Acrylic vs Cast Iron Clawfoot Tub Shower

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clawfoot tub shower enclosureTo purchase acrylic or cast iron — that is the question. And it’s a question that’s good to ask yourself early in the process and one that causes quite a bit of anxiety in the vintage tub crowd.  Well, once you’ve finished reading you should have a good idea about which side you favor in this long raging battle.  Let’s move on.

Before we get too far into the details though we have to take under consideration one of the most fundamental questions:  ”can your floor handle the weight of a cast iron clawfoot tub?” If your home was built within the last 15 – 20 years and the tub is going to be installed on the second floor then the answer in most cases is no, not without being reinforced. Cast Iron tubs can weigh upwards of 300lbs so when you add in the weight of the water and then yourself you can see how the pressure on those claw feet can add up pretty quickly!!

Now, with this fundamental question out of the way we can begin to focus on other questions of aesthetics, comfort and installation.

Cost: If you’ve done any comparison shopping so far then I’m sure you’ve seen the price differences. Cast iron tubs are sometimes more than double the price of comparable acrylic tubs. In a few instances you can find cast iron around the $1500 mark but more often than not you’ll be paying well over $2000.  When you consider that all of the same styles and color options are available in both, the clear winner in the price department is acrylic.

Appearance: The untrained eye will usually be unable to tell the difference between a cast iron and acrylic clawfoot tub shower. In fact, it is often the more shiny and polished acrylic that will catch everyone’s eye.  There are still those among us though, and you know who you are, that are of the opinion that cast iron tubs have a better “feel” than the acrylic tubs which are lighter and made of less dense materials.  This argument can (and has) gone on for some time and there really is no clear winner. Go with your heart, not your mind on this one and know that as you consider appearances there is no “right” answer.  Trust yourself.

Comfort: Ahhh yessss… Now let’s focus on comfort next. The comfort of a tub is going to rely heavily on how a tub warms and feels next to your skin so I’m going to focus on heating characteristics. Cast Iron and Acrylic tubs have very different characteristics when it comes to warming up as well as maintaining heat.

One of the biggest benefits when it comes to using an acrylic tub is that it warms more quickly (almost instantly) and holds the heat longer whereas the cast iron warms slowly and then transfers the heat quickly.  Here is chart from a leading tub manufacturer that will show the heat loss over a 25 minute period:

clawfoot tub shower

The clear winner when it comes to comfort is acrylic. Maintaining heat longer also means using less energy on refills ;) .

Installation: There are two components to installation.  The delivery and moving the tub and then the actual placement of the tub and fitting of the pipes.

When it comes to moving and shipping I think we covered it at the beginning of this post cast iron tubs are HEAVY.  The minimum suggested number of people required to move a cast iron clawfoot tub is 4… for acrylic it’s something that two people in average physical condition should be able to unpack on their own and even carry up a set of stairs… it’s awkward like say… a couch but the weight isn’t forbidding.

The costs associated with putting the tub in place are for the most part equal when we’re looking at the piping.  The real discrepancy comes into play when a floor has to be reinforced. Such considerations can easily double installation costs.

I’m going to give this one to the acrylic tubs. One must consider the extra labor associated with moving the tub and the possibility of a floor overhaul.  The chips are beginning to stack in favor of acrylic.

Durability and Longevity: Cast iron tubs are coated in a porcelain surface that is harder and more scratch-resistant than tubs made from acrylic. While this porcelain surface is an advantage over acrylic it can also be a drawback because once it’s been scratched the damage is permanent.  On the other hand acrylic clawfoot tub showers scratch a bit more easily but if there ever happens to be real damage done to the tub it CAN be repaired and made to look as new again much more easily that cast iron.

One must also consider the possibility of rust with cast iron tubs but honestly with the manufacturing processes today this is more of an issue with the older style cast iron tubs.   The reality with either of these tubs is that they will likely outlast us!!!  I’ll call this one a draw.

Conclusion

A lot of what conclusion you draw depends on how much weight you give each point.  The unbiased winner when using these measurements is for the acrylic clawfoot tub showers but aesthetics can often be so emotionally charged that it carries more weight than all of the others combined.  At least you will go into it with open eyes.

5 Comments

  1. This is some great information. I’ve always loved the old fashioned look of a claw foot tub, in fact I had one when I lived in an older home.

    I had no idea that acrylic tubs existed. You don’t find products like this at the local hardware store! Now I can consider a claw foot tub for my upcoming bath remodel.

    Thanks again!

    • jbwalla

      Hi Lesley, I guess you can tell that I favor acrylic tubs a bit more that cast iron. If you run into any questions during your remodel please let me know.

  2. Carolyn Cron

    Thanks for the info. I’d been leaning towards cast iron until I saw a DIY show that featured a cooper tub and mentioned how it held the heat and that got me thinking. Holding the heat is everything with me and copper is WAY too expensive. Thanks so much for breaking it down for me!
    Carolyn

    • The Clawfoot Hunter

      Hi Carolyn, thanks for stopping by and yeah, copper is very expensive but that look is nearly impossible to duplicate and it does look fantastic. Glad the post was helpful, when you make the purchase let us know what type of clawfoot tub you end up with.

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