Acrylic vs. Cast-Iron Clawfoot Bathtubs

Ralston Clawfoot Bathtub
Ralston Clawfoot Bathtub. via Amazon

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 makes many people think of an era before mobile devices, Twitter, traffic jams, and smog--when a slow, luxurious bath in the tub was considered a norm.  It's a feeling that the typical modern 60" 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?  

When Clawfoot Tubs Were Always Cast-Iron

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. The enamel surface was important because it was 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. Disadvantages of the cast-iron tubs is that the surface chips easily, the cast-iron can be cold in the winter, and the tubs are extremely heavy--requiring several hands to move and extra-strength joists under the floor area where the tub is to be located.

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.

Today's New Acrylic Clawfoot Tubs

One alternative to some of the cast-iron clawfoot tub's failings is to purchase an acrylic clawfoot. These tubs look exactly like the real thing, except they work even better.

Acrylic clawfoot tubs have the following advantages:

  • Lighter, easier to move
  • Scratches can be buffed out (to some extent)
  • Feels warmer in the winter
  • Has a slightly "softer" feel than cast-iron's metal surface