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Can You Put Wood Paneling in a Bathroom?

Can you use wood paneling in a bathroom?

Sure you can, but a better question is should you put wood paneling in a bathroom?

Wood is an excellent material for most parts of your home, from the foundation to the frame, roof, or finish.

But in the bathroom, as a finish material, wood is probably not the best choice. Especially when you have more waterproof options such as tile or shower wall panels.

Wood bathrooms can be done and often have a brighter, more organic feel than tile. But it will take extra time, money, and effort to properly have a wood-finished bathroom while avoiding the problems that can come with it.

wood paneling bathroom

Things to Consider When Installing Wood Paneling in Your Bathroom

Swelling or Bulging

When installing a wood finish in your bathroom, swelling or bulging are things you should be aware of.

As wood takes in water, it will swell or bulge out and shrink back when it dries up. This expanding and contracting can cause severe issues over time in your bathroom.

When the wood bulges, it can cause damage to fixtures and other parts of your bathroom. Also, the repeated expanding and contracting of the wood will eventually cause it to crack.

When installing wood paneling in your bathroom, keep it away from things like plumbing, electrical, showerheads, and faucets.


Mold should be the number one consideration due to the health effects caused by it and the damage it can do to your home.

Any material that is not waterproof and is frequently exposed to water can develop mold. Wood is no exception.

Installing wood paneling in your bathroom but keeping wood out of the shower area is one way to limit the moisture on your wood.

Purchasing a fan to dry the wood will cut down on both mold and swelling.

Another option is to treat your wood with a waterproof sealant and to choose a species of wood more resistant to water, as outlined below.

Species and Sealant Choices

By being careful and making good decisions, you can avoid the problems of having a wood finish while keeping a beautiful look.

Being vigilant in your maintenance and keeping your wood dry can help.

And through choosing a suitable species of wood and the proper sealant, you can usually prevent the issues of mold and swelling.


Cedar, white oak and teak are three species that are more water-resistant and durable than other species of wood.

Cedar is the most popular choice for bathroom applications. Another more rare and expensive option is old-growth redwood.

But keep in mind that all of these species are generally more expensive. Also, none of them are immune to water, just better at handling it than most types of wood.


Sealing your wood is just as important as the type of wood you use. There are a few ways to waterproof your wood.

One option is to use an oil such as linseed or tung oil. Both these oils can be custom mixed.

These oils are best used with dark-grained wood species such as walnut.

Of all your sealing options, the oil will not give you the best water protection, but it will provide you with the most beautiful and attractive finish.

Besides oil, you can use a sealant on your wood. A sealant will not give you the beautiful finish that oil can, but it will provide you with the best water protection.

You will have three choices when it comes to sealants. These choices are polyurethane, lacquer, and varnish.

Any of these sealants can be used in your bathroom. But lacquer is usually for furniture, and varnish is generally for outdoor applications making polyurethane your best choice for the bathroom.

Alternatives to Wood Paneling in a Bathroom


Tiles, being the most used finish for bathrooms across the world, remain a good alternative.

If you want a wood look but don’t want to deal with the extra time and maintenance, tile is a great option.

There is tile known as a wood plank or wood grain tile, and it does a decent job of imitating wood.

These wood look-a-like tiles usually come in many different colors and are generally made of porcelain.

Shower Wall Panels

There are shower wall panels usually made of laminate or solid surface materials that look like wood.

A wood imitation shower wall panel will cost you more than the base cost of cedar paneling.

But with the shower wall panel, it’s waterproof, so you just need to install it, and you are good to go.

You will need to spend additional time and money sealing or oiling your wood to waterproof it with the cedar. So shower wall panels are always a great option.


Wallpaper, yes, it sounds crazy, but it is an alternative.

There are many styles of wallpaper that appear to be authentic wood paneling, at least until you touch them.

This is the cheapest option available as you can get enough of this wood-looking wallpaper to cover your entire bathroom for about 20 dollars.

I would definitely apply clear coat waterproof primer paint to this wallpaper to give you some waterproofing capability.

Of all the options available, this is the one I would be least likely to recommend as it’s the most problematic.


Wood paneling can add a wonderful organic look to your bathroom. But you must be willing to take that extra time and care to give your wood paneling a long life.

If the look of wood is not important to you, then why bother with the extra work? Just go with a shower wall panel or tile.

James B. Parker

At a young age, James' father taught him carpentry, and he was pretty much destined for a career in the construction industry. He worked as a professional remodeling contractor for some of the most prominent construction companies for several years, before deciding to pursue his passion for writing.

A vast amount of construction experience allows James to provide practical advice for those considering a bathroom remodel.

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At Loo Academy, our mission is to offer trusted advice for everything related to bathrooms (design ideas, plumbing advice, showering & bathing tips, remodeling guides, and more) — a place where we all spend a great deal of time.

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