You’ve bought a painting that you absolutely love, and you think you’ve found the perfect spot for it. The only problem is that the “perfect spot” is in the bathroom.
Can I hang a painting in the bathroom?
Original works of art shouldn’t be displayed in the bathroom because of the frequent changes to the temperature and humidity can damage it. I recommend decorating your bathroom with reproductions because they can be replaced.
You may be thinking that it’s okay to risk ruining a painting because it was inexpensive and it wasn’t painted by a famous artist.
Try telling that to the artist who created it.
As an artist, I know that some of my paintings are going to be destroyed by accident or through negligence. There’s always a risk that a painting will be lost in a fire, flood, or some other disaster. Then there’s the collector who unknowingly damages an original painting by hanging it over a fireplace, or in a humid bathroom.
If a collector told me they hung my painting above their toilet, I wouldn’t be flattered. I would also express my concern that the frequent changes in humidity and temperature may damage it in the long run.
You’ll find a difference of opinion on this issue.
Some will claim that they’ve had a painting hanging in their bathroom for years without any damage. Bathrooms vary in design and usage so this may be possible.
It’s also possible that the longevity of the painting is being affected without any visible damage. Changes in temperature and humidity causes materials to expand and contract. This can affect the condition of the painting in the long run.
The bathroom is not the best environment for artwork that you care about.
The Ideal Environment For Artwork
Art museums provide the ideal environment for artwork. Original works of art are priceless and museums carefully control the indoor environment to protect them.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art maintains a steady temperature and humidity level at all times.
“A computer controlled HVAC system maintains 70° temperature/50% humidity environmental condition year round in the galleries and storage areas. Each area within the Museum contains a sensor which will trip an alert if the levels go out of the normal range (±2°). In the case of an alert, building maintenance crews can react quickly to resolve any problems. This provides invaluable environmental protection for the Museum’s collections.”Philadelphia Museum of Art
The quotation above demonstrates that museums consider changes in humidity and temperature as serious threats to their collections. A change of 2 degrees above or below the normal range sends and alert to the maintenance crew so they can correct it.
Compare the museum environment to a bathroom where there are radical swings in temperature and humidity throughout the day. It could be said that the bathroom is designed to damage artwork.
The Risks of Hanging Your Painting in the Bathroom
Mold is a common problem in bathrooms because the abundance of water creates high humidity levels. When you take a shower you’ll notice that many of the surfaces in the bathroom have condensation on them.
The mirror tends to fog up and so do the metal fixtures. The condensation can form on the front or back of the painting. Exposure to high humidity levels encourages mold to grow.
Mold is very destructive, especially to paper. Sometimes the mold is taking hold in places where you don’t notice. It can develop behind the matboard or on the back of the painting.
Mold and bacteria can create very distracting spots on the surface of the painting. Art conservators call these stains “foxing.” Download the following PDF from the National Archives (United Kingdom) to see an example of foxing on a watercolor painting. It’s at the bottom left of the second page.
Foxing isn’t something that you can just wipe off the painting as if it were a bathroom surface. Restoring a painting that has foxing on the surface typically requires hiring an art conservation expert.
As a student, I stored an unfinished painting in a basement and mold developed on the back of the canvas. The front of the canvas looked fine but the back was covered in mold. I abandoned the painting because of the mold growth. A bathroom is much more humid than a basement.
High humidity can cause paper to buckle. The moisture in the air causes the paper fibers to expand and buckle. If it’s in a frame then the paper may even buckle enough to come in contact with the glass. The artwork shouldn’t be allowed to touch the glass because it can damage the surface of the painting.
Buckling can detract from the appearance of the artwork. It’s also difficult to correct if it’s severe.
Changes in temperature and humidity causes materials to expand and contract. The wood stretcher bars that the canvas is stretched over will expand and contract with changes in the environment. This can cause problems with the tension of the canvas.
Another issue with having materials expand and contract is that it over the years it stresses the paint film. Dry oil paint is brittle and if the substrate is expanding and contracting beneath it, this movement can cause it to crack as it ages.
Every time you take a hot shower, moisture builds up on the surfaces in the bathroom. Condensation forms when the moisture in the air collects on a cooler surface. Every time you take a shower, a thin film of water droplets are forming on the surface of the picture frame, glass, or even the artwork itself.
There’s also the large water droplets that cover the surfaces in and around the shower. These water droplets evaporate into the air and raise the humidity in the bathroom.
You should take precautions to protect original artwork from all sources of moisture.
Some painting mediums are more prone to water damage than others. Watercolor paintings are fragile. The watercolor paint itself is water soluble which means they dissolve with water. Although watercolors have to be framed before they can be hung on a wall, it doesn’t protect the painting from changes in humidity and temperature.
Bathroom design and Usage
Nobody can guarantee that your painting won’t get damaged in the bathroom because there are numerous variations in bathroom design, layout, and usage. Below are brief descriptions of the many variables that determine how harsh your bathroom is on your artwork.
Household Size and Patterns
If you live by yourself then your bathroom will get a lot less usage than if you had a family of five. When there are multiple people using the shower every day, that means the humidity and temperature is going to fluctuate wildly throughout the day.
People also have different habits. Children don’t always remember to turn on the exhaust fan every time they take a shower. Very young children may splash around in the tub for the fun of it.
The time spent taking a shower varies greatly too. Someone who woke up late for work may prefer taking a short shower because they want to save time. Or perhaps they prefer spending the extra time sleeping in.
Others like to use the shower as a place for thinking and having inspiration strike. A long shower is going to increase the temperature and humidity than a shower that lasts less than 5 minutes.
Water temperature has an impact upon how much steam a hot shower will create. A short cold shower may not even fog up the mirror. Although just having large amounts of water present in the room will increase the humidity to some extent.
If a guest or family member regularly smokes in the bathroom, it may stain the surface of the painting Yellow. Bathrooms are very small and enclosed environments. The smoke will build up faster in the bathroom than in a larger room such as the family room.
Many apartments have bathrooms that are the minimum size. They’re just large enough for a toilet, sink, and a bathtub. Smaller spaces will fill up with steam faster than a larger space.
Luxury homes often have bathrooms that are larger than the average bedroom. A larger bathroom with a properly working exhaust fan won’t increase in humidity as quickly as a smaller bathroom.
Another issue with a small bathroom is that the painting will be closer to all of the sources of water. A small bathroom doesn’t have a lot of empty wall space. There’s typically a space above the toilet or perhaps above the towel rack. Any empty wall space is probably within a few feet of the shower or toilet.
A large bathroom will allow you to hang a painting on the wall furthest away from the shower.
A “half bath” is a bathroom with a toilet and a sink. There’s no tub or shower that will create moisture in the bathroom. The temperature shouldn’t fluctuate as much either.
The sink and the toilet may increase the humidity of a half bath, but it’s not nearly as much as the effect that a shower would have. An original painting is less likely to develop mold in a half bath than in a bathroom with a shower or tub.
The bathrooms found in older homes sometimes don’t even have exhaust fans. If you take a hot shower in a small bathroom without an exhaust fan, the steam will build up quickly.
I’ve lived in apartments with bathrooms that lacked an exhaust fans and there’s always a problem with mold. You can open the window to help exhaust some of the steam but it’s not very effective. Opening a window in the middle of Winter when it’s 8 degrees outside isn’t very pleasant either.
Even if the bathroom has an exhaust fan, the effectiveness of them varies. Older fans may not have a lot of power or have some other issue that hinders the performance of it. There may be a buildup of dust or some other obstruction in the vent that prevents it from exhausting the steam effectively.
Reproductions Are Replaceable
I’m not suggesting that the bathroom should be free from artwork. Artwork can liven up what could otherwise be a dreary room. Many artists make prints of their original paintings and offer them for sale at a fraction of the price of what the original would cost.
Prints are made by photographing or scanning the original art. A high quality ink jet printer is used to print the image on canvas or art paper. These printers are different than the ink jet printer you may have at home. The inks are waterproof and resist fading. Some of the canvas prints I had made look as good as the original.
There are canvas prints that are available with an optional protective varnish that will help to protect it. If you’re going to hang it in the bathroom then it’s probably worth the extra cost.
Prints are perfect for hanging in the bathroom. If a print becomes damaged it’s a much smaller loss than losing the original painting. You may be able to buy the same print from the artist again in the future. Or maybe you can try something new.
There are also cheap posters and reproductions available in department stores.
If you care enough about a work of art to hang it on the wall, then please take care of it and don’t hang it in the bathroom.
Or above the fireplace.
And please protect it from direct sunlight.