A well-made bathtub adds an air of elegance and luxury to any bathroom, and the material your tub is made from plays a major role in its appearance and durability. Finding the ideal bathtub material for your style preferences and budget will help get you started toward choosing the perfect tub.
To make this type of tub, a sheet of steel is pressed into shape, then coated with a layer of porcelain enamel, which gives the tub a smooth, glazed surface. It’s the same type of material used in enamel cooking pots. It’s cheap, durable, and easy to clean, making it one of the most popular tub materials.
These tubs are also lighter than cast iron and therefore easier to install. Due to their lightness, however, they must be anchored securely to prevent tipping.
On the downside, because steel isn’t the easiest material to shape, enamel tubs are available in a limited range of styles and usually only in the standard size of 60 by 30 inches. Color options are also limited.
While it stands up well to normal use, enamel is prone to chipping when hit by a heavy object such as a dropped metal cup or bucket. Even tiny chips quickly develop rust, so you’ll want to repair them by applying several coats of enamel paint in a color matching the tub.
Uninsulated models produce a loud metallic rumbling as they’re being filled, but the noise subsides as the water level rises, so you can enjoy your bath in peace. These tubs warm up quickly, but don’t retain heat well, so they’re not the best option if you love lingering in a hot bath.
Enameled Cast Iron
Like enameled steel, enameled cast iron is formed into a tub shape, then coated with enamel to create a smooth surface. This is where the similarity ends, though. Cast iron is extremely durable, and the thick enamel used on this metal resists chips and scratches. If it does happen to sustain damage, it can be resurfaced. This type of tub can stay looking good for decades.
A variety of colors are available, so you can achieve a more customized look than with a steel tub. Because cast iron retains heat efficiently, it will also provide you with a more comfortable bath. These advantages combined make a cast iron tub a smart choice if you’re looking for a premium quality investment piece for your luxury bathroom.
The one major disadvantage is the weight. Cast iron tubs typically weigh between 250 to 500 pounds. This makes them difficult to install and increases the risk that your floor will be damaged during installation. The combined weight of the tub and water is too much for some floors, so you may need to structurally reinforce your floor before bringing in the tub.
FRP, or fiberglass-reinforced plastic, is the cheapest bathtub material out there. It’s made from fiberglass-reinforced polyester resin and finished with a gel coating that protects the tub and gives it a shine. These are good basic tubs if you’re on a budget and they’re especially popular for tub/shower combinations.
Although they’re affordable, they’re not particularly durable and can feel flimsy. The gel coating wears off over time, allowing the tub to dull and leaving it prone to scratching. This, in turn, makes the tub harder to clean so that its appearance deteriorates even faster.
Hairline fractures in the tub’s surface are easy to repair with fiberglass filler, but for larger cracks or holes, you may need to apply fiberglass cloth before applying the filler.
A popular choice for a basic, affordable bathtub, an acrylic tub is made by heating an acrylic sheet, placing it over a mold, then using a vacuum to form the sheet to the mold. Acrylic bathtubs are a little more expensive than fiberglass models, but they’re also more durable.
The non-porous surface makes them resistant to staining and easy to clean, and helps these tubs keep their shine longer than fiberglass tubs. That said, you’ll need to use a non-abrasive cleaner to avoid scratching the tub. Damage can usually be repaired.
Due to the way the tub is formed, some areas are thinner than others, so weight-bearing points should be reinforced during installation.
Acrylic and resin solid surface tubs are relatively new on the market and combine many of the advantages of more traditional materials. Acrylic solid surface tubs are formed from solid slabs of acrylic, unlike standard acrylic models, which are made from layers.
These tubs come in more natural colors and can be shaped into graceful, freestanding forms, making them popular for stylish modern bathrooms. They’re more durable than standard acrylic bathtubs, and can be repaired as necessary. They retain heat well, providing you with greater comfort.
All these benefits come with a price, though. Solid surface tubs are one of the more expensive options out there and can even cost more than cast iron tubs. They’re also heavy, making them difficult to install.
Specialty Material: Tile, Stone, and Wood
A ceramic tile tub lends a spa-like ambiance to your bathroom and offers you more versatility than nearly any other tub material. Tile tubs can be designed in any shape and size you want, and with the tiles that best suit your bathroom’s interior.
In fact, tile is one of the most affordable options for achieving a custom design. Tile isn’t the most comfortable surface to lounge on, however, and the grout makes these tubs a hassle to keep clean.
Some types of stone, including marble, granite, and travertine, can be formed into a bathtub that will lend your bathroom a look of timeless opulence. While stone bathtubs require consistent maintenance to keep them looking good, they’re exceptionally durable. As you might expect, stone tubs are heavy enough that you may need to reinforce the floor before bringing one in.
If you like the look of stone, but not the cost, consider engineered stone. This man-made blend of stone and polymer concrete comes in a range of stain-resistant colors. The main disadvantage is that when the gel coating wears off, the surface becomes vulnerable to cracks that can’t be repaired.
For a truly striking addition to your bathroom, a custom wood bathtub is one of the best choices you can make. These tubs can be milled out of mahogany, teak, walnut, and a variety of other woods. True to its warm, inviting appearance, wood retains heat more efficiently than any other bathtub material, making it ideal for a long soak. Like stone tubs, wood tubs are a decidedly high-maintenance option.
Whatever your preferences, with a little searching you can find a bathtub material that works for you. If you’re in the market for a budget-friendly, no-frills tub that’s comfortable for a quick bath, then fiberglass and acrylic are your best bets.
For something more durable, consider an enameled steel or cast iron. If you’re looking for a stand-out bathtub to enhance the beauty of your luxury bathroom and cost isn’t an issue, take a look at the high-end solid surface, stone, and wood designs available.