If it's time to replace a bathtub, follow these tips for choosing a replacement that feature comfortable contours, stylish silhouettes, and durable forms that function for decades.
Bathtub leaking, worn, cracked, or just looking tired? Happily, a standard bathtub replacement is as close as your local home center or plumbing professional. Unfortunately, removing the old tub and installing its stand-in can be time-consuming and costly, so buy the best bathtub you can afford to ensure you won't have to repeat the process for another 15 or 20 years. Or, if you'd prefer to take a DIY route, we'll show you how to remove the tub on your own.
Because you're replacing an existing tub, your options will be limited by the current tub's dimensions, as well as the size of your bathroom's doorway. Before buying a new tub, you'll need to know the tub's exact width and length measurements and where the drain is placed (left, right, or center).
An inexpensive replacement tub may be narrower than the old tub. Many people find a narrow tub uncomfortable, so buy one that's comfortable. Most tubs fit into a 60-inch opening, but some older ones may be longer. Measure to make sure your replacement tub will fit. Some spa or whirlpool tubs fit a standard tub opening. Installing one is not much more work than installing a standard tub. A spa or whirlpool needs to plug into a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) electrical receptacle.
Acrylic or fiberglass tubs are inexpensive, light, and easy to install. Some have finishes that are fairly durable, but they may become dull in time. An enameled steel tub has a sturdier finish but lacks insulating properties; bathwater will cool quickly. Enameled cast iron is the most expensive and heaviest material but may be worth the cost because it retains a gleaming finish for decades, fills quietly, and keeps water warm the longest.
Generally, standard bathtubs feature decorative aprons on an exposed side(s) and are found in white, biscuit, and cream, though black, pastel blue, pink, and green finishes are available on midrange and pricier tubs. Rectangular tubs may feature rectangular, hourglass, or oval interiors, so give each bathtub you're considering a test run. Lay down in the bathtub to check fit and comfort level. Are there contoured head and arm rests, slip-resistant floors, and ample rims for holding toiletries and/or bath toys? Integrated seats, available on some midrange bathtubs, introduce added convenience while tubs with a curved apron wall supply extra bathing space.
The prices of standard bathtubs vary more by material than design. Here's a look at the costs, pros, and cons associated with the most common types of standard bathtubs.
Enameled steel bathtubs range from $150 to $850. Less expensive and lighter in weight than cast iron, these tubs chip somewhat easily, can be slippery, allow water to cool quickly, and offer limited color choices.
Enameled cast-iron tubs range from $375 to $2,200. Available in a wide range of colors, these tubs are durable and retain heat, but are heavy and may require additional structural support.
Acrylic tubs range from $300 to $1,000. Lightweight, fade-resistant, and available in many styles with integrated comfort features, acrylic tubs hold heat well when insulated, but may show scratches.
Fiberglass/plastic composite tubs range from $250 to $800. Polyester gel coat finishes and fiberglass backing often supported by wood or metal framing creates a budget-friendly lightweight tub in many styles.
Proprietary composite tubs range from $250 to $900. Americast by American Standard and UltraCast by Briggs are examples of materials that combine heavy-gauge steel, porcelain enamel, and resins to build bathtubs that offer all the benefits of cast iron at half the weight.
Removing the bathtub yourself isn't all that difficult. But before you begin, measure the tub and make sure you'll be able to get it past other fixtures and out the door. Remove the sink or the toilet if they will be in the way. To protect the floor, cut and tape pieces of plywood to the floor and cover with a drop cloth.
From inside the tub, unscrew and remove the overflow cover plate. If a drain assembly is attached to it, pull it out. (A drain assembly with a plunger is shown.) Unscrew and remove the mounting bracket if there is one.
To disconnect the drain you may need to remove a screw or two and remove the strainer. Or you may need to lift out a stopper and a rocker assembly. Use a strainer wrench to remove the drain flange.
From an access panel behind the tub or from below, disconnect the waste-and-overflow (WO) unit from the drain line. Depending on the installation you may need to unscrew a slip nut or loosen the screws on a no-hub coupling. If the parts are cemented plastic, you'll have to cut through a pipe. Remove the WO unit from the tub. (You may not need to remove the old WO unit if it will fit exactly on the new tub. Measure carefully.)
Remove the tub spout and remove the wall surface all around the tub to a height of about 8 inches. (If there are tub faucet handles, leave them in place if they are at least 8 inches above the tub.) Use a flat pry bar or putty knife to pry off tiles. Cut through drywall with a drywall saw. If the wall is plaster, use a reciprocating saw, taking care not to cut into the studs. Pry off nails or unscrew screws.
Pry out or unscrew any nails or screws anchoring the tub flange to studs. Where the tub rests on the floor, use a utility knife to cut through a bead of caulk, if there is one. Use a crowbar to pry the tub an inch or so away from the back wall.
Unless the tub is an old-fashioned claw-foot or other type of stand-alone, it will fit fairly tightly between studs on either side. That means you probably can't slide it out unless you cut away the wall surface on both sides. The best way is usually to lift the tub on one end. Pry up one end of the tub first with a crowbar, then with 2x4s. Working with a helper, stand the tub upright.
Check the drain and replace any damaged parts. Consult the manufacturer's literature and measure to make sure the drain is in the correct location. Purchase a waste-and-overflow unit and determine how you will connect it to the drain line. Screw ledger boards to the studs at the height recommended by the manufacturer. Ideally the finish flooring material should run under the tub.
Working with the tub turned on its side, dry-fit the overflow tube and the shoe. Make any necessary cuts, then make permanent connections. Place the gasket on the overflow flange, position it behind the overflow hole, and insert the linkage.
Inside the tub slip the screws into the overflow trim. Hold the overflow flange in place and hand-tighten one of the screws. Start the second screw and tighten both with a screwdriver.
Insert the shoe tube into the opening in the overflow tube and slip the other end into the drain hole.
Inside the tub place a rope of plumber's putty under the strainer or drain flange. Hold the shoe with one hand while you screw in the flange. Finish tightening with a strainer wrench. Clean away the squeezed-out putty with a plastic putty knife.
Before tilting and moving the tub, plan the move so you avoid damaging the waste-and-overflow unit, which protrudes below the tub. It may work best to rest the tub on 2x4s part of the time. Move the tub into position with a helper. You may have to tilt the tub. Slide it into the opening and gently lower the tub in place. You might want a helper to guide the overflow tube into the drain line while you do this. Slide the drop cloth or any other protective material out from under the tub. Protect the tub interior.
Check the tub for level; an out-of-level tub may not drain completely. Attach the tub to the studs according to manufacturer's directions. You probably will nail or screw through an acrylic tub flange. For a metal tub, drive nails just above the flange.
Working from behind or below, connect the waste-and-overflow tailpiece to the drain line. To test for leaks close the stopper and fill the tub. Open the stopper; watch and feel for any sign of wetness.
To fill the gap above the tub, cut and install strips of cement backerboard, which is more moisture-resistant than green drywall. Install tiles to fit, allow the adhesive to set for a day, and apply grout. Apply silicone or tub-and-tile caulk where the tiles meet the tub.