Sustainable bathroom furniture is a worthwhile investment. Everyone loves a clean bathroom and by being careful to choose furniture and materials that are sustainable you can have that feel good factor that you are doing your bit for the planet on top of feeling great about your beautiful bathroom.
Table of Contents
- Sustainable bathroom furniture ideas
- Sustainable wood furniture for bathrooms
- Upcycling bathroom furniture
- Sustainable bathroom furniture surfaces
- Are laminate surfaces sustainable?
- Eco friendly bathroom accessories
- Buying sustainable bathroom furniture
Sustainable bathroom furniture ideas
Bathrooms are one of the most important rooms in the house in terms of adding value. They are worth investing in and updating regularly. Let’s look at some examples of sustainable bathroom furniture that will add to your bathroom.
Bathroom fixtures like cabinets and vanity units are typically made of wood. Wood is an excellent choice for someone who wants to be environmentally friendly, because it is renewable, recyclable and natural.
Sustainable wood furniture for bathrooms
Wood bathroom furniture is renewable because more trees can always be planted to replace the wood that has been extracted (Thinkwood). In carefully managed forests, wood is constantly replaced.
Wooden bathroom furniture is long lasting and durable, but when it needs to be replaced, it is also easy to recycle. It can be reused, recycled into another item or donated for someone else to use. This keeps it in the circular economy.
Wood is natural and needs less processing than other materials. This means that it has less of a carbon footprint than some other building materials. Wood has 75% less carbon footprint than steel or concrete, for example (USGBC).
Upcycling bathroom furniture
If you are painting or upcycling bathroom furniture remember to consider the paint that you use. Sustainable paints are often water based or plant based and are zero VOC or close to it.
What you want is a VOC free paint and primer. VOCs are volatile organic compounds that have been found to irritate the eyes, nose and throat and cause difficulty with breathing (American Lung Association). In the US, the diagnosis rate of multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) has increased by 300% in the last decade and self diagnosis by 200% (Forbes/National Library of Medicine).
Note that “zero VOC’ paint can still have small amounts of VOC in it, especially when tinted. Natural pigments are best.
Edward Bulmer Natural Paints, based in the UK, produces natural plant based paints in a wide range of colors for use on woodwork and metalwork. The paint is VOC free, plastic free, and toxin free.
Sustainable bathroom furniture surfaces
The gold standard for sustainable bathroom furniture surfaces is marble or granite. Stone surfaces are hard wearing, hygienic and wipe clean. They last for years and can be recycled once they are no longer required.
Marble and granite are not a renewable resource. Although theoretically they could run out, they are currently regarded as an abundant natural resource. These natural stone surfaces require energy and water for cutting and finishing plus transportation from their source.
Quartz countertops are man made surfaces. They are formed from 90% ground quartz and 10% resin. Quartz is found everywhere, including your local beach. In pure form it is clear, but impure quartz has shades of pink, yellow, or purple.
The resin used in quartz production seals the countertop, making quartz more resistant to scratches and bacteria, which is useful in a bathroom. Manufactured quartz requires less maintenance than granite or marble that need regular resealing. That said, quartz is less heat resistant than natural stone, which is less important in a bathroom than a kitchen (Kowalski Granite & Quartz).
Quartz can be manufactured into consistent colors and patterns. That’s an advantage too. But, the resin used in quartz production can contain polyester and petroleum products. Neither of these materials is environmentally friendly. And quartz needs energy to produce, the source of that energy is important too.
Environmentally friendly resins are available. Terrazzo and marble supply use a BIO-UV resin that is vegetal based. They also use wind power and reclaim and recycle almost all the water they use. Their quartz is recyclable.
If all of this sounds overwhelming, Wired magazine suggests that buyers look for a company that is ISO:14000 registered.
Are laminate surfaces sustainable?
Laminate surfaces are much cheaper than quartz, stone or wood but do they count as sustainable bathroom furniture? They are also waterproof. High pressure laminates are layers of cellulose fiber with resins embedded into them; a base layer, a decorative layer and a clear layer. The layers are heated and pressure is applied to make them more durable. The cellulose fiber is typically paper. The two most common resins are phenolic (formaldehyde) and melamine.
From a sustainability viewpoint, laminate counters are less than ideal. While the paper is renewable, the resins and glues used can contain plastics. There have been some concerns raised about the adhesives and their effect on health. Phenolic and melamine resins are not biodegradable and burning them releases toxins. As mentioned before, resins are also derived from petrochemical sources. Wood laminates are not biodegradable and they cannot be recycled.
New degradable, non-toxic and non-hazardous thermoset resins are being developed by a team at University of Amsterdam (UvA). This would make laminate countertops more sustainable and safer to use. Choose your supplier carefully and research whether their focus is on sustainably and responsibly sourced materials.
Strawboard is gaining popularity in the US and Canada. It is made of compressed rice or wheat, in a similar fashion to laminate. The straw contains natural resins so no artificial resin has to be added. That said, the quality of the strawboard is dependent on the quality of the initial moisture content, resin binder content and press temperature (Science Direct). If strawboard is going to be used in the bathroom, it might require additional sealant.
Exciting new surfaces are being produced all the time. Recycled glass or recycled plastic make use of materials that might otherwise have gone to landfill. The characteristics of these counter surfaces are appealing. They are aesthetically pleasing and can look expensive. They do, however, require processing to make them into useful materials, so some but not all of them would make sustainable bathroom furniture.
Eco friendly bathroom accessories
So far we have been looking at fixed furniture in the bathroom, but there are also mobile trolleys and other temporary furniture (bathroom cabinets, laundry baskets, etc.) to think about.
Mobile bathroom furniture like accessory trolleys or laundry baskets are often made of plastic. Plastics are hardwearing and hygienic. They are easy to wipe clean. It also doesn’t matter if they get wet. They don’t go moldy. It is easy to see why it has been used so much in the bathroom, but plastic is not environmentally friendly. What viable sustainable replacements are there?
Bamboo bathroom trolleys seem like they might be one good alternative. Bamboo is fast growing, renewable and reasonably cheap to produce. It looks natural and attractive. It releases 30% more oxygen than some other plants (The Guardian). It is biodegradable.
Bamboo is reportedly stronger than steel. The tensile strength of bamboo is 28,000 while steel is 23,000 pounds per square inch (Interesting Engineering).
What are the downsides of bamboo? Bamboo is intensively cultivated which is never good for the environment. It is predominantly produced in China so it needs shipping. It needs processing into a suitable material and potentially other materials might be added as part of the process. And finally, it can go moldy when exposed to water for long durations.
Steel bathroom trolleys are undoubtedly sturdy and steel is one of the most sustainable metals, along with aluminum. It can be recycled, in theory, infinitely. This makes the initial energy required to manufacture it in the first place worth it.
Steel cabinets and trolleys can be powder coated to make them water resistant. Powder coating is free of heavy metals and unlike spray paint is solvent (VOC) free. Powder coating has no hazardous air pollutants and produces less Co2 emissions than spray painting.
Buying sustainable bathroom furniture
Choosing sustainable bathroom furniture isn’t always easy or straightforward but we hope we have sparked some ideas. Buying new bathroom furniture will make your bathroom an asset to your home. Bathrooms and kitchens add the most value, so they are worth investing in.
If you have sustainability in mind and want to make your home environment safe for your family and eco-friendly, choose sustainable bathroom furniture and materials from these ideas. We’re always open to new ideas, so if you have any suggestions for materials or products you have used in your own sustainable bathroom, let us know.