Acrylic vs. Porcelain Tub: Which Is Best For You?


woman tries to choose bathtub from selection at store

 

When you move into a home, you probably don’t think twice about what material your tub is made from. It’s just there and you happily use it. However, when you renovate your bathroom or build a new home, suddenly, the question of which bathtub material becomes important. And sometimes it’s not about what the best material is, but rather, what is the best material for you. If you’re debating an acrylic vs porcelain tub, this post will help you decide.

Acrylic tubs are cheaper, easier to install, and mildew-resistant, but they are less durable and harder to clean and maintain than porcelain. Porcelain tubs are more durable, scratch- and stain-resistant, and easier to clean and maintain, but they are harder to install and more expensive than acrylic tubs.

If you’re at the beginning stages of a remodel or new build, check out my guide to the pros and cons of many of the best bathtub materials, including but not limited to porcelain and acrylic.

But did you already narrowed down your options to acrylic or porcelain? If so, and you’re looking to compare these two materials then keep on reading!

 

What Features Do You Want In a Tub?

 

Not unlike finding a mate, you’re unlikely to find one tub that meets all of your criteria. 

However, because this is all about choosing the best bathtub material for you, take some time to decide what your first prize features are, the ones on which you are not going to compromise. Doing this will absolutely make your decision easier, especially if you’re down to only two options like acrylic or porcelain. 

Sometimes you don’t know what you are looking for in a bathtub. To help you, here is a list of the acrylic vs porcelain tub features that we’ll explore in this article:

  • Cost
  • Ease of Installation
  • Heat Retention
  • Durability
  • Ease of Cleaning and Maintenance 

 

Acrylic vs. Porcelain Tub: Descriptions

 

Acrylic tubs are actually a combination of acrylic and fiberglass. Acrylic is a synthetic resin made from acrylic acid polymers. The acrylic material is on the surface side of the bathtub (the side you see), but it is reinforced with fiberglass. 

When you’re looking at porcelain bathtubs, the first thing you have to know is that there are two different types: Steel tubs covered in enameled porcelain and cast iron tubs covered in enameled porcelain. Porcelain enamel is an opaque coat of ceramic or glassy material that is fired onto the metal bathtub core. 

 

Acrylic Vs. Porcelain Tub: Comparison Summary

 

 AcrylicPorcelain-Enameled STEELPorcelain-Enameled
CAST IRON
Average Cost$200-$1000$120-$1,500$375-$7000
Weight50-100 lbs150-200 lbs300-500 lbs
CustomizabilityHighLowLow
Heat-RetentionGoodPoorBest
Chipping and Rusting PotentialLowHighLow
Scratching PotentialHighLowLow
Warping, Cracking and Breaking PotentialModerateLowLow
Staining PotentialHighLowLow
Off-Limits Cleaning Products?YesYesYes
Intensity and Frequency of Cleaning NeededHighLowLow
Susceptibility to Growing Mold or MildewLowModerateModerate
Refinish, Install Liner or Replace When OldRefinish or Maybe Get Liner (Depends on Model)Refinish or LinerN/A - Lasts centuries!

 

 

Acrylic vs. Porcelain Tub: Which Is Cheaper?

 

Are you embarking on a complete remodel of your bathroom? In that case, only a portion of your budget is likely allocated to your tub, so a cheaper option may be the best one. (And if you’re looking to save a bundle, be sure to read my post full of expert hacks for saving big money on a bathroom remodel.) However, if you’re only replacing the tub, then cost might be less of a factor for you. 

Whatever your situation, it’s essential to know how much you can expect to spend on your tub. Obviously, the size and shape will impact the price, but here are the average costs:  

 

 Acrylic BathtubPorcelain-Enameled STEEL BathtubPorcelain-Enameled
CAST IRON Bathtub

Average price according to Homeadvisor.com
$700-$1,000$200-$1,000$1,300
Average price according to Porch.com$200$120-$1,500$375-$7,000

 

Acrylic and porcelain-enameled steel bathtubs are both more affordable than porcelain-enameled cast iron bathtubs. Additionally, acrylic tubs may be slightly less expensive than porcelain-enameled steel tubs. 

 

Acrylic vs. Porcelain Tub: Which Is Easier To Install?

 

porcelain enameled cast iron claw foot tub

 

A heavier bathtub is more challenging to work with. This is especially true if you have an upstairs bathroom or you’re installing the tub yourself. 

 

How Much Do Porcelain-Enameled Cast Iron Bathtubs Weigh?

 

Porcelain-enameled cast iron bathtubs are definitely the most difficult to install of the three materials focused on in this article. This is because of their sheer weight. These cast iron-core tubs can weigh between 300 and 500 pounds! And it’s not just a matter of getting the tub to the spot where it needs to be installed. 

You may have to arrange to install additional supports into the bathroom floor. This may be necessary to handle the weight of the tub. Depending on your home’s construction, you may only want to install a porcelain-enameled cast iron tub on the ground floor. Keep in mind that when the tub is in use, it will be even heavier with the weight of the water and the person who is bathing. 

Oftentimes, porcelain-enameled cast iron tubs are clawfoot tubs. If a clawfoot tub is of interest to you, my guide to buying a clawfoot tub is loaded with information, including how to calculate the weight of your clawfoot tub.

 

What Is the Weight of a Porcelain-Enameled Steel Tub?

 

At 150 to 200 pounds, porcelain-enameled steel bathtubs are lighter and easier to install than their cast iron counterparts. 

 

How Heavy Are Acrylic Tubs?

 

However, acrylic bathtubs only weigh between 50 and 100 pounds. They are a very lightweight option and the easiest to install. Despite this, they are still considered the easiest of these three tubs to install.

 

Porcelain vs Acrylic Bathtubs: Customizability

 

The flexibility of acrylic means that these bathtubs are much easier to customize than either of the porcelain tubs. 

If you have a bathroom with specific dimensions, it will be easier to custom order a tub than change the layout of your bathroom. In this case, the customizability of acrylic makes it a very good option, and installation will be more straightforward. (However, if you’ve got an existing tub that you’re determined to move your bathtub to a new location, be sure to read all about the costs associated with moving a tub.)

 

Acrylic Vs. Porcelain Tub: Which Retains Heat Best?

 

extra-wide cast iron soaking tub

 

Bathing has evolved from a way to cleanse the body into an experience that relaxes, refreshes, and rejuvenates both body and mind. And if you need any help relaxing to the max in your tub, here are 21 of the most relaxing bath ideas ever. 

My life centers around keeping myself warm. That’s why I moved from Boston, Massachusetts (brr) to Austin, Texas (ahh). And that’s why I’m all about a bathtub that can retain its heat while I soak! 

 

The Winner: Porcelain-Enameled Cast Iron

 

In terms of heat-retention, porcelain-enameled cast iron wins hands down. Porcelain-enameled cast iron tubs may feel cold when you touch them. True. But as soon as you fill them with hot water, the heat is absorbed by the tub and transferred to the tub water while you soak. The happy result is your bathwater stays warmer for longer.

(By the way, some people are desperate for an extra-wide cast iron tub. Looking for these is like finding a needle in a haystack. However, I’ve done the research. Read about extra-wide cast iron soaking tubs here.)

 

Runner Up: Acrylic

 

Acrylic bathtubs are the runners-up in this category. Their non-porous, insulating surfaces prevent heat loss through the tub. However, heat is lost faster to the atmosphere than with porcelain-enameled cast iron. 

 

The Loser: Porcelain-Enameled Steel

 

I’m sad to report that porcelain-enameled steel tubs retain heat poorly. Their porous surfaces are not insulating. Sadly, the heat that is absorbed by the tub is lost.

However, if you have your heart set on a porcelain-enameled steel tub, don’t give up hope. You may be able to increase this tub’s ability to retain heat by using a foam insulator. If you go that route, definitely read this post about putting expanding foam under a bathtub.

 

Acrylic Vs. Porcelain Tub: Which Are More Durable?

 

rectangular freestanding tub
Freestanding, double-walled acrylic tub

 

You don’t want to have to be repeating the whole process of how to choose a bathtub anytime soon. To make sure that your bathtub lasts as long as possible, start with a durable material.

 

Chipping And Rusting Potential

 

Chipping and rusting do not just affect the aesthetic of your tub. These problems compromise the durability of your bathtub and introduce weaknesses and potential cracks where water can seep through. 

 

Acrylic

 

Acrylic tubs do not chip easily, and because they are made from synthetic resins as opposed to a metal, these tubs cannot rust. 

 

Porcelain-Enameled Steel

 

Porcelain-enameled steel bathtubs are prone to chipping, especially around drains and hardware. When the porcelain on these tubs is chipped, it exposes the underlying steel, which can then rust on exposure to air and moisture. Rusted spots become weak, and the longevity of the tub is compromised. 

 

Porcelain-Enameled Cast Iron

 

Porcelain-enameled cast iron tubs are not likely to chip; in fact, they are said to be chip-resistant. And because they’re chip-resistant, the metal is not exposed to air and water, so you also don’t have to worry about rusting. 

 

Scratching Potential

 

Scratches can be caused mechanically with sharp objects, abrasive sponges, or even the coarse salts that you use in your bath scrubs and bath salts. Abrasive cleaners can cause chemical scratches on the surface of certain materials. 

Needless to say, scratches easily catch and hold dirt and cause a bathtub to look old and grungy, even if it was only installed a few years previously.

And acrylic bathtubs are by far the most susceptible to getting scratched when compared to porcelain-enameled steel and porcelain-enameled cast iron bathtubs, which are scratch-resistant.

However, although acrylic bathtubs scratch more readily, these scratches are often easier to repair than a chip in porcelain enamel. 

 

Warping, Cracking, Or Breaking Potential

 

Porcelain-enameled cast iron and porcelain-enameled steel tubs do not warp. These tubs can crack, but only if something very heavy is dropped onto them.  

Acrylic bathtubs, especially those of poorer quality, can warp. Your acrylic tub will also flex as you stand in it. If the tub is not correctly installed and maintained, this can result in cracks and breaks. 

 

Staining Potential

 

Acrylic bathtubs are more likely to stain than the two metal tubs that are coated in stain-resistant porcelain enamel. This may seem odd because acrylic is not a porous material. However, the problem is that surfaces made of acrylic will get micro-scratches that you may not even see. Then these scuffed surfaces stain more easily. 

If you’re an avid bath bomb user or you like to try healing bath additives like turmeric, this high staining potential can mean you end up with an undesirably colorful bathtub.

Ultimately, a porcelain-enameled cast-iron tub is the most durable of the three materials we are looking at in this article, and acrylic is the least durable.  

 

Acrylic vs. Porcelain Tub: Cleaning and Maintenance

 

 

You should never use abrasive cleaners and abrasive sponges on your bathtubs. However, porcelain-enameled steel and porcelain-enameled cast iron are more able to handle the very occasional heavy-duty wash than are acrylic bathtubs.  

 

Cleaning Intensity And Frequency

 

You do not need to scrub and scrape any of these bathtub materials. In fact, as mentioned previously, this is really bad for them. A good and gentle cleanser with a sponge or rag should do the trick. 

As acrylic tubs stain easily, they will need to be washed more frequently than porcelain-enameled steel or porcelain-enameled cast iron tubs. The longer a stain sits, the harder they are to remove. 

However, as already mentioned, the biggest cleaning differences come as a result of the susceptibility to scratching displayed by acrylic tubs. A scratched surface holds dirt and grime more stubbornly, and it is difficult to clean out, especially because scourers or scrubbers will only scratch the surface further. 

To find out exactly how to clean your particular tub type, read this post about how to make your bathtub look new again.

 

Susceptibility To Growing Mold Or Mildew

 

Porcelain-enameled steel and porcelain-enameled cast iron bathtubs are not as prone to growing mold and mildew as a material like fiberglass. Still, it is possible for fungi to appear on the surface of a porcelain tub. 

Acrylic bathtubs, on the other hand, are resistant to the growth of mold and mildew. 

 

Refinish Or Replace When Old?

 

Porcelain-enameled cast iron bathtubs are so durable and long-lasting that, unless something terrible happens to your tub, you probably will not have to worry about replacing or refinishing it in your lifetime or even in your children’s lifetime. This is why you still can find a cast iron clawfoot tub from the 1800s that’s in pretty good shape!

 

Refinishing a Bathtub

 

If a porcelain-enameled steel bathtub is chipped and the chips are not repaired immediately, then the metal core may rust, and the whole tub may have to be replaced. 

However, if the porcelain-enameled steel tub has been properly maintained but the surface is just worn, then you can easily refinish it. Porcelain tub refinishing can be done professionally—more long-lasting and probably neater—or you can make it a DIY project. 

 

Installing a Bathtub Liner

 

You might also look into getting a bathtub liner. This sheet of acrylic will be molded to the exact dimensions of your tub and give it a brand new look. Many bathtub liners can be fitted over porcelain-enameled steel or porcelain-enameled cast iron. Some can be used on acrylic bathtubs, but it depends on the particular manufacturer of the tub liner. My post about bathtub liners is likely to answer any questions you have on this solution.

An acrylic tub will not need to be replaced because of rust, but if it is warped or cracked, then replacing it will be your only option. If your acrylic bathtub is just scratched or stained, then you can refinish its surface or possibly get a tub liner molded to fit.

If you need to replace your tub, then an acrylic one will be much easier and less costly to replace than a porcelain bathtub, just as they are easier and less costly to install initially.

 

 

So Will You Get an Acrylic or Porcelain Tub?

 

a woman looks at a corner tub in the store

 

Different bathtub materials have pros and cons. To decide between acrylic and porcelain, you have to prioritize the advantages and disadvantages, deciding which pros you cannot do without and which cons you can live with. 

For example, if cost and ease of installation are major factors, then acrylic is better. But if scratch- and stain-resistance and ease of cleaning and maintenance are of greater importance, then go with either porcelain-enameled steel or porcelain-enameled cast iron. (And if you’ve ruled out cast iron but are debating porcelain-enameled steel vs acrylic tubs, for sure see this post.)

After all the stress of choosing a bathtub material and doing a remodel or a new build, you deserve to take the world’s most perfect bath in your new tub!

Shana

Shana Burg is a bath enthusiast, content strategist, and award-winning writer. She is the founder of bathtubber.com.

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