What is the Best Bathtub Material?
Whether you’re building a bathroom from scratch or are remodeling an outdated room, you’re probably going to want to buy a bathtub.
As it turns out, picking out a bathtub isn’t so easy as going to your local hardware or home decor store and saying, “that one!” Bathtubs come in a range of sizes, shapes, and materials. So, which is the best bathtub material?
The answer all depends on your budget, your taste, and a few other factors.
What Are Your Bathtub Material Options?
Before we launch into the pros and cons of the different types of bathtub materials and name one the best bathtub material, let’s take a look at the materials most commonly used in bathtubs.
- Enameled stainless steel. A stainless-steel bathtub, covered with a layer of porcelain, is one of the most popular material options for a bathtub.
- Enameled cast iron. Similar in appearance to an enameled stainless-steel tub, an enameled cast iron tub has cast iron beneath the porcelain. If you’ve ever used or seen a classic claw-foot tub, it was probably made from cast iron.
- Acrylic. Acrylic bathtubs tend to cost less than other materials. They are also considerably lighter in weight than cast iron and stainless steel models.
- Fiberglass. Fiberglass or FRP (fiberglass-reinforced plastic) is the most budget-friendly bathtub material available. It’s also one of the flimsiest bathtub materials out there.
- Solid surface material. Admittedly, solid surface material bathtubs aren’t too common. While they’re durable, they’re also pricey and can take a long time to receive.
- Cultured marble. Cultured marble tubs are similar to a solid surface material when it comes to price and popularity. Despite the fact that they cost more than acrylic or other options, they aren’t as durable.
- Ceramic Tile. Ceramic tile tubs aren’t too common, but they do tend to look nice, as long as you maintain the grout between the tiles.
- Stone. A stone bathtub, cut from a material such as quartz or onyx, is going to weigh a ton (maybe literally). You might also need to install a unique structure just to support the weight of the tub.
- Wood. A wooden bathtub? Why not, say some people. Wood might not be the best bathtub material because of its high price and the need for regular upkeep to prevent the wood from rotting.
How Do You Choose the Best Bathtub Material?
Now that you’ve got a sense of the different bathtub materials out there, how do you go about choosing the best bathtub material for your bathroom?
The best material for a bathtub depends on what you can afford, the look you’re going for and the style of the tub you want.
Let’s start with a discussion of price. The heavier and more “natural” the bathtub material, the higher its price tag.
That’s not to say that you can’t find the best quality bathtub material for an affordable price. It’s just that you’re more likely to see better quality materials at the higher end of the pricing scale.
On the budget-friendly side of things, you have acrylic and fiberglass (FRP) tubs. We can probably pretty much instantly rule out FRP as being the best bathtub material.
According to Bob Vila, FRP tubs typically wear out quickly and have a useful life of just 12 years. Inman calls FRP a least favorite bathtub material.
But if you’re on a tight budget, you might consider an FRP tub. The material is super lightweight, the installation is often a breeze, and you can repair the surface if it gets scratched.
If you can step it up a bit in the budget department, an acrylic bathtub can be a better option compared to FRP. Acrylic tubs are still affordable but are considerably more durable than their fiberglass cousins.
Acrylic is a flexible material, so you have more options when it comes to the shape of your tub than you would with a tub made of stone, steel or cast iron. The material is also pretty lightweight, making it a good pick for larger than average bathtubs.
Plus, it’s nearly scratch-resistant (unless you use an abrasive cleaner on it).
Let’s say you’ve got a bit of money to spend or you want a look that’s a bit more classic and traditional than what you can get from a plastic (FRP or acrylic) bathtub. In this case, your best bathtub material might be porcelain enameled cast iron or porcelain enameled stainless steel.
If you want a claw-foot tub, which is a freestanding model, you’re most likely going to want to go with enameled cast iron. Although claw-foot tubs can look fantastic in a bathroom, they do bump the price of your project up a bit.
All areas of the tub need to be coated in porcelain since there’s no skirting around the tub’s exterior. That can add to the price a bit.
If you don’t care about a claw-foot tub but also don’t want to go the plastic route, stainless steel with enamel might be your best bet.
A stainless steel tub weighs a lot less than cast iron and might cost a bit less, too. It’s got a smooth surface that’s easy to clean and scratch-resistant.
Stainless steel isn’t perfect. If you bring something heavy into the tub and drop it, the porcelain can crack or chip, exposing the steel beneath.
Although it’s “stainless,” the steel exposed by the chip is likely to rust pretty quickly if you regularly fill the tub with water or take showers.
Finally, another considerable drawback of a stainless steel tub is that steel conducts heat pretty quickly. That means that if you plan on enjoying long, hot baths, the water is going to cool down more quickly in a stainless steel tub than in an acrylic or fiberglass tub.
What About Fancy Bathtub Materials?
Acrylic, FRP, stainless steel and cast iron are all what you might call “basic” bathtub materials. They’re relatively affordable, and they get the job done.
But if you’re interested in designing a bathroom where the bathtub is the centerpiece, a higher-end material, like stone or teak wood, might be the best bathtub material for you.
High-end, fancy bathtub materials do have considerable drawbacks. Sure, they look great, but only if you keep them up. You don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on a tub that looks gross after a few months.
Final Thoughts on the Best Bathtub Material
Each type of bathtub material has its pros and cons. An inexpensive material might not bust your budget, but it also might not last very long.
A material that looks great might be a headache to maintain and might break the bank. Some tub styles are better suited to certain materials than others, further complicating the question of which is the best bathtub material?
Before you rush out and pick out a bathtub, figure out your budget, your cleaning style and how long you want the tub to last. It’s also helpful to have a design for the tub in mind so that you can rule out some materials right away.
When it comes to figuring out which is the best bathtub material, the answer all depends on you and your wants and needs.