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Timber Products in Wet Environments

by Will Baker on Nov 22, 2017

Although timber and water don’t mix well, it’s really hard not to use any wood at all in the bathroom. More often than not cabinets are made out of it, or veneered in it, as are shelves, doors, skirting board, and an array of other fixings. However, not using any timber in a bathroom leaves you with a very narrow choice of materials to work with, which may also impact upon design choices you make.

In this post, we will look at common problems with timber and veneered products, timbers designed to withstand moisture, alternative materials that may be more suitable for you to use.

Problems with Timber Products in Bathrooms

Laminates

As mentioned above, millions of households have MDF-based bathroom units that have been laminated or veneered to produce a wood effect appearance, and yes they look great….to start with. The problem with these products is that after a while, in warm moist conditions, the veneer or laminate will actually start to peel/fall away at the edges.

This issue is not actually associated with the MDF, but with the adhesive used to hold the laminate to the MDF, which is heat activated. In bathrooms, where steam is often present, the glue on laminated units is often activated, which results in the laminate lifting away from the MDF and peeling away. This is even worse if the lamination comes into direct contact with warm water.

If you’re dead set on nice looking laminated bathroom furniture the best advice we can give for avoiding this problem is to install a powerful extraction unit as close to the source of the steam as possible – usually above baths and showers.

Hard and Soft Woods

Both hard and softwood timbers make for very attractive furniture, shelves, and moldings, but again aren’t great in moist conditions. Timber is notorious for warping, twisting, and blowing when it comes into contact with moisture on a regular basis. Furniture and shelving look far less attractive warped, and for moldings, (in worst-case scenarios, and depending on how they are fixed) warping can cause damage to walls if it pulls the plaster off. I would love to offer a solution to this problem, but unfortunately, as timber is a natural product these problems are inherent in the material.

The hardest thing to avoid with timber in bathrooms is the fact that wood is permanently stained by water. This makes it impractical for a room that uses a lot of water. Regardless of whether it comes into contact with a deluge or just a few drops, timber will stain. Considering hardwood is usually very expensive, I’m sure more than a few people have been left distraught by accidentally dripping on their Oak furniture. If you’re definitely using timber in your bathroom the best thing to do which will offer some protection against water staining would be to treat it with a Sikkens product – available in different colors and finishes.

MDF

MDF is usually used for laminated furniture as discussed above, but it is also ideal for lengths of moldings like skirting boards. MDF comes in various grades, of which, the standard grade is generally regarded as a poor performer in wet and humid conditions, and is obviously unfit for bathrooms.

Recognizing this flaw, the MDF industry has responded with a Moisture Resistant grade of the board, which is far denser than its standard equivalent, and far more resistant to moisture in the air. However, that being said it is not waterproof, and will still blow if it comes into direct contact with water – moisture is the operative word in the name. Furthermore, MDF is usually painted and this layer can add an extra coat of protection between water. We these two qualities MDF is one of the better materials to use if it needs to be used in your bathroom.

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