Life Cycles of Common Public Showers

Some public institutions have 100s of showers to maintain and with a background of working in tough industrial environments that needed durable containment liners, it seemed unbelievable to  learn that shower maintenance was such a problem.

Ultimately, the general conditions of public showers maybe a lot worse than people realize.

“People don’t realize how much it takes to maintain a tile shower”  
- Terry Allen UMD Maintenance

Typical Life Cycles

  • Tile Shower
  • Painted Masonry Shower
  • Solid Surface Shower
  • Polyurea Shower

Tile Shower

Tile and grout in public bathrooms is often unsightly and possibly worse. It seems impossible enough that there would be so many pieces and so many ledges and edges but literally, this is only the tip of this mountain.



You might not realize how much maintenance tile and grout showers require but you can imagine the more frequently they are used the worse it gets. At a minimum the integrity of the tile and grout covering should be inspected every 6 months.

I have read grout repair should be done in a timely manner and I do not think that means summer break for student housing but rather within days of failure. If grout maintenance is too prolonged the bed of grout under the tile will begin to deteriorate and make future grout maintenance perform poorly.

Under tile is a traditional waterproof shower system that just does not make sense with what we are beginning to understand about how common are contaminated shower floors, the importance of hygiene in dense populations and the on threat of an evolutionary virus or the ones we have.

Tile and grout is a porous hard shell veneer installed over a delicate waterproof membrane that is not exposed to view. My first project was to resurface new tile showers because the low bid contractor failed to install a waterproof liner altogether and he was not coming back to rip it all out and do it again. Here were these perfectly good looking tile showers that did not work.

To drain this porous veneer tile showers typically use a two stage drain with the below surface drainage happening through weep holes. When they become clogged or when the waterproof membrane is not properly sloped showers floors will become saturated in stagnant moisture.

Another surface to maintain in tile showers is the corner sealant where the black mold most commonly forms. These sealants in these hard use environments are recommended to be inspected and possibly replaced 1-2 times per year.

Tile showers are often disinfected daily even though they take days to dry. It seems kind of a confusing issue that disinfectants are not necessarily required for soil removal but the surface does need to become dry following the application of a disinfectant if you read the instructions.

Tile showers are too easily contaminated, too difficult to clean and require a handsome budget to properly maintain and so we believe they are a big part of the problem with showers.



Painted Masonry Shower

Showers in many settings are tile floors with painted walls and though many times the initial protective coating applied to the walls performs well, repainting these finishes can be difficult.

When the masonry units are not painted to a smooth condition, preparation of the existing glass like finish is difficult or impossible to achieve over this irregular surface for maintenance repaint to achieve adhesion. 


When working at a county detention facility in Minnesota we saw the worst of this and could not venture a guess as to how many times the shower was repainted but we were told it was done every year for many years and you know paint is not a renewable resource. In one typical single user shower at that facility we filled more than a five gallon bucket in paint chips. 


Certainly this is a waste of materials but also one should consider the unnecessary human exposure for as fellow painters of showers we realize the limited ventilation of working in a restricted space. 


Now sometimes the floors are painted or more commonly they have a more durable resinous system that may incorporate an aggregate. Typically they are referred to as epoxy quartz floors but they are more designed for industrial flooring as showers require waterproofing and by definition these finishes are not.

Solid Surface Shower

We have removed panels from showers walls on a couple of occasions and each time it ended up being a big improvement. These panels were installed as an attempt to retrofit showers where maintenance got out of control but created void spaces where condensate was held and mold formed so they did not last 10 years.


On one of the projects a maintenance person who installed the fibre glass reinforced panels (dairy board) that we removed had attached them with glue that overcame him and sent him to the hospital as the ventilation and his uses of personal protective equipment was inadequate.


Engineered solid surface panels and shower floor bases are readily available in the national market and there are plenty of prefabricated shower enclosures that can be bought from a number of retailers. These products help emphasize the current culture for a more hygienic surface but they have their own issues for repairing without replacement.

Polyurea Shower

We have witnessed in our own developmental shower restoration work that optimum results are achieved through developed craft skills. Architects that draft experimental project specifications and polyurea vendors with limited shower lining experience typically produce marginal results that can leave an owner that is limited in knowledge to repair the system in an undesirable situation.


One time we performed as a subcontractor to a subcontractor of a general contractor to install a polyurea hybrid coating as exactly specified and approved. Three years later when damaged occurred to the membrane we were contacted to suggest a repair method. The architect was not contacted and neither was the material supplier whom the architect had specified.


Polyurea is a good idea for a shower lining and we agree that it is a key ingredient.