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Frameless vs. Framed Shower Doors: Pros and Cons to Help You Choose

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If you are buying a glass shower door for the first time or replacing an old unit, one of the most important choices you’ll make is between frameless and framed design. While many of us grew up with framed or semi-frameless doors, fully frameless shower door construction has been the most popular option for some time now. However, Crittall style glass – which includes lots of framing – has gained traction with homeowners and designers alike.. The best style for your bathroom depends on various factors, including bathroom style, budget, and desired door type. We will delve into the pros and cons of each choice to help you make an informed decision that you’ll be happy with for the life of the door.


            1. What makes a shower door or enclosure frameless?

            2. Which enclosure designs are categorized as framed?

            3. Just what does “semi-frameless” mean?

            4. Why are frameless glass shower doors so popular with decorators?

            5. Are there any drawbacks to frameless shower doors and enclosures?

            6. Are there reasons to choose a Crittall style door instead?

            7. What are the “cons” of Crittall style glass?

            8. Are there benefits to other framed glass showers?

            9. Why are these not as popular as frameless and Crittall style units?

            10. When are semi-frameless glass showers preferable?

            11. What is the best way to keep a framed or frameless glass shower clean and sparkling?

            12. How can I get a frameless or framed glass shower installed in my home?

1. What makes a shower door or enclosure frameless?

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Shower doors and enclosures are made primarily of glass. To safeguard longevity and personal safety, either tempered or laminated glass is used – never annealed. In the past, the glass was surrounded by aluminum framing, but homeowners today have more options in the form of frameless glass enclosures. 

A frameless unit is comprised of unframed sheets of glass. Some metal components are still used, and these often take the form of small metal clips and hinges. In some cases a metal header is also needed to extend across the enclosure and provide stability or a surface to which glass can be attached. Also, caulk joints may be used for securing glass panels on these showers. In summary, a frameless enclosure is characterized by:

  • Sheets of thick tempered glass

  • Unframed glass edges

  • Small metal fasteners and caulk joints

Frameless glass can be used to construct:

Shower screens: A single piece of glass, either fixed or operable is installed in the tub or shower entrance leaving an open space for entry and exit.

  • Rolling shower doors: The frameless doors are suspended from and roll along a header along the top of the enclosure.

  •  In-line door and panel: A swinging glass shower or tub door is installed next to a stationary piece of glass, and a 90 degree return panel is added if necessary.

  • French doors: Double swinging doors form a shower or tub enclosure.

  • Corner showers: Right angle or neo-angle glass showers can be built in a bathroom corner. These typically have one swinging door panel.

  • Custom designs: You choose the number of glass panels, the angles, the dimensions, the enclosure shape, etc. 

2. Which enclosure designs are categorized as framed?

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Traditional framed shower doors and enclosures are built from pieces of tempered glass that are surrounded by aluminum framing. Somewhat thinner glass can be used on these because the framework provides rigidity and protects the glass’s vulnerable edges. Fully framed doors can swing on pivot or wall mounted hinges or slide along metal tracking (bypass doors). 


An old look that has made a big comeback is black metal framed glass with mullions in the style of steel framed Crittall windows. These shower doors often have a gridwork of horizontal and vertical mullions, but there are variations on this. For example, some designs have just framing and vertical mullions. ABC Glass & Mirror offers the following types of shower enclosures with Crittall style glass:​

  • Shower screen

  • In-line door and panel

  • Single door

  • Double doors

  • Corner showers (right angle or neo-angle)

ABC customers can achieve this look by choosing a shower enclosure from the Gridscape line or by having black U-channel placed around the glass and ceramic frit “mullions” applied to its outer surface.


3. Just what does “semi-frameless” mean?

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As the name suggests, a semi-frameless shower is one on which you’ll find both framed and unframed glass edges. The entire perimeter of a semi-frameless enclosure is bordered by strips of aluminum, but the door panels themselves are frameless. One of the most popular types of semi-frameless shower enclosure is the bypass unit because sliding doors are a nice space-efficient option. This design features two operable door panels that move along parallel metal tracks. If needed to complete the enclosure, fixed glass panels can be installed perpendicular to the doors to completely partition off the shower area. Thus, characteristics of semi-frameless glass showers are:

  • Glass thickness somewhere between that of frameless and framed showers

  • Framing around the exterior edges

  • Unframed glass door panels

4. Why are frameless glass shower doors so popular with decorators?

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While all three shower enclosure types are used in homes today, frameless designs are especially favored. Why is this?

  • Clear frameless glass does a great job highlighting the tile or stone you’ve chosen for the shower’s interior. Framing does not totally hide this, but it does partially block it.

  • A clear frameless shower enclosure creates visual continuity between the shower area and the rest of the bathroom, making both spaces look and feel larger.

  • The smooth surface of a framless enclosure, unbroken by strips of metal, is easier to dry and clean than a unit with framing.

  • The “all glass” vibe elevates a bathroom and imparts contemporary charm.

In fact, one reason for their popularity may be the fact that frameless glass showers combine both aesthetic and practical benefits. The following door types are available for frameless shower enclosures:

  • Swinging door on pivot or wall mounted hinges.

  • French doors on pivot or wall mounted hinges.

  • Rolling barn-style door beside a fixed panel.

  • Dual rolling barn-style doors.


5.  Are there any drawbacks to frameless shower doors and enclosures?

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With all these desirable features, what’s not to love about frameless glass showers? Not much, but in some instances another design may be preferable.

  • Since they need to be made from thick “heavy” glass, frameless doors or enclosures are more expensive than comparable units that include framing. This means that budgetary considerations could make another type of construction preferable for you.

  • Frameless glass showers match tons of different décor modes – modern, transitional, Scandi, classic, and contemporary chic to name a few. However, if you’re going for a vintage or antique look, they might be a bit too futuristic. Since framed glass is very traditional, it may be a good option for creating an heirloom feel in your bathroom.

  • Finally, structural conditions may exist in a bathroom that make the inclusion of at least some framing necessary or desirable. Not sure if this is an issue in your home? You can call (703)257-7150 and set up a free inspection of the shower area and an in-home consultation and estimate with an ABC glazier. 

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6. Are there reasons to choose a Crittall style door instead?

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In some ways, Crittall style glass showers are the opposite of frameless units; instead of minimal metal, they showcase lots of dark framing and mullions. However, these styles are currently the two most popular options in shower design. Let’s look at a few scenarios where Crittall style glass might be preferable:

  • The bold variation of clear glass and dark metal on Crittall style shower enclosures makes them especially suitable for decorating themes like Japandi, which celebrate contrasts.

  • Industrial accents and industrial-style décor are popular these days, and the dark metal elements fit in well with this vibe.

  • If you’re going for a cottagecore, grandmillenial, antique, or farmhouse style bathroom, a Crittall style door might enhance your chosen theme more than a frameless unit would.

  • A shower door with metal gridwork is also good for adding visual interest. If your bathroom is monochromatic or dominated by streamlined, simple fixtures, this bold glass will impart character and charm.

7. What are the “cons” of Crittall style glass?

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Crittall style glass is beautiful and versatile. It is visually striking, but it melds harmoniously with almost any bathroom décor. Since it is a trending look derived from old-fashioned windows, its appeal is fairly timeless. There are several issues to consider as you finalize your choice, though.

  • Because of the dark metal gridwork on its outer surface, Crittall style shower doors will partially block the view of the tile or stone within the stall. This is often not a problem, but might give you pause if you’ve lined the shower with expensive marble slabs or something similar.

  • Unlike the smooth, simple surface of a frameless unit, a framed and mullioned shower enclosure has lots of detail that takes more time to clean. The gridwork can also gather dust if not properly maintained.

  • ABC Glass & Mirror has longer lead times for Crittall style shower enclosures than for most frameless units. (The lead times can be somewhat shortened by choosing the ceramic frit option mentioned earlier.)


8. Are there benefits to other framed glass showers?

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The main appeal of other framed shower designs is saving money. Since thinner glass can be safely used on a fully framed unit, these cost less to make, and the savings trickles down to the customer. If you’re remodeling your bathroom on a budget, choosing a framed unit allows you to upgrade from a curtain to a glass shower at a lower price point. There are a few other reasons you might consider a framed shower.

  • Aluminum framing provides some protection for the glass edges, a feature that could be appealing in a kids’ bathroom.

  • The combination of clear glazing and black metal is trending. A clear shower screen framed in black metal allows you to integrate this look while maintaining an open flow between shower stall and bathroom AND keeping your costs down.

  • The glass and metal combination present on framed showers works well with some design styles.

  • Using less-expensive framed shower doors in some of your home’s bathrooms could you allow you to splurge more on a beautiful frameless enclosure for the master suite.

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9. Why are these not as popular as frameless and Crittall style units?

In terms of design, framed showers fall somewhere between frameless and Crittall style units because they have more metal than the former and less than the latter. Although it may seem odd, this is probably why they are not as popular as the other two. If you want the “all glass” effect, frameless is the way to go. On the other hand, Crittall style glass offers a completely different look that’s very much in vogue these days. Framed units may be easier to clean than Gridscape enclosures, but they’re not as simple to care for as frameless showers. In the end, this look is classic and perfectly acceptable, but not as popular as its rivals because:

  • It does not provide as clear a view of the shower tile as a frameless design does.

  • The framework makes cleaning a bit more involved.

  • The look is simply not as “in style” as that of frameless or Gridscape shower doors.

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10. When are semi-frameless glass showers preferable?

Semi-frameless showers combine features of frameless and framed units. They are a classic pick that is functional and attractive. There are several reasons a homeowner might choose this type of shower door construction:

  • Sometimes a bathroom’s structure is not conducive to a frameless shower, and some framework is needed for the stability and integrity of the unit.

  • Slightly thinner glass can be used on a semi-frameless shower as compared to a frameless, and this can bring the cost down a bit.

  • If you order bypass doors – two frameless door panels sliding in parallel tracks – these are usually semi-frameless (sometimes framed but never frameless).

Semi-frameless shower enclosures allow you to integrate frameless glass edges into your design while saving money and tapping into some of the practical benefits of framing.


11. What is the best way to keep a framed or frameless glass shower clean and sparkling?

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Many of the same cleaning tips apply to both framed and frameless glass showers. Let’s gets answers to some FAQs about shower door care.


How often should a frameless or framed glass shower be cleaned?


Cleaning on a weekly basis is usually a good place to start. You can make it more or less frequent as your experience indicates. A shower with lots of metal components, such as a Crittall style enclosure, may need to be dusted more often to prevent buildup of grime.


What should I use to clean a framed or frameless shower door?


Use an approved cleaner on the glass and avoid harsh or abrasive powders or sprays. Wipe it only with soft cloths, sponges, or paper towels – no scratchy scrubbing pads. Most shower hardware can be washed with a soft cloth and solution of water and mild soap. However, brass finishes should only be rubbed with a damp cloth. Avoid harsh or abrasive cleaning supplies when working with any shower hardware.


Besides being thoughtful in choosing my glass shower design, are there any steps I can take to make my enclosure easier to care for?


Customers of ABC Glass & Mirror can absolutely order a glass shower that’s easier to care for. Choosing permanently protected glass gives you a shower that stays bright longer and comes clean more readily when you wash it. This glass is permanently coated during manufacturing and reapplication is never required. Choose glass that’s protected from the damaging elements in your tap water and make your life easier in the long run.


What should I be aware of as I design my custom glass enclosure?


Always consider how the custom shower will fit in with the bathroom as a whole and the other appliances. For example, avoid creating small unreachable gaps between the shower glass and a wall or other fixture as these will be impossible to clean.


12. How can I get a frameless or framed glass shower installed in my home?

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Whether you choose a modern frameless design, a shower enclosure made from Crittall style glass, a semi-frameless system, or a traditional framed shower door, you can order from ABC Glass & Mirror. For almost two decades, our glaziers have been delivering and installing beautiful custom glass creations for residential and commercial clients in the Northern Virginia area. Follow this easy process to have the glass shower of your choice added to your bathroom:

  • Contact our team at (703)257-7150.

  • Schedule a free in-home meeting with a shower glass expert.

  • View product samples, discuss your preferences, and get answers to all your questions.

  • Receive an emailed price quote for the items you’re interested in.

  • Make your decision in the comfort and convenience of your home.

  • Call us when you’re ready to place your order.

  • Schedule an installation appointment once we have everything ready.

  • Sit back and relax as a trained crew constructs your custom glass shower enclosure.

  • Enjoy the luxury and convenience of your updated shower for years to come!

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