What To Know Before Buying That Antique Clawfoot Tub

We know they're beautiful, but there is a reason bathtubs aren't made this way anymore.

Blue Clawfoot Tub

Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Elly Poston

In all our Pinterest-worthy, Insta-famous, spa-inspired dream bathrooms, there's one common element: a clawfoot tub. (You're nodding your head yes right now, aren't you?) Something about a clawfoot tub is the ultimate combination of glamour and relaxation. In the past couple decades, they've regained popularity—an ode to the past in a room often regaled for its modern finishes. And we'd all be lying to ourselves if we said we didn't want one. Those episodes of House Hunters where the couple featured views one home that's missing literally everything on their wish list, but they get tunnel vision when they realize the home comes with an original clawfoot tub—that's us.

Type of Clawfoot Tubs

When freestanding clawfoot tubs originated in the 19th century, they were made out of cast iron and lined with porcelain, which made them perfect for long soaks (the iron retains heat really well) but also very heavy (like upwards of 400 pounds). Today, you can source a vintage clawfoot tub that may need refurbishing, or buy a new one made of porcelain-glazed cast iron, acrylic, or fiberglass. Acrylic and fiberglass models are not nearly as heavy as cast iron and require relatively less maintenance. 

Clawfoot Tubs Come Full Circle

Clawfoot tubs have fallen in and out of favor along with bathing and design trends. As indoor plumbing took off, so did bathing, where the clawfoot tub became popular through the early 20th century, according to The Craftsman Blog. By the mid-20th century, these tubs fell out of fashion when showers became a common bathing practice, and in the '50s and '60s, as the Modern Bathroom blog notes, built-in tubs in a variety of colors became the design standard in new construction. In the late 20th century, the demand for custom-designed bathrooms surged with stand-alone tubs—including clawfoot tubs—having a starring role. Not only do stand-alone tubs create a stunning focal point in the room, they take up less space than a built-in tub and can be versatile where placed.

Clawfoot Tubs Are Pricey

The one downside to a clawfoot tub if your home doesn't conveniently come with a well-maintained original? They're expensive. Like, can average well over $1,500. At least that's what you're likely to pay for a new clawfoot tub, whether it's cast iron or acrylic. However, if you're able to find a refurbished (or ready-to-be refurbished) antique clawfoot tub, you're going to save a large chunk of change. That said, as with all highly valued antiques, it can require some hunting to find one in good enough shape to invest in. And with something that weighs as much as a clawfoot tub does, you'll certainly want to consider how far from home you're willing to look.

Refinishing a Clawfoot Tub

Experts and DIY bloggers alike agree that if you can find a tub that only needs a serious deep cleaning, and maybe refinishing or painting of the tub's exterior, you've found a winner. If the tub's porcelain interior has been compromised, you're looking at a professional-level fix. Which, depending on how much you paid for the tub, could still cost you less than a brand new one, with professional refinishing costing around $400 to $800, according to Houzz.

Other Costs That Add Up

Other costs to think about in addition to the actual tub and any refurbishing costs are transportation and installation (400 pounds, remember), new faucets and hardware, and configuring the plumbing in your bathroom for a freestanding tub. So before you click purchase on your dream "just needs TLC" tub you found on Craigslist for $200, definitely weigh all the potential costs. It's possible a new tub could be a more logical purchase in the end.

Don't Forget Maintenance

Aside from purchasing and installation costs, there are also downsides to using and maintaining clawfoot tubs according to those who have them. Some complain on realtor.com that they aren’t that comfortable, require a lot of water for a true soak, and water gets everywhere when reaching for items like shampoo. To clean them, there’s that space underneath that collects dust, and with wear-and-tear, you may need to reglaze the interior or repaint the exterior while acrylic models can scratch and stain, realtor.com warns. When we fall in love with a design, it’s easy to overlook the future cost of using and maintaining that thing.

Bathroom Design Ideas

If you’re on the fence about getting a clawfoot tub, there’s many tub designs that provide that showpiece look without the drawbacks of restoring, installing, and maintaining them. For inspiration, check out our bathtub ideas for your next remodel. As bathroom trends evolve, we’re rethinking the bathing experience once again as wet rooms are take center stage. But like we’ve learned with bathroom design trends, wet rooms have pros and cons too.

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