Before choosing bathroom wallcoverings, consider the advantages and disadvantages of each -- paint, wallpaper and vinyl coverings, wood, ceramic tile, and glass block -- and where each can be used.
The quickest way to transform the look of a bath is to change the walls. Whatever surface you choose, remember that a bathroom wallcovering must stand up to heat, moisture, and frequent cleaning. Mixing and matching materials for their strengths in different areas works well, especially if the bathroom is divided into compartments.
Paint is the least expensive covering for walls and ceilings, and it's the most easily changed for cosmetic makeovers. Gloss and semigloss finishes work best in bathrooms, because they repel water and clean easily. Glossier paints exaggerate all the lumps and bumps on a wall, however, so they must be applied to a flat, smooth surface. If you want to cover a tile, glass, or porcelain surface, use an epoxy paint.
Wallpaper and Vinyl Coverings
Wallpaper and vinyl coverings come in many colors, patterns, and textures. Some have a prepasted coating that needs only to be dampened to adhere to the wall. In a bathroom, it's best to limit their use to the walls; don't ask for trouble by papering the ceiling of this naturally humid room. All bath wallcoverings should resist moisture and hold up to frequent scrubbing. Ordinary wallpaper is not the answer. Vinyl coverings (particularly vinyl laminated to fabric) withstand bathroom conditions much better. Products labeled "scrubbable" will tolerate more abrasion than "washable" ones.
Wood adds a natural warmth that complements many interior design schemes. Any wood wallcoverings in a bathroom -- whether solid or plywood-backed veneers -- must be coated with urethane or another water-resistant coating.
Ceramic tile is attractive and durable. It won't fade or stain, it cleans easily, and it is fully waterproof when installed correctly. Ceramic tile is also expensive, but its advantages make it well worth considering for at least some areas in a bathroom. Wall tiles commonly are 4 or 6 inches square, but many other sizes and shapes are available. Just be sure to use only wall tile for walls and floor tile for floors. The two are made and finished differently.
Glass block is popular because of its sleek modern look and its ability to transmit light while preserving privacy. It can be used for both walls and windows. Glass block is very expensive compared with other materials. It also is a tough job for amateurs, even with mortarless "do-it-yourself" systems. For professional results, hire a mason.