There are few things more relaxing than a nice hot bath. Unfortunately, finding the right bathtub isn’t as relaxing. With so many options to choose from, finding the right bathtub can really turn into a strenuous task. But don’t worry, a little education makes all the difference in the world.
Our guide will teach how to buy a bathtub that will fit your space and meet all of your needs. Whether you are looking for a luxurious soaking tub, or simply replacing an old alcove tub, this guide should set you in the right direction.
Types of Bathtub
When starting your search, you should figure out what type of bathtub you are looking for first. You will probably make this decision based on a few different factors, including cost, size, and who will be using the new tub.
These are the “normal” tubs most of us grew up with. They are usually installed alcove style, but more on that down below. Standard tubs don’t have any bells and whistles, but they work just fine. These tubs work well if you are working with a pretty tight budget, or just aren’t looking for anything too fancy.
While bathtubs come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, standard tubs are usually 60″ long and 30″ or 32″ wide. You may also notice that standard tubs usually slope in from the top- so that the bottom of the tub is actually smaller than the tub opening.
According to Bob Vila, rectangular tubs can be significantly smaller, with dimensions as small as 45″ x 22″ at the bottom of the tub. Something to consider if you or family members are tall.
Standard tubs are the most affordable option, starting as low as $200.
Soaking tubs have become increasingly popular these days and are often found in new construction homes. These tubs are usually free standing and are great because they are deeper, allowing for more of your body to be submerged. Soaking tubs are great for relaxing and unwinding after a long day of work. They pair well with a glass of wine or a cold beer.
In order to provide a good soak, these tubs need to be larger. Soaking tubs also come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with most between 5-6′ long and around 32″ wide.
Something else that needs to be considered is how much water these tubs hold. Most soaking tubs hold somewhere between 50 – 100 gallons of water. This means you need a lot of hot water to fill these bad boys up. You may want to double check your hot water heater to make sure it can keep up.
Soaking tubs cost more than standard tubs. These tubs usually start off at around $1000 and can cost several times that depending on make and features.
Walk-in tubs are a great option for seniors or folks with mobility restrictions. Believe it or not, getting into the tub or shower can be one of the hardest tasks for seniors to do. I treat people everyday who have lost the ability to safely step into a standard tub.
There are ways to modify an existing standard tub to try and make them more accessible. But if you have the budget for it, a walk-in tub is the safest and most comfortable option for most people.
The problem is, of course, that walk-in tubs are expensive. Prices vary depending on brand and additional features, but you are probably looking at at least $2000.
There are a lot shapes and sizes to choose from. Many are designed to replace a standard tub. Walk-ins have a built-in seat and grab bar to make getting up and down easier. Most also have built-in jets to offer adjustable therapeutic massages for added comfort.
Whirlpool tubs are what come to mind when we think of a hot tub. A hot tub is really just a large whirlpool tub. Whirlpools get their name from the water jets located around the edge of the tub. Jacuzzi is probably the most well-known name in whirlpool tubs, but most major brands offer them.
These tubs are popular for the massaging effect the jets can provide. They are great for relaxing and releasing unwanted muscle tension. Whirlpool tubs can be freestanding or alcove style and come in all kinds of shapes and sizes.
Whirlpool tubs usually cost at least $1000 with many in the $2000 – $4000 range.
Air tubs have become another popular option for therapeutic baths. Air tubs are a little different than whirlpools- instead of spraying water out of concentrated jets, they gently release air out of small holes around the bath. The result is a relaxing array of bubbles throughout your bath.
Air tubs will cost a little more and are similarly priced to whirlpools. Expect to pay at least $1000 or so. You can also get combination baths that offer both whirlpool and air technology.
Bathtub Installation Options
We’ve gone over the different types of tub and what you can expect from each variation. But you can also classify tubs based on how they are installed in your bathroom
The alcove option is the most commonly seen bathtub installation type. If you’ve ever lived in an apartment, there’s a 99% chance you had an alcove bathtub. Alcoves are installed with a wall on 3 sides of the tub. You access the tub from the fourth side that is open.
These are so common because they are the easiest and least expensive to make happen. You usually see a shower head installed as well on one of the walls. If you are replacing an old alcove bathtub, it’s pretty easy to simply repeat with a new alcove.
As the name implies, freestanding tubs don’t have any connecting walls. They are standing free in the bathroom. These tubs are usually larger and take up more floor space because you don’t want them pushed up in a corner. Most of the luxurious soaking tubs are freestanding.
Freestanding tubs can be supported by a base or on feet. The classic clawfoot tub has made a big comeback over the last few years. Traditional clawfoot tubs are made of cast iron and are fairly expensive, but there are plenty of more modern takes on it that are more budget friendly.
Drop-in tubs are also very common because they are also pretty affordable and come in all shapes and sizes. With a drop-in tub, you only see the top or rim of the tub because the rest of it is placed (“dropped”) in a frame. While the tub itself can be affordable, you have to consider the additional cost of constructing the frame and matching that to the look of the bathroom.
But since the frame is constructed separately from the tub, drop-in tubs can be designed to match any look you are going for. Soaking tubs, whirlpool tubs, air tubs, and combos can all be installed drop-in style.
Undermount tubs are identical to drop-in tubs except for the fact that the rim is also concealed. With an undermount tub, the frame will also conceal the rim. In this case, you could use a tile or natural stone on top of the frame. Like drop-ins, the installation is a little more involved (and expensive) because the frame has to be constructed.
Keep in mind, that if you have a tile or natural stone topping the frame, it would probably have to be broken and removed to replace the tub.
Undermounted tubs can look gorgeous though.
Corner tubs are triangular in shape and fit nicely in the corner of your bathroom. With 2 sides attached to a wall, you have to be a little more careful with the placement of your plumbing- it might get a little cumbersome having to step over the faucet every time you get in/out.
Corner tubs are a nice option for smaller bathrooms that might not be able to fit a more traditionally shaped tub. These days you can get almost any type of bathtub in a corner version.
Bathtub Material Options
We can think about bathtubs in terms of what type they are or how they are installed, but we can also categorize them based on the material they are made of.
Fiberglass tubs are lightweight and easily molded to any desired shape. These tubs are also affordable, making them a popular choice in many homes. However, because the fiberglass is so lightweight, it doesn’t hold up well over the years. It can easily be scratched and wear down over time. A fiberglass tub might last you a decade or so if you are lucky.
Acrylic tubs are another very popular option because they are also affordable and very versatile. They are lightweight and more durable than fiberglass tubs. They also hold heat more efficiently and don’t scratch as easily. Acrylic is often used to mold the oddly shaped whirlpool tubs.
If you are looking to step up your bath game and spend a little more, you might want to consider a porcelain-enameled steel tub. The steel tub is sturdy but not quite as heavy as a cast iron model. Porcelain-enameled steel is also more affordable than a cast iron tub, but it can chip if you drop something on it (and rust likes to form in chips).
Enamel-Coated Cast Iron
Cast iron tubs were common back in the day for good reason- they last forever. Enamel-coated cast iron tubs are as sturdy as anything you can find. They are scratch and chip resistant and they hold heat very well. The biggest downside is that they are more expensive.
They are also very heavy, especially when filled with water. If you want to put a cast iron tub on the second floor, you should have a professional check it out to see if you will need any additional structural support added- the last thing you want is for your new tub to crash through the floor!
While copper bathtubs are no where near as popular as the above materials, they have become a popular choice for high-end tubs. Copper tubs are expensive, but they can definitely give your bathroom a luxurious and antique look. Copper is a very durable and malleable metal, making it an obvious choice for tubs.
The biggest downside is the cost. Expect to spend several thousand dollars on a copper bathtub. But they are easy to clean and will last a lifetime.
Believe it or not, you can even have a bathtub made out of wood. Which is kinda funny considering the first bathtubs were probably made out of wood and then replaced by metal and porcelain. Now, modern wooden tubs are stylish and considered pieces of art.
Wood tubs are very expensive and usually require more maintenance, such as regularly applying oils.
Natural stone tubs, such as marble, sandstone, and travertine are very stylish options if you have the budget for them. Natural stone tubs can be very durable and easy to clean. Some may require additional maintenance like regularly applying oil to them. Keep in mind the weight of these tubs as well, as they can get very heavy.
A Few More Considerations
We are winding down now, as I know you already have plenty to consider when buying a new tub. But I did want to mention a few last things you should consider when making your decision.
Believe it or not, not all tubs come with a faucet… I know, right? In all seriousness, if you are considering a new bathtub, you will probably have to purchase a faucet separately, unless your old one will still work. The type of faucet you need will depend on the type of bathtub you choose.
Your bathtubs warranty is something else you may want to consider. As you might expect, nicer, more expensive tubs tend to have better warranties. You know, you typically get what you pay for. High-end tubs should have a lifetime warranty, budget options will vary with some manufacturers only offering a 1 year warranty.
If you’re simply replacing one alcove tub with another, odds are you won’t have to worry about changing any of the plumbing. But if you are installing a new freestanding tub, you may have to take into consideration plumbing placement. Having to install a new faucet and drain might dictate where you ultimately are able to place your new tub.
This one might sound a little silly, but if you are used to an alcove set up with plenty of nooks and crannies to store your soaps and shampoos you might be a little shocked when all of your storage has disappeared with your new freestanding tub. There are plenty of options you can get to take care of this, such as a bath caddy.
Soaking in a new bathtub is the definition of relaxation. When many of us think about the most relaxing thing we can do, it often includes some variation of lounging in a tub. Finding the right bathtub for your home will be easier and a lot less stressful if you arm yourself with knowledge. Knowing what to expect and what to look for will make your job a lot easier in the long run.
Bathtubs can be organized by their type or how they are installed. They can also be thought of in terms of what material they are made of. I hope this article has given you a good idea of what type and installation of bathtub you are looking for.
Cost will ultimately be one of the most important factors you have to consider. Luckily, there are a ton of options in every price range so you should be able to find something that meets your needs regardless of your budget.
Also keep in mind things like warranty, brand, and style. After all, we want to make sure you are happy with your choice for years to come.