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Difference Between Framed and Frameless Shower Doors

Both framed and frameless shower doors perform the same function. At face value, it might seem as though the only difference between them is how they look and how much they cost.  

However, there are a couple of other differences that you need to consider, including the maintenance requirements, the likelihood of shattering, and how the door can be opened/closed. If you are in the process of purchasing a shower door, here is an article to help you make an informed decision.  


Framed doors are thinner, cheaper, and easier to install. They are often harder to care for and are vulnerable because the frame exerts pressure on the glass. Frameless doors are thicker, costlier, more difficult to install, and vulnerable because of the exposed edges. They are easier to care for.

Frameless Doors Are Thicker

The metal frame in framed shower doors fortifies the glass and improves the structural integrity of the door. 

Frameless shower doors do not feature a frame, so the strength of the door is solely dependent on the glass itself. 

Since both framed and frameless doors are made from the same type of glass (tempered glass), the strength of the glass ultimately depends on its thickness. 

Picture of frameless shower door versus  a framed shower door

This is why frameless shower doors are crafted with thicker glass. The glass used for frameless shower doors is usually either 3/8″ or 1/2” thick. 

Framed shower doors do not rely on their glass alone for stability, so their glasses are significantly thinner. The glass used for framed doors is merely 3/16” or 1/4” thick. 

Shower doors that are fashioned with thicker glass typically weigh more. So, you should consider the weight-bearing capacity of the mounting location before purchasing the door.

Operating the Shower Doors

Although it might seem inconsequential, how your shower door opens plays a huge role in how much you enjoy using the shower enclosure. It would influence things like the shower’s ease of accessibility and also the overall appearance of your bathroom. 

Both framed and frameless shower doors can be opened in different ways. They can be hinged, folding, sliding, bypass, or pivoted. 

Framed doors have been around longer than their frameless counterparts. So, while it’s common to find vendors that provide framed sliding doors, sliding frameless doors aren’t as widespread.

This is why many people believe that there aren’t sliding frameless doors. However, this is not the case and if you want frameless shower doors that slide, there are many options available for you (amazon link).

Both framed and frameless sliding shower doors can be reversed.  

Sealing Shower Doors and Water Leaks

One of the functions of shower doors is to prevent water from spilling into the bathroom. Although they are highly effective in this regard, there are certain situations where water can leak through the enclosure. 

The leaking potential of the door would depend on the following factors.

  • The quality of installation. 
  • The quality of the sealing material.
  • How well the seal is applied.
  • The type of door. 

Silicon sealant (amazon link) is applied to the joints and edges of both framed and frameless doors to prevent water from leaking through the gaps between adjoining surfaces. If the sealant starts to wear out, water might leak out of the enclosure. When this happens, you would have to reapply the sealant to the affected areas.

Gorilla Waterproof Caulk & Seal 100% Silicone Sealant, 10oz Cartridge, Clear (Pack of 1)

The metal encasing of framed doors acts as a barrier to prevent water from escaping the enclosure, while frameless doors are outfitted with plastic and rubber seals. 

If the two doors are properly installed, framed doors hold the upper hand in terms of impregnability because their metal encasing is more sturdy and has a longer service life than the plastic or rubber seals used for frameless doors. 

Over time, the rubber seal in frameless doors can wear out. If this happens, water would leak through the enclosure. Leaks caused by damaged seals can be solved by replacing the seal. 

Most framed shower doors have drain holes at the bottom of the frame. The holes are designed to allow water that enters the frame to drain back into the shower. 

These holes can get clogged by debris or soap scum and clogged drain holes can lead to leaks into the bathroom. The simple solution to this problem is to unclog the holes. 

Cost and Installation Differences

Shower doors come in different sizes and designs. The cost and installation requirement for any shower door would be dependent on the following factors. 

  • Size of the door.
  • The door’s design (how it opens, the type of glass used, i.e., is it etched, frosted, or clear? etc.) 
  • The thickness of the glass.
  • Whether the door is stock or custom
  • The hardware required. 
  • The mounting requirements. 

Purchasing Cost

Frameless shower doors are more expensive to purchase than framed doors. You can spend two or three times the amount of a framed shower door to purchase a frameless one. 

Although both doors are made of tempered glass, frameless shower doors are, as mentioned earlier, crafted with thicker glass because they do not have the additional support that frames provide.

Thick glasses cost more simply because there is more glass, which is why frameless doors are significantly more expensive than their framed counterparts. 

Frameless shower doors versus framed shower doors costs in USD

On average, frameless doors are priced between $600-$1200, while framed doors cost between $150-$400. 

The price stated above isn’t inclusive of the cost of installing the door. 

Installation

Working with glass can be tricky for people who do not have any experience, which is why it is recommended that you have a professional install your shower doors. 

But if you decide to go the DIY route, you might prefer stock framed doors because frameless doors, whether stock or custom, are more labor intensive and require specialized hardware.  

This is why frameless doors cost more to install. The standard price of installing a framed door is about $100-$200, while with frameless doors you would be charged between $300 and $500

Depending on the door’s design and the skill level of the installer, it should take about 3 to 4 hours to install a frameless shower door while a frame door can be installed within 1 to 2 hours. 

Differences in Maintenance Requirements

The lack of a frame makes cleaning frameless shower doors easier.

Cleaning the door might only involve wiping down the glass with soap and a squeegee (amazon link). You can even reduce cleaning significantly by adding a protective glass coating like Diamon-Fusion protection.

MR.SIGA Multi-Purpose Silicon Squeegee for Window, Glass, Shower Door, Car Windshield, Heavy Duty Window Scrubber, Includes Suction Hook, 10 inch, Grey & Black, 1 Pack

This kind of treatment can cause damage to door frames, so they aren’t always suitable for framed shower doors. 

In addition to cleaning the glass, with framed shower doors, you would also have to clean the other components of the door.

The metal encasing of framed doors has crevices and grooves that can trap moisture, and debris, which can lead to the buildup of mold and mildew. Additionally, most framed shower doors feature a track at the top and the bottom of the door, and the bottom track needs to be cleaned regularly.  

The track and metal frame would corrode if they are continually exposed to water, so you need to take extra care to ensure that they are protected against the shower water and condensation.

Longevity of Shower Doors

Both framed and frameless shower doors typically last between 20 to 30 years. They can even last longer than 30 years if they are properly maintained.

The actual lifespan of a shower door would be determined by the maintenance, door type, and quality of installation.

Because of their metal frames, framed shower doors can corrode. If this isn’t dealt with when you first notice it, the corrosion can spread along the frame. When this happens, you might have to replace the entire door. Frameless shower doors also have metal parts, but far fewer, which means corrosion is less likely.

If you have a damaged panel on a framed shower door, you could simply rectify this by replacing the problematic panel. With frameless shower doors, the glass is mounted directly by special clips, so if any section of the glass develops a serious fault, you might have to replace the entire glass panel. 

Likelihood of Shattering

Shower doors are constructed with tempered glass, which is safer and more durable than regular (annealed) glass, so instances of shattering are quite rare. 

Both framed and frameless shower doors are impact-resistant, so unless extreme pressure is exerted on the glass, it isn’t likely to break. However, if there is already a defect like cracks, nicks, and chips on the glass prior to the impact, it can cause the glass to shatter. 

The shattering can also be from spontaneous glass breakage, which is a phenomenon that describes the shattering of glass without any apparent reason. Spontaneous breakage can occur even when nobody touches the glass. 

There are, however, four main reasons why shower doors break (explode).

Shattered tempered glass

Frameless doors are at risk of shattering because tempered glass is weakest along the outside edges. In a framed door, this part is protected by the metal frame.

With frameless doors, not only are they more exposed on a day-to-day basis, but right from the start, the door edges can get damaged due to poor installation or disjointed fasteners. If this happens, frameless doors are more at risk of shattering because the fasteners are connected directly to the glass. 

Additionally, clips and hinges for frameless doors are connected directly to the glass and if they aren’t connected properly, the drill holes can create a vulnerable spot in the glass panel.

Spontaneous shattering can also be because of frame-related issues. This usually occurs when the glass expands and contracts and there isn’t enough room for these activities within the frame. This type of shattering is only applicable to framed shower doors. 

Although it might seem like the lack of a frame puts frameless doors at a disadvantage, the thickness of the glass makes them able to withstand most conditions that framed doors can withstand. 

Table Summary of the Differences

Framed Shower DoorsFrameless Shower Doors
Has a metal frameDo not have a frame
Medium thickness tempered glass (3/16” or 1/4” thick)Thick tempered glass (3/8″ or 1/2” thick)
Traditional designContemporary design
Harder to keep clean because of the frameEasier to clean
Prone to corrosion and rustNot prone to corrosion and rust
Costs less to purchase, usually between $150-$400Costs more, between $600-$1200
Easier to install Difficult to install
Can be installed in 1 to 2 hoursTakes longer to install, about 3 to 4 hours
Less likely to shatterMore likely to shatter
Can be installed by a skilled DIYerBest to be installed by a professional

Should I Get Framed or Frameless Shower Doors?

There isn’t a definite answer as to whether you should get a framed or a frameless shower door. The choice you make should be determined by factors like your budget, the design of your bathroom, and the maintenance requirement of the shower door. 

Frameless shower doors cost a lot more than framed doors, so if cost is a limiting factor for you, then a framed shower door is a more prudent choice. 

You should also take the design of your bathroom into consideration. Framed shower doors are ideal for traditional bathrooms, while frameless doors are better for more contemporary designs. 

Frameless shower doors are ideal for small bathrooms because they make the room appear more spacious and airy. 

If you want a low-maintenance shower door, frameless doors are the right option for you because they are easier to clean than framed doors.  

Table of Pros

FramedFrameless
Budget-friendlyEasy to clean and maintain
Less prone to water leaksIsn’t prone to corrosion
Easy to installContemporary design adds aesthetics to the space and enhances property value
Costs less to installMakes the bathroom appear more spacious
Frame provides improved stabilityMinimalist design makes them fit into many bathroom styles
Diverse designs

Table of Cons

Framed Shower DoorsFrameless Shower Doors
Metal frames are prone to corrosion and rustExpensive
More difficult to cleanDifficult to install
Traditional design might look outdated in contemporary bathroomsProne to water leaks
Limited range of motionLack the stability frames provide
Corrosion can lead to a shorter lifespanMore at risk of shattering 
May not blend with antique bathroom design

Sources

https://www.schickershowerdoors.com/framed-vs-frameless-shower-door/

https://garretyglass.com/about/blog/framed-vs-frameless-shower-doors/

https://www.onedayglass.com/pros-and-cons-of-frameless-shower-doors/

https://handymanconnection.com/2019/03/the-pros-cons-of-frameless-shower-doors/

https://abcglassandmirror.com/frameless-vs-framed-shower-doors-pros-and-cons-to-help-you-choose/

https://www.hunker.com/13726974/sliding-shower-doors-what-you-need-to-know

https://glassdoctor.com/expert-tips/all-about-shower-glass/shower-door-glass-thickness

https://www.pleasantonglass.com/does-the-thickness-of-my-frameless-shower-door-matter/

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