Acrylic vs. Porcelain Bathtubs

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Are you comparing acrylic versus porcelain bathtubs for an upcoming remodel? Both porcelain and acrylic bathtubs have advantages and disadvantages. Looking at the differences in construction, durability, ease of cleaning and other features can help you decide which bathtub material is best for you.

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Acrylic vs. Porcelain Bathtub Construction

A porcelain bathtub starts with a base material, often steel. Commonly, the base is coated in porcelain enamel and then high-temperature fired. Porcelain tubs are typically heavier than acrylic bathtubs yet lighter than enameled cast iron.

One of the most popular options, acrylic bathtubs come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors, giving you more options than porcelain. They're made from soft sheets of acrylic, which makes them easier to shape. The acrylic often includes fiberglass reinforcement to improve durability.

Water Heat Retention

When comparing acrylic versus porcelain bathtubs, heat retention is one consideration. Porcelain bathtubs tend to lose heat and feel cold more quickly than acrylic tubs. To counteract the heat loss, some porcelain models are foam insulated.

Acrylic, nonmetal tubs tend to retain heat better than porcelain because of the nonporous surface. This comes in handy if you enjoy long baths.

Acrylic vs. Porcelain Bathtub Durability

Porcelain is usually a harder surface than acrylic. The porcelain coating is resistant to scratching. One drawback is the potential for chips with hard impact. Once the tub chips, it can rust.

Acrylic is a softer material that is less scratch resistant than porcelain. Buying a higher-grade acrylic tub can cut down on the risk of scratches and stains. At the same time, scratches in acrylic may respond to a buffing with toothpaste or a baking soda paste applied with the pressure of the heel of your hand.

Ease of Cleaning

Cleaning of acrylic and porcelain bathtubs is similar. Acrylic bathtub care includes cleaning the tub once per week. Use mild, nonabrasive cleaners without harsh chemicals to avoid damage to the surface. Any abrasive cleaners or cleaning tools can scratch the surface.

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Similarly, a mild detergent or a warm water plus baking soda paste will usually get a porcelain bathtub clean. Scouring powders can leave scratches that, while not visible to the eye, erode the bathtub surface. Once scratched, the surface then collects dirt, oils and soapy residues. As time passes, the stains become more embedded and difficult to remove. Avoid using acid-based cleaners, which can also damage the porcelain surface.

Bathtub Restoration Potential

Acrylic bathtubs sometimes lose their high-gloss sheen. It's possible to restore that sheen with a buffer and rubbing compound. A fine sanding process or professional restoration could also be required if the finish is damaged severely.

If a porcelain bathtub surface is damaged through improper cleaning procedures or chipping, it also can be refinished. The process requires application of porcelain enamel. You can use DIY kits to repair the surface. However, results may be more favorable with professional application. Another advantage to contracting with a professional is getting a comprehensive warranty.

Other Bathtub Considerations

Before disposing of your old bathtub, check with your local authority for trash disposal or recycling. Porcelain, for example, may be disposed of in the city trash in some areas and may not be considered recyclable. Porcelain bathtubs could be a potential source of environmental exposure to lead.

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Mary A. Schultz

Mary A. Schultz

Arizona-based Mary Schultz has contributed articles about family, health, home improvement, agriculture and travel to newspapers and magazines. For over three award-winning decades as a marketing writer, Schultz has focused on technology, financial and insurance services and products, medical care, health and fitness, community heritage, tourism and charitable causes. She holds a Bachelor of Arts, honors English, from California State University, Northridge.