What Is the Best Kind of Bathtub to Get?
When there is a bathtub to consider while performing a bathroom remodel in Mission Viejo, Irvine, Lake Forest, Rancho Santa Margarita, and other South Orange County California communities, there is always the questions “What is the best kind of bathtub to get” and “what material is best for a bathtub?”
When considering what is the best kind of bathtub to get, know there are essentially 5 types of bathtubs:
- Porcelain enameled cast iron (Cast Iron) – Best All Around; See Kohler Cast Iron Bathtubs
- Thermoformed acrylic (Acrylic) – Better to Excellent; See Kohler Acrylic Bathtubs and Aquatic Bathtubs
- Cast Polymer (Cultured Marble, Onyx, limestone) – Excellent; See Victoria Albert Bathtubs
- Porcelain enameled steel (Steel) – Marginal; See American Standard Steel Bathtubs
- Fiberglass-reinforced polyester (Fiberglass or FRP) – Junk
Super Important! Installing a bathtub incorrectly will void the manufacturer’s warranty, irrespective of who installed it! So will your homeowner’s insurance if something goes wrong. Neither cover acts of negligence. Bathtub installation requires skills mastered over many years. It’s not something you are going to learn watching YouTube videos! Also, the bigger and deeper the bathtub, the more water you’ll need to fill it. The bigger soaking and hydrotherapy tubs use a lot of hot water (which usually requires a tankless water heater to enjoy if you don’t purchase with a factory installed heater). For more on this, see Remodeling a Bathtub.
Does DAD’s Construction Receive any Manufacturer Incentives for What Is the Best Kind of Bathtub to Get?
Before we go any further, I want to remind everyone that I receive absolutely nothing from any manufacturer, trade association, retailer, or internet marketing organization. Nope, no free stuff, trips to Hawaii, rebates, t-shirts, pencils . . . nothing. Not even a sticker or magnet for the refrigerator. Everything in this article comes from over 45 years of experience. My dedication and loyalty are to my customers. If I won’t install it in my house, I won’t recommend it for yours! Here is what you need to know.
Fiberglass tubs . . . Typically cost between $210 – $350 retail; typical size 60” long x 30” wide x 16” deep
Also known as FRP, or Fiberglass-Reinforced Plastic. Usually come with a 12-month limited warranty. Fiberglass bathtubs are made by forming layers of fiberglass into the desired shape. It is then coated with a Gelcoat resin. This is typically the least expensive bathtub; it’s also the least durable. The surface can (and will) crack, scratch, and fade. Frankly, these are garbage.
Last year I went to several of the new Baker Ranch homes in Lake Forest. These homes were only 2 years old. The 2,400 Baker Ranch housing development opened in 2014. Clients were concerned because their 2-year-old fiberglass tubs leaked. This was causing extensive water damage to the house. I discovered bathtubs with small holes and cracks in the walls where the bottom of the tub curves. I also found tubs with cracks in the bottoms. Another had a crack around the drain. The builder would not pay for replacement, repair, or any of the damage (not under warranty). The homeowner’s insurance would not cover the damage because it was not from an active water leak (AKA a pipe leak). So, these poor new homeowners were on their own!
Fiberglass bathtubs are cheap – both ways
I see this all the time throughout Orange County. Virtually all track home builders use fiberglass today because its so cheap (both ways). Unfortunately, so do a lot of remodelers! Whenever I remove a fiberglass bathtub, I almost always find water damage. From my experience, as FRP ages (I’m talking only a few years), it develops “spider cracks” throughout the tub. These cracks leak for years. You don’t see this because it’s under the bathtub.
Low cost, light weight, and ease of installation are some of the advantages of FRP. The finish can be repaired. However, repairs never last. On the negative side, fiberglass tubs are thin; they flex and don’t have a stable feel. They are also not very durable. The finish is prone to fading, scratching and cracking.
FRP tubs are available in soaking (as opposed to a bathing tub), jet, air, and air/jet bath styles. These are also available in 2-person configurations.
I won’t install a fiberglass bathtub or tub/shower surround.
Porcelain on steel bathtubs . . . Typically cost between $150 – $300 retail; typical size 60” long x 30” wide x 14” deep
These are sometimes referred as enameled steel. Usually come with a 12-month limited warranty or an express limited lifetime warranty. Like their FRP cousins, this is another inexpensive and widely used new home builder and home remodeler bathtub material. Porcelain tubs are stamped from a thin sheet of steel then finished with a layer of porcelain enamel.
These bathtubs are durable (there is a caveat) and easy to clean. The finish is resistant to most common chemicals. Porcelain retains its gloss for a long time (this; however, depends on what you clean it with). These typically easily replace a fiberglass or acrylic bathtub or tub/shower unit. Porcelain tubs fit into the same 5-foot opening. They finish off nicely with a tile surround.
On the downside:
- They’re heavier than fiberglass and acrylic
- The surface can rust and chip under impact (rust tends to form with even the smallest chip)
- Very limited options for color and shape
- Noisy (sound hollow and “tinny”)
- They lose heat quickly
Are Porcelain on steel bathtubs more Durable?
About that “durable” caveat. These tubs chip easily. Drop a can of shaving cream, non-disposable quality razor, or the handheld showerhead and the tub will likely chip. Then it rusts rather quickly. As it rusts, the steel becomes brittle and cuts your feet or whatever else is laying in the bathtub.
If you have one of these tubs and you’re ready to replace the tile on the walls, replace with a cast iron or acrylic bathtub. Here’s why:
- The tub will likely be damaged during tiling (these are cheap tubs with a very thin coat of enamel over thin steel).
- The original steel tub almost always needs replacing. The undersides of steel bathtubs are usually completely rusted. The bottom is not coated in enamel. This makes the tub unsafe and unstable.
These tubs can also be purchased as a soaking tub (as opposed to a bathing tub), jet bath, air bath, air/jet bath, and 2-person configurations.
Acrylic bathtubs . . . Typically cost between $300 – $2,000+ retail; size and style are almost unlimited.
Acrylic tubs use fiberglass sheets for reinforcement underneath vacuum-formed sheets of colored acrylic. Usually come with a 12-month limited warranty.
The advantages of acrylic are:
- Lighter weight
- Ease of installation
- Non-porous surface
- A finish that can be repaired.
The disadvantages are that the finish can scratch if cleaned with abrasive cleaners and can discolor over time on cheaper brands. However, the better grades of acrylic bathtubs have finishes that are very hard to scratch and have little to no discoloring over time. Acrylic tubs give you a lot of choices for shapes, sizes and colors. In fact, I don’t believe there is another bathtub material that provides such an array of shapes, sizes, and colors. Acrylic is a great all-around choice.
These baths can be purchased as soaking tubs (as opposed to a bathing tub). Acrylic tubs come in jet bath, air bath, air/jet bath, and 2-person configurations. High quality acrylic tubs provide one of the most relaxing and invigorating bath experiences available.
Cast iron bathtubs . . . Typically cost between $600 – $1,800 retail; typical size 60” long x 32/34” wide x 14/16” deep.
If you’re looking for a material that will last, this would be it. Cast iron tubs are made by pouring molten iron into a mold of the desired shape. Then smoothed and coated with a thick layer of enamel. A cast-iron tub is a higher-end option. However, it is an investment that will last and has superior durability. The enamel is resistant to chipping and scratching and it can be resurfaced.
It’s probably the most durable tub available. The finish is resistant to chipping, scratching and denting, as well as most types of chemicals. There are a number of different colors available, and there’s a richness to cast iron that’s hard to match. These timeless looking tubs have excellent heat retention due to their heavy material.
On the downside, these tubs are extremely heavy and require extra labor. Some require extra floor reinforcement for wood floors to install. They’re also typically going to be among the most expensive tubs on the market in each of their respective categories.
Cast iron bathtubs can also be purchased as soaking tubs (as opposed to a bathing tub). They are available in jet bath, air bath, air/jet bath, and 2-person configurations.
The Kohler Cast Iron Warranty is lifetime.
Cast Polymer tubs . . . Typically cost $3,000+ retail; size and style are almost unlimited.
Cast Polymer tubs are made from a variety of materials. Crushed limestone mixed with resin and crushed natural volcanic ash finished with Gelcoat are popular (see Victoria Albert). Onyx is another and was used extensively in Mission Viejo, Lake Forest, and Irvine during the 1960’s, 1970’s, and early 1980’s.
These bathtubs are durable, retain heat well, and available in many colors, styles, and materials. Many have natural-looking colors. You can repair the finish. These bathtubs come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
The only downside is that these tubs can be heavy (requiring additional structural support for wood floors). They also require a lot of water and they are relatively expensive. Some have long lead times to get. These tubs are for those looking for an elegant bathing experience while enjoying natural beauty. It’s common for these tubs to come in freestanding, drop in, and basin styles. They are available as a jet bath, air bath, air/jet bath, and 2-person configurations. If you’re looking for a soothing individual or romantic couple bathing experience with comfort, these are the tubs for you.
The residential Victoria Albert Warranty is a full 25 years.
The residential Onyx Guarantee is iron clad – it is guaranteed forever. If an Onyx product ever fails, they will either provide you with a new item or refund the cost.