There are several key differences between fiberglass and porcelain tubs, and understanding these differences can help inform your choice between the two. More and more homeowners are opting for fiberglass alternatives to the heavy and expensive ceramic-covered metal tubs of years past. Fiberglass tubs are lighter and generally much less expensive than porcelain. Additionally, fiberglass allows for molded shapes that can be much more decorative and intricate than porcelain and iron alternatives.
Differences in Price
Fiberglass tubs are typically less than half the cost of their porcelain counterparts. This has to do with the way that fiberglass tubs are manufactured. Molded fiberglass products are more easily mass-produced than iron and porcelain tubs. Factories can turn out dozens of lightweight fiberglass tubs in the time it takes a porcelain-on-iron traditional tub to be manufactured. Additionally, the lightness and stackability of fiberglass tubs allows for reduced shipping costs.
A key difference between porcelain and fiberglass tubs will be seen in the installation process. Porcelain tubs are porcelain-coated iron, and consequently heavy and cumbersome to maneuver in what may be a tight space. The installation of a porcelain tub generally involves the removal of the toilet and any sinks or vanities located between the bathroom door and the tub's installation site. With fiberglass, the tubs' relative lightness can allow for more manipulation and lifting around or over fixtures already in place in a bathroom.
Differences in Cleaning
One area where fiberglass tubs do not shine as brightly, literally and figuratively, over their traditional porcelain counterparts is in maintenance. Porcelain tubs hold up well over time, and can be cleaned with relatively harsh chemicals without much risk of stripping the porcelain from the iron. Fiberglass tubs, however, have a laundry list of chemicals, such as bleach, that are not safe to be used on their surface. They are also more susceptible to scratching with abrasive scrubbing, and consequently can be more troublesome to keep clean.
Traditional porcelain tubs are actually porcelain-coated iron, and as we all know, iron rusts. Keeping the underside of a tub dry, where there is no porcelain coating, is key to maintaining a traditional porcelain tub. Once rust takes hold, it is only a matter of time before the unit must be replaced, as no amount of grinding or sandblasting will completely remove the cancer from the metal. Fiberglass tubs, on the other hand, are more forgiving when it comes to exposure to dampness, and holding up after a leak.