Installing wood flooring in bathrooms used to be considered a big no-no. Splashing, standing water, and even high humidity would damage and warp the material, making it useless in a short amount of time. Has this all changed with new treatments available for wood flooring? Many people now argue that polyurethane coatings and prefinished hardwood flooring is far more resistant to water damage than before, and some argue that some hardwood flooring is actually waterproof.
Not so fast. The reality is that nearly all hardwood flooring manufacturers still advise caution when it comes to using their flooring in bathrooms and other wet areas. It's true that good oil-based polyurethane sealers and careful attention to sealing cracks between flooring boards can make hardwood flooring perform adequately in a bathroom, but virtually no flooring manufacturer will ever describe a hardwood flooring product as waterproof. The best you can get is a tentative description of the product as being water-resistant, and then only if you carefully follow use-and-care instructions. For example, a flooring manufacturer may honor a warranty for a moisture-resistant hardwood floor only if standing puddles are thoroughly mopped up and dried within minutes. Read manufacturer's literature carefully if you are considering natural wood flooring for a bathroom.
Some things to consider when it comes to using hardwood flooring in a bathroom:
- Hardwood will take much more care and maintenance in a bathroom than elsewhere in your home—at the very least, a yearly application of a finish designed for wet environments.
- Manufacturers often challenge warranty claims on wood flooring in a bathroom—and some flooring products may expressly say they are not suitable for bathrooms.
- Any and all splashed and spilled water must be mopped up and dried immediately—even if you think you have waterproofed the floor with sealer.
All that being said, modern polyurethane sealers, combined with more robust exhaust vent fans that can dry a bathroom much quicker, mean that wood flooring can be often used in today's bathrooms. They are still perhaps a poor choice for family bathrooms with bathtubs used by children, but for powder rooms that feature only a sink, for guest bathrooms that aren't used often, and for a primary bathroom where you are willing to put in the effort to maintain the floor, a good hardwood floor can be a wonderful design element.
For many people, the style benefits are worth the risks. Wood is warm, stylish, and beautiful. If you're not a big fan of the cold, clinical look that's common for bathrooms, then wood will certainly suit your tastes. Hardwood floors come in different colors and styles, making it a perfect choice for a variety of decor projects.
But Consider Alternatives
If you are still uneasy about using wood in a bathroom (and there is ample reason to be cautious), you may want to consider porcelain tile or luxury vinyl planking, both of which can look remarkably like natural wood. And these are no second-best alternatives—quality porcelain and luxury vinyl are high-end flooring materials you can be proud to display. And they are virtually immune to damage from moisture and standing water. Virtually all the designer bathrooms you will see in the following examples could be accomplished with porcelain tile or luxury vinyl—and the difference would be very hard to spot.
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Reclaimed Wood Floor with Gray Subway Tile
This retro bathroom by Interior Therapy features a reclaimed wood floor that adds to the aged style of the space. It adds warmth in contrast to the cooler grey subway tile and modern frameless shower, bringing a wonderful balance to the whole.Continue to 2 of 15 below.
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Dark Wood Floor In a Contemporary Powder Room
This colorful powder room by AMW Design Studio uses wood flooring to add organic warmth to a surprisingly effective yellow croc-skin wallpaper. The combinations of metal and wood, ceramic and fabric, and yellow and blue are perfectly balanced to avoid visually overwhelming the space.
The wood floor is the secret to making this space work. By adding something natural and organic, the bathrooms look accessible and welcoming, rather than shocking and alienating.Continue to 3 of 15 below.
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Luxury Bathroom With Dark Wood Flooring
Dark, espresso-stained flooring contrasts the whiteness of this luxurious primary bathroom by Tracery Interiors, and contributes to a chic Gothic style, along with the decorative screen and chandelier. A high, peaked ceiling makes this bathroom especially expansive.
The high-gloss finish on flooring this dark provides a look similar to that of natural stone. This look both reinforces the Gothic style while offering a contrast with the matte, fabric-look wallpaper.Continue to 4 of 15 below.
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Wood Slats in a Wet Room Bath
This gorgeous modern bathroom by alsoCAN Architects uses a wood slat floor to seamlessly integrate a shower in a wet-room space. The water goes between the slats to a drainage tray underneath. The medium-dark shade has an Asian feel to it, like something you'd find in a Bali spa. The rest of the design is minimal and functional, yet warm and inviting.
Such usage requires a wood that can accept frequent soaking, such as oil-treated teak or redwood.Continue to 5 of 15 below.
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Open-Concept Bathroom With Wood and Marble Floor
The white oak flooring betrays the Scandinavian inspiration for this bathroom by Studio DB. This high ceiling, open-concept space is perfect for those who enjoy a quiet, relaxing time in their bath while enjoying a great view. The hex marble tile is an especially stylish touch that beautifully contrasts with the brass plumbing hardware.Continue to 6 of 15 below.
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Primary Bathroom With Classic Wood Floor
There's nothing like a traditional primary bathroom with a classic, medium-tone hardwood floor. This space by Lorraine G. Vale gets everything right: the white and beige paint, the pedestal tub, the marble countertop, and the double sink. The warm, welcoming glow of a hardwood floor brings it all together to make for a relaxing space. In a space where both showering and bathing occur, take care to protect wood floors against standing water.Continue to 7 of 15 below.
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Rustic-Style Bathroom with Nailed-Plank Flooring
A clawfoot tub set on a retro, nailed-plank wood floor sets the tone for this rustic yet cozy bathroom by Kathryn Scott Design Studio. The Roman shade and antique silver mirror add elegance to this cozy space. The darker shade of wood contrasts with the white and gray that predominate the space and provides the natural touch that works so well in farmhouse-style rooms.Continue to 8 of 15 below.
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Eclectic Bathroom With Diamond-Pattern Wood Floor
This cool bathroom floor is made up of wood planks stained in a diamond pattern. This might be an interesting, challenging DIY project for motivated home renovators. Designer Kasey Buick also included a few antique mirrors and traditional light fixtures to finish the look. Not all wood floors have to feature straight planks and traditional designs!Continue to 9 of 15 below.
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Bathroom With Fireplace and Matte Wood Floor
Nothing feels more luxurious than reading a book in the tub under the light of a fireplace. This primary bathroom by Carden Cunietti features not only a classic brick fireplace, but also a wonderful matte espresso wood floor that contrasts against the white paint, tub, and sink. The visible veining on the marble makes for an interesting texture, too.Continue to 10 of 15 below.
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Black Tub and Herringbone Wood Planks
Black tubs are not usual, but against a white painted brick wall and light wood herringbone floor, it is stunning. This bathroom by Gonterman Construction features lots of natural light and open, uncluttered space. A white Roman shade provides privacy when needed.
A custom herringbone plank floor like this will require a lot of attention to keep it water-resistant.Continue to 11 of 15 below.
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Contemporary Primary Bath With Wood Floor Pedestal
Here, a freestanding tub rests on two large wooden beams in the same shade as the retro wood plank flooring underneath it. The mix of old and new in this bathroom by Mark Jordan Architecture & Design is a wonderful way to add personality and style. The wood tones of the flooring are echoed by the room trim and picture moldings.Continue to 12 of 15 below.
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Modern Bathroom With Light Wood Floor
Save space in a smaller bathroom by setting a tub across a corner rather than along a wall. This bathroom by Kim Lewis Designs has plenty of personality, created by the hanging terrarium, green ladder, and light wood floor. A wood plank of the same shade serves as a tray over the tub for a book and a glass of wine.Continue to 13 of 15 below.
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Shabby Chic Bathroom With Wood Plank Flooring
This bathroom by Key Residential really adds the "chic" to "shabby chic," with prefinished wood plank flooring, distressed wood wall decor, and a freestanding tub painted to look like oxidized copper. That wooden separator screen pulls the whole together by providing privacy and adding style to the space.
Prefinished wood flooring planks can be especially tricky to use in a bathroom. Note the beveled edges, which can collect standing water unless spills are immediately soaked up.Continue to 14 of 15 below.
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Eclectic Powder Room With Herringbone Floor
In this quirky design by Jennifer Bunsa, a kitchen cabinet is repurposed to a bathroom cabinet, and a unique lotus flower light fixture provides an unusual accent. The herringbone wood floor ties everything together by recalling the cabinet and wall beams. Two rugs keep your feet warm on a cold winter morning.Continue to 15 of 15 below.
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This small bathroom with white subway tile uses what appears to be a distressed wood flooring. However, notice how the flooring covers the entire shower floor. This is a perfect example of how porcelain tile can convincingly look like natural wood. In this space by Leivars, the distressed "wood" floor adds a touch of retro love, which is enhanced by the classic beveled subway tile.