Difference Between Acrylic and Fiberglass Walk in Tubs?

What is a walk in tub?Acrylic is a sheet of material that is heated and vacuum-formed over a mold, creating a continuous waterproof membrane. It is then reinforced with fiberglass for added stability and insulation value. Acrylic is non-porous by nature, warm to the touch and retains its gloss finish better than any other material. Acrylic is well recognized for its ability to withstand constant use and cleaning. It is usually recommended that you avoid harsh or abrasive cleaners since acrylic is easily scratched.

Gelcoat fiberglass is a colored polyester resin sprayed onto a mold then reinforced with fine glass particles. Being more porous and brittle than acrylic, the gelcoat/fiberglass surface has a greater tendency to dull and discolor over time. Some other drawbacks to using fiberglass are the fact that they can flex or break if they are not adequately supported and they show scratches over time that cannot be repaired. There are some pros to owning a fiberglass tub which include the fact that they are lightweight which makes them easy to install, they are inexpensive, and cracks are easy to repair with an epoxy resin repair kit.

Let’s compare fiberglass to acrylic on some very specific characteristics –

Acrylic       Fiberglass
Non-Porous  Porous
Excellent repairability Good repairability
Color fast- Excellent Color fast-Fair
Useful life- 30+ yrs. Useful life- 1-8 yrs.
Initial cost- Moderate  Initial cost- Low
Strength- Strong  Strength- Fragile
Surface- High Gloss Surface- Matte
Thickness- .60-.125 Thickness- .008-.02
Cleanability- Excellent Cleanability- Poor
Styles- Wide Variety Styles- Moderate Variety
Colors- 200+   Colors-  Good
Value- High  Value- Fair

The big plus with acrylic is that it is solid surface, meaning it has a very high filler content and does not have a gel coat. If you have Corian or similar countertops in your home, then you know what solid surface material is. No mildew, mold or bacteria can penetrate because it is non-porous.  Acrylic; being a solid surface, is easier to clean, has a glossy finish and will last for many years. It will not fade over time as the color is all the way through the material, not just on the surface. Whereas, with gel coat fiberglass the gel coat rubs off and then the pores/fibers of the fiberglass are exposed.  Once the pores and fibers are exposed they can harbor bacteria, mold and mildew and grime and soap scum get imbedded into the surface which begins the breaking down of the product. Using a gel-coat is like having a paint sprayed onto the fiberglass to “seal” it.  It wears off over time which is why it fades and wears and becomes even harder to keep clean.

While fiberglass costs less, it will never last longer or as long as acrylic therefore in the long run it is probably well worth the added expense to get a walk in tub made with a surface material that is more durable and that will last for many years.

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