Should You Really Wallpaper a Bathroom? Here Are 5 Considerations from the Experts

The bathroom might feel like the perfect place to experiment with a bold print but here experts share why this might not always be the right choice

Bathroom with black and gold ornamental wallpaper
(Image credit: Paul Dyer)

One of the most popular uses of wallpaper in modern interior design is to cover a downstairs bathroom in striking wallpaper as designers and homeowners tend to be more daring in smaller, closed off spaces. It can be the perfect space to experiment and play around with.

It's not just the powder room in which homeowners and designers are lusting after wallpaper for though. The main bathroom can often be a room in which people like a bold aesthetic. But, bathrooms generally are high-traffic areas of the house and given how often they are used, need to be carefully considered in the design process if you don't want to have to renovate every couple of years.

So, should you wallpaper a bathroom? We spoke to some wallpaper experts for their advice on whether a modern bathroom really is the best place to showcase a feature wallpaper.

1. The Waterproof Problem

A bathroom with a large print wallpaper

(Image credit: ANNA STATHAKI)

Whether you've got a wet room or not, the bathroom inevitably ends up getting a little soaked every now and then. As much as you try to avoid it, the wall behind the sink is a high splash zone and, particularly if kids are involved, the walls around the bathtub can be susceptible to a large water coating too. Whatever wallpaper you've chosen, and even if you use a protective varnish, it is very rarely totally waterproof.

Even if you are particularly splash-conscious then the humidity of a bathroom, which you really can't avoid, can also have consequences for wallpaper in the bathroom. The constant humidity can weaken the paste which keeps the wallpaper firmly in place meaning it could start to peel away from the wall quicker than you'd like it to. 

Amy Youngblood, interior designer, says: 'In a bathroom with a shower for example, you risk the possibility of steam or water damage with wallpaper when people are showering every day.'

However, there are lots of varnishes available which you can use on wallpaper to give it an extra layer of protective coating. If you choose a high-quality wallpaper, this will also help to prevent the wallpaper peeling and fraying in the humid conditions. Another expert top tip is to avoid putting wallpaper in particularly high-splash zones like behind the sink.

2. Keeping it Clean

A sage green bathroom with a yellow vanity and bird print wallpaper on the top two thirds of the wall

(Image credit: Bobbi Beck)

Finding a wallpaper that is scrubbable can be a challenging task and there's no avoiding that it will need a bit of cleaning in its time. So, if you are looking to use a wallpaper in this room, it's definitely best to go with a washable choice.

One of the main risks is various toiletry products ending up on the wallpaper. These can be oil-based and stain wallpapers easily which can then be hard to get out. Another risk is children scratching the walls with bathroom toys or making unwanted marks on them. It can be much harder to get these off wallpaper than it can to get them off paint or tiles which are other popular bathroom choices.

'I think that in a younger kid’s bathroom, unless you have an unlimited budget, the risk of damage such as writing or scratches doesn’t make it work the money over painting,' says Amy.

3. The Mold Problem

a bathroom with mulberry wallpaper

(Image credit: A1000xBetter)

Whilst using wallpaper can give a colorful bathroom look, it may just be that it puts a pretty picture over a deeper issue. Unfortunately, mold is hard to avoid in bathrooms due to the high humidity levels. Mold thrives in the dark and moist conditions behind a bathroom wallpaper which means it could be growing quickly without you noticing it, eventually leading to a challenging problem to solve. 

This doesn't mean that wallpaper has to be a total no-go for the bathroom though. 'We would recommend using wallpaper in well-ventilated bathrooms,' says Ruth Mottershead, creative director of Little Greene. Keeping your bathroom well-ventilated is an essential for reducing the mold risk and keeping your wallpaper from peeling away from the walls too quickly. Choosing a moisture-resistant wallpaper or coating a regular high-quality wallpaper with a varnish are two more easy ways to reduce the risk of mold growing.

4. Applying Wallpaper In A Bathroom

Green bathroom cabinet with large gold framed mirrors

(Image credit: Emy Stenudd / @malmrosvillan)

Knowing how to hang bathroom wallpaper is a real skill to master because it's definitely one of the trickiest rooms to get right. Unlike the living room which tends to have empty walls that can easily be wallpapered, bathroom walls tend to have various fittings on them, making the wallpapering more fiddly.

Aligning the wallpaper around towel rails or in the small space behind a sink for example is no easy task and may require expert help, making your bathroom makeover more difficult.

Easy solutions to this, however, are thinking about which walls to wallpaper. You don't necessarily have to cover all of the walls with your favourite captivating print. It might be that one wall of the bathroom has no fixtures on it and therefore is a great choice for a feature wall. Or, you could think about pairing a wallpaper up with another design choice. Using wallpaper just on the upper half of the walls, and putting paint or tiles in the lower half which is more likely to get splashed, can be a perfect happy medium. 'We recommend wallpaper across walls that don’t come into direct contact with water,' says Ruth.

5. What are the Other Options?

a shower room with bold wallpaper

(Image credit: Wall&Deco)

If the wallpaper look is something you're keen on, but you're worried about the upkeep, there are specialist bathroom wallpapers such as the WET System by Wall & Deco. This is specifically designed for use in places where there are water and steam, and can even be used inside shower enclosures.

Or, consider your options. 'For a highly used primary bathroom, I prefer a durable, scrubbable when needed paint finish,' says Amy. By using paint, you can eliminate any of the worry about the longevity of wallpaper. Cleaning walls without removing the paint is a much simpler task than trying to protect a wallpaper from coming unstuck from the wall after too much exposure to humidity.

Tiles are another great option for bathrooms, particularly for those splash risk zones like behind the sink. What's more, if there's a plumbing leak, tiles are one of the best materials for disguising any of the consequences. A plumbing leak causes a potential threat to the longevity of your bathroom wallpaper. If a leak presents, it may damage the wall behind the paper which can often lead to brown or yellow stain spots showing up on the paper as the wall becomes damp.

So, Should You Wallpaper A Bathroom?

The experts are often split on whether or not wallpaper is the best choice for creating a showstopper bathroom. There are, as with most design choices, pros and cons to the decision. 

Thinking about your specific bathroom space is really important. If you have a well ventilated bathroom or are only featuring wallpaper on a smaller section of the walls, then a feature wallpaper could be a great way to make your bathroom something special. 

If you're looking for longevity in your primary bathroom renovation, however, it might be worth saving your wallpaper desires for another room of the house, such as a smaller powder room which won't have to endure the effects of condensation on the wallpaper. 'I am a huge fan of wallpaper in a statement space such as a low usage powder room,' says Amy.

Imogen Williams
Trainee writer

Imogen is a freelance writer and student on the Magazine Journalism master's degree at City, University of London following her Modern Languages degree at The University of Exeter. She has written for lifestyle and popular culture magazines as well as wellness and sports magazines. She has a long-standing interest in interior design and London architecture and is a firm believer in the power of bold wallpaper.