Acrylic vs. Cast-Iron Clawfoot Bathtubs

Clawfoot bathtub in custom designed bathroom.
David Papazian / Getty Images

Many homeowners renovating houses built in the early 20th or late 19th centuries often want to add a clawfoot tub. Whether or not the tub is historically accurate to the home, it brings up powerful feelings of times past. It's a feeling that the typical modern 60-inch alcove tub just cannot evoke.

The classic cast-iron clawfoot tub still exists and can be purchased new. It has many advantages. But acrylic clawfoots have been giving cast-iron tubs a run for their money. Which is best for you? 

Traditional Cast-Iron Clawfoot Tubs

In the late 1800s, American Standard produced the first clawfoot tub. It was made of heavy, sturdy cast iron, and covered in a hard enamel surface which made it easier to clean. As the twentieth century progressed, the freestanding clawfoot tub fell out of fashion, replaced by one-piece units.

Older clawfoot tubs are made of enameled cast-iron. One drawback of older clawfoot tubs is that their enamel surface can chip easily. Plus, cast-iron can be cold in the winter, and the tubs are extremely heavy. It'll take several helping hands to move them, and probably some extra-strength joists will be needed under the floor area where the tub is placed.

If your enamel is chipped, don't worry. Many cast-iron tubs can be effectively refinished. If you are in the market for an antique cast-iron clawfoot, one place to look is at architectural salvage yards.

However, cast-iron tubs are not always antiques. Some manufacturers still make clawfoot tubs in the cast-iron variety.

Acrylic Clawfoot Tubs

One alternative to some of the cast-iron clawfoot tub's downsides is to purchase an acrylic clawfoot tub. These tubs look exactly like their cast-iron counterparts, except they work even better in almost every aspect.

Not only are they lighter and easier to move, but minor scratches on their surface can be buffed out either by hand or with an electric polisher.

In colder months, the acrylic tub won't feel as cold initially. And the surface has a slightly softer feel than the original cast-iron bathtubs.

Prices

The cost of acrylic clawfoot tubs begins at around $1,500 for 51- or 55-inch slipper tubs. As sizes increase and features add up, the prices rise. A 70-inch double-ended rectangular acrylic clawfoot tub will cost about $2,500.

New cast-iron clawfoot bathtubs start at around $1,200 for 54-inch tubs and range up to $2,700 for larger tubs.

Weight

Another advantage of acrylic clawfoot tubs over cast-iron tubs is the reduced weight. A 51-inch acrylic clawfoot tub weighs just 70 pounds. By contrast, a cast-iron clawfoot tub can weigh up to 300 pounds.

Houses often need additional support added under cast-iron tubs since the weight of the tub plus water can push the total weight over 500 pounds.

Weight is also a factor when carrying the tub into the house. Cast-iron tubs can be prohibitively heavy when placed on upper levels. With acrylic tubs, though, as long as space is no problem, the tubs are easy to transport upstairs.

Finally, when it comes time to remove the cast-iron tub, often the best method is to break it up with a sledgehammer. Space is one consideration for doing it this way. But weight is a major factor.

Scratches

An enamel-finish cast-iron bathtub is incredibly durable and can last for decades before needing to be refinished.

An acrylic tub is softer, so it can develop scratches more easily. But the good side of this is that acrylic surfaces can be buffed to eliminate or reduce scratches. Even an electric car polisher fitted with a pad, in conjunction with polishing fluid, is often sufficient to buff out the scratches.

Scratches can also be removed by hand with a water-dampened 800 and 1200 grit sandpaper. Start with the 800 grit sandpaper, then work up to the 1200 grit paper.

Insulating Factors

Cast-iron bathtubs are made from a single layer of iron or steel. In the colder seasons, cast-iron tubs start cold but quickly warm up from the heated water. While metal is a good thermal conductor, it can also lose heat just as quickly.

Acrylic bathtubs are made from two acrylic sheets that are molded under high heat. Between the two sheets is a dead-air space that acts as insulation. Water in the acrylic tub loses heat at a slower rate than with cast-iron tubs.