How to update a bathroom without buying anything new - create a spa-like space for free

Trying to decorate on a budget? These nifty bathroom updates will be the answer

Bathroom with maroon wood panelled walls, grey and white marbled floor, handbasin in wooden chest of drawers vanity unit
(Image credit: Future PLC / Lizzie Orme)

You heard it here first - it's incredibly simple to update a bathroom without buying anything new. A bathroom can start to feel cluttered, stagnant and uninspiring pretty quickly, especially if you haven't yet renovated it into your dream bathroom idea. And it's not always possible to splurge on a bathroom facelift, so turning to clever methods to make it feel brand new while costing nothing is essential. 

Budget bathroom ideas will help you cut costs without sacrificing a stylish spot to relax in - and after all, it's a room you use every single day, so it's worth a bit of effort to make it more aesthetically pleasing. From shopping what you already own to DIY hacks that mimic the latest trendy bathroom buys, these tips on updating a bathroom without buying anything new will satisfy your taste and wallet. 

How to update a bathroom without buying anything new

When updating a bathroom (or any room) without buying anything new, the key is to the resources you already have - your hands and things you already own. Trying out DIY bathroom ideas on a budget might involve making use of leftover paint or swapping over cabinet hardware while restyling accessories will give your washroom an aesthetic upgrade. 

'While it is necessary to look at refurbishing your bathroom every seven years on average, for a lot of people they want to try and maximise the longevity or increase the value, especially in tougher financial times,' explains James Roberts, director of Sanctuary Bathrooms.

'Small changes like adding some decorative touches, updating smaller fixtures and fittings such as brassware, or even just a new lick of paint can help to ensure you continue to get the most out of your space, whilst creating a place of calm and tranquillity that provides a homely, attractive space for everyone.'

1. Declutter

Bathroom with marble surfaces and wooden storage cabinet

(Image credit: Future)

Before you think about adding any decor to a bathroom, you should start by taking things away. With empty shampoo bottles, discarded toilet rolls and overflowing medicine cabinets, a bathroom can become a cosmetic dumping ground (especially if you're a skincare hoarder). 

Take time to pull everything out of your cupboards and from around your shower/bath,' advises Hannah Rouch, second-hand expert at Gumtree. 'Check use-by dates and donate to your local hygiene bank anything that hasn’t been opened.' 

'Only put back what you need and find neat bathroom storage ideas such as baskets to store essentials including towels. Decluttering is a quick and free way to bring harmony back to your bathroom.'

2. Add plants

Bathroom with pink walls, white freestanding bath and plants

(Image credit: Future/Lizzie Orme)

Plants have so many well-being benefits that make them ideal for how you want a bathroom to make you feel - re-energised, zen and peaceful. So if your space is feeling a little lacklustre, the best indoor plants are an affordable fix for breathing new life in. 

'Moving a variety of plants from other rooms in the house to the bathroom not only looks good, but it can also contribute to reduced moisture levels and improved air quality – a dream for reducing mould,' says Rikki Fothergill, bathroom style expert at Big Bathroom Shop.

'Cacti are perfect for the bathroom with their ability to survive hot, humid environments. They don’t require direct sunlight, meaning you can place them wherever you like to bring an urban feel to your bathroom as long as there is a source of natural light,' she continues. 

And if you're prepared to undertake a bit more plant care, Rikki suggests that 'Ivy is another great plant to keep in the bathroom.'

'They enjoy warm, humid environments, so they are great for shower rooms. Ivy can also help cleanse the air, with reports of English ivy tackling up to 78% of airborne mould.'

3. Swap over room decor

Bathroom detail with square basin on marble vanity unit and wall mirror on dark green walls

(Image credit: Future PLC)

The art of learning how to shop your home will be crucial if you're trying to stick to a tight budget but still want your home to feel fresh and stylish.

The latest bathroom trends will offer plenty of inspiration for how to upgrade your wash space to suit the latest colour schemes and accessories, but there are so many ways to recreate these looks using things that you already own.  

'Move artwork from another room for an instant update and splash of colour,' Hannah suggests. 'Kitchen storage can also be used in the bathroom, for example, a kitchen roll holder can also hold toilet rolls.'

4. See what's available on resale sites

Bathroom with maroon wood panelled walls, grey and white marbled floor, handbasin in wooden chest of drawers vanity unit

(Image credit: Future PLC/James Merrell)

I get it, sometimes there's no way around it - if your bathroom is feeling drab and dated, it might be time to upgrade your cabinets, mirrors or lighting. But you don't need to spend money in order to do so, there are many ways to find exactly what you're looking for on neighbourhood Facebook groups or Gumtree, for free (you might just need to have a bit of a vision). 

'If you need to update parts of the bathroom, check out what’s available locally for free via online marketplaces or community noticeboards. Gumtree’s freebies section is full of items you might need, from shower heads to bathroom cabinets, mirrors to baths – and there’s always lots of decorating supplies such as paint,' Hannah recommends. 

5. Upcycle old furniture

Bathroom with white sink on green vanity unit

(Image credit: Future PLC/Kasia Fiszer)

Sometimes all your bathroom needs is a lick of paint to update it without buying anything new. Whether it's sprucing up the worn edges of cabinetry and walls in an existing bathroom colour scheme, or making use of leftover cans to upcycle a piece of furniture in a fun shade, it will have a big impact.  

If you've stuck to a budget with flat-pack cabinetry in the past, there are so many IKEA hacks to make your bathroom look bespoke and on-trend, using materials you're likely to already have in the house. 


How to update a bath panel

If you've just moved into a property where the bathroom isn't quite to your taste but a renovation isn't within reach, updating a bath panel might give it the spruce it needs. 

Bath panels have the tendency to look old quite quickly and will have a big impact on the rest of the room. Not to mention if they've been bashed in or chipped.  

Traditional tongue and groove panelling can be installed easily at home and you can even paint it to match other cabinetry or the walls. Colour drenching is a huge interiors trend that involves painting a room in one standout shade, so it's an affordable way to update the entire scheme. You could also add beading for a classic  touch. 

A bath panel is also a prime spot to try out some bathroom tile ideas. Make use of spare tiles from elsewhere in your home or create a standout look with a pattern or colour that differs from the rest of the room.

Which update will you try first? 

Holly Cockburn
Content Editor

After starting out her journey at Future as a Features Editor on Top Ten Reviews, Holly is now a Content Editor at Ideal Home, writing about the best interior ideas and news. At Top Ten Reviews, she focussed on TikTok viral cleaning hacks as well as how to take care of investment purchases such as lawn mowers, washing machines and vacuum cleaners. Prior to this, Holly was apart of the editorial team at Howdens which sparked her interest in interior design, and more specifically, kitchens (Shaker is her favourite!).