Can I really use wallpaper in the bathroom?

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Many of us will be surprised to find that the world of wallpaper has been opened up to us – we can now use it on any wall or ceiling in our homes. Yes, that also includes the bathroom!

Of course, paper and water are not a good match, and using standard wallpaper as is in a modern bathroom can be a recipe for disaster. As soon as the paper absorbs water (which it invariably will), it will start forming mould, which no one is ever happy about. Not to mention the host of health problems this can cause.

There are some, who will go this route against all advice, and apply plain wallpaper in a bathroom. This may work out well for them in the short term, but the paper will never hold longer than two years at most, and that will not even be in the most desirable condition.

Here at homify, however, we are not interested in poor quality solutions, only effective ones that make your life simpler! So join us on a journey to explore how you can best apply wallpaper in your bathroom.

How can I use wallpaper in the bathroom?

The idea of using wallpaper in the bathroom may seem absurd to many, and indeed, if used on its own, wallpaper will certainly not withstand the humidity and moisture inherent to all bathrooms across the world. However, with the advancements in design and technology, our options are endless, and these days, it can also be very inexpensive.

Using a coat of simple Decorator’s Varnish over your layer of wallpaper will seal it up perfectly, protecting it from the surrounding heat and moisture. It is a well-known and trusted trick, and even interior designers who use expensive wallpaper will still use the standard varnish to protect it.

It will be safest to go with a dead flat finish varnish for most designs, but in other cases you might want to opt for a satin finish. This latter is usually used in the kitchen, since it is more grease-resistant, but if you want a richer texture for your bathroom, you can use it there as well. The most important thing to remember when using any type of varnish, is to test a small patch on your wallpaper before applying to the entire area. This remains the golden rule of painting and varnishing in any situation.

Coating your wallpaper with a layer of varnish is the simplest way to use wallpaper in the bathroom, and the key step in making it happen. There are, however, some design details you can consider for different effects, and we will list a few tips below…

1. Products available to us today

Most wallpapers on the market today, and especially those marketed specifically for high moisture areas, are covered with a film to protect it from water damage. It consists of a layer of non-porous film (mostly vinyl) laminated on top of a layer or printed fabric or paper substrate. This is much more durable than conventional wallpaper, as the paper is not susceptible to absorbing water.

The products available to us today are also super easy to clean. The treatment of these types of wallpaper can simply be wiped with a damp rag to clean. Stains don’t typically soak into properly treated wallpaper, so it will last longer.

Another great benefit of modern-day wallpaper products, is that most high-quality brands are free from acetone and turpentine, which can produce dangerous fumes and poor indoor air quality.

2. Vinyl wallpaper

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Back in the day, vinyl wallpaper was rather unattractive. Over the years, however, manufacturers and designers have put a lot of thought into improving this product, and now we find a wide range of designs for vinyl and blown vinyl wallpaper.

Vinyl wallpaper has several benefits, including being appropriate for use in most areas, it is easy to clean, it is available in a wide range of textures and colours, it is safe for indoor air quality, and great for hiding imperfections (more on that later).

What’s more, we get several designs of vinyl tiles resembling porcelain tiles. Not only do these tiles look hyper-realistic, but they are also far less expensive than the real thing, meaning you can change your look more often for less.

3. Combine tile walls with wallpaper

If you’re still not convinced and a little wary of using paper as wallcovering in your bathroom, this may be just the solution for you. Using your ideal print of wallpaper in combination with tiles can allow you to try out this new material in the bathroom while still playing it safe. Simply tile the area most likely to get wet (close to the bathtub, for example), and use wallpaper on the upper areas of the room. Given, the wallpaper here will still be exposed to steam, but much less direct moisture. Since we are only going to use properly treated products in any case, this should be completely safe.

Many retailers offer custom options when it comes to wallpaper, so you can easily get a design tailored to your needs and wants, as well as to your tiles!

4. Textured wallpaper to cover up defects

There are surely more than a few of us who are concerned about the (in)ability of wallpaper to cover up defects in the wall. This is most likely why people still choose to go for tiles or other types of thicker coatings. There is, however, a way to get around this with the simplicity of 2 dimensional wallpaper.

When it comes to small cracks or scratches on your wall’s surface, a coat of paint won’t cut it, but wallpaper will do the trick. When you have more problematic areas on your wall where imperfections are distended, you should rather opt for textured wallpaper, which will erase all traces of any problems.

Another great alternative will be to use pressed tin tiles. This lightweight material is comparable to wallpaper, but provides a lustrous appearance and metallic sheen. They are, admittedly, more expensive, and you will have to purchase tin tiles which had been pre-treated to resist rust. You can also cover these with a layer of Decorators Varnish to protect it from moisture and humidity.

5. Small bathrooms

Besides the obvious financial benefits of using wallpaper in the bathroom, there are decorative ones as well. Since there are so many different designs, textures and colours of wallpaper available to us today, our decorative options are endless. If you choose the right wallpaper pattern, you can also eliminate the need for other decorative options – the pattern will do all of the heavy lifting. This is particularly helpful in small bathrooms, as we don’t always have space for many decorative items, and it is never a good idea to clutter a bathroom!

What you also want to take in to account is the amount of wallpaper you buy. Not only do you have to buy enough rolls to cover the area of your desired wall or ceiling, you will also might have to use a bit more paper to match the pattern across your desired space. Therefore, to avoid struggling to find a more of your chosen wallpaper, make sure you write down the product code if you have to go back and they are out of stock.

6. Very humid bathrooms

It is natural and expected that not all bathrooms are created equal, and all of them are certainly not treated equally. Bathrooms used by more than two people on a daily basis, that are poorly ventilated, or has no access to sunlight will need some special treatment, beyond what we’ve already discussed.

For these bathrooms, you will need to use a mildew roof wallpaper primer and adhesive to apply your chosen wallpaper. Thereafter you can go ahead and coat it with varnish as in other situations.

For more on bathroom materials and considerations, take a look at: Best materials for the bathroom.

Was this guide helpful to you? We'd love to hear of your bathroom wallpapering experiences!
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