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Trends tend to come and go, but those that withstand time are truly worthy of investment.
Sounds trite, but it’s true! The styles and materials that can be simultaneously considered vintage and trendy are those that you know will never go out of fashion.
Case in point: the cast iron bathtub.
Enameled cast iron tubs have been in use practically since the advent of modern plumbing. Today, these tubs are still popular due to their timeless appearance, excellent durability, and easy maintenance.
Cast iron bathtubs date back to the 1880s, when inventor David Buick began bonding porcelain enamel to cast iron, a strong iron-carbon alloy with a low melting point that allows it to be molded – or cast – into the desired shape.
Early cast iron tubs were freestanding and clawfoot; today’s tubs are classically similar, but cast iron may also be found in other shapes and installations. These tubs are heavy and durable, often lasting longer than most features of aged homes.
Depending on its size, an iron tub can easily weigh 350-500 pounds or more when empty. Consider the weight (plus water and bather weight) in terms of floor stability and transportation of the tub during delivery and installation; it may require extra manpower for installation as well as additional reinforcement beneath the floor.
Due to its weight, a ground-floor installation is recommended – but not mandatory – for an iron bathtub. Before choosing a cast iron tub, ensure that your floor will be able to support its weight and the additional weight of the water and the bather(s); extra reinforcement may be necessary. A concrete floor will support the tub’s weight best, but strong, solid wooden joists may provide enough support.
Cast iron tubs are fairly low-maintenance.
If your home (or your local antiques store) boasts a genuine vintage cast iron tub, a good refinishing can get it showroom-ready in your modern-day home!
For a tub that simply needs a facelift, a good cleaning and a fresh coat of paint may be all that it needs. Clean the exterior thoroughly, then apply a latex primer with a foam roller. Once dry, apply at least two coats of exterior-grade satin or semigloss latex paint and allow to dry completely.
If the tub needs more serious refinishing, reglazing or re-enameling, consider enlisting a professional; this is not a casual DIY project. The interior will require repeated sanding and special products for a smooth, long-lasting finish. Some tubs may even be re-fired for an entirely new porcelain finish. While professional refinishing may cost several hundred dollars, it’s often more cost-effective than purchasing a new tub – and you’ll have the satisfaction of rescuing a beautiful tub from an unnecessary end.
Ready to tackle it yourself? If you’re a seasoned DIYer, check out these sites for a detailed guide on how to reglaze a cast iron tub and how to paint a cast iron tub (this one also includes a guide to painting a fiberglass tub).
The most popular style is the cast iron freestanding tub; it’s classic and elegant, especially with feet. (To learn more about freestanding tubs, check out our guide to freestanding tubs.) But it’s not the only option – to get the benefits of cast iron without the drawbacks of a freestanding tub (namely, space issues), consider a drop-in cast iron tub.
Popular shapes include oval, rectangular, and slipper (with one or both ends raised and sloped for comfortable positioning). A classic feature found on many traditional cast iron tubs is a rolled rim, where the tub rim is rounded for additional visual interest.
A great advantage of cast iron is that it can be finished and clad in virtually any color or material; striking options include mirrored stainless steel, custom colors, and copper, among others.
One significant disadvantage of cast iron is the cost. Cast iron is among the most expensive bathtub materials available, but it’s also one of the most durable, so you’ll get years – if not decades or more – out of your investment. Newer cast iron tubs can be affordable, starting at $1,400 or even less; prices range up to $9,000 or more for a standard tub, with high-end tubs costing over $80,000!
Every tub manufacturer offers unique advantages and features. Barclay cast iron tubs are practically the visual definition of “classic” with timeless shapes and sophisticated color options. Cheviot cast iron bathtubs are available in both traditional and contemporary styles, drop-in configurations, and with custom exterior color options. Elite Bath tubs are the ultimate luxury with limited-edition finishes and embellishments. Vintage-inspired Herbeau cast iron tubs provide the old-world charm with the benefits of brand-new fixtures. Lefroy Brooks offer extra length and smooth, contemporary style. To make a striking statement, Slik Portfolio cast iron tubs are clad in elegant metallic finishes for extra impact.