When choosing a bathroom floor, there are so many things to consider. Color, price, durability, and the type of flooring are usually the main factors. A decision that is often overlooked is safety. As our parents age (and as we age as well), safety in the bathroom becomes very important. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are a serious problem in the United States. In fact, the leading cause of fatal injury among senior citizens is falling at home with a high percentage of those falls occurring in the bathroom. If the key to safety is prevention, then picking the safest bathroom floor is vital to making the bathroom one of the safest “rooms” in the house.
When an elderly person slips on a bathroom floor, the results can be serious or even fatal. While there are many safety measures which can be put into place outside of changing the flooring like adding bars and shower chairs, replacing a slippery floor is imperative. If you have the budget and the means, installing the right flooring is a great way to reduce the risk of injuries from falls by reducing the risk of the fall itself. But what floor is the right floor? There are several options for bathroom floors & we will discuss the pros, and more importantly the cons of each.
Tile is probably the most popular flooring material for the bathroom, and for good reason. Ceramic tiles look good, last virtually forever, are easy to clean, and resist scratches and mold. From the very humble to the extremely fancy, the varieties of ceramic floor tile seem infinite.
Since “ceramic tile” is a broad scope of tile classification, some types of ceramic tiled floors are very dangerous and others are quite safe. Many floor tiles can be extremely slippery. Couple that with a wet bathroom and they become a hazard. Highly glazed tiles can be very slippery and large tiles tend to be more slippery than smaller ones. But don’t be altogether scared of using ceramic in your bathroom because a safe ceramic tiled floor is by no means impossible. Slip resistant tiles are quite easy to find and there are even tiles certified to meet ADA standards for slip resistance.
Ceramic tiles can be dangerous or safe since they can be both smooth and glazed to mimic the look of honed marble, and rough to mimic a natural stone tile like travertine. For safety, we recommend the latter.
Another factor for safety is tile size. Smaller tiles mean more grout, and grout is not slippery. If you are going ceramic, consider smaller, slip resistant tiles for a safe tiled floor in addition to a rougher tile surface.
Most vinyl flooring provides excellent traction and is often quite a bit softer than ceramic tile for a little bit of extra safety. If a fall does occur, vinyl tiles usually have an underlayment layer that goes down before the actual tile application making the surface have a little give. Other pros are vinyl flooring can look pretty classy, it’s quite easy to install, and most of it is easy on the budget.
The product is available as tiles and in sheets, but either medium does not add or detract from the safety (when you lay the vinyl in tile form, the ends of the tile are butted against each other & there is no need for grout). Tiles are a little easier to install but over time or if not well installed, the corners may start to come up causing trip hazards. This is especially true in the bathroom because of the humidity factor. The bright side is that because it’s so easy to install, it’s very easy to replace. If the tiles start warping, simply pull them up and replace the shabby tile. That being said, we recommend keeping some of this tile on hand and tucked away in your garage. It’s such a cheap building material that buying a few extra cases is not going to break the bank and it’s great to have on hand.
Cork or Bamboo
Both materials are increasingly popular for floors because they’re attractive, they’re a renewable resource, and they’re comfortable. Depending on the finish, they can be non-slip and quite safe. A high gloss finish will be much more volatile than a rough or “country” type of surface. A good rule of thumb is if it’s not shiny, it’s safe. There are also aftermarket products available to increase the slip resistance like rubs and cleaners. Though we haven’t tried it, people say a solution of vinegar and water rubbed on the wood will create a rough surface.
If you are worried about wood in the bathroom, don’t be. Most of the products are treated to resist mold, mildew, and be anti-microbial, allergen and VOC free. Wood is not going to be the best option for a non slip surface but if the aforementioned aftermarket products are applied, it becomes a pretty safe medium. We forgot to mention only natural wood will work in a bathroom a composite wood (Pergo) will warp when wet.
A well installed indoor-outdoor floor can be very safe and also worm and soft on bare feet. We are not talking about Astroturf here. There are some great Berber / high pile carpet types that look great and would work “well” in a bathroom. The reason you don’t see a lot of carpeted bathrooms is that it doesn’t respond very gracefully to getting wet, and whatever’s installed on the bathroom floor is going to get wet. There’s a good chance that a carpeted bathroom floor will give rise to mold and/or mildew problems. There are products that resist mold and mildew from the carpet itself to the batting underneath, however, nothing is going to be 100% mildew proof. Of all the products mentioned this far, carpet is by far the most non slip surface but it’s the most volatile surface because of its affinity for mold and mildew issues when used in the bathrooms.
Whenever rubber flooring is suggested, people imagine institutional settings or big thick restaurant mats. These days though, there’s a lot of very good-looking rubber floors available, and they are never slippery even when wet. Today’s rubber flooring is soft and forgiving if there is a fall. For extra softness it can be installed with an additional layer of padding.
There are some other types of flooring we’ll mention here quickly like concrete (can be pretty slippery or non-slip depending on the texture you request) and pebble bath tiles (have a nice Zen bathroom feel but are very slippery).
It’s All About Making the Right Flooring Choice
Given the potentially tragic results of bathroom falls for the elderly, it only makes sense to put safety first. Individuals are going to prioritize the other characteristics differently depending on their tastes, budgets and the look and feel of the rest of the bathroom. The good news is we already did the hard work for you with the lists below which prioritize tile options on safety and then safety while considering tile.
Ranking of Bathroom Flooring On Safety
Now that we know the options, lets rank these types of floors based on safety:
- Carpet: By far the most non slip surface
- Rubber Flooring: Next to carpet, this is your best bet
- Non-Slip Vinyl: Not too slippery and a step above wood floors on safety
- Wood (Cork, Bamboo, Natural): As a base product, it’s quote slippery compared to the others (however with the proper surface augmentations and vintage choice, we’d rank it #3)
- Ceramic Tile: Because there are so many choices and some are quite slippery, we had to rank this last
Ranking of Bathroom Floors on Looks + Safety
Even if you are elderly and concerned about safety, it doesn’t mean you need to skimp on style. The following list represents the ranking of floors based on looks first than safety (note we are also considering all after market safety additions & other safety precautions to create a best case safety scenario):
- Ceramic Tile: Again, there are soo many options here that you can definitely find a tile with a very rough surface. You can also get some small tiles (4×4) with large grout seams to make the surface even less slippery. Want to go the extra mile, use a thick bathroom rug as well & never step directly onto the tile.
- Wood: With the addition of aftermarket products and with a very dull floor (the high gloss ones are the most slippery) a wood floor can be quite safe and look great in a bathroom. We also recommend a thick carpeted / rubber backed floor mat to cover the area outside of the shower, under the sink, and in front of the toilet.
- Vinyl Flooring: Not the most attractive option but not the worst either. Plus it’s pretty middle of the road as far as safety putting it right in the middle of our safety + looks list.
- Carpet: Carpet is safe, but no one likes carpet in a bathroom because from a designers perspective, it’s not an attractive look. If you are thinking about style + safety, you are better off with wood or ceramic using bathroom mats (rugs) as accents.
- Rubber Flooring: It’s safe but it looks pretty shabby. If you are concerned about looks over safety, then you wouldn’t want the paramedics to pick you up off of a rubber floor making it last on our good looks + safety list.
Did we miss something or do you feel our rankings for either list are wrong? Please share your views below.
- HomeMods: Resource for the elderly or disabled to increase the availability and access of home modifications.
- Adult Bathroom Safety: A checklist from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for staying safe in the bathroom.
- Improving Safety for Seniors: Some great suggestions for improving safety in the bathroom and other rooms in the house.