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Steel vs. Cast Iron Bathtub: Complete Comparison

Cast Iron Tub

When it comes to your bathroom upgrade, choosing the right material type for your tub can be a complicated task. 

Two popular materials are steel and cast iron, but how can you figure out which is better for your home unless you directly compare steel versus cast iron tubs, considering all their pros and cons?

Both can provide a luxurious, spa-like washing experience, but that only makes your decision harder.

Check out our steel versus cast iron tub guide to help you determine what’s best for your bathroom.

What is a Steel Bathtub?

Steel bathtubs, often called porcelain on steel tubs or enameled steel tubs, are made from a stamped steel shell that is later coated with a heat-fused porcelain enamel. This enamel coating allows the surface of the bathtub to be easily cleaned while staying glossy for several years. It also helps the tub be more scratch resistant.

Steel tub

One downside to steel tubs is that—as a metal material—they are cold to the touch, unlike acrylic tubs that tend to keep a comfortable room temperature. This can create quite an unpleasant shock if you’re expecting a warm bathing experience, since anywhere that remains dry on the tub (such as the top or sides) may feel cold when touched.

That being said, steel tubs do keep your water hot for a long time since the material is a great heat conductor.

What is a Cast Iron Bathtub?

Cast iron tubs are a classic tub design, dating back to the 1880s. Cast iron bathtubs are made with iron fused with porcelain, cast in the desired shape, that’s then coated in a layer of enamel to protect it from chipping and help make it easier to clean. Cast iron tubs themselves are naturally resistant to scratching and cracking.

Cast iron tub in bathroom

Original cast iron tubs were freestanding and clawfoot tubs. Many cast iron tubs made today mimic vintage designs, though they also come in more modern shapes and designs.

Cast iron tubs are incredibly durable, but they’re also extremely heavy and often require extra floor support to be properly installed. Installing a cast iron tub is a much bigger (and more expensive) job than installing a classic acrylic tub.

How are Cast Iron and Steel Tubs Different?

So which is better, enameled steel versus cast iron tub? Many homeowners opt for the cast iron, many opt for steel—while others say that neither wins the cast iron tub versus steel tub debate and that acrylic tubs are the far superior bathtub type.

Let’s compare more direct features of cast iron and steel tubs so you can have a more accurate idea of what’s best for your home.

Cost

When purchasing a metal tub, whether that’s steel or cast iron, you should expect to pay a bit more than you would for an acrylic tub. They are a durable material and show it in their price tag.

Both enameled steel and cast iron are more expensive materials than acrylic, but the cost between both of these metals is actually fairly comparable, though cast iron is slightly more on the expensive side. 

Freestanding cast iron tub

You should also consider the installation costs when comparing the material type of your tub. Freestanding cast iron tubs are incredibly heavy and require a base or floor supports, and some enameled steel tubs may need to be built into the bathroom. Installation costs can add a lot to your overall bathroom upgrade.

Durability

Both enameled steel and cast iron tubs are durable material types and are resistant against corrosion and abrasion. That being said, cast iron—as a thick, pure iron tub—is the most durable bathtub material out there. Cast iron tubs can potentially last for decades—which is longer than many other tubs are expected to last.

Heat Retention

While perhaps not the absolute best material for heat retention (soapstone is one of the best for this category), both enameled steel and cast iron tubs retain the heat in your bath water well. Metal materials are great thermal conductors since they have freely moving electrons that can easily transfer energy.

Maintenance

Enameled steel and cast iron tubs are low maintenance materials and therefore comparable in this category. They both require regular cleaning (a gentle rinse of the tub) and may need their enamel refinished eventually to help the tub last longer.

Scratch Resistance

The enamel finish on both steel and cast iron tubs is resistant to scratching, chipping, and most chemicals. That being said, the enamel coating tends to be thicker on cast iron, and cast iron is a more durable metal than steel, allowing cast iron tubs to be more scratch and chip resistant than steel.

Weight

When comparing enameled steel versus cast iron tubs, cast iron tubs clearly lose in the weight category. Cast iron tubs can weigh between 300 and 500 pounds, whereas enameled steel tubs tend to be around 75 pounds—which is comparable with acrylic tubs. That’s why cast iron tubs tend to require extra floor supports.

How Do They Compare to Acrylic?

If your heart is set on a cast iron or enameled steel tub, then be prepared to pay the premium to purchase the tub and have it installed in your bathroom. You’ll have a classic, highly durable, heat-retaining tub that adds character, charm, and a luxurious bathing experience to any bathroom.

Acrylic tub

If you’re looking for something that’s far more budget-friendly, easier to install, lightweight, and that comes in a wide variety of shapes and designs, you may be happier with an acrylic tub.

Whether you’re looking for a large or small tub, something classic or something more modern, you’re sure to find an acrylic tub that exceeds your expectations 

Obviously acrylic tubs aren’t as durable or scratch resistant as cast iron or enameled steel, but they’re far easier on your wallet and can provide something with just as much style and luxury.

Which Bathtub Material is Right For You?

If you’re still not sure what material is right for you or if you have more questions about acrylic tubs, reach out to our experts at Long Baths™. We offer quality materials and unparalleled craftsmanship because we know the quality you notice often comes from the details you don’t.

Visit us online for a quote or schedule a free, in-home consultation to get your bathtub upgrade or bathroom remodel going.

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*Subject to credit approval. Interest is billed during the promotional period but all interest is waived if the purchase amount is paid in full within 12 months. There are no required minimum monthly payments during the promotional period.  Financing for GreenSky® consumer loan programs is provided by federally insured, equal opportunity lender banks. NMLS #1416362