Acrylic vs Steel Bathtubs [A Total Comparison]

When choosing a new bathtub for your bathroom, two of the most popular options are acrylic and steel tubs. Acrylic and steel each have their own sets of pros and cons that make them better suited for certain needs. In this article, we’ll compare acrylic vs steel bathtubs to help you decide which is right for your bathroom remodel or new construction project.

There are a few key factors that impact whether acrylic or steel is the better choice for your particular bathtub needs. We’ll look at the cost, durability, design flexibility, ease of cleaning, noise levels, and other considerations for both tub materials. Understanding the differences between acrylic and steel tubs will help you select the best option to match your budget, lifestyle, and aesthetic preferences.

Here is an in-depth comparison table contrasting acrylic and steel bathtubs:

FeatureAcrylic BathtubSteel Bathtub
Cost$200 – $1500$500 – $5000
Lifespan15-20 years25-30+ years
WeightLightweight, 60-100 lbsVery heavy, 200-300 lbs
DurabilityDurable but can chip or scratchExtremely durable, damage resistant
Design OptionsMany sizes and shapes availableLimited to common shapes like rectangular, oval, clawfoot
InstallationEasy to maneuver into placeProfessional installation recommended due to weight
MaterialMolded acrylic plastic reinforced with fiberglassPorcelain enamel coating over steel
LookContemporary, modern, glossy finishClassic, vintage aesthetic
ColorsWide variety of glossy colorsClassic white plus some period colors
CleaningSmooth surface resists dirt buildup, wipes clean easilySmooth enamel resists dirt, scum, mold, and mildew
NoiseVery quiet, minimal echoNoisier, echoes more from metal construction
Heat RetentionGood heat retentionExcellent heat retention for longer soaks
RepairabilityMinor scratches can be buffed out, deep damage is hard to repairEnamel chips can be touched up but repair is difficult
FeaturesModels with jets availableClawfoot and air jet tubs available
Best ForContemporary, affordable bathrooms with custom sizes/shapesVintage style bathrooms where durability is key

Acrylic Bathtubs

Acrylic bathtubs, sometimes called fiberglass tubs, are a staple in many modern bathrooms. Acrylic is a molded plastic that is reinforced with fiberglass for extra strength and rigidity. Here’s an overview of some of the pros and cons of acrylic bathtubs:


  • Lightweight – Acrylic tubs are very lightweight compared to cast iron or steel. This makes them easier to maneuver into place during installation.
  • Easy to clean – With smooth, non-porous surfaces, acrylic tubs resist staining and are easy to clean with non-abrasive cleaners.
  • Durable – Modern acrylic formulas are extremely durable. The material is flexible and impact-resistant.
  • Variety of shapes and sizes – Acrylic can be factory molded into a wide range of shapes and sizes to fit any space. This includes corner tubs, soaking tubs, and tub/shower combos.
  • Affordable – Acrylic tubs are generally more affordable than steel or cast iron options. Simple soaking tubs can cost a few hundred dollars.
  • Contemporary look – The sleek, smooth finish gives acrylic tubs a contemporary style. They come in a variety of glossy colors and textures.


  • Can get scratched – Acrylic’s glossy finish can get scratched or dulled over time, especially from harsh cleaners or abrasive scouring pads. These scratches can be buffed out, but it takes effort.
  • Not as durable as other materials – Although acrylic is extremely durable for a plastic, it does not have the same level of indestructibility as cast iron or enameled steel. Acrylic can chip if hit with a heavy object.
  • Limited color options – While acrylic comes in many colors, the pigments have a tendency to fade over time in UV light. The color selection is not as varied as with porcelain enameled steel.

In summary, acrylic bathtubs offer benefits like affordability, design flexibility, and a lightweight contemporary look. However, they require gentle cleaning and are not quite as hardy as other tub materials.

Steel Bathtubs

Steel bathtubs have been around for generations and are known for their durability and classic styling. Here’s an overview of some of the pros and cons of steel tubs:


  • Very durable – Steel tubs are extremely durable and resistant to chips, cracks, and dents. Many steel tubs last 20-30 years or longer.
  • Classic look – Enameled steel tubs have a timeless, vintage look. The porcelain enamel coating comes in classic white as well as period-style colors.
  • Easy to clean – Steel tubs have smooth, glossy enamel surfaces that resist dirt buildup and are easy to wipe clean.
  • Mold/mildew resistant – The enamel coating inhibits mold and mildew growth.
  • Good heat retention – Steel tubs retain heat well for longer, warmer soaks.


  • Heavy – Steel bathtubs weigh a lot more than acrylic or fiberglass tubs. Professional installation is recommended.
  • Can rust – If the enamel finish gets chipped, exposing the underlying steel, the tub will eventually rust.
  • Noisy – Metal-on-metal contact between tub and plumbing creates more noise than other materials.
  • Limited sizes/shapes – Steel tubs come in limited shapes like rectangular, oval, or clawfoot. Fewer size options than acrylic.
  • Expensive – Built to last, steel tubs are pricier than acrylic. Prices range from $500-5000.

The takeaway for steel tubs is excellent durability and vintage styling offset by higher costs and limited sizing.

This covers the key factors to consider when deciding between acrylic and steel bathtubs. In the next section, we’ll directly compare the two on important criteria like cost, durability, and ease of cleaning to help you determine the better choice for your needs.

Comparison of Key Factors

Now that we’ve covered an overview of acrylic and steel tubs, let’s directly compare them on some of the most important deciding factors:


  • Acrylic tubs are generally more affordable, with starting prices of $200-500. More elaborate designs run $1000-1500.
  • Steel bathtubs range from $500 on the low end for a simple enameled tub, up to $3000-5000 for a high-end antique clawfoot tub.
  • Clear winner: Acrylic


  • Steel tubs have the edge for durability. Their enamel finishes and metal construction allow them to last for decades.
  • Acrylic is also extremely durable for a plastic. With proper care, acrylic tubs last 15-20 years or longer.
  • Slight edge: Steel

Design Flexibility

  • Acrylic can be molded into a wide variety of shapes like curves, corners, and built-in seating. Lots of sizes too.
  • Steel tubs come in limited standard shapes – mostly rectangular, oval, or clawfoot. Fewer size options.
  • Clear winner: Acrylic

Ease of Cleaning

  • Acrylic and enameled steel both have smooth, non-porous surfaces that resist dirt and wipe clean easily.
  • Steel may have a slight edge due to the mold-resistant nature of enamel.
  • Slight edge: Steel


  • Acrylic tubs have quieter performance, with no metal-on-metal contact.
  • Steel tubs transmit more noise from plumbing due to metal construction.
  • Clear winner: Acrylic


What’s the average cost of an acrylic tub?

The average cost of an acrylic tub ranges from $200-500 for a basic rectangular soaking tub, up to $1000-1500 for a more elaborate corner tub with jets. High-end options with special features can run up to $3000.

How long do acrylic bathtubs last?

With proper care and cleaning, acrylic tubs typically last 15-20 years or longer before needing replacement. Some acrylic tubs last even longer.

Can you repair chips or scratches in acrylic tubs?

Yes, minor chips and scratches can be buffed out of the surface using fine grit sandpaper and acrylic-specific polishing compounds. DIY repair kits are available. For deep gouges, professional resurfacing may be needed.

What type of bathtub is most durable?

Cast iron and enameled steel bathtubs are the most durable options. With their enamel finishes and metal construction, steel tubs often last 25-30 years or longer with proper maintenance.

How do I choose between acrylic and steel bathtubs?

Key factors to consider are budget, design needs, longevity, ease of cleaning, and noise levels. Acrylic typically offers more sizes/shapes and a lower cost, while steel provides unmatched durability. Weigh which features are most important for your new tub.


When selecting between acrylic vs steel bathtubs, there are good reasons to consider either material. Key factors to weigh include your budget, desired lifespan, design needs, ease of cleaning, and noise levels.

In summary:

  • Acrylic tubs are more affordable and offer greater design flexibility. Their lightweight contemporary look suits many bathrooms.
  • Steel tubs provide unmatched durability and vintage styling. Their higher cost pays off with decades of use.

For many homeowners, acrylic provides the best balance of budget, style, and functionality. The lower cost and design options make acrylic a great choice for most bathrooms. However, if longevity and a classic aesthetic are top priorities, the higher investment in a steel tub may be justified.

Carefully consider which features are must-haves for you. This will determine whether acrylic or steel is the better choice when shopping for your dream bathtub.

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