Acrylic and steel are the two most common materials that you will come across when choosing a new bath. But which is the right one for you?
The simple answer is that there are good and bad versions of both. If you've ever had the misfortune of using one of those early, ultra-cheap acrylic baths that flexed in the middle you'd be forgiven for shying away from acrylic baths for life.
Times and technology have changed, and the majority of acrylic baths (apart from the very cheapest ones from the DIY sheds) are sturdy and long-lasting. In fact, we sell many more acrylic baths than their steel counterparts, but that's not to say steel doesn't also have its merits.
Acrylic baths are manufactured from a sheet of acrylic that is typically 4, 5 or 8mm thick. They are then reinforced underneath, usually with a wooden or steel support frame and by placing a wooden baseboard in the centre of the bath. This is then coated by spraying on fibreglass reinforcement, resulting in a sufficiently strong bath at a low price-point.
• Acrylic baths are cheap. A good quality acrylic bath is usually cheaper to buy than a similar quality steel bath for the simple reason that they are easier to make and are mass-produced in their thousands.
• Acrylic baths are generally quite strong nowadays. Even cheap acrylic baths usually have a wooden frame, wooden baseboard and layers of fibreglass reinforcement. ArmourCast heavy duty acrylic baths are reinforced with several layers of rock-solid resin, making them just as sturdy as a steel bath but at a more affordable price.
• Acrylic can be moulded into all sorts of shapes and designs very easily so there's typically more variety than steel. If you want an affordable bath with a square internal design (a popular design choice), you won't find a steel option unless you are prepared to fork out a hefty sum. It's easy to find this type of bath in acrylic at a more attractive price.
• Acrylic baths are warmer to the touch than their steel counterparts. There's nothing like a nice warm relaxing soak in the cold, winter months, but lying back on cold, hard steel isn't quite the same. This said, steel is pretty good at transferring heat quickly, so it doesn't stay cold for long.
• Acrylic is non-porous. This makes it easy to clean, and ensures mould and bacteria cannot grow on its surface. It is also easy to polish out any scratches in acrylic.
In years gone by, acrylic baths were a flimsy affair, and it didn’t take much weight for them to flex in the centre. Nowadays, with the inclusion of quality acrylic material such as Lucite, fibreglass encapsulation, and resin reinforcement options such as ArmourCast, acrylic is the most popular material for baths, and for good reason.
Steel baths are made from a sheet of steel that is pressed into shape. It is then cleaned, and an enamel coat is sprayed on the steel to create a hygienic and durable finish. The bath is then fired at high temperatures, much like toilets or basins are, to make a strong chemical bond between steel and enamel.
Steel baths were a very popular option in years gone by, but they have been largely overtaken in popularity by the modern acrylic bath. Much of this comes down to price and changing tastes rather than an inherent weakness.
• The best steel baths from high-end specialists are very hard wearing and resilient, and almost impossible to scratch. These 3.5mm thick steel baths are also very difficult to chip (one of the main drawbacks of the budget steel bath), even if you drop something heavy.
• Premium steel-enamel baths are also resistant to UV light so they won't fade or change colour over the years, something that acrylic can be susceptible to. They are chemical-resistant, so you don't need to worry about discolouration. Steel-enamel looks the business too, and is a good match for the similarly-glazed porcelain toilet and basin sitting alongside it.
• Steel is also non-porous, and is therefore just as good at preventing bacteria or mould growth.
• Steel is eco-friendly. As a natural raw material, it is 100% recyclable and a better environmental choice than acrylic, which is produced by burning fossil fuels.
• Cheap steel baths are quite easy to chip if you accidentally drop something on it. Whereas you can polish out a little nick in acrylic, it's more difficult to mend a chip in a cheap steel bath.
• Steel is cold to the touch, and this can be a negative for some customers. However, steel is a good heat-conductor, so it warms up quite quickly once you fill it with warm water. Bear in mind that the tops of the bath that aren't touching the water will stay quite chilly, so it's perhaps not so nice in the winter months when you want to lie back and relax.
So what’s the best option for me?
If you are looking to save money, acrylic is probably the better option. You can pick up a good quality Lucite acrylic bath that is sturdy, resilient and has excellent thermal properties for under £100. Even better, a reinforced heavy-duty acrylic bath with a 25 year guarantee will set you back only a couple of hundred pounds.
If money is no object and you don't mind outlaying £300 - £500 or perhaps more, a steel enamel bath is a great choice. Extremely strong, environmentally friendly and likely to look as good as new 20 years from now, it is a great bathroom investment. However, if you don't like the idea of cold steel as a material for your bathroom sanctuary, heavy-duty acrylic may be the way to go.
To browse the baths we have available to buy online see here.