With its emphasis on functionality, the bathroom can be one of the more challenging spaces to design. Finding the right bathroom paint color does help, but wallpaper can add an appealing, unexpected look.
Wallpaper comes in thousands of designs, patterns, and colors. With wallpaper, you can even incorporate trompe-l'œil for the effect of shiplap, stone, or brick. Wallpaper's reputation in the bathroom has always been fraught with the notion that wallpaper, though beautiful, is never a good idea. But with adequate preparation, you can use wallpaper in the bathroom.
Is Wallpaper in the Bathroom Ever a Good Idea?
Bathroom conditions are often antithetical to wallpaper. Humidity, water splashes, heat, mold—individually or combined—are unfriendly to wallpaper's core material: paper. Organic materials like wood and paper do not work well with water.
Yet preparing the wall correctly, treating the wallpaper, and managing moisture and temperature make wallpaper in the bathroom a possibility.
Bathroom Wallpaper Pros and Cons
Wide variety of designs and patterns
Covers minor imperfections
Easy to install
Peeling and mold possible
Extra wall prep before installation
Touchups and repairs difficult
Can be difficult to remove
Types of Wallpaper to Use in the Bathroom
Use either treated paper wallpaper or 100-percent vinyl wallpaper in the bathroom.
Traditional paper wallpaper applied with paste (adhesive) has the greatest range of designs and choices, including gorgeous and unique designer papers. It's also the type of paper most prone to water damage.
Paper wallpaper can either be dry-backed (requiring separate adhesive) or pre-pasted (not self-adhesive but a type of adhesive that's activated by water).
Treat the wallpaper's surface with flat or satin decorator's varnish after it's installed, which protects and seals without changing the look of the paper. Seal all edges to make sure that water does not seep in through the back.
Peel-and-stick wallpaper has long been a favorite of renters and anyone who wants to keep their wallpaper choice flexible. Vinyl comes in enough colors, designs, and textures to suit every style—every solid color, plus patterns and images like damask, grasscloth, marble, masonry, linen, and more.
Peel-and-stick's low-tack self-adhesive backing does make it easier to remove when the time comes. But its main value for bathrooms is that it's 100-percent vinyl. With no paper content to degrade or develop mold, peel-and-stick wallpaper is ideal for high-moisture environments like full baths.
Bathroom Wallpaper: Concerns and Fixes
Managing bathroom humidity, water, and heat are important to successfully using wallpaper in the bathroom.
General Bathroom Humidity
- Install a high-velocity bathroom exhaust fan.
- Install a built-in infrared heater in the ceiling.
- Wire the fan and light switch in tandem to automatically turn on the fan when anyone uses the bathroom.
- Use a dehumidifier.
Water Splashes Near Shower/Tub
- Maintain a wall buffer alongside the shower/bathtub.
- Paint the buffer with interior paint or cover with tile.
- Avoid wallpapering the space between the ceiling and the shower/tub surround.
Water Splashes Above Sink
- Install a high backsplash behind the bathroom sink.
- Make sure the sink faucet has a properly working aerator to minimize splashes.
- Turn down the water heater temperature setting.
- Install a window or skylight in the bathroom.
- Install an exhaust fan only, minus the infrared heat component.
- Crack open the bathroom door to help the exhaust fan draw air.
Bathroom Wallpaper Installation Overview
Installing pre-pasted paper wallpaper in the bathroom means correctly preparing the wall. Once it's up, the wallpaper should be coated for protection.
Avoid applying the wallpaper to porous or textured walls, unpainted drywall or plaster, or high-gloss paint. Start with a smooth, flat surface. The wall must be spotlessly clean.
With a spray bottle, spritz the back of the wallpaper. Cover all areas, especially the edges.
The technique called booking activates the adhesive while preventing the glue from drying out. Drape each panel inward on itself. Leave for about five minutes.
Lay and Smooth Wallpaper
Using a laser line as a guide and starting at the top, lay the wallpaper panels on the wall. Use the wallpaper smoother to help the paper stick and to push out air bubbles.
Brush or roll the decorator's varnish over the wallpaper. The varnish will apply milky-white but dry clear.
Protect Wallpaper Edges and Seams
Use clear silicone caulk to fill between the wallpaper and baseboards. Fix all curling or lifting seams with seam sealant.