brown marble tiles on shower wall

What Is the Best Material to Use for Shower Walls?

Showers can be either a bathtub shower, a walk-in shower, or an enclosed shower. Each of these showers requires shower walls. There are a few different types of materials that can be used for shower walls, here’s which one is the best.

As a general rule, acrylic or tiles are the best materials to use for shower walls. Acrylic is generally less expensive than tiles to install. However, tiles can look better based on your personal preference. 

There are a few different types of tiles that can be used for showers. For example, some types of tiles are made of glass, whereas, others are made of porcelain. Each of these can be better based on your personal preference 

Pros and Cons of the Different Types of Shower Materials

black granite shower wall
black granite shower wall

Some shower wall materials are reasonably similar, whereas, others are very different. The main differences between each of the different types of shower materials are:

  • How expensive the materials and labor to install them are
  • How they look – some look better than others
  • How easy they are to clean

Here’s a table that shows how expensive or cheap each of the different shower wall materials is, how difficult they are to install, and which looks the best:

Type of shower wallPros and cons
Glass (tiles)Expensive, medium difficulty to install. Looks very good.
Natural stone (such as granite)Expensive, very difficult to install. Looks the best.
Tiles – porcelainInexpensive, medium difficulty to install. Looks very good.
Tiles – ceramicVery inexpensive, medium difficulty to install. Looks very good.
Artificial stoneVery inexpensive, medium difficulty to install. Looks very good.
AcrylicInexpensive, easy to install. Doesn’t have the BEST visual appeal. But, looks very good.

(source)

As you can see from the table, there is a bit of a trade-off between how expensive a shower wall is to install, and how good it looks. The better the look the more expensive it is.

Each of the different types of shower wall material costs a different amount. For example, natural stone is very expensive, both to buy and to install. Whereas, acrylic is very cheap to both buy and install. To get an idea about how they differ in price, here’s a table that shows the average cost for each of the different shower wall materials:

Type of shower wall materialCost per square foot including install
Glass (tiles)$19 to $65
Natural stone (such as granite)$16 to $64
Tiles – porcelain$16 to $45
Tiles – ceramic$5 to $110
Artificial stone$5 to $110
Acrylic$4.50 to $15
Modern shower with white wall tiles.

The main reason natural stone is the most difficult to install is that it’s very heavy. Natural stone can be a slab – one big piece that is quite thick, or you can install natural stone tiles. 

It does, however, have that luxury look, and provided it’s professional installed it will last pretty much forever. As you may know, regular tiles are made with a mix of very finely ground-up rock and sand. 

Whereas, natural stone is pure stone that is cut into shape. The difficulty to install the different types of shower wall materials is a factor. It will add time and be more of a headache to install. To illustrate this point it let’s take a look at the difference between installing acrylic shower walls compared to natural stone shower walls.

Acrylic shower walls are very light, and as a result, don’t require a special effort to make sure they stay in place. The reason is essentially it’s a large sheet of thin light plastic. It can be positioned easily by one of two people. 

On the other hand, natural stone and tiles are very heavy. They require few loads, or a wheelbarrow to transport them into the bathroom, they also require special care to install the finish the grout, which takes more time.

Interestingly, acrylic shower walls come in a range of different colors and patterns. They can have a finish that looks like natural stone, a specific pattern that looks like tiles or be one solid color. The shower pan is also an important consideration. 

A shower pan, also called the base of a shower can be tiled, but can also be acrylic, fiberglass, or what’s called a composite. I explained these in more detail in this article about how much weight a shower pan can hold.

How Difficult the Different Shower Wall Materials Are To Clean

use spary and brush to clean the white tile shower wall

Another big deciding factor is how easy the shower walls are to clean. Some types of shower walls are very easy to clean, whereas, others are much more difficult. Here’s a table that shows how easy or difficult each of the different shower types is to clean.

Type of shower wallPros and cons
Glass (tiles)Easy to clean
Natural stone (such as granite)Medium difficulty to clean
Tiles – porcelainEasy to clean
Tiles – ceramicEasy to clean
Artificial stoneEasy to clean
AcrylicVery easy to clean

Acrylic shower walls are by far the easiest to clean. This is because the wall is one piece. Tiles have grout in between. While it’s not typically overly difficult to clean grout, it does require more care to clean them, and therefore, takes a bit longer. 

Tiles can be both glazed and unglazed. Glazed tiles have a protective layer that is not as rough and porous as unglazed tiles. This makes them easier to clean. 

Natural stone can also be polished or unpolished. Polished natural stone is very smooth and so mold, and grim doesn’t get into small crevices, which are a bit more difficult to clean. Glass tiles have an incredibly hard outer layer. But, because they have grout in between they are also more difficult to clean than acrylic.

How Long Each of the Different Shower Wall Materials Last

Interior of minimalistic bathroom with white and pink tile walls, concrete floor, comfortable walk in shower with glass wall and chair with beauty products.
pink glass wall

The different shower wall materials last a different amount of time. Here’s a table that shows how long each of the different shower wall materials last:

Type of shower wallHow long it lasts
Glass (tiles)20 years or more
Natural stone (such as granite)150 years or more
Tiles – porcelain20 years or more
Tiles – ceramic20 years or more
Artificial stone20 years or more
Acrylic10 years or more

The times shown in the table are how long they last at a minimum. This info is very helpful because it can be used to work out which type of shower wall is the best value for money. 

For example, if one type of shower wall material is cheaper but doesn’t last as long it can be worth it to get a shower wall that is more expensive but last longer. 

To work this out I did a calculation to work out how much per year each of the different shower wall options cost. I’ve ordered them from cheapest per year to most expensive. This gives a good idea of how much each type of shower wall costs overall.

Type of shower wallCost per year (per square foot)
Natural stone (such as granite)$0.10 to $0.43
Tiles – ceramic$0.25 to $5.50
Artificial stone$0.25 to $5.50
Acrylic$0.45 to $1.50
Tiles – porcelain$0.80 to $2.25
Glass (tiles)$0.95 to $3.25

As you can see natural stone is in fact the cheapest overall and provided you get it for a good price, it’s about half the cost of the other options. The one thing though is that this is based on the fact that it lasts 150 years. 

Which is longer than anyone would live for. Therefore, the next cheapest option overall is ceramic tile or artificial stone. And the most expensive are glass tiles.

What Can You Use on the Shower Walls Instead of Tiles

Contemporary bathroom with two round white ceramic vessel sinks on top of granite counter and shower enclosure with natural stone walls. Neutral color palette.
natural stone shower wall

Tiled shower walls look great, but when planning out a new shower it’s important to know what all the different options are so you can make the best choice. So, here’s a rundown of all the different shower walls you can use instead of tiles.

Acrylic or slabs can be installed instead of tiles on shower walls. A slab is one big tile that takes up all or most of a shower wall. A slab can be made of natural stone such as marble or made out of tile.

There are also different types of tiles that have slightly different looks such as ceramic, artificial stone, and glass. Most types of tiles are available in a range of different colors and styles to match any sort of color scheme or pattern that you like. Acrylic is the easiest to clean, the cheapest, and the easiest to install. However, it isn’t the most visually appealing.

What’s the Cheapest Shower Material

Keeping costs down when installing a new shower is a good idea. It’s often surprising how good even the cheapest materials are. To get an idea of what you get for shower walls at the different price points, here’s what the cheapest shower wall material is.

Overall, acrylic is the cheapest shower material. In some cases, artificial stone tiles, and ceramic tiles can be as cheap as acrylic. But, the maximum price can be a lot higher than acrylic depending on what is paid for the cost of labor, and materials.

Acrylic is so cheap because of the cost of the materials, and because it’s very easy to install. This means the cost of labor is also cheaper. However, based on how long each of the different shower wall materials last ceramic tile is in fact the cheapest shower wall material.

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