What Is The Difference Between A Drop-In Tub vs. An Alcove Tub?

What Is The Difference Between A Drop-In Tub vs. An Alcove Tub

Bathtubs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from fancy clawfoot and deep soaker tubs to basic, everyday tub and shower combinations. The everyday type isn’t ideal for a nice, long soak with a good book and a glass of wine, but then again, the clawfoot variety might not be sensible for everyday use. 

If you’re remodeling your bathroom or even designing your dream bathroom, the world of bathtubs is your oyster. You have dozens of styles, configurations, sizes, brands, and designs to choose from. As you sift through your options, you’ll probably come across drop-in and alcove bathtubs. 

So, what is the difference? Which one should you choose? We did the research for you and compiled information about these two options, so hopefully, your decision process will be more straightforward. 

What Is An Alcove Tub?

Alcove Tub

Alcove tubs are surrounded by walls on three sides. The tub itself is unfinished on the three sides that adjoin the wall, with the fourth side featuring a finished tub apron. Alcove bathtubs are the standard tub installed in most homes throughout the U.S. 

The name of this tub comes from the installation method used to install it. The tub is installed into the bathroom’s recessed area, or an alcove, between three joining walls. In some designs, builders install two joining walls and a massive window, which creates an open, airy feel. 

Alcove tubs offer the same benefits as a regular bathtub. Its space-saving, recessed design allows you to easily reach each surface for easy maintenance and deep cleaning as necessary. 

While many alcove bathtubs are pretty standard, some feature powered jets for a better, more therapeutic, and relaxing bathing experience. Some designs feature a deep tub, allowing deep soaks for excellent muscle relaxation. 

Additionally, homeowners can install a shower attachment on the wall above the bathtub, creating a dual-purpose function, and allowing the tub to serve as a bathtub and a shower. A shower curtain or sliding door can be easily installed to add extra privacy and better heat retention.  

Pros And Cons

Pros

  • Cost-effective: Alcove bathtubs are some of the most affordable tubs out there – they cost an average of $350. Most bathtubs cost anywhere from $250 to $500, although pricing depends on the particular style. Some bathtubs can cost upwards of $1,000.
  • Dual-function: If you’d like, you can make an alcove bathtub a 2-in-1 addition to your bathroom. Add a shower and tub faucet, a shower pipe, and a showerhead. Additionally, you’ll need a showerhead and curtains or doors, so people showering don’t make a mess. 
  • Safety: Although you can find relatively deep soaking tubs in the alcove configuration, most of these tubs have low sides and shallow depths. This makes them safer for young children and those with mobility impairments. Additionally, the three surrounding walls offer plenty of space to install handrails and a slip-resistant coating, making them ADA compliant. 
  • Standard sizes: Many bathrooms feature a recessed space specifically designed for an alcove bathtub. Generally, the measurements of the alcove perfectly match the dimensions of a standard alcove tub, which is 60 inches long and 30 inches wide. 

Cons

  • Few sizes: Although you can find various sizes of alcove tubs, most alcove tubs are standard. You may be able to find smaller or larger alcove tubs, but it’s trickier to find a specific size than other tubs. 
  • Limited design options: Since alcove tubs are generally designed to meet specific measurements, design options are limited. That said, you can still find various options, although there’s less design versatility than with other tubs. 
  • Material limitations: Alcove tubs usually come in acrylic, fiberglass, or enameled steel. You may be able to find higher-quality alcove tubs made of porcelain, stone resin, or cast iron, but they’re harder to find. Additionally, alcove tubs aren’t available in luxurious materials like copper or natural stone. 
  • Placement options: Since all but one side of an alcove tub is unfinished, there’s not much wiggle room with placement. They require a recessed space that meets the length and width requirements. 

What Is A Drop-In Tub?

Drop-In Tub

Drop-in bathtubs are another common type of tub, although they’re slightly less common than alcove tubs. Instead of having one finished apron front side, drop-in bathtubs don’t have any finished sides. 

Instead, as the name implies, these tubs are dropped into a fixed structure in the bathroom. Generally, the structure that supports the tub is known as a “deck,” which can be made of wood, stone, ceramic tiles, or just about any other material that fits your aesthetic preferences.

Like drop-in sinks, these bathtubs feature a rim around the top of the tub. Once the tub is in place, only the rim and interior of the bathtub are visible. They come in various shapes and sizes, making them an extremely versatile choice.

Since they require a deck for mounting, drop-in tubs can be placed almost anywhere in the bathroom. So, instead of tucking it back against a wall, you can put the tub front and center in your bathroom, creating an eye-catching statement. 

Pros And Cons

Pros

  • Deep basin: These bathtubs are usually quite deep, which is ideal for a nice, relaxing soak. Whether you need a relaxing break after a long day or a muscle-soothing soak, drop-in tubs are perfect. 
  • Easy to clean: Each surface of the tub that will require cleaning is easily accessible, whether you’re cleaning where the tub meets the deck or the interior. 
  • Easy entry: Given the setup of these tubs, stepping into them is easy.
  • Can be put anywhere: Since these tubs require a deck for installation, you can put them anywhere you’d like. They don’t need to be tucked into an alcove, although they can be. 
  • Versatile sizing: These tubs are available in more sizes than alcove tubs since they aren’t confined by walls or a standard size chart. 
  • Variety of materials: Drop-in bathtubs come in a few different materials, including fiberglass, acrylic, cast iron, stone resin, and porcelain enamel steel. You can pick and choose from the materials to find one that matches what you’re looking for in cost and benefits. For example, cast iron and stone resin offer excellent heat retention, which is perfect for taking lengthier baths. However, they tend to be pricier. 

Cons

  • Pricey: Drop-in tubs tend to be more expensive than other bathtubs, like alcove tubs. If you’re looking for a budget option, a drop-in tub likely isn’t your best bet.
  • Tricky to get out of: Those with mobility limitations may find these tubs tough to get out of. You have to stand all the way up, and then it’s a big step down to the ground over the side wall of the deck. 
  • Extra work: Installing a drop-in tub involves more than maneuvering an alcove tub into its recessed spot. You must build a frame for the tub to sit in, using precise measurements to ensure the tub fits snugly with proper support. Additionally, you’ll have to finish the exterior once the tub is in place. If you install the tub in the center of the room, you’ll have more sides to finish. 

Which One Is Better?

Alcove Bathtub

When it comes to choosing the best type of bathtub for your bathroom, the choice is yours. Every home is different, and preferences differ from one person to the next. So, it ultimately depends on what you’re looking for. 

For instance, a drop-in tub is a solid choice if you love taking long, relaxing baths and have plenty of space in your bathroom. These tubs are deep enough to hold plenty of water for a luxurious soak and might even have spa-like features. 

On the other hand, if your bathroom is small and you want the benefit of a two-in-one shower and bathtub, an alcove tub is a great option. Of course, you’ll have to install tiles or something to cover the walls, but you get two functions out of a single bathtub. 

So, whether you choose a drop-in tub or alcove tub, both are excellent options.