It’s easy to assume that all bathtubs are made from the same material, but this is far from the truth. There are so many bathtub materials and two of the most popular options which are often confused for each other are acrylic and fiberglass.
Acrylic tubs are the best option for durability and heat retention. Fiberglass bathtubs tend to be cheaper and easier to clean. Both bathtub materials are lightweight making them easier to install than some other types of tubs.
Terin Lewis is a showroom sales consultant at Expressions Home Gallery by Reece in Austin, Texas. She told me:
“At the showroom level, we typically only sell acrylic tubs. This is a much stronger material and will not discolor over time. Fiberglass is typically sold in big box stores and is all about cost savings.”
In this post, I’ll help you drill down and determine whether fiberglass or acrylic is going to make you (and your budget!) happier.
Fiberglass vs Acrylic Bathtub: Picking Your Winner
Okay, I know you’re eager to determine a winner and move on. But truly, before determining your first pick, it’s important to consider the similarities and differences between each type of material.
Remember, a bathtub is a long-term purchase (a bathtub often lasts longer than a marriage!), so it’s worth just a few minutes of your time to get this choice right.
When considering fiberglass vs acrylic tubs, let’s look at the pros and cons for each. Then, once we understand each material, we’ll be able to determine in which category it will rein.
Pros and Cons of Fiberglass Tubs
|Lightweight||Material may flex when standing on it|
|Inexpensive||Finish can fade over time|
|Simple to Install||Easy to crack|
|Easy to Clean||Susceptible to mold and mildew|
Pros and Cons of Acrylic Tubs
|Lightweight||Can scratch easily|
|Easy to install||Pricier than fiberglass|
|Retains heat well||May flex when you stand on it|
|Finish stays glossy over time|
|Mildew and mold resistant|
Similarities Between Fiberglass and Acrylic Tubs
It’s really important to consider the similarities of these bathtub materials so that you understand how they are structured and designed.
Because if both fiberglass and acrylic have an attribute that you can’t live without, such as being lightweight, you’ll know that either type of bathtub will fit your needs.
So, what are the similarities between fiberglass and acrylic bathtubs? The bullet points below give a detailed list of how these bathtub materials are similar.
Both fiberglass and acrylic tubs:
- Contain fiberglass to make the material stronger.
- Have flexible materials
- Show a shiny finish
- Are lightweight
- Provide easier installation than other materials
- Are budget-friendly
The Difference Between Fiberglass and Acrylic Bathtubs
The number one difference between these two materials is how they are manufactured.
For acrylic tubs, the material is wrapped around a mold to create the bathtub.
When manufacturing a fiberglass bathtub, on the other hand, the plastic is reinforced with fiberglass and then molded and finished with a resin coat.
Check out the comparison chart below for other differences between acrylic bathtubs and fiberglass bathtubs.
|Weight||50-100 lbs||50-75 lbs|
|Chipping and Rusting Potential||Low||High|
|Scratching Potential||High||Very High|
|Off-Limits Cleaning Products?||Yes||Yes|
|Intensity and Frequency of Cleaning Needed||High||High|
|Susceptibility to Growing Mold or Mildew||Low||Yes, after the resin coat has worn down and not reapplied|
|Refinish, Install Liner or Replace When Old||Refinish or Maybe Get Liner (Depends on Model)||Can be refinished with a new resin coat|
What to Consider When Choosing a Tub Material
Picking a bathtub material is just as important as determining whether you want an alcove tub or freestanding tub, or a tub with or without jets. (As for me, I’d like an infinity bathtub, but I digress.)
Seriously, choosing the right bathtub material is super important because each material provides different pros and cons. The bathtub material is what determines how long it will last or whether or not it’s light enough for your floor.
When trying to determine if a fiberglass or acrylic bathtub is the right choice for you, there are several attributes to consider.
5 Category Showdown: Battle of the Bathtubs
So now let’s see in a head-to-head battle of fiberglass vs acrylic bathtubs, which wins in each of the following categories:
- Heat Retention
- Ease of Installation
- Ease of Cleaning
1. Durability: Acrylic vs Fiberglass Tubs
Durability is an important category because it determines the longevity of your bathtub. You don’t want to have to buy a new bathtub any sooner than you have to.
All bathtub materials are durable, but some have even more strength and longevity than others.
Fiberglass and acrylic bathtubs have a lifespan of about 10-15 years. (To learn more about the longevity of a bathtub, read my post What’s the Expected Lifespan of a Bathtub?)
Let’s drill down on exactly what impacts the quality and durability:
Which Material Cracks More Easily?
There is nothing worse than getting a crack in your bathtub. Cracks in a bathtub can lead to mold growing in your tub. And if you read my post, Bathroom Mold, a Plan to Destroy It, you’ll learn how to get rid of this dangerous spore.
When choosing a bathtub material, it’s best to find one that is least likely to crack. This way you’ll be less likely to confront mold in your bathtub or even—yuck!— under your tiles.
Unfortunately, both acrylic and fiberglass bathtubs can crack. That being said, one is more prone to cracking than another.
Want to guess which one?
The answer is fiberglass. These bathtubs tend to crack more frequently than acrylic bathtubs.
Chipping and Fading
As bathtubs get older, they are more prone to chipping and fading. No one wants a bathtub with divots in it or a bathtub where the color has faded away.
Of the two bathtub materials, again acrylic win, since fiberglass is more likely to chip or fade. In fact, the chance of an acrylic bathtub chipping or fading is very low compared to a fiberglass bathtub.
Durability Winner – Acrylic Bathtub
For durability and longevity, the acrylic bathtub is the clear winner. These tubs probably won’t crack, fade, or chip. If choosing between acrylic and fiberglass for durability, always choose the acrylic bathtub.
2. Heat Retention: Fiberglass vs Acrylic Tubs
It’s always disappointing to be rejuvenating in a warm bath, only for the water to become cold.
So, if having longer baths are important to you, you’ll want to ensure that your bathtub material retains heat well.
A bathtub that retains heat well is warmed up by the temperature of the bathwater. In turn, the tub material holds onto the heat to keep the water warmer for longer.
Neither fiberglass nor acrylic is well-known for its heat retention the way that, say, cast iron is. But, surprisingly, one of these two materials is actually quite good at doing this job (though its skill is under the radar).
Want to guess?
Heat Retention Winner: Acrylic
If you’re like me and enjoy long hot baths, an acrylic tub is the clear winner. Fiberglass bathtubs are lousy at conducting heat.
While both materials have plastic components in them, an acrylic bathtub will keep the bath water warmer for significantly longer than a fiberglass tub will.
A Word About Jacuzzi Bathtubs
However, are you thinking about getting a jacuzzi bathtub? If so, you may not need to worry about whether or not the bathtub material holds heat because you can buy a heater for your tub. Read my post, Do Jacuzzi Bathtubs Have Heaters? to learn more.
3. Affordability: Acrylic vs. Fiberglass Bathtubs
I was shopping online for a bathtub once and saw the most beautiful bathtub. Then I saw the price and suddenly, this stunning tub wasn’t perfect anymore. It cost $7,000!
The affordability of a bathtub is something that you probably pay no attention to until it’s time to replace your old tub. Then, suddenly, it’s extremely important.
Both acrylic and fiberglass bathtubs have tubs on the affordable side of the spectrum. The average cost of an acrylic bathtub is between $700 and $1000, while fiberglass has an average cost of $200 to $1000. For fancier models, fiberglass bathtubs can reach upwards of $8,000, and acrylic bathtubs, upwards of $13,400 (source).
While these are the average costs of bathtubs, it’s important to remember that these rates may not take into consideration other features such as:
- Does it have jets
- Is it freestanding or alcove?
- What size is it?
If purchasing a customized bathtub, make sure that you look at the general price and then the additive prices as well.
Affordability Winner: Fiberglass
Both fiberglass and acrylic bathtubs are affordable. You can find bathtub options in both materials at a variety of price points.
If you’re looking for a more expensive bathtub that may have more of the features you are looking for, both bathtub materials come at a higher price point as well.
Overall, when it comes to price, you can’t go wrong with either bathtub material, but fiberglass is slightly cheaper.
4. Ease of Installation: Fiberglass vs Acrylic Bathtubs
I don’t recommend installing a bathtub yourself unless you have the plumbing experience.
Installing a bathtub can be a complex task and if done incorrectly, you could end up with leaks that can damage your bathroom.
That being said, you may want to consider how easy would it be for a professional to install the bathtub and how much will it cost?
If you have the skills and expertise to install your bathtub or you really want to do it yourself, read my post, How Hard Is It to Install a Bathtub?
Will Your Floor Support Your Bathtub?
Some bathtubs, such as cast iron or steel bathtubs, are extremely heavy. These tubs sometimes require extra floor support.
Thankfully, both acrylic and fiberglass are lightweight materials that usually don’t require any extra floor reinforcement. You can simply replace your previous bathtub with the new bathtub, making the installation easy.
There are so many components that contribute to the cost of installation. These include:
- Bathtub style
- Location in house
- Location in bathroom
That being said, the average cost to install a bathtub ranges from $800 to $4,600 (source). When working with your contractor ask them for a quote that includes the removal of your old bathtub and any other related items, such as replacing the tub surround or tile.
Note: If you’re moving the location of the bathtub to use a different plumbing wall, prepare to pay up. This can be extremely costly.
Installation Cost Winner: Tie
Both acrylic and fiberglass bathtubs have similar installation costs. These materials are both lightweight, making them easier to install than tubs made from many other materials.
When it comes to installation, both materials can be installed easily at a cheaper price point.
5. Ease of Cleaning: Acrylic vs Fiberglass Tubs
It can get tedious cleaning a bathtub all the time. Unfortunately, both fiberglass and acrylic bathtubs are highly prone to staining and require frequent cleaning.
If you consistently clean a bathtub made from either material, it will help prevent staining and a buildup of soap scum.
When cleaning fiberglass or acrylic bathtubs, use cleaning products and materials that are nonabrasive. This is particularly important for fiberglass bathtubs. Using an abrasive cleaning pad on a fiberglass tub, for example, will scratch the tub.
To learn more about how to clean your bathtub, read my post, Tricks to Make Your Bathtub Look Like New.
Ease-of-Cleaning Winner: Fiberglass
While fiberglass is prone to staining, it’s easier to clean than an acrylic bathtub.
It is, however, important to consistently clean the bathtub, to prevent staining. As the resin coating fades on the fiberglass bathtub, it will become increasingly prone to staining.
To ensure that you can preserve the life of your bathtub and that it is easy to clean, recoat the fiberglass bathtub when necessary. That way, you’ll be able to enjoy your bathtub longer!
Fiberglass vs Acrylic Bathtub: What’s Right for You?
Acrylic bathtubs are more durable than fiberglass bathtubs and retain heat better.
Both bathtub materials are comparable in the cost of installation.
And while fiberglass bathtubs are cheaper in general, acrylic bathtubs can come at a cheaper price point.
If however, you prefer to have shorter baths and heat retention is not a priority for you, fiberglass is the better option because it is easier to maintain and clean.
What type of bathtub you find yourself relaxing in next, is completely up to you!
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