Porcelain tubs were originally introduced in the 19th century as an alternative to copper and zinc lined-tubs, and became popular due to their smoothness and easy maintenance. In recent decades, lighter weight and more affordable materials such as acrylic and fiberglass have created competition for porcelain bathtubs. Though their vintage appeal and long-lasting durability are attractive elements of porcelain tubs, cost, maintenance and safety remain concerns for consumers.
Types of Porcelain Tubs
Unless you source a vintage porcelain bathtub, you are unlikely to purchase a solid porcelain tub. Solid porcelain tubs proved to be costly and time consuming to produce, and they were often prohibitively heavy and fragile. Instead, most porcelain bathtubs today are porcelain enamel cast over a frame. Frames are typically either stainless steel or cast iron. Porcelain coated stainless steel tubs tend to be more lightweight and less expensive than cast iron, though cast iron frames make for a more durable tub. The specific disadvantages of a porcelain tub depend on the type of tub.
Weight is one of the primary considerations when choosing a tub. Solid porcelain tubs are exceptionally heavy, even when not filled with water. Porcelain-lined tubs are lighter than solid, but still much heavier than acrylic or fiberglass. The weight not only makes installation more challenging and the tub more expensive, but also it may be a safety or code concern, especially in rented spaces or older homes.
Porcelain tubs with a steel base are typically priced competitively and comparable to the cost of a fiberglass bathtub. Porcelain over cast iron tubs, however, tend to be more expensive. As of 2013, a steel porcelain bathtub can cost as little as $300 and up to $1,200, while a cast iron porcelain bathtub can cost as much as $5,000 depending on the size and design.
Though porcelain tubs became popular because they were easier to maintain than their copper predecessors, today homeowners have some concerns about best practices for ensuring the longevity of a porcelain tub. For porcelain over steel in particular, ensuring proper cleaning and preventing chips is critical; spots of wear or chips that reveal the steel will cause rust, which ruins the tub.
Risk of Lead
In the decades preceding the 1970s, lead was a common coloring agent in porcelain enamel glazes, such as those used for bathtubs. After the risks of lead leaching were understood in the 1970s, many manufacturers opted to stop including lead in porcelain tubs. However, there is no official ban on the inclusion of lead in bathtubs, so even porcelain tubs manufactured after 1970 may contain traces of lead.
- Bathroom: Creative Design Solutions For Your Home; Scott Gibson
- Bathroom, the Kitchen, and the Aesthetics of Waste; Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller
- Vermont Housing and Conservation Board: Facts About Lead in Porcelain and Ceramic Glazes
- Michigan State University Extension: Porcelain Enamel Sinks and Tubs
- Kohler: 2013 Price Guide
- Clawfoot Design: 2013-2014 Suggested Retail Price Guide
- American Standard: New Salem Recess Bath Enameled Steel
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