Are Walk In Tubs Made?  Acrylic or Gelcoat!

There is no question Acrylic is a far superior product and it is what consumers are asking for. Today all manufactures of normal household regular bathroom tubs, which is a huge market. Are building superior products using (warm to the touch) Acrylic as the tub’s cleaning surface. Visit a large box store like Home Depot or Rona. There won’t be a gelcoat tub in the store. Gelcoat fiberglass is practically non existent in the regular bathtub tub industry today. Manufactures can give a much longer “legitimate warranty” on a acrylic cleaning surface.  

Gel coat can begin to break down and look terrible after a number of years. Remember those old gelcoat fiberglass kitchen sinks and ugly shower bases and stalls. They developed hairline cracks and stained. Harboring all kinds of germs and bacteria! For many years walk-in tubs and accessible shower stalls were only being made using gelcoat fiberglass construction. Some manufactures are behind making the switch to acrylic due the high costs involved. Companies all ready making gel-coat walk-in tubs would need to re-tool.  New companies entering this growing market within the last ten years are using state of the art Acrylic manufacturing methods and almost all these companies are in Asia. 

Gelcoat  unlike acrylic it is not a sold material therefore offers no insulation. Being more porous and brittle than acrylic, the gel-coat/fiberglass surface has a greater tendency to dull and discolor over time. Some other drawbacks to using gel-coat/fiberglass is the hardness of the gelcoat surface. 

When a tub flexes.  Minor scratches can be out polished easily but the spider cracks as there called need to be ground down to the fiberglass. Then filled up with correct color gel coat. Then sanded starting with 120 grit all the way up to 3000 grit and higher to polish. A lot of work to make it look like before.  There are some pros to a fiberglass tub which include the fact that they are much lighter in weight which makes them easier to carry and they are also less expensive to manufacture.

 

This picture shows a plug taken from a boats hull.  You can see how thin the green colored gelcoat really is. The pleasure boat industry uses gelcoat fiberglass almost exclusively. It is far more cost effective for large surface areas and mass production.  

 

 This is what happens when gelcoat is used on sanitary surfaces.

 This tub was purchased and installed in Vancouver by one of the major suppliers of gel-coat fiberglass walk in tub companies at that time,  Premier Care.  The woman it belongs too is very particular, and cleans it regularly. Observe the green staining from mildew beginning to form on the porous gel-coat surface, despite her best efforts to keep it new looking. The more she scrubbed the worst it got. Very typical of gel-coat cleaning surfaces.  

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 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. The manufacturing process is more complex and labor 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. 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

Acrylic Surface 

  • Non Porous
  • Excellent repairability
  • Colour fast – Excellent
  • Useful life – 30 + years
  • Initial cost – Moderate
  • Strength – Strong
  • Surface – High Gloss
  • Thickness – 3.17mm – 6.5 mm
  • Clean-ability – Excellent
  • Styles – Wide Variety
  • Value – High
Gel-coat Surface 

  • Porous
  • Good repairability
  • Colour fast – Fair
  • Useful life – 1-8 years
  • Initial cost – Low
  • Strength – Fragile
  • Surface – Matte
  • Thickness – .2 mm – .5 mm
  • Clean-ability – Poor
  • Styles – Moderate Variety
  • Value – Fair
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 color is all the way through the material not just on the surface.  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.

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