4 Different Types of Bathtubs and How to Choose One

Alcove Bathtub

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Bathtubs are bathroom fixture basics—containers that hold water for immersive bathing. They also provide a relaxing place to unwind, but there are several different types that all serve unique purposes. The most common bathtubs seen in residential homes include drop-in tubs, freestanding tubs, alcove tubs, and corner tubs.

For many homeowners, a soothing bath provides unmatched comfort—and if this fixture is a must-have in your home, it's important to choose the right type for your space. Freestanding options include luxurious styles like clawfoot tubs, while corner tubs offer plenty of extra space with added features like jets and whirlpools. On the other hand, small bathtubs like drop-in and alcove options may be more suitable when space is tight, and a drop-in tub even provides extra surface space for soaps and accessories.

Below, we break down the pros and cons of each type of bathtub to help you decide what's best for your home.

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    Free-Standing Bathtubs

    Free-standing bathtub

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    • Best for: Deep soaker tubs with unique style

    Free-standing tubs are unconnected to walls or any other surface except for the floor. Styles of these bathtubs include the classic clawfoot tub, but it's also possible to buy free-standing tubs in sleek, modern designs.

    Free-standing bathtubs require a large bathroom to accommodate the tub and the buffer room around the tub. It is possible to install a free-standing tub in a small bathroom or a three-sided alcove, but this makes it harder to clean around and under the bathtub.

    Slipper and clawfoot tubs fit into this category, and both convey the impression of antiquity. Thus, you need a house worthy of such a tub. One hurdle of free-standing tubs is exposed plumbing. You can purchase specialty plumbing parts that celebrate, rather than try to hide, this exposed plumbing.

    Free-standing tubs tend to be significantly more expensive than alcove and drop-in tubs, and the overall cost is heavily dependent upon the material the tub is made of. Fiberglass and acrylic tubs are a bit more budget-friendly, while cast iron, stone resin, copper, and brass tubs have high-end price tags.

    Cast iron tubs, in particular, are very durable and heavy (up to 500 pounds), but they're the best option for staying warm during long baths. Many porcelain clawfoot options are still common today, although older models may require bathtub repair to restore them to their original condition.

    Pros
    • Charming, beautiful

    • Fits with traditional homes

    Cons
    • Requires a lot of room

    • Exposed plumbing

  • 02 of 04

    Alcove Bathtub

    Alcove Bathtub

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    • Best for: Small bathrooms and tub/shower combinations

    An alcove bathtub fits within a three-sided enclosure built just for the tub, and this style is often used in homes as a tub/shower combination to save space. This is a special type of bathtub that is very familiar to many homeowners, and it's particularly useful when considering common bathtub sizes in a small space.

    When the walls are tiled or fitted with panels, the enclosure can be used for a tub/shower combination. Alcove bathtubs are often the least expensive and easiest type of tub to install. 

    The alcove bathtub is all about maximizing your bathroom space: This is the tub with the smallest footprint, and it fits tightly into its allotted space. The standard length for an alcove tub is 60 inches (but some can range from 53 to 72 inches).

    Alcove bathtubs can come as part of a package that includes the three-sided wall surround. In some cases, the wall surround is permanently attached to the bathtub, while others are detached for easy installation.

    Tip

    Attached wall surrounds are the easiest to clean, but, for a remodel, they can be difficult to fit through the bathroom door; generally, these are new-construction tubs. Bathtubs with detached surrounds usually come in three pieces including a large back wall with two smaller sidewalls.

    This type of bathtub can be very durable depending on the material it's made from, which is commonly fiberglass, acrylic, stone resin, or solid surface, but may also be cast iron.

    What We Like
    • Cost-effective

    • Excellent for small bathrooms

    • Predictable sizing

    What We Don't Like
    • Requires tile or a wall surround

    • Only the front has an apron, so it must be positioned in one direction

    • Shallow compared to soaker options

  • 03 of 04

    Drop-In Bathtub

    Drop-In Bathtub
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    • Best for: Customized designs with storage and deep soaker options

    A drop-in bathtub is a shell that fits into a prepared deck. The inside of the bathtub is finished, but the outside is not since it is covered up by the deck.

    This unique bathtub requires you to have a carpenter build a deck or peninsula that juts into the room. The tub comes with a built-in rim and is installed inside the structure. Drop-in bathtubs can be installed in an alcove, but most often are featured in a more open area. As such, these tubs usually require more bathroom space than alcoves and cost more.

    Drop-in bathtubs give your bathroom a more finished, permanent look. The structure your tub is installed in should be made with a durable frame and finished with tile or another waterproof surface. The tiled sides of the bathtub provide extra space for soap, shampoo bottles, candles, or books. Drop-in tubs can be made of fiberglass, acrylic, solid surface, stone resin, and even cast iron.

    What We Like
    • Customizable to each bathroom

    • Creates a polished look

    • Storage space on the sides

    What We Don't Like
    • Requires a site-built deck

    • Difficult to DIY-install

    • Jacuzzi options require an access panel, which can be unsightly

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    Corner Bathtubs

    A luxury corner bathtub

     

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    • Best for: Luxury features and extra space

    Corner tubs are large, triangular bathtubs that fit into a corner of the bathroom. Typically expensive, corner bathtubs use a lot of bathroom floor space. One downside of this tub is that they take a long time to fill up, as the larger capacity requires more water volume.

    Corner bathtubs tend to be less about bathing and getting clean and more about relaxing and taking care of yourself. For that reason, corner bathtubs tend to have whirlpool and jacuzzi features, and they're often built in a durable, high-end fashion. More affordable options include fiberglass, acrylic, and solid surface, while cast iron comes with a higher price tag.

    What We Like
    • Spacious

    • Shape conducive to multiple users

    • Functional use of an empty corner

    What We Don't Like
    • Expensive

    • Uses a lot of water

    • Takes longer to fill

Choosing a Bathtub

Choosing the right bathtub for your home can require some planning, but as a general rule, it's best to start by deciding which size of tub your bathroom can accommodate. If you have a large space to fill and enjoy the high-end features of a free-standing bathtub or corner tub, these may be great options for your home. On the other hand, alcove and drop-in tubs are more reasonable in price and common in most houses.

It's also helpful to choose the best construction material for your needs. Cast iron tubs retain the most heat, while acrylic, fiberglass, and solid surface tubs are more affordable. If you're not sure whether your space is suitable for your favorite type of bathtub, it's helpful to consult a local contractor to discuss the available options.