What is the Best Material for Bathroom Partitions?

July 7, 2020

Replacing bathroom partitions and hardware is a fact of life. Maintenance contractors frequently update hardware and materials to keep toilet stalls in good shape. If you’re the head of facilities for a school or stadium, chances are, you'll need to replace, which is often cheaper than maintenance, or do a lot of maintenance on toilet stall partitions nearly every single year.

However, if you own an upper-class facility, such as a plastic surgeon’s office, a 5-star spa, or hotel, replacement may not be necessary for over a decade. Since they rarely encounter situations where graffiti is involved, many partitions are frequently replaced in high-end facilities for aesthetics than actual need.

Restroom partitions come in five major materials: powered coated metal, high-pressure laminate, HDPE Plastic, Phenolic, and Stainless Steel. Each has pros and cons in terms of price, maintenance, ease of cleaning, and how long they’ll be expected to last.

Here’s the skinny on sourcing and installing your partitions based on your particular industry's needs:

Powder Coated Metal

Powder-coated metal is the traditional stand by and is often the cheapest when it comes to buying basic bathroom partitions. It's possible to buy a powder-coated metal partition for as low as $275.

Made from a panel of honeycomb cardboard sandwiched by a thick sheet of metal, the product is then powder-coated to produce a nice finish.

The two biggest problems with powder-coated metal are they’re easily scratched with a pen-knife or a key, and, in many public locations, they’re an open invitation for ugly graffiti. All it takes is for a student to open a pen-knife or take a can of spray-paint out of their bag, and within 15 seconds, they have practically ruined a partition.

Fortunately, there are anti-graffiti powder-coat partitions out there, which is also a good bargain out there, but we typically see the price rise around $200 for a solid anti-graffiti powder coat partition.

The other major disadvantage is that powder-coat partitions typically come in fewer color combinations.

Assuming there’s no vandalism involved, powder-coat partitions may last a few years.

High-Pressure Laminate

High-pressure laminate partitions are made of a particleboard substrate with a plastic laminate on top.

Around 5 percent more expensive than powder-coat, the main advantage is that laminates come in dozens and dozens of varieties of colors and patterns. Hence, high-pressure laminates look great for the price and can class up a restroom.

The big problem is that laminates degrade rapidly in humid environments. This means you won't find laminates used in humid places, like Florida or Mississippi, and even if you’re in a bone-dry, low humidity state like Arizona. If there’s a shower nearby, plastic laminated will not work out.

If you’re in an area where laminate partitions can be used, they’ll typically last from three to 5 years and their upper-crust appearance discourages graffiti.

HDPE Plastic Partitions

Although around 50 to 60 percent above the base cost of powder-coat metal, HDPE solid plastic is now generally the preferred partition material for the vast majority of mid-level bathrooms.

HDPE Plastic is recommended by HVAC contractors for its resistance to moisture. Bathrooms with insufficient ventilation are prone to moisture intrusion. Plastic is, fortunately, one of the few materials that don’t provide a home for mildew to take hold.

HDPE toilet stall partitions are made by applying intense heat to petroleum products, which produce byproducts called polymers that can be then formed into a strong mold. The partitions are 1 inch thick and weigh nearly 165 pounds. They can be quite environmentally friendly when recycled from post-consumer waste – something most manufacturers are offering.

There are several advantages to HDPE plastic. First, they come in a variety of colors. Second, they’re very abrasion-proof. Lastly, HDPE plastic is up to 50 percent stronger than stainless steel.

Solid plastic partitions come with a 25-year warranty and can take a real licking from unruly patrons, even if they try to beat on it, scratch it, or draw over it.

Your janitorial staff will have to replace a few solid plastic partitions. They can also easily get rid of offensive graffiti with ordinary cleaning solvents, and even smooth out deep scratches with heat application.

Of course, the price is higher in the short term but significantly lower in the long run.

Finally, HDPE Plastic works well in any environment (humid, wet from a shower, dry, hot, or cold).

Phenolic Plastic Bathroom Partitions

Phenolic plastic partitions are made by combining a melamine sheet and many layers of resin-impregnated kraft paper.

The main advantage of phenolic plastic bathroom partitions is cost. They’re one of the higher-priced options and boast extreme durability. The major question, however, is do you get what you pay for?

First, because of the manufacturing process (it’s being oxidized as they’re being manufactured), they come only in dark colors.

Second, the warranty tends to be significantly shorter, depending on which manufacturer you’re sourcing from. While durable, if left unattended for a prolonged period of time, they can still fall prey to mold.

Thirdly, phenolic plastic tends to mold much faster than HDPE plastic, which is a real health concern, and increasingly so in the age of the COVID-19.

Fourth, use the wrong type of cleaning products, such as those with ammonia or chlorine, and a phenolic bathroom partition will warp or discolor quickly.

Take note that many anti-graffiti products don’t work well with phenolic panels.

Stainless Steel Bathroom Partitions

In a perfect world, there wouldn't be anything else but stainless steel restroom partitions.

Stainless Steel is easy to clean, never attracts mold, lasts for years and years, and fits into practically any environment.

Graffiti from stainless steel is easily cleaned by using paint thinner or other cheap solvents, and it is extremely dented and scratch-resistant.

The major problem with stainless steel bathroom partitions is, of course, the cost. Expect to pay around twice as much for purchasing stainless steel partitions.

Other than appearance, another major advantage of purchasing stainless steel partitions is longevity. They also make it extremely satisfying to clean your partitions. A business can expect to get 10 to 15 years or more out of a single partition.

Stainless steel works in all environments, and was it not for the cost factor, they would be the only type of bathroom stalls offered anywhere.

The value of stainless steel has been proven everywhere, particularly for its ease of cleaning and sanitation, and even stainless steel can be beautified.

Using pressed impressions in the steel, it's possible to buy stainless steel partitions with embossed diamond texturing, which prevents smudges and scratches.


Selecting the right material for your building project depends on your individual needs.

Higher traffic facilities where ventilation and humidity control can be an issue would be best served to opt for recycled plastic partitions. A hospital or office building where heating and cooling isn’t an issue could select anything from high-pressure laminate to stainless steel for its appearance. Most buildings occupying the middle ground would do well with the standard powder-coated varieties.

If you can’t make up your mind, you can always consult a local construction contractor to purchase and install toilet partitions on your behalf.

Tatjana Faplo
I am a professional writer and editor with a rich history of writing experiences. In the past, I've worked for glossy magazines, branding agencies, creative institutions, architectural and design firms, nonprofit organizations, small businesses, and health foundations.

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