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Acrylic Vs. Steel Bathtubs: Which Material to Prefer?

Acrylic Vs. Steel Bathtubs: Which Material to Prefer?

Both acrylic and steel baths have their advantages and disadvantages, which make them close contenders. When it comes to style, price, and ease of installation, acrylic bathtubs win, however, where durability is considered, steel enamel baths last longer.
Rohini Mohan
The Good Ol' Bathtub!
The oldest bathtub in the world was found on the island of Crete, and it dates back to 3,300 BCE. This bath was made of hardened pottery and was 5 feet long.

While searching for the perfect bathtub, you are likely to come across more acrylic bathtubs as compared to steel enamel ones. The reason is simple, acrylic tubs come in a wide variety of shapes, designs, colors, sizes, and are often cheaper and reasonably priced than steel baths. Although steel bathtubs can last for decades if maintained properly, the newer models of acrylic baths can last for several years as well.

Additionally, past manufacturing defects have been rectified and resulted in the making of acrylic baths that no longer flex from the middle. This DecorDezine guide shall help you decide which material to choose by comparing acrylic and steel bathtubs.

Difference Between Acrylic and Steel Bathtubs

Manufacturing Method
Acrylic bathtubs are manufactured with a layer of 4-8 mm thick acrylic sheet, which is reinforced from underneath with steel or wooden frames. The central base of the bath is further supported with a wooden base. Thereafter, the entire tub is reinforced with fiberglass.

A single sheet of steel is used for making a steel bathtub, which is pressed into shape and spray-coated with enamel. Thereafter, the tub is treated in a furnace, which causes the enamel to react with the steel, and this creates a sturdy, non-porous, and durable coating on the tub.

The density of the wooden baseboard, use of sturdy wooden frames, reinforced layers of fiberglass, and backing sprayed on even the low-end acrylic bathtubs, make them exceptionally strong. The make and strength of high-end acrylic bathtubs often matches that of steel baths.

It is a known fact that steel bathtubs are strong and outlive most other materials in the long run.

Although acrylic tubs are lighter than steel tubs, they are quite resilient to chipping, cracking, and impact. The enamel coating provides better finish and greater flexibility and resistance to wear.

Although it is very hard to crack a steel tub, its enamel coating is comparatively weaker than its under-surface, and it may chip on impact. The enamel on a steel tub provides the white hard-wearing finish that every traditional bathtub demands; however, this finish does not offer the same level of flexibility and resistance as acrylic surfaces. High-end steel baths that have 3.5 mm+ thick walls, tend to resist chipping to a large extent, and are more long-lasting.

Heat Retention
Although acrylic tends to be cooler to touch, thereby making it more comfortable for the user to enter the bathtub. The material retains heat for long, and does not require the user to frequently refill the bath with warm water to maintain optimal heat.

Steel being a good conductor dissipates more heat, making the water cold, which some users may find discomforting. Nonetheless, it does not take too long for the tub to warm up once warm water is filled in it.

Porosity and Corrosion
As far as porousness is concerned, acrylic is inert and does not corrode or allow germs, bacteria, and mold to fester or stain, damage, or eat into the surface of the bathtub.

Steel also does not allow germs, bacteria or mold to fester into the surface; however, steel enamel bathtubs tend to rust in areas where chipping has occurred, or in case of water leakage.

Acrylic bathtubs do not resist scratches very well. Even the high-end models may develop scratches over time. However, these scratches can be minimized by maintaining and polishing the surface.

Steel bathtubs are reinforced with hard-wearing enamel which resists scratches to a large extent.

Style and Design Options
Since acrylic tubs are cast from molds, they are available in a variety of attractive shapes, sizes, and designs. There is a huge array of options for the user to choose from. This is another reason why, people prefer acrylic bathtubs because they can customized to match the decor of the bathroom.

Unfortunately, steel bathtubs do not offer the same level of diversity in design. Steel baths are pressed into shape, and usually come in flat and sharp or mildly-curved designs. Therefore, you may not find the exact design, shape, or size among steel bathtubs.

Weight and Size
Acrylic is comparatively a much lighter material than steel, and thus, can be installed anywhere.

Steel bathtubs are heavier than acrylic, and hence, you need to consider the weight of the tub and the strength of the bathroom floor before installation.

Flexing in the Center
One of the biggest disadvantages of acrylic bathtubs is that the low-end models often tend to flex from the center. Therefore, it is recommended to choose a thick and not-so-lightweight acrylic bathtub manufactured by a reputable brand.

This has never been an issue with steel baths.

A big advantage of buying an acrylic bathtub is, it's comparatively lighter on the pocket, and a user can save substantially.

Steel, being heavier, is more expensive. A steel bath of a similar size and design as an acrylic one is likely to cost more.

Having read through the differences in features, and the pros and cons of both acrylic and steel bathtubs, it is my opinion that acrylic baths are better than steel, and seems like a more logical purchase to make.