Is a Drop In Tub Right for You? A Complete Guide to Bathtub Options

Photo of drop in tub with reading tray.

Looking for a new bathtub, and wondering if a drop in tub is right for you? We have the complete guide to help you decide on the best style, material, and bathtub design. Whether you’re replacing a tub or designing a brand new bathroom from the group up. We talk steel tubs, fiberglass and acrylic options, and more.

Whether you’re remodeling your bathroom or designing a completely new home, you’ll need to choose a bathtub. But what kind should you pick? There are a lots of options available, and a common choice is a drop in tub.

But, how do you know if a drop in tub is the right choice for your new bath? Are there better options? In this guide, you’ll learn how to select the best tub for your lifestyle, preferences, and bath decor.

Types of Bathtubs

Bathtubs range the gamut from standard to exotic, and they have the price tags to match! Let’s cover some of the most popular:

Alcove Tub

An alcove tub is the most popular, and most likely what you grew up using. This kind of tub has a finished front, also called an apron and three unfinished sides that face the walls. The apron might come already installed, or it may be removable.

Alcove tubs are easy to install and space efficient. In fact, we often see them used in shower/tub combinations. This way, we can enjoy the benefits of both showers and tubs without taking up a huge amount of space.

Photo of an alcove tub.
This alcove tub may look something like the one you had while growing up. Photo CC by SA 2.0 Matthew Hurst via Flickr.

Freestanding Tub

Think clawfoot tub. A freestanding tub will require the most space but is loved by decorators because of the statement it makes. The weight makes these highly impractical, however. Firstly, it might be difficult to add hand rests or rails for grabbing so you don’t slip. Secondly, these tubs are usually quite deep. Both of these factors make them a poor choice for children or individuals with limited mobility.

Photo of log cabin with clawfoot tub.
Log cabin with free-standing clawfoot tub. Although we love clawfoot tubs, they’re heavy and not ideal for those with mobility issues. Image: CC0 Public Domain Kirk and Mimi via Pixabay.

Drop In Tub

A drop in tub often combines the benefits of an alcove tub with the design sensibilities of a freestanding tub. While it can be built into the wall, like an alcove tub, it usually takes the center stage. The drop in tub has a rim so you can sit on the edge. It can also be dropped into the floor, Roman-bath style.  

Photo of Roman-style drop in tub.
Among all the drop in tubs, the Roman-style bathtub is the most ornate. Image: CC by-SA 2.0 Design Folly via Flickr.

Drop in tubs require more room than alcove tubs. However, they lend more opportunities for you to design them to your liking, thanks to their custom-build surrounds.

Other types of Bathtubs

Alcove, freestanding, and drop in tubs aren’t the only options. Walk-in tubs with doors and handles to assist people who are disabled are highly popular. These models let people go straight from a walker or a wheelchair into the tub.

Photo of walk-in tub with door and handrails.
Because they help people with disabilities live independently, walk-in tubs are highly popular. Image: CC by SA 2.0 Gemteck1 via Flickr.

Another tub growing in popularity is the Japanese-style soaking tub, which takes advantage of vertical space when floor space is limited. Bathers sit upright in a deep bucket-like tub or square tub.

Photo of a Japanese soaking tub.
The Japanese soaking tub is yet another popular option. Image: CC by A-SA Brad Beattle via Wikimedia Commons.

Bathtub Construction

Tubs come in a wide variety of materials (the Japanese soaking tubs we mentioned above are even traditionally made from wood!), but the most common today are cast iron, steel, acrylic, and fiberglass. Let’s break down the types and their pros and cons:

Cast Iron with Porcelain Finish

When you think about cast iron tubs, you likely picture a vintage, clawfoot, antique tub. Cast iron antique tubs still exist their makers built them to last! Today’s cast iron tubs come coated in porcelain made so strong it won’t chip, stain, or discolor.

However, these tubs are extremely heavy. They’re often not suitable for upstairs use, and you have to carefully consider how much work installation will be due to their extreme weight. Cast iron tubs will, however, last a lifetime.

Steel Tubs

Steel tubs weigh less than cast iron tubs (though they still weigh a great deal) and are often finished with a hard enamel coating which should be impervious to discoloration. Chipping has been a problem for enamel tubs in the past (enamel is a type of glass), but thanks to better technology, the enamel has gotten thinner but harder, so chipping isn’t a problem.

Extremely sturdy, steel tubs are a great option for people who want a long-lasting option. They do require more energy to produce in the manufacturing process, but they can be recycled, unlike fiberglass and acrylic tubs.

Overall, steel tubs are often more expensive than fiberglass or acrylic tubs (though usually less than cast iron tubs). However, they are usually warrantied for at least 20-25 years, if not for their lifetime, making them a high-quality purchase.

Fiberglass & Acrylic Tubs

Fiberglass and acrylic tubs traditionally have shorter product lives than steel or cast iron tubs, but as long as you’re purchasing a decent quality tub, you’ll still get a long life out of them! A poor quality option might spider or grow dull or discolored, so this is not a place to skimp on quality.

One good thing about these tubs, however, is that they don’t conduct heat out of the water like metal does, so you’re hot water baths will last longer with these tubs than with steel or cast iron tubs. On the flipside, these tubs can’t be recycled.

They are, however, much lighter than other options, so they’re much easier to install and often more suitable for second or third floors.

Choosing the Right Tub for You

When you’re deciding whether or not a drop in tub is right for you, the type of tub and tub material are both important things to consider, but they’re not the only things you need to think about!

General Considerations

Some of the issues you’ll need to work out will be about those boring but all-important subjects of plumbing and drains. In fact, where the drain will be located is a central question. A drop in tub usually has the hardware mounted to the tub itself, so that is fairly flexible, but you’ll still have to determine if you like the drain where it is or if you want to (or can) move it.

If you’re building a home, you can usually place the drain wherever you want it, but if you’re replacing a tub or renovating a bathroom, moving the drain (or order the wrong tub) can be very costly and time-consuming.

As we mentioned, hardware tends to be a simpler question for a drop-in tub, but an alcove tub usually requires its hardware be built into the wall. Thus, your tub options are more limited.

Trying Out Your Tub

Believe it or not, once you’ve made decisions about the material your tub will be made from, the best way to choose a tub is to try it out! We don’t mean taking a bath right in the middle of the showroom (that would be weird), but we do mean sitting in it with your clothes and without water.

Is it comfortable? Is it long or short enough? If it’s too long for you, your toes won’t be able to reach the other side with a few inches to spare, so when the tub is full of water, you’ll feel like you’re drowning because you can’t keep your head out of the water.

You’ll want to consider the angle of the tub and how you want to enjoy your baths. Would you prefer to recline fully? Will you want to be able to watch television while you bathe? Do you want to read?

Look at the armrests, neck rests, lumbar supports, and so forth. Does the tub have shelves or sides where you can place things like bubble bath or candles?

You should also consider the tub’s texture: will it keep you from slipping? Is the tub easy to get in and out of? Is it available in a whirlpool model? Believe it or not, it’s even possible to have a tub modeled exclusively for you. If it’s good enough for Oprah, it’s good enough for us!

Decor Considerations

Last but certainly not least, you should consider how your new tub will look in your bathroom. What is your design aesthetic? Are you going for a utilitarian, minimalist look popular in Scandinavia styles?

Do you look the minimalist look combined with natural elements, as in the Japanese style? Would you prefer an ornate French-countryside style bathroom?

Using Pinterest and design magazines to find your design preferences will help you narrow down the design of your future tub. You’ll also find that some styles work better with standalone tubs (a Southern bathroom just sort of screams for a claw foot tub, don’t you think?) but other styles marry drop in tubs perfectly.

Your goal isn’t to find what’s trendy or popular, but what works best for you and your family. After All, this isn’t a purchase you’ll be able to change easily!

Will Your New Tub Be a Drop In Tub?

Finding the right tub can seem complicated (there are so many choices!), but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Thanks to this guide, you now have a great overview of your options and their pros and cons. Armed with your knowledge, you can now try out your favorite options with confidence.

We’re positive you’ll be able to find the perfect new tub to create a beautiful new bathroom experience. Enjoy!

Featured image with drop in tub: CC0 Public Domain Shanna Rogers.

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