Alcove vs. Drop-In Bathtub: Which Is Right For You?

Master Bath with Drop-In Tub

Relaxing in a bathtub filled with hot water and soapy bubbles is an excellent way to reward yourself at the end of a long busy day. Choosing the correct bathtub for your home involves more than finding the right tub to match your space and décor; it should also optimize your ability to relax!

When comparing alcove vs drop-in bathtubs, drop-in tubs offer more flexibility in shape, size and design options. Alcove tubs must fit into a specified space between three walls, while drop-in tubs can fit any space. Also, alcove tubs are less expensive and more easily accessible than drop-in bathtubs.

With the many different styles of alcove and drop-in bathtubs available on the market, you should have no problem finding the right one for you.  

What is an alcove bathtub?

alcove bathtub installed between 3 walls
Space-saving alcove tub installed against 3 bathroom walls

An alcove bathtub is the most popular tub and the standard tub installed in most homes. This tub is fitted into a three-walled enclosure which is specifically built for this type of tub. The three sides of the tub are unfinished and each aligns against a wall. 

The fourth and front side of the tub, one of the longer sides, is finished and is called an “apron.” The apron covers the exposed side of the alcove and adds support and style to the bathtub.

The alcove tub is named for the installation method used. A traditional alcove tub is installed into a recess in the bathroom between three joining walls. Some modern designs use two joining walls and a large window for a more airy feel to the space.

The alcove bathtub is highly efficient and offers all the comforts of a regular bathtub. Its space-saving design allows you to easily reach all its surfaces for easier maintenance and deep cleaning. This particular bathtub is good for people who generally find it hard to get into and out of a tub.

What are common features of alcove bathtubs?

Some attachments and features have been added to the alcove bathtub to improve its functionality.

An alcove bathtub can be used as a regular tub, but some models come fitted with powered jets and offer a more therapeutic, relaxing bathing experience. Some alcove tubs are deeper than others, which can be great for enhanced muscle relaxation.

A shower attachment can be fitted on the wall above the bathtub, which gives the tub a dual-purpose function. This allows the alcove tub to be used as a bath and a shower. A shower curtain or sliding door can be installed to provide privacy and to build up the heat for a steam bath.

What materials are alcove tubs made from?

Most alcove bathtubs are constructed from acrylic, fiberglass, enameled steel, stone resin, or cast iron. Let’s discuss each of these materials to see which is better for your purposes and space:

1. Fiberglass

Fiberglass is the cheapest material available. It is a porous material, cannot withstand heavy impacts, and chips easily. It will become unstable over time, lowering its lifespan. One benefit is that fiberglass is molded with a gel-coat resin. Any color of your choice can be added so the bathtub can blend in with your décor in the space.

2. Acrylic

Some alcove bathtubs are reinforced with vacuum sheets of acrylic. This material makes the bathtub tougher. Because acrylic does not absorb water, it is a naturally mildew-resistant bathtub material. However, it can discolor over time. (If you find yourself debating between an acrylic vs porcelain tub, definitely check out this post.)

3. Porcelain- Enameled Steel

Also called porcelain steel, enameled steel is an inexpensive and common bathtub material. Made from thin sheets of steel and coated with a layer of porcelain enamel, this material retains its gloss for a very long time. Durable and very easy to clean, enameled steel is resistant to most common household chemicals. Although heavier than fiberglass or acrylic, this material can rust and will chip from heavy impacts. (This post really will help you  make the choice between a porcelain-enameled steel vs acrylic tub.)

4. Cast Iron

This is a higher-end material when compared to fiberglass and acrylic and is a great deal more expensive than both of them. Cast iron bathtubs are created by pouring molten iron into a mold, allowing it to set, and then coating the tub with a thick layer of enamel. (It can also be referred to as “porcelain-enameled cast iron.”) 

Cast iron is easy to clean, retains heat, is resistant to chipping, denting, and scratching, making this tub incredibly durable. If the idea of having a cast iron tub in your bathroom appeals to you, you need to install joists in your bathroom floor to support the additional weight of the tub.

Read this post for a more in-depth look at the pros and cons of various bathtub materials.

Are alcove bathtubs all the same size and shape?

rectangular alcove bathtub
Standard rectangular alcove tub with paneled apron

Alcove bathtubs are almost always rectangular and many standard bathrooms are designed for alcove bathtub installations. The three walls or three wall type setup is designed with the dimensions of a standard alcove tub.

Because of the standard size, it’s easy to buy an off-the-shelf product, but smaller tubs are available for extra small bathrooms, and longer tubs are available for taller people who enjoy soaking in the tub. Smaller tubs can be made to fit into the space of a standard tub, but longer alcove tubs won’t fit into a standard space, so you would have to renovate your bathroom for it to fit.

Dimensions of a standard alcove bathtub:

  • Length: 60 inches (152 cm)
  • Width: 32 inches (81 cm)
  • Height: 18 inches (45 cm)

Dimensions of a small alcove bathtub:

  • Length: 43 – 55 inches (109 – 140 cm)
  • Width: 30 inches (76 cm)
  • Height: 14 – 15 inches (35 – 38 cm)

Dimensions of a long alcove bathtub:

  • Length: 60 inches (152 cm)
  • Width: 32 inches (81 cm)
  • Height: 18 inches (45 cm)

What are the benefits of alcove tubs?

The main reason people choose an alcove tub is to maximize the available space in the bathroom.  I like the alcove bathtub because of:

  1. The price. Both the purchase price of the bathtub and the installation fees are affordable, as long as you don’t need to remodel the space.
  2. The size. Most bathrooms are built to specific dimensions. The standard alcove bathtub will easily fit into the standard space.
  3. Safety. The standard-size alcove bathtubs have low sides and a shallow depth. They are surrounded by three walls, so it’s easy to add hand-rails to the walls.

What are the disadvantages of alcove tubs?

Alcove bathtubs might not be suitable for everyone. Problems with alcove bathtubs are:

  1. The design. While you can buy an alcove bathtub in any color or style, the tub has to fit into the alcove. As a result, you have no flexibility when it comes to the shape of your tub. 
  2. The size. Usually, alcove tubs are smaller in length, depth, and height than most other tubs. 

My Pick for Best Alcove Tub

Alcove vs. Drop-In Bathtub: Which Is Right For You?

The Kingston Brass Contemporary Alcove Tub is made of acrylic and has a sleek, contemporary look. You will easily be able to install it into a standard alcove space. It is 60”w x 30”l x 22”, and while the water depth is 13” for soaking (or 16” to the overflow drain), you can easily and very cheaply add an extra 3 inches of soaking depth with this overflow drain cover.

For a gorgeous complimentary look, consider adding the Moen Eco-Performance Modern Tub and Shower Trim in matte black.

What is a drop-in bathtub?

a circular drop-in bathtub inside a wooden deck
Drop-in tub in wood and quartz deck

A drop-in bathtub has no finished sides. Instead, it is a tub that can be dropped into a fixed structure, in any space, anywhere. The structure that the bathtub is dropped into is known as a “deck.”

While it’s possible to place a drop-in tub into a deck that’s built against a wall, it’s also common to build a platform in the center of the bathroom. In terms of design, this allows the drop-in tub to take center stage.

The drop-in tub features a rim around the top of the bathtub. Once the bathtub is fitted into the deck, only the rim and interior of the bathtub are visible. The deck may be constructed from wood, stone, ceramic tiles, or any material that matches your style and décor. 

Drop-in bathtubs are available in a variety of shapes and sizes. Because they can be built along a wall, incorporated into an alcove, or can be freestanding bathtubs, you have greater freedom when it comes to choosing tub faucets and fixtures.


What features do drop-in tubs come with?

Drop-in bathtubs feature a raised rim over a surround, making them excellent for keeping water inside the tub. Your bathing and relaxing experience can be enhanced by adding jets to the drop-in bathtub for a multisensory experience. There are other features that come with some drop-in bathtubs to help you to relax:

What materials are drop-in tubs made from?

Drop-in bathtubs are constructed from a variety of materials, mainly fiberglass, acrylic, and porcelain-enameled steel. Bathtub materials affect the look and feel of your bathtub, so let’s have a look at some of the materials used for drop-in bathtubs before you decide on which one to use.

1. Fiberglass

An affordable bathtub material option, fiberglass tubs are less durable than most others, as the surface can crack and scratch easily. However, fiberglass bathtubs are easy to install and are easy to clean and maintain. Because of the gel resin which covers the fiberglass, color can often be added to match your décor.

2. Acrylic

Bathtubs made from acrylic are lighter than other bathtub options and are non-porous. This material retains heat for more extended periods than fiberglass, so you can enjoy a nice hot bath for longer! Scratches and stains in the bathtub can usually be removed by buffing with toothpaste or baking soda, making acrylic bathtubs easy to maintain.

To get a full comparison between a fiberglass bathtub and an acrylic bathtub, check out my post Acrylic vs Fiberglass Tub: How to Pick a Winner.

3. Porcelain Enamel Steel

Porcelain bathtubs are heavier than acrylic bathtubs and are a popular bathtub option. Resistant to scratching, porcelain tubs can last decades and are great for retaining heat. Also, they tend to fill quietly. 

Are all drop-in tubs the same shape and size?

rectangular drop-in bathtub inside ceramic tile deck
Drop-in tub in ceramic tile deck

You can find drop-in tubs in a variety of shapes including circles and ovals. However, the average depth of a rectangular drop-in bathtub is 16 – 18 inches. And the average dimensions of a rectangular drop-in bathtub are:

  • Length: 60 inches (152 cm)
  • Width: 30 inches (76 cm)
  • Height: 16 inches (40 cm)


What are the benefits of drop-in bathtubs?

A drop-in bathtub is popular for aesthetic reasons, as it can be a focal point in a room and installed wherever you have space. 

I  like the drop-in bathtub because:

  1. Versatility. It fits in well with the style and décor of any bathroom.
  2. Variety. Available in a wide variety of design options.
  3. Cleanliness. The raised rim prevents water overflow and helps keep the bathroom clean.

What are the disadvantages of drop-in bathtubs?

A drop-in bathtub can be challenging to install without the services of a professional. These tubs require a separate structure to be built into which the bathtub is dropped.

The problems with drop-in bathtubs are:

  1. Requires the construction of a deck.
  2. Limited placement options due to size
  3. It can be difficult to access the plumbing once installed

My Pick for Best Drop-In Tub

Alcove vs. Drop-In Bathtub: Which Is Right For You?

The Pro-Flo Drop-In Soaker Tub can be dropped into a deck in the center of your bathroom to create a stunning look, or you can purchase an “apron” (the visible side of an alcove tub) and fit it between 3-walls. So in reality this tub doubles as both a drop-in and an alcove. It’s easy to care for and has a delicious soaking depth of 21 inches! This is a super comfortable tub and great value for the money.

If you choose a freestanding tub installation, consider pairing your tub with the Wowwk freestanding tub filler to create an absolutely show-stopping look.

Alcove vs. Drop-In Bathtub: Which Is Right For You?

Adding an alcove or drop-in bathtub would be an asset to any home and possibly increase the resale value. The choice would be based upon your needs, space, and requirements. Here is a quick recap on the two different bathtubs.

Alcove BathtubDrop-In Bathtub
InstallationUsually installed between 3 full or partial wallsCan be installed anywhere but requires a deck
CostLess expensiveMore expensive
ShapeGenerally rectangular and standard depthVariety of shapes including rectangle, oval and circle and deeper than standard
ShowerCan install standard shower fixture to adjacent wallHandheld shower can be added; or standard shower if tub is against wall
AccessibilityAble to install grab bars; easy accessMay be harder to access because of depth and freestanding placement

Finally, if you’re choosing a new tub as part of a bathroom remodel, you won’t want to miss out my FREE cost-saving bathroom remodeling tip sheet. Simply add your email to the form below and I’ll send it straight to your inbox.

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

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