Steel vs. Acrylic Bathtub: Which Is Right for You?

Steel vs. Acrylic Bathtub: Which Is Right for You?
Written by Shana  in Bathtubs

If you’re like me, taking a nightly bath is a ritual! And when bathing is such a big part of your life, you want to make sure that the tub you choose for your bathroom is the perfect one for you. If you’re weighing the pros and cons of steel vs acrylic tubs, consider this:

Acrylic bathtubs are less costly, easier to install, better for soaking, and quieter to fill. Steel bathtubs are more durable and easier to clean and maintain. Which bathtub material is right for you depends on which of these factors you prioritize.

The trick to choosing the right bathtub material is figuring out the advantages on which you will not compromise and the disadvantages with which you can live. If you’re just at the beginning of your bathtub buying journey, then definitely read my guide to choosing a bathtub as well.

Quick Note About Steel Bathtubs

Even though we are all probably on the same page, I just want to mention that in this article, when I talk about steel bathtubs, I am referring to porcelain-enameled steel bathtubs.

If you’re also considering a porcelain-enameled cast iron tub, be sure to read my post on porcelain vs. acrylic tubs. It compares porcelain-enameled steel, porcelain-enameled cast iron and acrylic bathtubs. 

Making Your Choice Easier

As you read through the below information, use a simple points system to rank the two different types of bathtub materials. Then the one with the most points at the end is the one which should suit you best, based on the facts and your ideal criteria.

We’ll compare steel and acrylic bathtubs on the following criteria:

A. Affordability

B. Ease of Installation

C. Heat Retention

D. Quiet While Filling

E. Durability

F. Ease of Keeping Clean

Pick your top three criteria from the above list. For example, if you have a very strict budget, you have small children who sleep while you bathe, and you absolutely hate cleaning a tub, then your three most important criteria would be  A, D and F. 

Each section will be assigned a certain number of points, which you will add together, but because this is about which tub is best for you, not which tub is best on paper, you will double the points for the three criteria you have selected. 

A. Steel Vs. Acrylic Tub: Affordability

Steel Vs. Acrylic Tub: Affordability

Except for the very lucky few, we all have budgets when it comes to replacing a bathtub, remodeling, or building a new bathroom. You know what your budget is, and you also probably know what wiggle room you have within that budget. And you don’t want to blow it!

So let’s see what steel bathtubs cost and how this compares to the price of acrylic tubs. 

An average size and shape steel bathtub can cost between $300 to $1,500, while the average acrylic tub will probably be more around the $600 to $2,000 mark. 

Of course, you can get tubs made out of either material that costs above the average price. Additionally, you can pay below average if you get a good deal from a store discount sale or if you find a secondhand tub that is in good condition.  

You also have to bear in mind the cost of a replacement should your tub ever become old or damaged enough. Replacing a steel bathtub with a steel bathtub will be more expensive than replacing an acrylic tub with another acrylic one. 

However, on the low-end, it’s possible to get a steel tub for half the price of an acrylic tub. And for that reason, I’m going to award that more points.

Affordability Points

On average, a steel tub is less expensive, so the steel tub wins for affordability.

Steel tub points: 2

Acrylic tub points: 1

B. Steel vs. Acrylic Bath: Ease of Installation

a plumber moves the bathtub

Installing a bathtub yourself is always going to be more difficult than hiring a team of professionals to do the job for you. However, whether you go the DIY or pro-team route, there will be three main bathtub material factors affecting how easy the bathtub is to install: weight, customizability, and the need for additional floor supports.

Bathtub Weight Affects Ease Of Installation

A bathtub is not easy to carry and maneuver as it is. The heavier it is, the more difficult it will be to install, especially if your bathroom is on the second story (or higher). 

Steel bathtubs weigh an average of 150 to 200 pounds, while acrylic tubs only weigh between 50 and 100 pounds. 

Bathtub Customizability Affects Ease Of Installation

If you have an odd-shaped bathroom or a limited amount of space, being able to customize your bathtub is a lot easier than having to remodel your bathroom around your tub. 

Acrylic is a very flexible material, and acrylic bathtub manufacturers are able to achieve a wide range of shapes and sizes as a result. By comparison, steel tubs with their porcelain coatings are less customizable. 

The Need For Bathtub Supports Affects Ease Of Installation

Steel tubs hold their shape and cannot flex, so installing them does not require any special support systems. 

On the other hand, acrylic tubs are flexible (if you have ever stood in on, you know this). What this means for installation is that the tub requires careful support to prevent pressure points. Pressure points can cause the tub to warp or even crack. 

Ease of Installation Points

Acrylic tubs are more lightweight and customizable than their steel counterparts, even if they need to be more supported. Thus, acrylic tubs are, overall, easier to install.

Steel tub points: 1

Acrylic tub points: 3

C. Steel Vs. Acrylic: Heat Retention

 Steel Vs. Acrylic: Heat Retention

Is this one in your top three? Or do you secretly wish it could be? There is nothing like a comfortable soak in the bath to help to rejuvenate your mind and body. And with all the great accessories and products out there, from colorful bath bombs to aromatherapeutic essential oils, bathing can become a sensory extravaganza. 

What could ruin this experience? A cold tub! Whether it is cold to touch and takes forever to warm up, or the heat rapidly escapes from the water, a cold bath is not fun, so let’s see how steel and acrylic tubs compare. 

Which Tub Takes Longer To Heat Up?

When you touch a steel bath, you can feel that it is cold. You have to run the water and then give it time to transfer some of its thermal energy to the tub. 

If you have ever tried to lean your bare back against a cold tub, you know that your body doesn’t want to do it, and you end up hissing and tensing until the deed is done. This is not a very good way to start your relaxing bath! 

Additionally, your bathwater will be cooler as it has given some of its heat to the porcelain coating of the steel tub, so you will have to top up with some hot water.

Acrylic tubs are neutral to the touch and you can happily sit down and lean back as soon as the bathtub has been filled. 

Which Tub Retains Heat Better?

Soaking in a bathtub is not a five- or ten-minute endeavor (unless that’s all the time you have—we take what we can get!), so you don’t want to worry about the water cooling down quickly or having to leave enough room in the tub for plenty of hot water top-ups. 

Steel bathtubs really fall down here. They are notoriously bad for heat retention. Thermal energy is passed rapidly from the water to the cold porcelain. Furthermore, steel conducts the heat away from the water and into the surrounding walls, floors, etc. 

You are able to get insulation for your steel tub to increase its heat retention, but this adds to the cost and maintenance of the tub installation. 

Acrylic bathtubs are wonderfully heat retentive. They act as their own insulators. The only heat your water will be losing is to you and the air above the tub. 

Heat Retention Points

Hands down, acrylic tubs beat steel tubs for suitability for long soaks in hot water. 

Steel tub points: 1

Acrylic tub points: 3

D. Steel Vs. Acrylic Bathtub: Quiet While Filling

A Hand Pours Rosy Bubbles Bubble Bath into the Tub

Noise is not going to be a factor for everyone, but for those who cringe every time the water hits the tub because they are trying not to wake up the baby, etc., you’ll be pleased to know that you can choose a bathtub material to minimize the noise. 

Acrylic bathtubs are not the most silent tubs out there (that title belongs to porcelain-enameled cast iron tubs), but they are certainly a lot quieter to fill than steel tubs. And you can use my awesome trick for filling your tub almost silently

Quiet Points

As mentioned, acrylic tubs are quieter to fill than steel tubs, so they score the higher points here. 

Steel tub points: 1

Acrylic tub points: 2

E. Steel vs. Acrylic Tub: Durability

cracked bathtub floods bathroom

When you have finally decided what bathtub to install, you do not want to be having the debate all over again in a few years, so durability is key. Most bathtub materials are durable to a reasonable degree—otherwise, they would not still be used as bathtub materials—but there are certainly some that last better than others. 

Resistance To Chips

Chips in a bathtub look bad, and also they can expose the non-water resistant parts of the tub to moisture, weakening it.

Acrylic tubs are chip-resistant, whereas steel tubs are prone to chipping. Specifically, it is the porcelain-enamel coating on the steel that chips. 

Resistance To Rust

Where there are vast quantities of water, rust is a very real possibility, but only for metal items. Thus, acrylic tubs cannot rust. 

Steel bathtubs are designed so that the metal core is not exposed to water, but chips or other similar flaws can expose underlying metal and increase the chance of rust. When a steel tub rusts, it will have to be replaced. 

Resistance To Getting Scratched

Scratches, like chips, make a bathtub look unappealing. 

Acrylic tubs are prone to being scratched. Anything with a sharp edge or even a harsh cleaner or sponge can create scratches and grooves. Steel tubs, however, are scratch-resistant and therefore less likely to stain as well. 

Resistance To Getting Stained

Staining potential is linked to scratching potential because scratches provide spaces in which dirt and colorants from bath bombs and hair dye can lodge and cause stains.

As such, steel bathtubs are more resistant to staining than acrylic tubs. 

Resistance to Crack Or Break

Except for fiberglass tubs, most of the common bathtub materials are relatively strong and resistant to cracking or breaking. 

However, the chances of cracks developing are higher in acrylic tubs than steel tubs because of the flexibility of the material. Cracks are more likely to occur in acrylic tubs that have been installed improperly and thus have pressure points. 

Cracks can occur in steel tubs, but only if something very heavy is dropped onto them. 

Durability Points

Steel bathtubs are more resistant to scratches, stains, and cracks. They can last a very long time unless something heavy is dropped on the surface. Acrylic tubs are more resistant to chips and rust but very susceptible to cracks and scratches.

Steel tub points: 3

Acrylic tub points: 1

F. Steel Vs. Acrylic Bath: Ease of Keeping Clean

woman cleans her bathtub

Who loves cleaning tubs? I certainly don’t, but it is a job that has to be done regularly, so it’s in your best interests to try whatever you can to make it as easy as possible. So, let’s ask the question, which are easier to clean, steel tubs or acrylic tubs?

A new acrylic tub and a new steel tub are on par for ease of cleaning. Neither should be washed with harsh chemicals and sponges, but acrylic tubs are more susceptible to damage in this way.

When the tubs get older, however, the differences in cleaning and maintenance arise. You will have to repair chips in steel tubs as they form, but you can buy repair kits from most places, and it is not too difficult to fill the chip, and the patch should last a long time.  

When an acrylic tub gets scratched, there are a number of ways you can repair the scratches, but the repair jobs do not last well. 

Furthermore, because they are so prone to scratches, you have to keep on top of the cleaning to prevent stains from forming. Once an acrylic tub is scratched, your cleaning job becomes a catch 22. You need to scrub to get the dirt out of the grooves, but scrubbing causes more scratches. 

Cleanability Points

Overall, steel bathtubs are easier to clean and maintain than acrylic bathtubs. 

Steel tub points: 3

Acrylic tub points: 1

Points Summary

STEEL TUBYour Score for Steel TubACRYLIC TUBYour Score for Acrylic Tub
Ease of Installation13
Heat Retention13
Quiet While Filling12
Ease of Keeping Clean31

According to the table, acrylic bathtubs are equal to steel bathtubs when looking at the criteria discussed in this article. But which tub material is better for you all depends on which criteria you prioritize. 

Sample Scoring

Let’s say your 3 top criteria are affordability, quiet while filling and ease of keeping clean. Then in YOUR score for both steel and acrylic tubs, you would double the points in those 3 categories. Your chart would then look like this:

STEEL TUBYour Score for Steel TubACRYLIC TUBYour Score for Acrylic Tub
Ease of Installation1133
Heat Retention1133
Quiet While Filling1224
Ease of Keeping Clean3612

In this case, a steel tub would be an ever-so-slightly better choice for you.

If you have calculated your score and you are disappointed with the result, factor this into the equation as well because it shows which one you really want. 

If you want to learn how other bathtub materials compare on the points discussed above, check out this article on the best bathtub material

What Can’t You Live Without?

What Can’t You Live Without?

Steel bathtubs are more expensive, difficult to install, and noisy to fill, but they are also durable and easy to clean and maintain. Acrylic bathtubs are more cost-effective, easy to install, and noiseless, but they are less long-lasting and more challenging to clean and maintain.

In the end, deciding which bathtub material is best for you is all about figuring out what you are willing to live with and what you cannot live without. 

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