Bathtub Basics

When shopping for a bathtub, consider size and the advantages and disadvantages of the three most popular tub materials.
Pros and Cons of Popular Bathtub Materials

Before buying a tub, try it on for size -- literally. Climb in, settle back, and imagine yourself soaking. Does it fit and feel comfortable for you? Don't be embarrassed; it's the best way to determine if you'll be satisfied with it. When shopping, consider the advantages and disadvantages of the most popular tub materials.

Enameled Steel
For decades, the majority of bathtubs sold were made of enameled steel. These are the familiar, steep-sided units that have one finished side. When installed, they butt up against a back wall and two side walls. Corner tubs, which have one finished end as well as a finished side, come in right-handed or left-handed versions (depending on which end wall the tub is against). Steel is lightweight and inexpensive, but it's cold and slippery, and readily transmits sound.

Enameled Cast Iron
The classic material of old-fashioned, freestanding tubs, enameled cast iron offers the greatest quality with excellent durability and better footing than steel. Cast-iron tubs are extremely heavy, however, and may require beefed-up structural framing.

Fiberglass-reinforced acrylic tubs weigh and cost substantially less. Acrylic has the added advantage that it can be molded into elaborate, body-hugging shapes with integral armrests, headrests, and recesses for grab bars. Two disadvantages are that abrasive cleaners will damage the surface, and all edges and stress points must be fully supported by the structure below, making tubs made from this material difficult to install.

The standard tub size is 60 inches long, 30 inches wide, and 14 inches deep, although 16-inch-deep models are more comfortable to bathe in. But many other sizes and shapes are available in various materials. Before buying, take careful measurements of your space to make sure a tub will fit through doorways to the bathroom.