How to Get a Spa-Like Tub Into a Tiny Bathroom

Amery Japanese style soaking tub in brushed stainless steel via Signature Hardware
"Amery" 48-inch stainless-steel soaking tub. Photo © Signature Hardware

If you're remodeling a small bathroom, chances are you've dreamed of — and then discarded — the idea of a sumptuous, spa-like tub. After all, what could possibly fit in a tiny space other than something shallow, narrow and uncomfortable ... in other words, just like the tub you're ripping out?

The surprising answer: More than you think. In fact, a recent online search uncovered plenty of non-standard-sized and -shaped tubs that are specially designed for maximum comfort in a minimal space.

Finding the right one for your budget and layout does require some planning, however. Here are a few small tub Q&A's to get you started:

Who Will Be Using the Tub?

Before you start paging through manufacturer's catalogs, think about how and who will be enjoying your new tub. Will the primary users be adults, or will you also be bathing small children? Do you plan to bathe solo, or would you like a tub that's big enough for two? Is there anyone in the household with physical issues that may require accessible features, such as grab rails and non-slip bottoms? If so, you'll want to choose a tub that is ADA compliant.

How Small Can I Go?

According to the National Kitchen & Bath Association, a standard bathtub is a minimum of 60 inches long and 30 to 32 inches wide. Within the scaled-down category, you'll come across 30-inch-wide tubs that are as short as 48 inches. Keep in mind, however, that these are exterior dimensions.

No matter how perfectly it may fit within your space, make sure you sit in the tub before you buy it to make sure it fits you.

Another misstep to avoid is a too-skinny tub. If you're stuck with a narrow room, choosing the slimmest tub you can find might seem like an obvious solution. Unfortunately, any tub less than 32 inches is usually very shallow as well, making it unsuitable for a deep and relaxing soak.

If at all possible, go with a tub in the 32-inch-wide range. Not only will this expand your available options, but it will be a much more comfortable choice.

What's the Best Fit for My Layout?

Take your time with this one, because in a tight space, there's little margin for error. Using duct tape, plot out some tub dimensions on your bathroom floor. Is there clearance for the door to open? Do you have space under a window for a corner tub? Could you possibly squeeze in a tub of 32 or even 34 inches wide? Practice moving around your new tub by positioning a small table or a couple of chairs in its place for a few days.

What Shape Should I Choose?

Feel free to think outside the three-walled alcove that's used to hold most rectangular bathtubs. When you're shopping for a downsized tub, there are other shapes and installations that could be a way better fit in your bathroom.

If your bath is on the square side, you might consider a corner tub designed especially for tight spaces. Spa-like and stylish, corner tubs leave more space near the sink and for traffic in and out of the room. Generally, corner tubs either come with a built-in "apron," or are sold as inserts that can be lowered into a separate surround — which, of course, adds extra inches onto the final dimensions.

Check out this inexpensive acrylic drop-in model available through Wayfair.com.

A petite pedestal tub is another smart, if pricey, option for a compact bathroom. Because they appear to "float" within the room, these freestanding models take up less visual space. Flexibility is another big plus offered by a pedestal tub. Depending upon the position of your plumbing, you can place your tub wherever it fits best in the room. Signature Hardware's 48" Pelion model features a graceful oval shape and a matching pedestal base.

In Japan, an important part of an ancient bathing tradition is the ofuro, a deep tub, often with a seat, that allows bathers to comfortably immerse themselves in hot water. These Asian-style tubs are ideal for small bath owners who love a long, relaxing soak. Deep (usually about 27 inches) rather than long or wide, they require a small footprint and use far less water than a standard tub.

Modern-day versions of the Asian soaking tub come in all sorts of materials, from stainless steel, wood and concrete to ceramic and acrylic. Depending upon their depth, soaking tubs may be sunken, freestanding or inset into a raised platform. The Kohler Company's acrylic Greek soaking tub is just four feet long and features a built-in vinyl pillow for extra relaxation.