What Are the Pros and Cons of Using a Steel Bathtub?

I. Ong
I. Ong
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The steel bathtub has become quite common in modern homes due to the ease of manufacturing and the relatively low cost of the materials compared to other types of bathtubs. The resulting low cost is one of the pros of using a steel bathtub. Other advantages include the relatively light weight, quick heat absorption, and durability. Disadvantages include potential instability, quick heat loss, and a relatively limited choice of styles.

With its relatively light weight, four to five times less than its cast iron counterpart, a steel bathtub is relatively easy to install. It is unlikely that bathroom floors will be damaged or a lot of muscle power will be needed during installation. The light weight also reduces the maintenance that would have to be performed on bathroom floors in the long run, which can be gradually worn down by heavy tubs.

A steel bathtub absorbs heat fast. Filling it with hot water warms the tub quickly. The homeowner may immediately immerse himself in the tub without fear of discomfort from any lingering coldness in the metal.

Another advantage is that steel tubs are durable, compared to their granite counterparts. Cracking or leaking is not an issue with steel bathtubs in most cases. They are also the cheapest type of bathtub, as well as the most readily available in any store.

There is, however, a negative side to some of the named advantages of the steel bathtub. The very lightness of the steel bathtub also makes it unstable. Fully mounting the bathtub may not provide adequate support, and additional fastenings are recommended for stability.

While the steel bathtub readily absorbs heat, it also does not retain it for long once the water cools. Additionally, the steel bathtub tends to be colder than other types when not filled with heated water. This can lead to some discomfort for individuals who do not enjoy direct contact with the cold surface.

Although a steel bathtub will not usually crack, enamel-covered steel bathtubs can have the surface enamel chip or crack over time. Such chips may not affect the tub's use, but they can be quite unsightly. Chipped or cracked surface enamel may be restored without having to replace the bathtub, however.

Steel bathtubs are generally limited in design choice and color, and usually cannot be custom-fit into a particular area as they are manufactured in bulk according to a general style. They come in two types, enamel-covered and stainless steel. Stainless steel bathtubs tend to be more expensive than enamel-covered tubs, as well as less readily available.

The most common complaint regarding steel bathtubs is the sound when they are filled with water. Water hitting the metallic bottom of the tub tends to produce a loud rumble. The noise subsides as the tub fills and the flowing water no longer hits the bottom.

How To Remove a Steel Bathtub

Bathtubs can stay with a home for decades and even centuries. That's because bathtubs are one of the biggest and most awkward accessories in a home to replace. Generally, a steel bathtub can be repaired and maintained, as they are designed to last for as long as they are useful.

Should a homeowner ever need to remove a steel bathtub during a renovation, they might want to consider hiring a professional as it is no easy task. Steel bathtubs aren't too terribly heavy, so hiring a professional to do the job is affordable. However, the task can be completed by even the least experienced do-it-yourselfer with a bit of determination and grit. 

To remove a bathtub you will first need a few tools on hand. These include

  • a hammer
  • screwdriver
  • needle nose pliers
  • water pump pliers
  • a pry bar
  • utility knife
  • chisel 
  • pipe wrenches
  • gloves and eye protection

Once you've collected the necessary tools, the next step involves shutting off the water supply and disconnecting plumbing accessories. There may be a shut-off valve outside the bathtub or you may need to shut off the main water supply coming into the home.

To disconnect the plumbing from your bathtub you'll need access to the underside of the bathtub where the drain pipe is located. Part of the wall will need to be removed down to the stub in order to achieve this access in addition to prying the bathtub loose from the wall.

Some steel bathtubs will also need the drain removed before the bathtub can be completely disassembled from the wall and connections. A bathtub drain removal can be purchased to make the task easier, but you can also do it yourself with a screwdriver and a set of pliers. 

Once the bathtub has been disconnected and is free of the plumbing connections and wall, it can be positioned to stand on one of its ends to maneuver it out of the bathroom. Fortunately, steel bathtubs aren't nearly as heavy as the cast iron tubs that came before them. 

How To Install a Steel Bathtub

Steel bathtubs are generally easier to install than they are to remove. Purchasing the correct size bathtub to fit in the space you have available is the most important step. If the size is exact, you should have an easy time sliding it into its new home. Before you do that, you'll need to prepare the bathtub for receiving and draining water. 

  1. Make sure all the drain holes line up and that the appropriate support is available to house the weight of the tub. 
  2. Next, attach the drain to the bathtub and reinforce your connections with plumbers' putty. 
  3. The overflow drain is the last connection you'll need to make before setting the tub. 
  4. Once you've put the tub in place, caulk the areas where the bathtub meets the walls and floors so water doesn't penetrate sensitive areas. 

Once your bathtub is installed you'll need to complete any repairs to the walls and flooring around the bathtub to ensure they remain resistant to water permeation. The biggest threat to any bathroom is mold growth which happens when water gains entry through tiny cracks in the sealant around your bathtub. You may need to install a new backing board to protect the wall studs around the bathtub in addition to new tile to replace any tile that had to be removed when the old bathtub was taken out. 

Are Steel Bathtubs Better Than Acrylic?

As the name implies, acrylic tubs are made from sheets of formed acrylic which may utilize fiberglass for reinforcement. Unlike steel, which comes in limited shapes, acrylic tubs can be designed in a variety of sizes and shapes. 

Both steel and acrylic tubs are mold and germ-resistant. However, while acrylic will never rust, steel bathtubs can become rusty should the enamel become chipped. 

Another key difference between steel and acrylic bathtubs is their scratch resistance. The enamel on a steel bathtub is strong enough to withstand the force of most types of abrasion. Acrylic, on the other hand, is a softer material than either steel or enamel. When cleaning an acrylic bathtub, the owner will have to use caution in the types of cleaners and tools used to remove dirt. 

The question of whether steel bathtubs are better than acrylic can only be answered on an individual basis. Some people may prefer the affordability and design choices available in acrylic styles, while others might appreciate the durability of steel. 

How To Remove a Steel Bathtub

Removing a steel bathtub is a big job that requires lots of smaller steps. You'll want to make sure you don't overlook some critical tasks in the process. With an organized approach, you can help the job go smoother. Before you can even take out the bathtub as described above, you must remove its drain and stopper.

Removing the Bathtub Stopper

Taking out the bathtub drain should be done with care. First, you will need to remove the stopper. You'll need to determine whether it's a lift-and-turn, toe-touch, flip-it, push-and-pull, pop-up or trip lever stopper. Removal methods depend on the type of stopper you have:

  • Lift-and-turn: Set drain to open, then hold the stopper body and turn the knob. Unscrew the set screw on the knob with a hex key or screwdriver. 
  • Toe-touch: Set stopper to open position. Grip the stopper's cap and turn counterclockwise until it comes off. Turn the remaining shaft cylinder counterclockwise and remove it from the threaded crossbar. 
  • Push-and-pull: Place the stopper in the open position and turn the knob counterclockwise while holding the stopper's body. 
  • Pop-up: Flip the lever and open the drain, then pull the stopper out along with its attached metal arm inside the drain pipe. 
  • Trip-lever: You'll need to remove it by disconnecting the faceplate and carefully pulling the entire assembly out. 

Extracting the Bathtub Drain

After taking out the stopper, your next task is to take out the drain itself. If you have one with metal crosshairs, a bathtub drain wrench can make this task much easier. Bathtub wrenches come in two different designs. The first looks like a regular wrench, except its jaws are pointed instead of rounded, and it has a perpendicular crossbar in the middle. The second is a dumbbell-style wrench with open cylindrical pieces at each end, not unlike a socket wrench.

Alternatively, you can use needle-nose pliers. If there are no visible crosshairs or your drain is corroded, you may need a tub drain extractor.

How To Install a Steel Bathtub

At first glance, porcelain-coated steel tubs look almost identical to those made from other materials such as cast iron, acrylic or fiberglass. But as mentioned earlier, steel bathtubs usually come in only rectangular shapes and either alcove or drop-in styles. You'll mostly see steel bathtubs only available in rectangular designs, which limits your choices. Yet you can find freestanding tubs in cast iron, acrylic, copper and other materials in clawfoot, corner, alcove and drop-in styles.

Common Bathtub Shapes and Sizes

Before you install a new bathtub, you must also know what size and shape you desire. Most commercially available rectangular bathtubs are 60 inches long, which works out 5 feet or 152.4 centimeters. If you're planning to purchase an alcove or drop-in tub, its length and width cannot exceed the dimensions of the space surrounded by the walls. Rectangular bathtubs are typically 30 or 32 inches wide.

When choosing a freestanding bathtub's size, you may have some wiggle room. You'll need to watch out for nearby objects, fixtures and walls. The largest rectangular freestanding tubs can measure up to 72 inches long, equal to 6 feet or about 183 centimeters. Some versions aren't completely rectangular: They may be oval or round. You'll also see tubs with straight, single-slipper or double-slipper edges.

Meanwhile, corner tubs are designed to fit inside a 90-degree angled corner. These tubs have a right triangular shape, with two sides equal in length. They may be freestanding or drop-in — the latter is simply a corner tub shell that fits inside a surround made from acrylic, marble, fiberglass or another durable material. Corner tubs come in small, regular or large sizes that can accommodate up to three persons. The largest commercially available corner tubs can measure up to 72 inches wide and long.

How To Secure a Steel Bathtub

Proper installation is also key to enjoying your new bathtub. That process includes securing your tub to the floor. The method you use depends on the type of tub you're installing. Alcove and drop-in tubs have similar techniques for securing them into your space.

When securing your tub, you'll start by applying mortar onto the subfloor area with a trowel. You should position the tub tightly against the wall and check that its upper edge is level by using a carpenter's level. If your tub will also double as a shower, you must secure its flange to the wall studs. For a steel tub, that means driving nails just above the flange with each nailhead sitting right at the flange's top edge.

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