Baths.

Acrylic.


This is great material for creating interesting shapes and styles being very flexible and simple to mould into intricate shapes.  Acrylic baths are simple to produce and available at very reasonable prices, although there are also expensive designer styles.  Acrylic sheet is vacuum formed to create the bath tub shape, a process which stretches and thins the sheet, so the tub needs to be reinforced. 
This is often done with a chipboard panel stuck to the underside and with fibreglass.  In the better quality baths, the fibreglass coating covers the base board for added strength.  This is called fully encapsulated, creates a rigid structure and is the preferred method of using fibreglass reinforcement.
A second method of reinforcement is to bond a resin coating onto the acrylic sheet.  This creates a bath of even thickness and particular strength.  It can also be finished on the outside making is possible to produce in free standing designs.

In general terms acrylic baths

  • will retain heat in bathwater for some time as the material is a good insulator.
  • are easy to repair if minor scratches and dents occur.
  • are lightweight and easy to transport and install.


Steel

Steel sheet is pressed into the tub shape, then the finish surface is a baked on enamel.  The steel bath is very strong and rigid, yet is still reasonably light and not difficult to handle and install.  Finish quality varies with the thickness of the enamel surface, and there are some very well priced steel baths which are popular for commercial applications,.  The better quality steel baths are more expensive and compare to some of the designer range acrylics in cost.
In general steel baths are

  • Very strong and rigid.
  • cold to touch and do not have great insulating properties
  • difficult to damage, but also tricky to make an “invisible” repair.


Cast Iron.

This is the traditional old bath tub material.  It provides a very tough and strong bath but is also vert heavy.  Cast iron is a popular choice for those who are creating a period style bathroom,, but the weight needs to be taken into consideration when positioning.
In general a cast iron bath is

  • Good at retaining heat in the bathwater
  • Difficult to damage but equally difficult to effect a diy repair.
  • Very heavy and awkward to handle during installation.


Resin Stone

This material comes in many types, each manufacturer having their own particular formula and brand name.  Simply put, it is a mixture of powdered stone and some type of resin polymer.  At manufacturing temperature it can be poured and moulded, then when cooled it forms a rock hard material which can be left mat or polished.
Baths can be produced in a wide variety of shapes and it is also possible to produce in different colours.  The resin stone types are very strong and vary a lot in price, but all are positioned in the upper segment of the market.  They vary in weight also as some are very thick, and solid material throughout, others are double skinned and a bit lighter.
In general this type of bath is very high quality, but will be unrealistic for many on the grounds of cost.


Copper and Tin baths.

There are a couple of companies who specialise in the production of copper baths in period style.  These are available in several metallic plate finishes and are a beautiful centrepiece for a reasonably sized bathroom.  The practicality tends to be limited as they do not keep the water warm for long and can be difficult to get in or out of, being generally quite tall.  These are very much a style statement, and you will also need a hefty bank balance to buy one.


Other bath materials.

Baths are also made from solid stone or  wood, sometimes from glass, and also for other solid polymer materials like Corian.  All of these are specialised very expensive products, beautiful if you can afford one, but very rare, and generally only used in exceptionally high value projects.


Basins

Ceramic

Most of us will be familiar with the ceramic basin which is by far the most widely available.  They are moulded in china clay, fired to harden then glazed and baked again to harden the finish on the surface.  This gives a really good glossy finish, but the material is easily cracked or chipped, and is not easy to repair yourself. Because of the  manufacturing process a ceramic basin can warp and appear distorted, and the surface can have pinholes and tiny black spots.  These effects are considered part of the process and would not normally be regarded as a defect.  In more expensive basins they will be less common because of more stringent quality controls on both the clay material and the finished products.


Resin stone (gel cast) basins

As with baths above, this material is a suspension of powdered stone in a polymer resin.  It produces a very finely detailed basin, as the moulding process can be more accurately controlled than that of the ceramic basin.  Resin stone can be moulded to produce a much squarer profile and sharper edges, making it ideal for the production of modern styles and minimalist shapes.  While generally being a more expensive proposition than ceramic, where the design requires it is the ideal solution.


Glass

Very popular about ten years ago, the glass basin is not so often seen now.  Still it offers a beautiful material for certain basin styles, being very well suited to the bowl or vessel type, but also a popular choice for a basin integrated with side shelves or “wings”.  Glass is a fairly tough material, and nor as fragile as you might think, but it can be cracked very easily if subjected to sudden chances of temperature.  For this reason, the water temperature from your hot tap needs to be limited, or else remember to turn on from cold and gradually increase the hot flow.


Other materials.

Steel with an enamel type finish is occasionally seen as a basin material, but it is rare. Again stone and wood feature as occasional basin materials, as does Corian, but like the baths, these products tend to be at the top end of the market .  However they are available and for that special piece, perhaps in a cloakroom setting, they are well worth consideration.  Expensive but not prohibitive.


Shower Trays


This is the other area where a choice of materials is widely available.  The most common will be the acrylic tray or the cast stone.


Cast stone.

This is coarser than the resin stone used in baths and basins, but is a great material for a shower tray.  It is strong and robust and often comes with an acrylic cap which makes for easy removal of the odd scratch.  The down side is the weight, which just makes it a bit more difficult to handle during installation.  The cast stone shower tray is generally the cheapest option to buy.


Plastic/Acrylic

There are a few different types of plastic type sheet used for the manufacture of shower trays.  These types are very lightweight, but tend to be more flexible and require careful installation.  They are well suited to installation on a raised or adjustable platform which allows the trap to be mounted above floor level.  The quality can vary, acrylic generally offering the best solution.


Steel

Only a couple of manufacturers produce a steel shower tray, but this material offers a very rigid base.  The finish will be enamel and also tough, but difficult to repair if it does suffer a damage.  Steel shower trays are well suited to ultra thin style, close to the floor designs, but are among the more expensive of the options.


Other options.

There are specialist companies producing shower trays from solid stone, also there are some ceramic versions available, but these are unusual and consequently at the upper end of the price scale.


Toilets and bidets.


For the domestic market these are made from ceramic material. As this article is written I cannot honestly think of another material from which a toilet or bidet is commercially produced.  If I find any they will be added here.  There are some produced from stainless steel but these are almost exclusively for the contract and perhaps the marine markets.


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