Drop-In Bathtubs: What To Know Before You Buy

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Go deep on the details of these inviting tubs to decide if they're the right choice for your bathroom.

Looking for a spa retreat? Do drop-in! That is, consider installing a drop-in tub. They’re an affordable alternative to standard bathtubs, and they deliver a spa experience.

Want to step it up to even more luxe? You have options for that, too.

What Is a Drop-In Bathtub?

It’s essentially a shell: It has feet and a rim, but the exterior sides aren’t finished.

A drop-in tub can be set in an alcove or out in the room. It’s dropped into a custom-made raised platform deck, which covers the plumbing and the exposed sides of the tub and creates a place to sit as you get in and out. The platform doesn’t, however, support the tub. The floor does that!

Types and Styles of Drop-In Bathtubs

How do you want to use the tub? Your answer — and your budget — determine what type of tub you choose. You have these options:

Materials

“For drop-in tubs, you really just have two options — acrylic or cast iron,” says Chuck Khiel, vice president of Fred Home Improvement in Bethesda, Maryland. “Acrylic is the most popular because a cast iron tub is more expensive to buy, and it requires more workers to set it in place.”

The decks are wooden, then finished mainly with tile or a solid surface material. (Khiel says polymer quartz is popular right now). But it could also be a combination of tile or solid surface material on the top with wood panels on the sides.

Styles

There are several drop-in options:

  • Soaking tubs are deep with a slanted side. The faucet is usually at the opposite end, but it could be in the middle. They’re made for one person or two.
  • Jetted styles range from the basic whirlpool (jets of water are shot into the tub) to luxury upgrades, like heated (a water pump maintains the temperature) and air-jetted (jets of air create movement in the water).
  • Japanese-style has a bench for full-body soaks because the water comes up to your shoulders.

“Soaking tubs are super-popular these days,” says Khiel. “And we’re doing a lot of projects replacing older whirlpools with soaking tubs.”

Shapes

They’re basic — rectangular, oval and round.

Drop-In Bathtub Sizes

So many options! “I’ve seen them less than five feet long (five feet is standard tub size) up to seven feet long, and as small as 23 inches wide up to 36 inches wide,” Khiel says. Basically, you can find a tub to fit your space, whether it’s an alcove setting or out in the room.

What Do Drop-In Bathtubs Cost?

Khiel says you’ll pay about $550 for a standard-size, basic, white acrylic drop-in tub, “but up to $3,000 or $3,500 for cast iron.” Basic whirlpool drop-ins start at around $1,500 but can cost as much as $5,000 for a luxury model.

How To Install a Drop-In Bathtub

Whether you’re building a new bathroom or renovating an existing one, Khiel says these are the basic steps for installing a drop-in tub.

  • Rough in the plumbing, bringing it to where the tub faucet will be located for the tub. “Be sure to follow the instructions and meet the requirements for the faucet,” Khiel says.
  • Build the framing for the platform deck. “Make sure you plan for an access panel,” Khiel says. If you don’t and you need to get to the plumbing, locating it will be a major headache. You’ll have to cut through the deck’s finishing material to get to it, racking up a lot of destruction and repair.
  • If you’re going with a solid surface material for the finish, make a template for it so you can arrange for the finish to be fabricated.
  • Drop in the tub, using sealant at the rim to prevent water from getting inside the deck. The tub will sit on its feet on the floor. The floor should be level. If it isn’t, Khiel says you can use shims.
  • Build the access panel.
  • Top the deck with the finishing material and seal the joint between it and the tub.

Kathleen Childers
Kathleen Childers, a Minnesota-based writer, covers topics about home and life for a variety of clients.