Cultured marble, a synthetic product made of molded polymer resins and natural stone dust, is ideal for bathroom applications such as shower enclosures. It is durable, attractive and stain-resistant. It also costs much more than fiberglass, the cheapest alternative among shower-unit materials. Given cultured marble's advantages, however, the extra money might be worth it in the end.
Fiberglass shower enclosures are easy to install. One-piece enclosures, in which the shower pan and walls are integrated into a single unit, can be simply dropped into place. Once the plumbing is connected, the shower is ready to use. Cultured marble showers and other multipiece units are more complicated to install, because they must be assembled on site. However, multipiece showers have an advantage when space is limited, because a prefabricated one-piece enclosure sometimes will not fit through a doorway.
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Cultured marble showers are significantly more expensive than fiberglass units. Entire fiberglass shower enclosures are available for under $400, while a cultured marble shower pan alone approaches that price. Cultured marble wall panels cost $10 to $25 per square foot. Because their installation is more complicated, cultured marble shower units incur higher labor costs, as well. However, if the installation of a fiberglass shower in an existing bathroom requires the alteration of walls or doorways, the savings can disappear quickly.
Fiberglass is the least durable of all shower materials. It is lightweight and susceptible to cracking and scratching. It may also discolor over time. The tough materials used to manufacture cultured marble are more resilient than fiberglass and will last longer without significant wear. Cultured marble is also vulnerable to scratching and cracking, however, and its protective gelcoat surface has many of the same limitations as fiberglass in terms of susceptibility to wear and damage.
The surface of fiberglass is porous and does not resist stains. Once stained, fiberglass is difficult to clean. Cultured marble is not porous and is more resistant to stains, although it does have shortcomings that make it difficult to clean. Because cultured marble showers are not a single unit, the enclosures have seams that are more challenging to clean than the seamless walls of fiberglass enclosures. Cultured marble is also sensitive to abrasive cleaners, vinegar, bleach, ammonia and other cleaning chemicals, so you must choose cleaning products carefully to avoid damaging cultured marble showers.