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When it is time to buy a bath tub, the choices can be overwhelming.  Even for the standard 32- x 60-inch bathtub, you have several choices of materials. And the material you select determines the tub's price, durability, and cleanability.

Plastic, either fiberglass or acrylic, offers the greatest design flexibility because it can be molded into many shapes. It's warm to the touch and insulates well, too, so water doesn't cool as fast as in enameled steel or cast iron tubs. Plastic is also the lightest tub, weighing in between 60 and 70 pounds. Although it doesn't chip easily, abrasive cleaners will damage the surface.

Enameled steel, formed steel with a porcelain enamel coating, is the least expensive tub. But the material brings drawbacks: Steel conducts heat, meaning tub water cools quickly; the surface is prone to chipping; and it weighs about twice as much as plastic.

Cast iron tubs, like steel, are coated with enamel. However, they don't chip as easily as steel because the enamel coating is thicker than on steel tubs, and cast iron is more durable and resistant to impacts. At first, a cast iron tub will pull heat from water, but once it heats up, it will keep water warm for a long time. Cast iron's main drawback is its weight, 350 to 500 pounds, which may complicate upstairs installations.

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