How to update a bathroom without buying anything new

Need a quick bathroom refresh? Here's how to do it for free

How to update a bathroom without buying anything new
(Image credit: Tala Fustok/ Caitlin Higgins/Sara Ligorria-Tramp/Marie Flanigan Interiors)

Updating a bathroom doesn't need to be an expense, in fact, a bathroom is a really easy space to make feel totally different with just a few switch-ups. It might sound a bit restrictive, but there's actually not a ton of things you can do decor-wise in a bathroom, there are only so many elements you can change easily which does mean it's easy to make it look and feel different. Pull in a rug, switch out the drapes, rejig the shelving, easy. 

But what about updating the space without actually having to buy anything new? We are all for shopping your own home before spending and when it comes to a bathroom, there's no space where this is simpler. But to give you a clear idea of how to achieve a bathroom refresh for free, we spoke with interior designers to get their top tips. 

How to update a bathroom without buying anything new

When updating any room without buying anything new, the key is usually to shop your own home. Something that you don't see any more in one room can really help to lift another room. And small switches can make a different too, especially in a bathroom where something as small as the tone of light can shift the room from sterile to welcoming (but more on that later).

1. Start with a clean and a declutter

Modern bathroom with double marble sink

(Image credit: Tala Fustok)

It's not a glamorous step but having a clean and a declutter of your bathroom is the simplest way to make the space feel fresh and updated without actually having to buy anything new. 

'I would start with first giving your bathroom a nice, thorough cleaning - sometimes that's the ultimate refresh, same goes for organizing and curating your makeup bag or assortment of bath products!; suggests Kathy Kuo.

'The easiest thing to do to update your bathroom without buying anything new is tidy up and organize - get everything out of sight.  Then, grab a small rug from another room- it's ok if it gets a little wet!- and a vase with a freshly cut branch.  Voila! A fresh new look.' agrees Bethany Adams.

Shelby Van Daley of Daley Home adds, 'Maximize the bathroom storage that you have in your current bathroom and take time to get rid of things you don't use. Simplify and utilize cabinets and linen closets to declutter and spruce your bathroom.'

kathy kuo home
Kathy Kuo

Kathy Kuo is a celebrated interior designer and international guru within the home and lifestyle space. She has 20+ years of experience in the design industry. 

2. Switch out your wall decor from other rooms

Modern bathroom with large mirrors, sky light and freestanding bath

(Image credit: Julie Soefer/Marie Flanigan Interiors)

Bringing prints into your bathroom is an easy way to update the space and lean into that interior design trend of softer bathrooms - bathrooms that don't feel like bathrooms. But before you go out and buy new prints, take a look around the walls of the rest of your home and see what you can make use of. Or if you have spare prints you have been meaning to get up, now is the time. 

'Decor is really the only way to update a bathroom without buying anything new. So take a look around your house to see if you can swap some art or maybe grab a new cup for a toothbrush holder. Small changes really can have a big impact.' says Emily Henderson.

'Take a look at your wall decor around your home and think about swaps you can make there. Maybe you have a wall mirror or some art in another part of your home that is due for a change. Try mixing around your wall decor from other rooms to give the bathroom walls a fresh look.' suggests Kathy. 

3. Pull in a rug to soften the space

Retro bathroom with bold wallpaper

(Image credit: Design by Caitlin Higgins Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp)

A rug in bathroom may not sound like the most practical addition, but we aren't talking high-pile here. A short pile rug in something like jute or sisal or even cotton will work fine. Plus, again, rugs are ideal for making a bathroom feel less sterile and giving them a bit of depth and character. Take a look around your home and see what rugs you already have that might be usable in the bathroom. 

Designer Jennifer Davis agrees that a clean comes first, 'Refreshing a bathroom without purchasing new items involves leveraging creativity and making the most of what you already have. Start by giving the space a thorough deep clean - it might seem simple, but a sparkling clean bathroom instantly feels renewed.' 

She adds 'Also consider rearranging or swapping items out, rugs in particular can totally change the look of a bathroom without spending a dime.'

Jennifer Davis
Jennifer Davis

Jennifer fell in love with design at a young age and has been working in the industry for over 25 years. She has developed an eye for detail and a talent for creating timeless designs. Jennifer offers a balance of creativity and forward-thinking with a structured, organized, and detailed mentality. Jennifer is driven by her deep passion for design while curating an exceptional client journey, ensuring pure delight from the very beginning to the end.

4. Change up the color scheme

Bathroom with black sink, pug rug and patterned flooring

(Image credit: Davis Interiors)

'Consider small DIY projects like painting cabinets or switching up the bathroom color scheme by rearranging items with different colors from other rooms in your house. Sometimes, a simple change in accessories or adding plants can breathe new life into a bathroom without needing to purchase anything new.' adds Jennifer.

For so long bathroom trends have all pointed towards whites and grays, but 2023 and going into 2024 trends are definitely shifting as we pay more attention to bathrooms as lived-in spaces full of design potential rather than just practical rooms. Bringing in some color with decor is a non-commital way to update a bathroom, and if you can find pieces from your home to make this color switch you can do it for free too. 

You can experiment here, bring in different colors and patterns, and see how they work with your current space, if you like how the room is starting to look with more color then you can start investing in new pieces if needed. 

5. Change the feel of the room by changing the lighting

Neutral bathroom with checkerboard marble flooring

(Image credit: Julie Soefer/Marie Flanigan Interiors)

This may sound like such a small switch but changing the lighting in your bathroom can change up the ambience and hence change the feel of the room. Something as simple as switching to warmer bulbs can make all the difference. 

You could also change the type of lighting you have and make use of fixtures you might not notice as much in other rooms. Bring in a lamp to soften the space (just be sure to check it's safe to do) or switch any wall lighting to something more decorative. Jennifer Walter, founder of Folding Chair Design suggests sconces are the way to go, being both practical and adding in some decor. 

'A sconce!  Gone are the days of the three-light over-the-mirror “bath” fixture. Opt for a single sconce beside the mirror, or even an impactful flush mount overhead in an unexpected shape or color.  Just ensure there is enough light in the room!' she suggests. 

Updating a bathroom without buying anything new just takes some creative thinking, using items you already own and giving them a new life in another room. Soft furnishings like rugs and even curtains can make a huge difference, and then there are small but significant tweaks like lighting or giving the room a good clean and declutter. 

Head of Interiors

I am the Head of Interiors at Homes & Gardens. I started off in the world of journalism in fashion and luxury travel and then landed my first interiors role at Real Homes and have been in the world of interior design ever since. Prior to my role at H&G I was the digital editor at Livingetc, from which I took a sabbatical to travel in my self-converted van (not as glamorous as decorating a home, but very satisfying). A year later, and with lots of technical DIY lessons learned I am back to writing and editing, sometimes even from the comfort of my home on wheels.