Difference Between Drop in & Skirted Tubs

A bathtub is more than just a vessel used to get clean. It is a place to relax and wash away the stresses of the day. For most residential baths, these design options can be divided into two types of tubs: drop in or skirted. These two types of bathtub are different in design and in installation, so your choice may be limited to the size of your bathroom and the existing plumbing.

Woman relaxing in bathtub
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Drop-in tubs are installed in a platform base, which hides all sides.

Design

Drop-in tubs have no outside trim. They are designed to sit inside a frame or a platform that conceals the subflooring and plumbing as well as the unfinished sides of the tub. Skirted tubs do have an outside trim called a skirt. A skirt is a long piece of trim that typically fits the entire length of the tub and is installed on the side from the top edge to the floor to finish it, hiding the plumbing and subfloor beneath. Typically a skirted tub is rectangular in design, while drop-in tubs may be a variety of shapes, such as round or oval, offering more choice in your overall design scheme.

Installation

Installing a drop-in tub requires more work and possibly more expense than a skirted tub because it has to be dropped into an existing frame or platform. This means a deck must be built to fit around the tub so that the tub can be dropped into it. The tub is supported by the subfloor and not the tub ledges, and the gaps are caulked with silicone. Skirted tubs require only support for the back and the ends of the tub. There is no need to build a full structure on all sides because the skirt provides a finished decorative edge.

Faucets and Surrounds

Skirted tubs, which may be designed as recessed or alcove tubs, butt against a wall on each end and often have wall-mounted faucets. Tub surrounds are easily installed with skirted tubs so that you can incorporate a shower as well. With a drop-in bathtub, the faucets are either installed on the platform or frame, or there is a faucet ledge built into the tub for this installation. Unless your surround is built against a wall, a shower is not usually incorporated into this type of tub installation, although it is possible to do so.

Considerations

The skirted tub design is often the most affordable. Drop-in tubs can become expensive not only to purchase, but for the materials and labor involved to build the frame for it to be installed into. When buying a skirted tub, it is important to know whether the drain is located on the right or left side of the tub, because in most cases it cannot be moved to accommodate the tub. Drop-in tubs are more versatile; some may have a center drain, and because you're dropping them into a finished platform, you can usually turn them to locate the drain wherever it needs to be. If you're replacing an old bathtub and major renovations are not possible, then you're limited to whatever framing the old bathtub allows. If this is a new installation where you're building a new home or you're overhauling an old bathroom completely, you may be free to choose the design that suits your tastes.