When it comes time to purchase a bathtub, most people are interested in what the bathtub is made from. Acrylic? Cast-Iron? Solid Surface? They want to know that they are getting the best quality material for their money. In this blog, we explain the difference between the materials that are used to build a bathtub. It is also explained what you can use to maintain and clean your tub.
Acrylic is an extruded or continuous cast plastic. Tubs are vacuum-molded (drawn into
a mold) from sheets of solid colored acrylic and then reinforced with a fiberglass
backing for strength and sound deadening. "Solid" colored means the color goes all the
way through the sheet; not just a top layer. This is important because if the tub gets
nominally scratched during use, you will not see the scratch as easily as you would
when using materials where the top coat has the color and the lower layers do not.
Acrylic is popular with manufacturers and consumers because it can be molded into
almost any shape and comes in hundreds of colors. It is light, non-porous, easy to
maintain and durable. Additionally, shallow scratches and even dings can be repaired
by a professional tub refinisher. Acrylic is also warm to the touch, does not draw heat
out of the water like tile or cast iron and is naturally slip-resistant.
To clean acrylic tubs, use a mild, non-abrasive cleaner. If abrasives are used,
they will eventually dull and scratch the luster of the finish.
Tile cleaners and strong household cleaners need not be used.
As always, check the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions.
Cast Iron describes a manufacturing process used for over a century to produce
bathtubs. It is a cool metal and with all material seeks to obtain an equal temperature
between it and the water; therefore, the water in cast iron tubs cools more rapidly than
water in a tub made of acrylic or fiberglass. Also, cast iron bathtubs are heavy and
therefore generally limited to sizes up to 72" x 36" and 60" x 42". Attention to this
weight factor may be important if you are designing a bathroom that is accessible only up a long flight of stairs. However, cast iron is a tried and true, high quality material that lasts for many years with very little maintenance.
Clean with a mild, non-abrasive cleaner. Do not use scouring pads which can dull the
shiny characteristic of cast iron. If you get a hairline crack in the enamel that cannot be
felt, water may seep down to the metal and cause a thin line of rust. If this occurs,
contact the cast iron manufacture for what is called A/B Solution. This is a two part
repair process that can easily be completed by the homeowner. You apply “A” to get rid
of the rust and then “B” to seal the crack so that it does not reappear. Stubborn, dark
gray marks may be removed by applying a paste of oxalic acid purchased from your
grocery or hardware store and letting it set for a few minutes before rinsing. As always,
check the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions.
Cast Polymers - Gel-Coated
Cultured marble, onyx, granite and solid colored
polymer based materials are used for
cast mineral filled polymer fixtures. Although
they are generally referred to as cultured
marble or cast polymer. Cast polymer surfaces
are created by pouring a mixture of
ground marble or natural stone and polyester resin into a mold. The durability properties of solid colors
and granites are the same as standard, cultured
marble. However, these new types of cast
polymers are generally equal in expense to
solid surface products because of the
additional cost of materials and the need for more
careful mold handling in order to create defect-free
solid colors. This polyester gel-coat
finish is also not as durable as other surfacing
materials. However, a skilled bathtub
refinisher can repair damage to a cast
polymer fixture on the job site.
Clean with a mild, non-abrasive cleaner. Shinier finishes require more gentle
maintenance whereas, some matte finishes can take the light use of a scrub pad. As
always, check the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions.
Solid Surface Bathtubs - Non-Gel-Coated
A solid surface tub is manufactured much like a cast polymer bath except solid surface
products do not use a gel-coat. This means there is not a surface coating that may
crack, craze, or yellow. Apart from this distinction the products are cast in the same
way. Typically, solid surfaces are harder and more durable than gel-coat finishes.
There is very little maintenance required on solid surface tubs because tub is made of
the same material throughout; there are no layers of different material. Any minor
scratches can easily be buffed out and other repairs may be made by tub resurfacers.
As with other materials, always follow the maintenance requirements as stipulated by
Copper bathtubs are individually hand-crafted
and therefore best suited for a rustic
application, since the tub will not have the
consistency of other types of materials made
on an assembly line. These tubs do not offer
any insulation and are therefore noisier
and colder than other materials. Most thicknesses
of the metal for copper bathtubs are
12 gauge and finishes may be smooth
and or hammered based on preference. These
types of bathtubs are more for décor and
not function because of their high
maintenance and cost.
Copper tubs are not lacquered and it is nearly
impossible to keep their original, factory
finish intact. With this material, it is very
important to follow the manufacturer’s
maintenance and cleaning instructions.
To fabricate a bathtub in enameled steel, a sheet of steel is pressed into a die so that it
forms the desired shape. A powder coat of glass enamel is then applied and fired in an
oven. Some enameled steel fixtures also require sections to be welded together.
At first glance, enameled steel fixtures look quite similar to cast iron. However, there
are dramatic differences. Enameled steel fixtures are more susceptible to damage than
some other materials. When a heavy object is dropped on the fixture, the formed steel
flexes on impact, whereas the enameled finish does not. This may lead the enamel to
chip or cause it to form a smooth, round flake called a “pop-off”. Additionally, the
enamel is not completely smooth and forms slight dimples called “orange peeling”.
With enameled steel bathtubs, the materials work to equalize in temperature causing
the water to become colder as the metal becomes warmer. On the plus side, they are
the least expensive fixture you can specify and easy to handle because of their light
Maintenance of enameled steel must be done in a very gentle manner. You should
never use harsh cleaners nor any scrubbing powders or pads.
Fiberglass and Gel-Coat
Fiberglass bathtubs are manufactured by
spraying a gel-coat onto a mold. Then a
multi-layer fiberglass backing is applied
by spray and compacted with a hand roller. As
with acrylics, the manufacturing process
allows for numerous shapes, sizes, and color
choices. Fiberglass is porous and less
durable than other materials, but like acrylic
does not cool the bath water as quickly
as cast iron, metal, or enameled steel.
Additionally, the color is only on the
top layer with white fiberglass underneath, so
scratches are more noticeable than
with other products and repairs are difficult. As this
product is cleaned, it may become dull
and show surface scratches and swirl marks.
Clean with mild soap and water. If abrasives are used, they will damage the luster of
the finish. Use a sponge or other non-abrasive applicator. Never use a scouring pad or
steel wool. Some professionals suggest applying a car wax to the fiberglass after each
cleaning to make it less porous and easier to clean. It is important to abide by the
manufacturer’s maintenance instructions when it comes to taking care of fiberglass
Stainless steel tubs follow the same manufacturing process as enameled steel fixtures
where a steel sheet is pressed into a die; however, no surface coat of enamel is
applied. Stainless steel quality is judged by the steel gauge, the nickel content of the fixture and
the finishing process. The higher the gauge number, the thinner the steel. 16 gauge
steel is considered the best product for luxury projects with 18 gauge the next best
option. 20 gauge steel is also available and may be acceptable. However, 22 gauge
steel should only be used in low budget projects. Nickel in the steel increases the corrosion
and stain-resistant qualities of the fixture, so it is important to offer product with a
high enough nickel content. European products typically have higher
nickel content than those manufactured elsewhere, such as Asia.
Additionally, you want a product with a multi-step finishing process which refines the
finish. Keep in mind that a brushed finish is easier to care for and maintain its initial
appearance than a mirrored finish.
Since there are numerous types of metals and finishes, it is imperative to check
In some areas of the country, tile is a very
popular bathroom surface material.
Customers may want their tile contractor to
design and make the tub. Many sizes and
shapes are possible because of its customization.
Be sure the grout and cement in
these installations are kept to a minimum
for easier maintenance. These tubs may have
the faucet deck- or wall-mounted.
Maintenance of tile bathtubs is much like
that for tile floors by using mild cleansers.
Sometimes after installation and the first initial
uses, your client may notice little rust
sliver stains on the tile.
This is due to many tile installers using steel wool to clean the
haze left on the tile during the grouting process. The steel wool slivers left behind on
the tile get wet and rust. The rust is easily removed with a calcium/lime/rust remover;
just follow the manufacture of the rust remover’s instructions. It is also important to seal
the grout before the first use and approximately each year there after with a grout
Several manufacturers offer wood bathtubs. Wood fixtures are generally constructed
from solid strips of oak or teak. Teak wood is considered more desirable than any other
species because of its oily composition, which minimizes its expansion and contraction
properties. Once constructed, the fixtures are finished with a polyethylene coating to protect and
enhance the beauty of the wood. To add to the structural integrity of the fixture, as well
as to aid in heat retention, the outsides of wood bathtubs are generally sheathed in
Wood fixtures should not be exposed to constant,
direct sunlight and need to be wiped
down after each use to avoid the development
of a permanent, unattractive water line.
If damaged, the polyethylene finish can be repaired.
Only use mild cleansers and follow
the manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations.
If you have any questions about the way bathtubs are made, please reach out to Flow. To get your dream bathtub, visit us at 127 S. Easton Road Glenside, PA 19038 or call at (215)-454-2258.