Acrylic or Fiberglass Tubs: How They Compare and Which Is Best for You

Katy Willis
Written by Katy Willis
Updated January 11, 2022
Father giving son a bath
Halfpoint / Shutterstock.com

A tub can make or break your bathroom, so make sure you choose the right type

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Acrylic and fiberglass tubs look reasonably similar at first glance, but there are plenty of visual and physical differences between the two. For example, fiberglass is more affordable and lighter, while acrylic is more durable and lasts longer.

Acrylic vs. Fiberglass: Which Is a Better Tub?

Acrylic and fiberglass are both solid, inexpensive options that give your bathroom a facelift, though they differ in cost, lifespan, weight, and durability.

Cost

The cost to replace a bathtub is obviously a key consideration, but both acrylic and fiberglass tubs are reasonably affordable compared to many other materials. 

Acrylic tubs cost up to $1,000, installed. Fiberglass tubs cost up to $800, including installation.

Most cost-effective: Fiberglass

Appearance

An attractive bathtub pulls your entire bathroom together to create a relaxing and inviting space.

Acrylic:

  • Available in more colors than fiberglass

  • Has a smoother, glossier finish

Fiberglass:

  • Has an acrylic or gelcoat finish to emulate the smoothness and gloss of acrylic tubs

  • Gelcoat doesn't last as long as proper acrylic tubs

  • Gelcoat eventually fades and cracks, and it isn't quite as smooth to begin with

Most attractive: Acrylic

Installation

Both acrylic and fiberglass tubs are comparatively easy to install if you have the right experience and tools. However, because getting the plumbing wrong can be a costly disaster—cue comedy moment of water spraying you in the face while you desperately try to stem the flow—it may be better to call a local bathroom installer instead.

A standard acrylic bathtub tips the scales at around 100 pounds while a comparable fiberglass model weighs only 70 pounds. So if you're installing a tub upstairs, a fiberglass one is easier to carry. But because acrylic is more robust, it can withstand more weight and pressure during the installation process.

Easiest to install: Tie

All white bathroom and tub
ppa / Shutterstock.com

Care

Your new bathtub shouldn't be difficult or complicated to clean—nobody enjoys extra housework!

Acrylic:

  • Can use a wider range of cleaning supplies

  • Can use rougher cloths and gritty cleaning substances

  • Not prone to staining

  • Smoother surface less likely to encourage limescale buildup

Fiberglass:

  • Gelcoat is fairly soft so scratches easily

  • Cannot use abrasive scrubbers or cleaning substances

  • Prone to staining

  • Rougher surface catches limescale

Easiest to clean: Acrylic

Durability

Installing a bathtub costs money, so you want a solid return on your investment in terms of longevity and durability.

Acrylic:

  • Lasts up to 30 years

  • Less prone to cracking

  • Less prone to scratching

  • Thicker and less brittle than fiberglass

Fiberglass:

  • Lasts up to 15 years

  • Brittle and prone to cracking

  • Scratches easily

  • Thin

  • Eventually becomes porous as topcoat wears away

Most durable: Acrylic

Repair

Whatever tub you've got, it can encounter surface scratches to cracks. Ideally, repair should be affordable and straightforward.

Acrylic

Acrylic is solid, so if it eventually shows signs of wear and scratches, you can simply sand out the layer of damage and apply a glossy topcoat. However, more significant damage, such as a crack, usually goes right through the wall of the tub because it's a solid sheet of acrylic.

Cracks in acrylic tubs are challenging to repair and may require you to have a whole new tub installed.

Fiberglass

Scratches in fiberglass tubs are more challenging to repair, requiring extra steps, including color-matching. Remember, it's the gelcoat that holds the color, so when refinishing a scratch or crack, you'll need to find the right color for the new topcoat. If you opt for a clear coat, the fiberglass beneath will show through. 

A single crack in a fiberglass tub is repairable, unlike an acrylic tub, as it probably won't penetrate all the layers of fiberglass. However, it still needs a speedy repair because exposed fiberglass is porous.

Easiest to repair: Tie

Vs. Cast Iron

Cast iron bathtubs weigh up to five times as much as fiberglass and acrylic tubs, weighing in at up to 500 pounds. These tubs are incredibly durable and considered the epitome of bathtub luxury with their claw feet and beautiful, enduring porcelain enamel topcoat. 

Installing a cast iron bathtub costs up to $14,000, compared to the $200 to $800 it costs to install fiberglass. And because of the excessive weight of cast iron tubs, you may need to reinforce the floor, so be sure to address this with your contractor before you start the installation.

Vs. Enameled Steel

A more affordable alternative to cast iron, enameled steel is also lighter, tipping the scales at under 100 pounds. These types of tubs are much noisier while in use and are more prone to chipping, too. Expect to pay $200 to $1,000 to install a steel bathtub.

Vs. Cultured Marble

Cultured marble bathtubs are on a par with cast iron when it comes to weight and cost. This tub material is undeniably more luxurious than acrylic or fiberglass, but it's more expensive, too, costing up to $5,000 to install. 

Weighing up to 500 pounds means marble tubs, just like cast iron, may require you to have the bathroom floor reinforced. Marble is also more prone to cracking than acrylic.

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