bathtubs and bathtub surrounds from natural and artificial stone

Opinion: best material for bathtubs and surrounds


When choosing material for your bathtub, surrounds or splash walls, it is important that it doesn't absorb moisture, change color or provide environment for bacteria and fungus growth. It should tolerate soaps, detergents, and chemical agents. It should be low maintenance. Ideally, the the bathtub, its surrounds and all separate decorative parts should be joined without microscopic gaps between the components, so that splashes from the walls cannot penetrate through of the finish. Such a bathtub and surround will be easy to clean, resistant to stains and mold, and after several years it will still look like new.


All these requirements are best met by acrylic solid surface, also called acrylic stone, which is particularly suitable for fabricating bathtubs and surrounds. Solid surface has almost zero porosity, so the bathtubs and surrounds fabricated from it do not mold even in very humid bathrooms. Bacteria and fungi do not grow on solid surface, as they usually thrive on dirt trapped in microscopic cracks and stagnant moisture, which are absent in solid surface products. 


Solid surface can be used to fabricate a bathtub of any shape or size, and any form of bathtub surround. A custom-made bathtub is usually expensive, but well-known solid surface manufacturers sell prefabricated bathtubs in a wide range of sizes and shapes. A standard factory-made solid surface bathtub will be cheaper than a custom-made one, so it's worth checking the catalogues of acrylic stone producers. The range of colors and shapes of factory-made solid surface baths may be limited, but perhaps it will be sufficient for you, and you will save quite a bit.


When placed in the bathroom, a solid surface bathtub is usually  left freestanding. It can be combined with a beautiful porcelain splashwall, border panel or accent wall. Acrylic solid surface can also be used to decorate or to entirely coat a simple ceramic (or any other type) bathtub. All bathtub borders can be covered with elegant thin solid surface stripes, while the visible external bathtub sides can be decorated with larger panels. All parts of solid surface surround and the splashwall attached along the bordering walls can be joined together leaving no gaps or any visible seams. The joints are usually rounded through desired radius to avoid sharp corners and edges, and to make the surround easy to clean. No microscopic gaps or seams remain if the work is made by a good professional. Solid surface finishing looks completely seamless, one piece.


Acrylic solid surface can be combined with other hi-tec artificial stone materials in the bathroom, such as engineered quartz, sintered stone, ceramics or porcelain. Bathtubs can also be made from these materials. The only drawback when making bathtubs from artificial quartz, sintered stone or ceramics is that it's impossible to round off and completely conceal the joints. While solid surface bathtub looks seamless and one-piece, bathtubs made of other types of engineered materials show separate interlocking planes (see photos). Moisture and dirt are more likely to accumulate in the corners and along the joints. Though this is not a problem as these materials are non-absorbent and are not likely to mold, you will have to scrub your bathtub with a brush more often to keep it clean.


Another good thing about artificial quartz, sintered stone, ceramics and porcelain which can elegantly adorn the bathroom, is that they are not sensitive to detergents and soaps. Sintered stone is a more expensive alternative to other types of artificial stone, but since you are not likely to utilize all its positive qualities in the bathroom, it may be left aside. To avoid overpaying for bathroom finishing, it might be more reasonable to choose ceramics or porcelain.


And what about natural stone? Yes, it is possible to sculpt a one-piece bathtub out of a natural stone block, such as granite, marble or travertine. However, though natural stone bathtubs look impressive, they might not be as practical in everyday use. To maintain the flawless appearance of natural stone, it needs to be impregnated and not allowed to stay damp. Otherwise, natural stone becomes stained, and mold may appear. All natural stones are porous, so water can penetrate them easily and linger in the pores for a long time before it dries.


The problem of water absorbency and staining of natural stone can be solved by regularly applying stone sealers and impregnators. They fill and seal the stone pores so that water and other liquids cannot penetrate them and linger on the surface. However, sealers need to be used regularly; it's not enough to seal just once. Over time, sealants wash out, evaporate, and need to be reapplied. It is advisable to seal natural stone products once a year, but in the bathroom, sealants and impregnators are needed more frequently.


Any natural or artificial stone is suitable to decorate bathroom walls, but artificial stone is preferable in areas that come into contact with water. Natural stone is better used in dry areas. The most practical natural stone in the bathroom is granite or quartzite. Marble, travertine, or onyx are much more sensitive to moisture and acids found in detergents. If you have a bathtub, surround or finishing made from these stones, you need to be especially careful. Acids corrode marble, onyx and travertine more than granite or quartzite, and they change color faster in contact with chemicals.


Although with applying proper chemicals and putting effort you can maintain the excellent appearance of natural stone in any environment, the main question is how much time you want to dedicate to it. Natural stone will maintain its perfect appearance and original color only in dry rooms, where there is no moisture and water vapor. If you are reluctant to care for natural stone in a humid room, it may lose its appearance and color, and after some time, you may notice mold.

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