When it came to choosing a new bathtub, I quickly got overwhelmed by how many bathtub types there are. There are so many options—so many designs, materials and sizes. But after I learned the basic tub types, my whole mission of buying a new bathtub became much less daunting.
So what are the basic varieties? There are 8 common bathtub types:
- Alcove Tubs
- Drop-In Tubs
- Walk-In Tubs
- Corner Tubs
- Classic Clawfoot
- Japanese Soaking Tubs
- Contemporary Freestanding Tubs
- Whirlpool and Air Tubs
In this guide, we’ll take a look at each of these 8 basic tub types in terms of the following:
- Size and shape
How to Find the Best Bathtub for You
Usually, the shape and size of your bathroom will help determine which type of installation is going to work for you: freestanding or built-in.
While a freestanding tub is not affixed to any existing walls or structures, a built-in tub uses existing plumbing and connects to another frame or wall. It’s that simple.
Once you’ve checked your bathroom measurements, you’ll know if the options are reduced to built-in, which usually will take less space.
This is what happened to me. You see, I’ve long harbored fantasies of a modern twist on an old classic—the copper clawfoot. But once I compared the measurements of my bathroom to the requirements of a freestanding clawfoot tub, it was clear that I had to forego my dream.
My quest for a bathtub was limited to a standard alcove bathtub.
At first, I despaired, as I equated standard alcove with ho-hum, run-of-the-mill, the boringest of the boring. But after a bit of research, I was thrilled to discover my stereotype of the alcove tub was actually far from the mark.
We’re just about to dive into how to choose the best bathtub for you and your space.
But one word of caution: There is some overlap between the types. For example, you can find a Corner Tub that is also a Drop-In because it both sits within a finished structure and is built into the corner of your bathroom.
8 Bathtub Types: Find Your Perfect Match
1. The Alcove Bathtub
What is an alcove tub?
This is the bathtub type I have in my master. An alcove tub like mine fits into a 3-walled enclosure. Sometimes, though, a non-load bearing wall needs to be built as the existing walls are too far apart for the bathtub. Since only one side of the tub is exposed, that’s the only side that is finished. The finished sidew is called the ‘apron.’
Size & Shape
A typical alcove fits the standard tub size is 60 inches long x 32 inches wide by 18” high, but there are variations on the theme. You can order an extra small alcove tub or an extra long alcove tub or an extra deep.
Because the alcove tub needs to fit within 3 adjacent walls, it’s always going to be rectangular in shape.
When we moved into our house, we put a new fiberglass tub in the alcove. But one of the best decisions I made during the frantic remodel was to insist an extra deep tub. This makes for better soaks on sore muscles and leaves me feeling like I’m making progress on my quest to get an actual soaking tub one day.
When you select a built-in alcove bathtub, pay attention to whether the drain is on the left or right side, as you want it to match up with your existing plumbing. There is only one finished side of the bathtub, so usually the tub cannot be turned within the alcove if you make a mistake with that.
Because the actual exterior of the bathtub doesn’t show, the alcove tub is less likely to make a statement in and of itself. But don’t let that stop you from pursuing your style fantasy!
Instead, decorate the surround with tile, stone or wood to hit up your visitors with a little bathroom envy. Once you open up this possibility and unleash your creative juices, you’ll have your freestanding tub friends second-guessing their own tubs.
Alcove tubs come in a variety of materials including acrylic, fiberglass, cast iron and stone resin.
A standard alcove tub is one of your most affordable options in terms of the cost of the actual bathtub. That’s because it only has one finished side, and also because it tends to be smaller in size than other bathtub options.
However, it’s the installation that will drive up the overall price, because you’re likely to need a contractor to hook up the plumbing and seal the tub to the surrounding walls. And you may want a designer to adorn the surround and match it to the rest of your bathroom.
2. The Drop-In Bathtub
What is a drop-in tub?
This bathtub type is dropped into a recessed structure, with the finished tub rim exposed around the entire perimeter. These bathtubs can be dropped into a finished frame anywhere that the structure is built—in the center of a large bathroom, in the corner of a more modest-sized bathroom, or even out on a deck. Plus you can easily add a showerhead.
Size & Shape
Drop-in baths come in many more possible sizes and shapes than alcove tubs. You can get a drop-in tub that’s oval that sits within a rectangular tile structure. Or you can get a circular basin set within a square stone base. The possibilities can be fun to imagine and beautiful to behold!
While a typical drop-in tub is 60 inches long x 30 inches wide x 16 inches deep, there are many variations on the dimensions of height and width available. However, the depth available in different drop-in tubs doesn’t tend to vary.
A drop-in tub is built into an existing structure.
Since the plumbing is typically beneath the drop-in frame, you might opt to have a removable panel on the surround for easier access. You or your contractor will need to ensure that the tub is flush against the recess before securing it to the container.
Also, if you choose a larger tub, you may need to build additional floor supports, as it will hold more water. Often a mortar base is put in beneath the tub to support the overall weight.
The surrounding structure can be made of wood or stone or tile. You can drop a white circular tub into a lime green square or a copper oval into a rectangular stone base. How cool!
Drop-in tubs come in many materials including fiberglass and acrylic, though you can find tubs in enameled cast iron, copper, and stone too.
Prices start at $500 USD and go up to $5,000 USD and beyond. This is because drop-in bathtubs are available as standard rectangles to hot tub sized baths for two. Keep in mind, this cost is only for the tub—the structure that you’ll drop the tub into is a whole separate enchilada. Plus you’ll need hardware, too.
3. Walk-In Bathtubs
What is a walk-in tub?
Walk-in bathtubs are designed for anyone with limited mobility. These bathtubs come with an open-close door on the side, eliminating the need to step over the rim of the tub to get in. They also come with features like handrails, seats, and hand-held showerheads.
Size & Shape
The most common dimensions are 60 inches long x 30 inches wide, and you can find ranges in depth from 24 inches all the way to 48 inches! This is because the bather sits on a built-in chair within the unit, so the water needs to fill the tub like a pool.
Most walk-in tubs are rectangular. The average walk-in tub holds 50 to 55 gallons of water, so you’ve got to make sure your water heater can handle the job.
Walk-in tubs can be freestanding or built flush to existing walls. The best installation creates a permanent water barrier behind the tub to prevent any water damage under the tub. As this tub type is often preferred by seniors, and seniors are more likely to be targets of scammers, make sure that your installer will warranty and service your project. Check references.
Let’s face it: a walk-in tub isn’t going to shout luxury or showpiece. But it is going to make you feel more amazing with every single soak. So when it comes to walk-in tubs, keep in mind that beauty is only skin deep.
You can find walk-in tubs made of acrylic, fiberglass, porcelain and steel.
The cost of a walk-in tub can vary tremendously depending on the size, brand and features. Adding whirlpool jets and shower units will increase the price. According to Consumer Affairs:
The average cost of a walk-in soaking tub is generally between $2,000 to $5,000. Models that feature hydrotherapy average $5,000 to $7,000, while special models like bariatric or combination air and water walk-in tubs start closer to $10,000 and can cost up to $20,000 or more.
You also need to factor in the cost of installation which can run around $1,000 USD. If you’re buying a walk-in tub for medical reasons, it may be tax-deductible.
4. The Corner Bathtub
What is a corner tub?
Just like it sounds, a corner tub fits into the corner of your bathroom. It’s larger than a standard tub and can hold more than one for twice the fun!
Size & Shape
Unlike an alcove tub which is fixed to the walls on 3 sides, the rectangular corner tub is flush to the walls on 2 sides.
Most corner tubs have 3 or 5 sides. The footprint is like a square with one corner missing. In many cases, we’re talking almost the size of a hot tub.
Therefore, in most cases, a corner tub is better suited to spacious bathrooms. When marking off the floor space in the bathroom to see if a typical corner tub will fit, you’ll need at least a 60” x 60” square.
All that said, you can find rectangular corner tubs meant to tuck into the corner of a smaller bathroom.
A corner tub, by definition, is built into two walls. Installing the corner bathtub involves checking all pipes and plumbing before building a wooden frame, and then putting down a mortar mix and placing the tub in that.
Often people install a corner tub, when they have space for a separate shower unit. That said, you’ll want to make sure there’s ample distance between the shower and bath for safe and easy movement between the two.
Corner tubs can be dressed up in high fashion, if the frame is adorned in wood, tile, or any other siding that adds dazzle to the decor.
Do you prefer acrylic, fiberglass, stone composite or enameled steel? You can find a corner tub made from all of these materials.
Corner tubs start at $800 USD and go up to $5,000 USD. Remember, this does not include the cost of installation, or any design-work you want to do on the frame.
5. Classic Clawfoot Bathtub
What is the classic clawfoot bathtub?
A freestanding bathtub that is raised on feet or balls is called a clawfoot tub. Originating in Holland, the clawfoot tub was super popular in England in the 1800s. Raised on feet or balls, these tubs hold more water than a standard bathtub. Back in the day, they were made of porcelain-coated iron.
Terin Lewis who works in Showroom Inside Sales at Expressions Home Gallery in Austin, Texas tells me we’re going to see variations on the traditional clawfoot tub dominating the clawfoot market. “The trend is that we’re going to see more color in clawfoot tubs and even more modern feet,” she says.
Size & Shape
Most clawfoot tubs will hold 40-60 gallons of water. This is considerably more than a 25-35 gallons held by a standard tub.
A vintage clawfoot tub can weigh up to 400 pounds—before you add water! All this is to say that you need to be sure that your bathroom floor can support the weight. If there’s doubt, your contractor may be able to add floor supports.
Plumbing for a freestanding tub like the clawfoot is exposed, but there are decorative fixtures that come in brushed nickel and brass that you can buy to keep the beauty of your investment intact.
Usually the feet on a clawfoot are either lion’s claws or balls.
Clawfoot tubs can have a rolled rim. Style-wise, one end can be elevated (called a “slipper clawfoot”) or both ends can be raised (called a “double sipper clawfoot”) leaving a more depth in the center of the tub.
Traditional clawfoot tubs are made of porcelain-enameled iron, which is why they’re so heavy. Modern twists now come in hammered antique copper and brightly colored acrylics.
Most vintage clawfoot tubs are in the range of $600-$2,000 USD.
6. The Japanese Soaking Tub
What is a soaking tub?
These tubs are deeper than standard tubs but designed to make a compact footprint in the bathroom. Also called an Asian tub or an ofuru tub, the Japanese Soaking Tub is made for bathers to soak up to their necks. Other varieties of soaking tubs that include garden tubs and hot tubs.
Size & Shape
Japanese soaking tubs typically hold 250 gallons of water, and can fit one or two people depending on the model. While the depth of standard bathtub is only 12 inches, the water depth in a Japanese soaking tub is often 27 inches. (To figure out how deep you can get in a particular tub, hold your ruler perpendicular to the bottom of the tub and measure to the bottom of the overflow drain.)
These types of tubs typically come in circular shapes that are 4.5 feet in diameter. You can find rectangular Japanese tubs as well. Because of the height of the sides, you may want to install steps to get in or consider a drop-in rather than a freestanding version.
Soaking tubs can be built-in or freestanding. Unlike hot tubs, soaking tubs are designed to connect with indoor bathroom plumbing that may have been previously used for a standard bathtub. Some soaking tubs include jets and chromotherapy, which is lighting used to enhance your mood.
These tubs come in a wide variety of styles from contemporary to vintage. You can use yours to bring a global flair to your bathroom.
You can find soaking tubs in virtually any material from acrylic to copper, stainless steel, porcelain, and wood.
Prices range from a few thousand up to $35k.
7. Contemporary Freestanding Bathtubs
What is a contemporary freestanding tub?
These popular bathtubs are often white and sleek, conveying a modern-edge. In a sense, they offer the best of both worlds, as they fill deeper than a standard tub and come in a variety of materials and styles. These tubs typically do not include showers. Nicole Medina is a Sales & Design Consultant at Kohler Signature Store by Facets of Austin. Nicole tells me:
The trend we’re seeing is stone composite tubs in matt or gloss white. The material allows for beautiful molded shapes with thin walls and it’s excellent at holding heat. A lot of clients in our showroom like the Veil, Ceric & Papion.
Terin Lewis of Expressions Home Gallery says:
More people are using the freestanding tub for meditation, post-workout soaking and relaxation than actually for getting clean. Coming soon, in addition to white, you’ll see brightly colored freestanding tubs in colors like emerald green and pink.
Size & Shape
These baths are usually oval-shaped. Measurements typically range from 31-34 inches wide x 63-71 inches long x 20-25 inches deep.
Be sure to consider whether your floor will need additional supports added before installing a freestanding tub.
While you might place your freestanding tub against a wall or picture window, you’ll want to leave a foot of space between each end of the tub and any other fixtures like sinks or other walls. This way, you’ll still get the wow factor from your freestanding investment.
For a contemporary look, affix the faucets to the wall by the center of the tub. This is called a wall mount faucet.
However, if the tub is in the center of the room, the pipes can be adorned with covers in metals like brushed nickel and chrome. In this way, your hardware becomes a charming part of the decor.
If you’re a DIY person and installing a freestanding tub yourself, position the drain pipe under the floor beneath the center of the tub. This video from Badeloft shows you how.
Contemporary freestanding tubs can sit flush to the floor or they can be elevated on pedestals. If there’s one thing I know it’s that freestanding contemporary bathtubs are showstoppers! You can find a single slippered version with one side sloping up. You can find double slippered versions with both ends tilting up, or you can find a freestanding bathtub with a rim that’s level all the way around.
Acrylic is the most common material for a contemporary freestanding tub. But there are plenty of other options to check out. These include cast stone, stone resin, cast iron and fiberglass.
For a no-frills freestanding acrylic tub, plan to spend $500-$700 and another $600 for installation. That said, when looking at freestanding tubs made from other materials like stone resin, your cost for the tub will go up to at least $2,000. And if you want to make a statement with copper, expect to pay at least $5,500.
8. Whirlpool and Air Tubs
What is a whirlpool or air tub?
Whirlpool tubs come with built-in jets designed to soothe tired muscles and ease aches and pains. How do these sorts of bathtubs work their magic? Either by shooting out streams of water or air.
While a whirlpool will give you a stronger, more focused massage, the air tub will invigorate you all over by releasing thousands of air bubbles into the water. To be sure, both experiences are heavenly!
If you really can’t decide—whirlpool or air—then buy the best of both worlds with a combination tub.
And if you have bubbling fantasies but don’t want to purchase a new tub, transform your existing tub into a jacuzzi. Here’s how.
According to Terin Lewis of Expressions Home Gallery in Austin, Texas:
The air tub is more popular now. There’s a brand called Jason Hydrotherapy that makes a microsilk feature that cleanses your skin and breaks down the outer layer of your skin. If you own a microsilk air tub, it will wash your hair and skin so well that you won’t need shampoo or soap.
Lewin tells me that when she tried the Jason Hydrotherapy air tub, it washed off her spray tan. That’s how she knows it really works.
Size & Shape
Whirlpool tubs and air tubs come in a wide range of sizes and shapes. They can fit the space of a standard bathtub, or order one that is the size of a traditional hot tub and can fit multiple people.
These tubs can be dropped into an existing frame or they can be freestanding.
You can easily find whirlpool and air tub versions of all the bathtub types we’ve already mentioned, with the exception of a vintage clawfoot. With that in mind, why not make a statement with a contemporary freestanding tub with water jets or a drop-in tub with air jets?
Acrylic is the most popular material for a whirlpool or air tub, but you can find these tubs in stone resin as well.
Expect to spend about $900 for an acrylic standard size whirlpool tub with 8 jets. Then price-wise, you’ll work your way up—way up!—from there, depending on the size, material, and number of jets.
Final Considerations about Choosing the Best Tub Type
First, no matter what variety of bathtub you choose, make sure to calculate the cost of faucets and installation. To help you price installation, use this very handy guide from Homewyse.
Second, think about who will use the tub and any mobility needs, especially for children and seniors. A high-sided tub may be difficult for some to access.
Third, consider a combination of function and flair. While you may love, love, love the idea of a freestanding vintage clawfoot, how will you feel when the bathroom floor is covered by water that splashed over the edges because you insisted on adding a shower?
Finally, have fun! Imagine all combinations of tub styles. Really, any tub type you dream up probably exists. And if it doesn’t you can have it custom made.