There are many utility items in our homes that we take for granted, and sometimes we forget that we also chose them for their esthetics. In other words, a lot of the materials and major items chosen for our homes are selected for both their good looks and their ability to withstand years of wear and tear. One place where we can see both sets of choices in action is the bathroom vanity.
A bathroom vanity is meant to be a space where someone has access to a sink and a space to use toiletries, wash up, and attend to personal grooming, among other tasks. Because of that, most vanities have some sort of countertop that provides a bit of space. They have a sink, faucet, and taps. They might have other extras like built-in soap dispensers, and so on.
They may also have a base cabinet or pedestal. For example, pedestal sinks are counted under the heading of vanity, but they actually have no vanity surrounding them. They have the sink and any space that this surface allows and a pedestal. There are wall-mounted sinks with a similar set of limitations. The sinks that do have vanity cupboards around them, however, need to be selected in a way that ensures they stand up to years of service and use.
This means it is imperative that a homeowner invest in bathroom vanities made of the finest materials their budget can afford.
Which Bathroom Vanity Material is Best?
Particle board is a well-known material, and it is (as the name describes) a composite material that uses glue and wood particles. These are super-heated and then compressed into sheets of varying sizes and thicknesses. When using vanities made from particle board, it is imperative to know the density and particle size (which is how the boards are technically classified). Some are stronger than others, and most are far less expensive than other vanity materials. You won’t find them as barebones options, though, as they are usually treated to a covering of laminate, veneer or another durable material. While good looking, they are not high performers and sag under the weight of premium countertop materials as well as easily succumbing to steam or water.
According to one group of experts, “Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) is one of the more budget friendly choices for cabinets.” An engineered material, it uses fibers and wood pieces that are compressed and bound with wax or resin adhesives. Similarly made as particle board, it is heavier and much denser. The surface is usually free of splinters and knots, and will generally be much smoother than particle board. It is a paintable option and whether it is paint or another sealant, it MUST be sealed to prevent swelling from any exposure to moisture.
Wood veneers are glued together in layers to form a sheet of plywood, and it can be found in a huge array of thicknesses and materials. As one source said, plywood is a good choice for its strength and mid-range pricing, but it is also “a good choice if the coating that has been utilized over the plywood presents a decent wood grain pattern application.” Noted for its ability to last indefinitely, it resists expansion and contraction if exposed to moisture or variations in temperature, and it is seen in vanities and lots of other areas of a home.
This is a premium option, and yet as one group points out, that while “nothing really compares with solid wood in most projects, it may not ALWAYS be the best choice for a bathroom vanity.” It is commonly found in two groupings – solid wood, which is the 100% natural wood, and solid hardwood, and it is comprised of various hardwoods. While it is difficult to match the good looks of real wood, it is imperative to remember that it is not always the ideal material to be in humid environments or places where temperatures change constantly. For instance, it might absorb water from the air and expand in the heat. This can make it very difficult to work with in a bathroom setting. And yet, as that one group also noted, “The strength and durability of solid wood is why many choose it for vanities, so it really depends on what you find most important. By keeping humidity in control, most homeowners won’t have any problems with this beautiful material. It works best with a natural or stained finish.”
Vanities made of natural rubberwood (from the rubber tree), has almost the exact same level of strength as an oak tree. However, many are turning to rubberwood vanities for their eco-friendliness, too. They use waste materials and offer tremendous performance against moisture and variations in heat and cold.
Making the Choice
How can you begin to narrow down from these options? We would suggest the following list of criteria used, in order, as a means of making the right choice for your budget.
- Start with resistance to moisture – If you are not willing to manage humidity in the bathroom, or to be concerned about splashing water in the space, you need to choose the most water-resistant, or even waterproof, option.
- Think durability – Do your kids sit on the edge of the sink? What sort of use do you anticipate the sink and vanity enduring? You don’t want to find yourself replacing it after a short time, so go with the most durable and strongest options possible.
- Think budget – By the time you get to this criterion, it is likely you are going to be in the MDF v. solid wood v. plywood group. That is when you need to consider the budget.
While you have to still prioritize by factors like the aesthetics, it is once you’ve identified the most water resistant and strongest options for your space that you have to then look towards the budget for a final answer to the question of the right materials for your vanity.