Contemporary bathtubs are currently made with four kinds of substances: acrylic, cast iron, fiberglass and steel enamel. Until recently, however, cast iron was the predominant, traditional material. Advances in manufacturing techniques gave rise to acrylic and fiberglass models, which many people appreciate for the diversity of colors, shapes and styles those materials permit. Yet, the more modern construction materials do have unique traits and requirements that owners must take into consideration when selecting them. This article will explain the differences between acrylic bathtubs and fiberglass bathtubs.
Acrylic is a type of plastic. Manufacturing bathtubs with the substance requires heating enormous sections of acrylic and then stretching the softened sheets over a mold to create the proper shape and size. A drawback of the heating and softening process is that the resulting bathtub can have thinner areas where the acrylic was pulled the most, such as in corners, which impacts maintenance and repair.
Fiberglass consists of tiny strings of interwoven glass. When used to manufacture bathtubs, fiberglass is formed into a gel coating that is spread or sprayed evenly over a mold at the appropriate temperature. The resulting tub unit can be made harder, more durable and scratch resistant, by applying a thicker layer of the fiberglass substance. If done properly, fiberglass tubs can be much harder than acrylic varieties, although neither matches the hardness of cast iron tubs.
Weaknesses of both
Acrylic and fiberglass bathtubs share a weakness related to their lower degree of hardness, a trait that makes it easier to clean and maintain the glossy finish of a bathtub. The result of less hardness is a higher degree of bending and flexing. Consequently, many choose to reinforce the tubs with another material, such as plaster, to achieve a higher level of strength, especially at the bottom. The additional work and material makes the product more expensive, however.
Another consequence of manufacturing bathtubs with the softer substances is the need to use special cleaners to maintain them. Agents containing harsh chemicals and even mild abrasives can scratch or damage the surface of acrylic and fiberglass bathtubs, as can certain cleaning implements, including sponges or pads with scrubbing fibers. The best cleaning products and materials have no abrasives or harmful chemicals.
If the fiberglass coating is sufficiently thick and thereby harder, fiberglass bathtubs are easier to restore to a near ideal state than acrylic varieties. The more acrylic present in a bathtub, however, the thicker and more durable it generally is and the less difficult it can be to conceal damage. Yet, blemishes will still likely remain evident after repair attempts.