Choosing Between Synthetic and Natural Solid Surfaces For Your Bathroom

Written by bprescottJanuary 30, 2012
bathroom with synthetic solid counter top

Considering the Solid Characteristics of Solid Surfaces

Today’s solid surfaces are durable, long-lasting, and low-maintenance materials used for countertops, backsplashes behind sinks, shower and bathtub enclosures, and flooring. Many of these materials are available, and you’ll find them in displays at home design centers and at bathroom design firms, where you’ll find qualified fabricators to install them.


These materials, first introduced in the early 1970s, are made up of polyester or acrylic, resins, and fillers. They come in a palette of colors, textures, and patterns and are sold at kitchen and bath design centers, as well as home centers and lumberyards. Synthetics withstand dirt and bacterial growth and can be repaired with a light sanding.

Designers love to use synthetic material as wall cladding, or paneling, because of its versatility. It can be fabricated or “sliced and diced” with intricate edging details or configured with inlaids and intricate designs. This isn’t a do-it-yourself material. In the hands of a fabricator, the material can line the walls of a shower stall, seal the floor as a threshold, trim out a window, or be custom cut as shelving. It costs approximately $75 a linear foot or more. Typically the material is sold in sheets that are 1/4 inch, 1/2 inch, and 3/4 inch thick, from 30 to 60 inches wide, and from 84 to 145 inches in length.

When synthetic sheets are used as wallcovering in a bathroom, they are installed with silicone sealant behind each seam on the wall, or with a narrow strip of the material called a batten over the joint to seal the seams. In some installations, corner pieces with routed edges are used. All joints are sealed with an adhesive caulk to prevent gaps.

Natural materials

The most popular natural materials used in bathrooms today are granite and marble, both of which are installed as walls, floors, and countertops. On a wall, marble tiles are a striking accent or durable surface enclosing a bathtub or shower. The high-tech look of a granite vanity countertop looks great when set against a granite backsplash.

We’ve seen marble in the bathrooms of old hotels and homes that withstands the test of time, but marble stains and scratches easily. Some marbles require a periodic sealing.

Polished natural materials are fine for walls and countertops, but can be too slippery for floors. A better choice is stone with a matte or honed surface that’s safer to walk on, especially when wet.

When selecting natural materials, consult with a stone contractor about the installation, especially regarding weight, which can be an issue on second-story rooms. A good resource for information on stone is the Marble Institute of America (

From ‘Bathroom Remodeling For Dummies’
Copyright © 2003 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana
Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.



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