Bathtub choices are limited only by logistics and budget

The sky's the limit when it comes to your choices in bathtubs -- although your budget and available space and current plumbing location may ground you a bit. Before you can choose a specific bathtub, you need to decide how it is or will be installed. The installation options include alcove bathtubs, drop in tubs and freestanding tubs. We discuss all three of these types of installations elsewhere in this report.

The most popular tubs can be alcove-style, drop in, or freestanding bathtubs

Types of Bathtubs

Alcove, Drop-In and Freestanding Bathtubs $150 and up
  • Most affordable type
  • Available with whirlpool jets
  • Comes in a variety of sizes
  • Must be installed between walls
Alcove-style is really an installation option, rather than a type of tub, and it is the most common bathtub found in American homes. Supported on three sides by walls (two in the case of corner tubs), these recessed tubs can be very basic, or offer upgraded features such as soaking depths or whirlpool jets. Many also have molded armrests, backrests and shelves to add to your comfort level while bathing. Regardless of their features though, alcove tubs are still the most affordable type. Shower/tub combos are usually alcove-style.
Soaking Bathtubs $500 and up
  • Deeper for fuller immersion
  • Can be freestanding or drop in
  • Available with whirlpool jets
  • Comes in a variety of sizes, styles, materials
  • Need a lot of hot water
  • Heavier than standard tubs
Soaking tubs are a good choice for those who enjoy immersing themselves in warm water. They are deeper than conventional tubs, but may be wider or narrower, depending upon their purpose. Some soaking tubs are made to accommodate two adults, others are designed for sitting upright and soaking. Soaking tubs can be very heavy and might require a reinforced floor. They also require a lot of hot water, so a separate hot water heater or some other dedicated system to provide sufficient hot water may be necessary.
Whirlpool Bathtubs $500 and up
  • Can relieve stress; soothe aches
  • Available as alcove, freestanding or drop in models
  • Many sizes, styles, materials available
  • More expensive to operate
  • Water jets attract mold, bacteria
  • Installation can be more complex
Also commonly known as Jacuzzi bathtubs, after the most well-known manufacturer of this type of tub, whirlpool tubs use jets driven by a pump to agitate the water, or an air system to create bubbles; some use a combination of the two. Many people find them extremely relaxing. If you have frequent muscle or joint pain, or just enjoy the luxury of a spa, you may want to consider a whirlpool tub. Whirlpool tubs are available in a wide range of sizes and types, from very small to soaker-size; freestanding to walk-in.
Walk-in Bathtubs $2,000 and up
  • Good for those with limited mobility
  • Variety of shapes, sizes, designs
  • Some have whirlpool jets
  • Expensive
  • Must enter, exit while empty
For those with limited mobility, stepping over the side of a conventional bathtub (typically 14 to 16 inches high) can be difficult. Walk-in tubs reduce that hurdle to about 4 inches, in addition to providing other features that prevent slipping and help the user stay comfortable and safe. However, you need to get into the tub and close the watertight door before filling it with water, then let it drain before getting out, which may be a chilly wait. They're expensive too, both to purchase and to install.
$300 and up
  • Cheaper than replacing a tub
  • Many options for including walls, shelving, etc.
  • Installation faster than replacing a tub
  • Must use a similar tub in the same location
  • Liners feel like plastic
  • Installation sometimes tricky
Because installation costs far exceed the price of most new bathtubs, you can save thousands of dollars by either having your old bathtub refinished or having an acrylic tub liner fitted over the old tub. While refinishing, or reglazing, an old tub may be doable for DIY-oriented homeowners, installing liners are generally not something most do-it-yourselfers can handle. Fortunately, there are plenty of companies out there who specialize in this type of project. Anyone can claim expertise, though, so be sure to get local reviews and/or references.

Bathtubs come in a plethora of styles and materials

There are plenty of choices when it comes to bathtubs, but, if you are looking to replace an existing tub, either because you need a new tub or as part of a bathroom remodel, you will probably find your bathtub choices are limited from the beginning. The placement of walls and plumbing fixtures may mean you have to replace the old tub with one that's very similar. This makes the cost if a new tub difficult to estimate because there are so many variables. A very basic bathtub can be had for as little as $200, but super fancy models can cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. And that doesn't include the cost of the tub's installation, which can add $1,000 to $3,500 -- or more -- to the bill. And if you're renovating an existing bathroom, the price tag can run even higher if you decide to relocate plumbing fixtures. Knowing this, it's easy to see why it's important to do your homework when choosing the best bathtub for your home.

As for materials, the choices are similarly endless. Acrylic, fiberglass, enamel-coated steel or cast iron are the most common, along with proprietary materials specific to each manufacturer that are an amalgam of steel and iron. In addition, it's common to find bathtubs made from copper, wood and stone, or composite materials made to look like stone.

Alternatives to buying a new bathtub

If the thought of replacing your tub has you thinking of drowning your sorrows elsewhere, there's good news: Most conventional tubs can be refinished, or an acrylic tub liner can be installed over the old tub surface, both of which are much cheaper options than a new tub. Both of those projects are jobs that experts usually recommend be done by professionals and there are plenty of companies that offer that service.

How we found the best bathtubs

We don't name the best individual bathtub models in this report because the variety of products is far too vast. Instead, this buyer's guide is intended as an educational tool to explain many of the factors related to purchasing the right bathtub. We delve into installation options, which include alcove style, drop-in and freestanding bathtubs. Then, we discuss the most popular types of tubs more specifically, giving you in-depth information on soaking bathtubs, whirlpool bathtubs, walk-in bathtubs and bathtub refinishing and liners. We hope this guide will be a great tool to help you find the best bathtub for your home and lifestyle.  

Elsewhere in this Buyer's Guide:

Alcove, Drop-in and Freestanding Bathtubs | Soaking Bathtubs | Whirlpool Bathtubs | Walk-in Bathtubs | Bathtub Refinishing and Liners | What to Look for | Our Sources

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