8 Stylish Solutions for Your Totally Icky Rental Bathroom

updated Mar 29, 2023
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(Image credit: Jessica Rapp)

I’ve seen a lot of apartments in New York, and I’ve seen a lot of icky bathrooms. In a city with lots of older buildings, sometimes even the really nice apartments come with not-so-great bathrooms. While some solutions, like tearing the whole thing down and starting over, are off limits, there are still plenty of things you can do, even as a renter, to make your bathroom just a little bit (or even a lot) less icky.

The problem: That bathtub is just gross.

Unless your rental bathroom is really enormous, the tub is probably by far the largest and most conspicuous thing in it, and sometimes rental tubs can just be…gross. Like, gross grout, gross caulk, bathtub so stained that no amount of scrubbing will ever make it clean. While nuclear options like regrouting or having the tub re-enameled don’t really make sense unless you’re planning on staying there for a long, long time, there are a few things you can do.

Option 1: Clean up that grout!

If good old fashioned scrubbing just isn’t doing much for your grout, there are additional steps you can take to make it look less icky, from baking soda to bleach to special products designed to cover over stains and re-seal the grout. You can find a great roundup of grout renewal options here. Also, if the caulk on your tub is moldy and disintegrating, re-caulking is a project that’s within the reach of even novice DIYers.

(Image credit: Bethany Nauert)

Option 2: Cover that tub with a pretty shower curtain.

A pretty shower curtain, like this one in Kristen’s Burbank home, is a great way to distract from a less-than-ideal tub.

(Image credit: Design Manifest)

Admittedly this bathroom from Design Manifest is quite nice, but this photo is a great example of the way a split shower curtain can help to both frame and conceal an unsightly tub.

The problem: This floor has seen better days.

Cracked tile, ugly, peeling linoleum—there are some rental bathrooms out there with some pretty bad floors. If you have a tile floor, the grout cleaning advice above applies, but if even that is not doing the trick, there are still some other options.

(Image credit: Washington Post)

Option 1: Cover that floor up entirely.

This is not the cheapest option, and probably one that’s best for folks who plan on staying put for a while (or who just have truly dire floors), but a vinyl floor cloth, as demonstrated here by Kerra Huerta in the Washington Post, can completely cover over an ugly bathroom floor. All you have to do is cut it to size and lay it on top of your existing flooring. This one is from Spicher and Company, which makes floor cloths in a variety of patterns. A piece that is 4’4″ x 6’4″ will set you back $390.

(Image credit: The Socialite Family)

Option 2: Cover the floor up (mostly) with a pretty rug.

I could only find pictures of rugs in pretty bathrooms (like this one from The Socialite Family, via Apartment Therapy), but you get the idea: you can use a pretty rug to brighten up a bathroom, just like you would any other room. Just make sure that it’s a fairly low-pile rug (outdoor rugs are great options, too!), and that you use an underlayment if it’s prone to slipping.

The problem: The walls are a particularly appealing shade of dingy light yellow.

Was there a time when people thought that a pale, beige-y yellow was the perfect color for all walls? If the bathrooms I’ve seen are to be believed, then the answer is: yes.

(Image credit: Cup of Jo)

Solution 1: Paint.

A pretty straightforward solution, and, unfortunately, one that not all landlords may be amenable to. For Joanna Goddard at Cup of Jo, it worked beautifully.

(Image credit: Elizabeth Backup)

Solution 2: Embrace art.

Are you sensing a theme here? The theme is: if you can’t change your ugly bathroom, then cover it up. Cover the walls of your bathroom with (inexpensive) art (as seen here in Adrien & Jon’s California home), and suddenly no one will notice those dingy walls.

The problem: This vanity is seriously ugly.

Is your vanity an ugly, indifferent shape, executed in the finest particle board with a peeling wood-grain veneer? That is not great. But there are a few things you can do, besides taking a sledgehammer to it.

Option 1: Replace the faucet and/or hardware.

Replacing a bathroom faucet can be easier than you might think (and cheaper). You can also swap out the hardware and faucet gave this humble vanity a touch of style.

(Image credit: Arthur Garcia-Clemente)

Option 2: Style, style, style.

Covering up your vanity cabinet isn’t really an option, but you can use styling to distract the eye a bit. One of my favorite tricks: a shelf above the vanity, as seen in Ashley’s Chicago apartment, which has the double benefit of drawing the eye away from a less than attractive sink area, and also keeping the surface free from clutter.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go give the grout in my bathroom a hearty scrub, because sometimes, nothing is better for your bathroom than a good old-fashioned cleaning.