How Are Walk In Tubs Made? Acrylic or Gelcoat!
Depending on the manufacturer walk in tubs vary on how they are built, and on what surface material they are made of. Walk in tubs can be acrylic fiberglass reinforced or gel-coat fiberglass reinforced. These are the two primary materials and manufacturing methods being used today.
Gelcoat is coloured polyester resin sprayed onto a mold then reinforced with polyester saturated fibreglass. The material and manufacturing process is less expensive. Being more porous and brittle than acrylic, the gel-coat/fiberglass surface has a greater tendency to dull and discolour over time. Some other drawbacks to using gel-coat/fiberglass is the hardness of the gelcoat surface.
When a tub flexes the gel-coat, being less than .5mm in thickness can develop hair line cracks at stress points if the tub is not adequately supported, and scratches that show up over time 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 due to less manufacturing costs, and cracks are easy to repair with an epoxy resin repair kit.
This picture shows a plug taken from a boats hull, you can see how thin the green coloured gelcoat really is.
The gel-coat surfaced fiberglass walk-in tub below was installed new in 2008, the photo was taken in December 2011. It was purchased and installed in Vancouver by one of the major suppliers of gel-coat fiberglass walk in tubs. The woman it belongs too is very particular, and cleans it regularly. Observe the green staining caused by the mildew growing on on the porous gel-coat surface, despite her best efforts to keep it new looking. She was persuaded to spend $14,500.00 plus tax by the commission sales lady representing a direct sales company during the in home consultation, and it came with only a one year warranty!
Unlike the gel-coat fiberglass tub in this photo, tubs built using Premium High Gloss Acrylic, are easy to clean and will remain looking new for a lifetime.
Difference Between Acrylic and Gel-coat Surface
Acrylic is a sheet of material that is heated and vacuum-formed over a mold, creating a continuous waterproof membrane. Acrylic sheets are available in thicknesses up to 30mm but for walk-in tub and shower applications thicknesses from 3.17mm to 6.5mm is the industry standard. It is then reinforced with acrylic resin saturated fiberglass for added stability and insulation value. The manufacturing process is more complex and labour intensive than the gel-coat fiberglass manufacturing process. Acrylic is non porous by nature, warm to the touch and retains its high gloss finish better than any other material. Acrylic is well recognized for its ability to withstand constant use and cleaning. It is not necessary to use harsh or abrasive cleansers, clean ability is excellent.
Let’s compare gel-coat to acrylic surfaces on some very specific characteristics
|| Gel-coat Surface
|The big plus with acrylic is that it is a solid surface, meaning it has a very high filler content. If you have a 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 colour is all the way through the material not just on the surface. Whereas, with gel coat fiberglass the gel coat rubs off or can develop hair line cracks at stress points and then the pores/fibers of the fibreglass 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 fibreglass to “seal” it. It wears off over time which is why it fades and wears and becomes even harder to keep clean. While fibreglass costs less, it will never last longer or as long as acrylic.|