall panels which give you much the same look without the big price-tag.
• Colors, textures and finishes – There are 7 standard colors of high gloss acrylic including arctic white, blue attol, red rouge, mocha, carbon, titan and glacier. This material only comes in a smooth surface (no texture) with a high gloss finish. It’s sleek and adds a focal point in modernist or contemporary bathrooms.
• Patterns – There are no patterns – they’re smooth, gloss and sleek.
• DIY and sizing options – This material can be cut with standard woodworking tools. You need to be more careful with these panels when cutting because they can crack. It’s recommended they be clamped down and not cut over a saw horse. These panels come in standard sizes (including 39 x 96 and 60 x 96). They can be used in custom or standard sized tub and shower spaces.
• Price – high end. If you love this high-gloss look, but don’t have a ‘high-end’ budget check out the high gloss laminated shower panels below. They’ll give you this look at less than half the cost.
Option 6) Solid surface or also called cultured marble or granite shower wall panels
Solid surface panels are thicker (3/8”) and heavier than the most of the options mentioned previously (with the exception of the laminated wall panels) and are available in smooth, stone tile or subway tile textures. In my opinion, some of the stone and tile patterns are more realistic than the others. The subway tile looks pretty good (for a molded panels), the 12 x 12 stone pattern tiles isn’t as realistic (IMHO). This product scores on the top of the scale with durability and you can get shower pans to go with it. Solid surface wall panels are often also called cultured marble wall panels – they’re both man-made stones – but the cultured stone can be purchased in both matte and gloss finishes (the solid surface is usually only in a matte finish).
• Colors, textures and finishes – With over 73 different colors there is a solid surface (or cultured granite) option to match most any décor. The product is available in 5 finishes including – smooth, matte, stone tile, subway tile and slate.
• Patterns – There is a 12” x 12” pattern in the stone tile finish and a 3” x 9 ½” size for the subway tiles. The subway tile has a more realistic look than the stone tile.
• DIY and sizing options – This material is easy to cut and comes in standard sized kits and custom sized panels. Even though these panels are 3/8″ thick, they aren’t hard to work with.
• Price – higher end (but still affordable).
Which of these 6 shower and tub wall panel options look the coolest? Is there one you think is butt-ugly? Is there one you can’t do without? Comment below – or call us for design, pricing or installation questions you have about these products.
If you’d looking for help to figure out which option is best for your home or even for showers in student housing units , we’d love to help. Contact The Bath Doctor of Cleveland (216-531-6085) or Columbus (614-252-7294) for a local remodeling project. .For nationwide direct product sales on these lines call Innovate Building Solutions (877-668-5888). We ship the laminated wall panels, PVC panels and high gloss acrylic around the country and can help you and/or your contractor on how to install them.
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If you’re in the building business, click here if you’d like to learn how to become a shower wall panel dealer or call and ask for Mike at 888-467-7488.