Figuring out how to choose a bathtub is overwhelming for most people. I remember when we moved into our house, I needed to make a million decisions. Retexture the walls? Redo the floors? Buy new bathtubs? It was all so confusing—except for the tubs, since they’re my specialty.
Follow this guide for how to choose a bathtub. I’ll walk you through 8 steps to clarify the process and ensure you end up with the right bathtub for your space, your budget and your lifestyle.
8 Steps for How to Choose a Bathtub
Read through all the steps first. Then go back to step 1 and begin taking action. (And if you happen to be wondering how to choose a bathtub for a rental property, read this post, too.)
1. Define Your Bathtub Budget
Write Down Your Budget
Kathleen Stacy Finley, who is a bathroom designer, advises clients to write down their budget for a project. If you prefer, you can write down a range rather than a single number.
When you put down your budget for the bathtub, include in your budget not just the cost of the tub itself but also the installation and any fixtures like a drain, overflow drain, tub spout, faucet handles and/or showerhead.
If you have any flexibility in your budget, it may pay off to do some research before you put down the range. Do some browsing online and reading to find out what would be a realistic price for the tub type and faucet you have in mind.
Now Add 10% and Use a Sharpie!
Once you do that, Kathleen says to add 10% to the dollar amount and write that figure as large as you can in black sharpie on a piece of paper. Hang that paper somewhere you’ll see it on a daily basis.
This will be the total that you can spend. The extra 10% will allow for some wiggle room for unexpected expenses.
2. Create a Blueprint for Your Bathroom
Create a rough blueprint for your bathroom, either using a computer program like CAD or drawing a simple rendering of your space on graph paper. Nothing too fancy is required. (There are also programs like SmartDraw Blueprint Maker that let you try it out for free.)
Before Choosing a Bathtub, Measure Your Bathroom!
In order to choose the right tub it will help to know what the dimensions of your space are and how much room other fixtures like the toilet and vanity will take up, especially if you’ve already selected any of these.
Measure all walls as well as fixtures like the vanity and toilet. Use inches or centimeters for these measurements and don’t round up or down, but put exact figures. For example, you could label a wall “78.3 inches” rather than “78 inches.”
If you are replacing a bathtub and plan to keep it in the current location, be sure to measure out the bathtub footprint.
However, there are other scenarios to consider. You may be:
- Planning to move the location of the bathtub
- Installing a tub in a new property that is already built; or
- Designing a property that has not yet been developed.
Moving the Tub Location
If you are planning to relocate a tub or install a tub in an already built bathroom, you need to find out where the plumbing is located. Moving a tub location more than 3 feet from existing plumbing can add considerably to the overall cost, as new pipes may need to be added under the flooring or behind the walls.
That said, if you’re planning a bathroom remodel and you plan to excavate walls and floors anyway, then adding new plumbing won’t incur as much additional expense.
If you are planning to install your new tub in a new place away from existing plumbing, definitely read my post Can a Bathtub Be Moved? It’s Complicated. You’ll get much more detail about what’s involved and how much it might cost.
Putting a Bathtub By a Window
And if you’re wondering whether you can place your tub by a window, the answer is yes, as long as you do it wisely. Read Should a Bath Be Under a Window? Here’s the Truth to find out to consider.
Having complete knowledge of your budget, your bathroom’s dimensions, and where plumbing is located, will help you choose a bathtub that will work for your space.
3. Choose a Tub Type
Now for the fun part. It’s time to choose what type of bathtub you want, and there are lots of possibilities.
An alcove tub is nestled within three existing walls. This tub has only one finished side, which is referred to as the “skirt” or “apron.” Most alcove bathtubs are a standard tub size at 60 inches long x 32 inches wide by 18 inches high. They typically hold 25-35 gallons. That said, you can find them longer, shorter, or deeper than the standard size.
These bathtubs are dropped into an existing frame. The perimeter of the frame is exposed and can be made of a wide variety of materials. Drop-in tubs can be standard size or much larger. They can be circular, oval or rectangular.
Flush to the wall on two sides, a corner bathtub can have a total of three or five sides. It will fit into the corner of your bathroom and hold two people comfortably. A corner bathtub is larger than a standard tub. It is often dropped into a frame that is wood, tile or some other decorative material. (So it can be both a drop-in tub and a corner tub.)
This type of bathtub is built for people who are older, have chronic pain, or are disabled. The walk-in bathtub has an open-close door rather than a rim that needs to be stepped over. It’s design makes accessing the bathtub possible for anyone with physical limitations.
Rather than lying on the floor of the tub, in a walk-in bathtub the bather sits on a built in chair and the water will rise around the chair.
These bathtubs usually hold 50-55 gallons of water. Most are 60 inches long x 30 inches wide with soaking depths of 24 – 48 inches.
Freestanding Soaking Tub
These gorgeous bathtubs are on trend now. They stand alone and can be positioned anywhere in your bathroom, although you’ll need to leave ample space for fixtures like a freestanding tub filler. You’ll also want to allow enough room to get into and out of the tub comfortably.
These bathtubs hold more water than a standard-sized tub, and frequently fill up to the bather’s neck. Measurements typically range from 31-34 inches wide x 63-71 inches long x 20-25 inches deep, though you can find soaking tubs that fill three feet deep.
The modern freestanding soaking tub is almost always oval-shaped. If this tub type is calling your name, you’ll want to check out Freestanding Tubs: The Ultimate Buying Guide.
Classic Clawfoot Tub
Claw foot tubs are raised on feet that look like claw or balls. These tubs became popular in Europe in the 1800s. You can buy a vintage clawfoot and restore it, you can buy one that’s already been refinished, or you can buy a new model made of a lightweight material made to look like a vintage clawfoot. These tubs are typically soaking tubs and will hold 40-60 gallons of water.
There’s quite a bit to know about buying a clawfoot tub. If you’re interested in this type of bathtub, visit Clawfoot Tubs: Ultimate Buying Guide. Then read The Hidden Costs of a Clawfoot Tub. Once you’ve gone through both of those posts, you can officially consider yourself a claw foot tub expert!
Japanese Soaking Tub
A Japanese soaking tub is also known as an ofuro. I tried one in Japan and it was truly heavenly! The traditional Japanese soaking tub is circular or square and made of cedarwood.
Bathing in Japan is a communal experience, so an entire family might soak in the ofuro together. The hot, steamy water goes up to the bathers’ necks, giving such a delicious soak.
These days, you can find modern versions of the Japanese soaking tub made of other materials such as acrylic, fiberglass and stainless steel. If you’re interested in learning more about this incredible tub, check out 3 Japanese Baths That Will Change Your Life.
|Air Tub Pros||Air Tub Cons|
|Hydrotherapy to soothe muscles and joints||Installation can be complicated and expensive.|
|Heating element allows you to set temperature||Slightly more expensive than a whirlpool tub|
|Running pumps prevents bacteria build up||No targeted massage|
|Quiet relative to some whirlpools||May require additional bathroom floor supports|
You may also choose a jetted tub like a hot tub (aka spa/whirlpool/jacuzzi), an air tub, or a combination tub.
Hot tub jets shoot out water and give the bather a vigorous massage that can target particular muscles.
Air tub jets, on the other hand, are smaller and expel air. Air tubs provide a much gentler, full-body massage akin to sitting in a tub of carbonated water.
That said, to experience the best of both worlds, you can also get a combination tub that contains both air and water jets.
If you’re considering a hot tub, read much more about the variety of hot tubs in my post How to Buy a Hot Tub: Ultimate Guide. This post contains tips that can literally save you thousands of dollars on your purchase. And if you’re considering an air tub, check out Are Air Tubs Worth It?
4. Select a Bathtub Material
When choosing a bathtub material, keep in mind that each has its pros and cons. In this section, we’ll talk about benefits and drawbacks of the most common bathtub materials.
Acrylic is a type of plastic. ABS acrylic is especially durable and although it can scratch, it’s easy to repair. Because it’s nonporous, acrylic is nonporous and repels mildew.
Although you can sometimes get a double-walled acrylic tub, a single-walled acrylic tub will flex if you stand on it and might not feel as sturdy. Acrylic is slightly more expensive than fiberglass.
This is one of the most popular bathtub materials, as well as the least expensive. (And maybe that’s why it’s so popular!) Fiberglass is a lightweight plastic material that’s easy to clean and install.
But on the minus side, it’s a porous material that absorbs water. Over time the finish can yellow, fade or crack, and it’s not particularly easy to repair.
A porcelain coating on top of molded steel will have a shiny gloss finish. This type of bathtub is incredibly durable. Plus, it’s not too expensive and should clean well.
However, porcelain can chip and rust, though it can be repaired. Also, this material is heavier than both fiberglass and acrylic.
Porcelain-Enameled Cast Iron
Vintage clawfoot tubs are made of porcelain-enameled cast iron. Like porcelain-enameled steel, this coating will stay shiny and glossy. While it can chip or rust, it’s also easy to fix.
The old stuff is the good stuff, and you really can’t get more durable—or heavy! Expect a porcelain-enameled clawfoot tub to weigh in at 300-500 pounds. This may require additional floor support.
This bathtub material is made of crushed stones and polymer resin. It’s then finished to look like a particular type of stone. Not only does it retain heat well but also it’s moderately priced and the color won’t fade over time.
It’s also heavier than fiberglass or acrylic but lighter than a true stone bathtub. One thing I can confidently say about stone resin is that it’s gorgeous. And one more benefit of stone resin is that this eco-friendly material is100% recyclable.
A true stone bathtub is also made from crushed stone and coated with gel. Stone bathtubs might be made of granite, travertine, sandstone or marble, and though they are incredibly luxurious they are also incredibly expensive.
While a stone tub will last forever and won’t easily chip, it can weigh up to 2,000 pounds!
You won’t find a wood tub in many bathtub showrooms, because these tubs usually need to be custom ordered. A wood tub can often be considered a work of art. Consider covering the wood with a clear fiberglass coat to add to its lifespan.
A wood bathtub will not only weigh on your bathroom floor but also on your pocketbook. It is a high-maintenance investment that requires a lot of care so the wood retains its natural beauty.
5. Calculate the Weight of the Full Bathtub
You’ve selected your favorite bathtub type, as well as a material that’s within your budget. You also know the footprint of where you want the bathtub to fit in your bathroom.
Since we’re exploring how to choose a bathtub, you’ll also need to dive into the nitty-gritty and get our feet wet (no puns intended).
Now it’s time to see if you might need to add extra floor supports, or if you might need to move onto a second choice bathtub selection, because the bathtub you want will be too heavy for your bathroom.
To Choose a Bathtub, Do Your Bath Math!
If you’re installing a lighter-weight, standard-sized tub (in a material like acrylic or fiberglass) on a ground floor, then you probably don’t need to worry about this.
However, you will want to figure out the weight of your full tub if:
- The tub you are considering is larger than standard size. (This includes soaking tubs.)
- The bathtub material you prefer is on the heavier side.
- You intend to place the bathtub in an upper floor bathroom or on an upper floor deck.
What you need to do now is some Bath Math. Specifically, you need to calculate the weight of your preferred bathtub once it’s full of water and full with the heaviest potential bather or bathers.
Weight of the Empty Tub
Take the weight of the empty tub. (You can usually find this out by looking up product specifications for the model online.) The weight of the empty tub will depend on the size of the bathtub and what type of material it’s made from.
Weight of the Full Tub
Add this to the total weight of the water in the full tub. To find the weight of water, multiply the number of gallons your tub holds when full (to beneath the overflow drain) by 8.34. Why? Because one gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds.
Then you need to add the weight of the heaviest bather who will use the clawfoot.
Call a Contractor
Your next call should be to a contractor, who will need to come and check your bathroom floor to see if it can hold the expected weight of your full bathtub. The contractor will give you one of the following answers:
- No problem!
- Yes, but you’ll need to add additional floor support
- There’s no way your floor can support this extra weight—even with additional support.
If you do need to add support, expect to pay $100-$300 per floor joist.
6. Pick Your Ideal Hardware
The type of bathtub you choose is integrally connected to the type of hardware you’ll want to get. You don’t want to purchase your dream tub before you understand how much it will cost with hardware included.
A soaking tub can use a freestanding tub filler with a shower wand. But an alcove tub can have a built in showerhead and typically won’t use a freestanding filler. And sometimes the type of tub filler you need or want to go with your bathtub can cost more than the tub itself.
To choose a bathtub within your budget, make sure to research the price of your ideal hardware to accompany your ideal bathtub, too. Be sure to include the:
- Bathtub faucet.
- Drain and Overflow;
- Showerhead or Shower wand.
Bathtub faucets are world unto themselves and there are a huge variety of faucet types, styles and finishes. To help you wade through the possibilities, I strongly recommend that you read Bathtub Faucet Types: Which Is Best for You?
One more thing to consider is the location of the bathtub drain. You may have a preference. When buying an alcove tub, you can select a right-hand drain or a left-hand drain, while a freestanding soaking tub will have a center set drain.
7. Research the Cost of Installation
You won’t want to choose a bathtub without also researching the cost of installation, unless of course, money is no object. Then by all means, go right ahead and purchase your dream tub!
But if sticking to your budget is a priority, you’ll also want to check the price of installation before laying down a dime.
How Much Does Bathtub Installation Cost?
Many people are shocked to learn that installing a bathtub can also cost more than the tub and the hardware. So don’t buy the bathtub before you research the cost of installation, which can vary greatly depending on the type of bathtub you want to buy.
According to HomeAdvisor:
“The average cost to install a bathtub is $3,628, but can range from $1,142 and $6,116, depending on the type of tub and modifications needed. The average cost of the tub itself ranges from $200 to $5,000 or more.”
One example of an installation that would cost more than the bathtub is a vintage porcelain-enameled cast iron clawfoot tub. It may only cost $500 to buy, but will cost an average of $1,100 to install.
And remember, as discussed previously, moving a bathtub away from existing plumbing to a new location can considerably increase the installation cost.
Evaluate Total Bathtub Cost
So add up the price of your ideal bathtub, hardware and installation. If you’re under the dollar amount or price range you wrote in black Sharpie at the start of this process, then you’re nearly ready to buy.
But if you’re over budget it’s time to re-evaluate. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Can I get this bathtub on sale?
- Am I willing to use a different type of hardware to reduce overall cost?
- Can I negotiate with the plumber or contractor on installation if I add other projects to the bid?
- Am I willing to go back to the drawing board and consider a different bathtub for my space?
8. Check the Width of Doors and Hallways
The very last step—one that might sound ridiculous—is to measure the width of your hallways and bathroom door. The very last thing you’d want is to order a bathtub that just won’t fit into your home. Although it’s rare, this most unfortunate situation does occasionally occur.
To prevent this heartbreak, be sure that all doors are at least 4 inches wider than your bathtub. This will allow for movers to maneuver the tub into your home.
How to Choose a Bathtub
Be patient, and remember that a bathtub can be in your life for more than a decade or two. It’s worth your while to go slowly and pick well. Follow these steps, read the links with relevant additional information, and you’ll end up with a bathtub within your budget.
Here’s to soaking happily ever after!