Q&A / 

Bathroom Tub Fixtures

DEAR TIM: Can you moderate a discussion between my wife and I about bathroom tubs? What exactly is a bathroom tub fixture? I think it’s a light above the tub. My wife believes bathroom soaking tubs will add value to our home, but I’m skeptical. Finally, can you clear up the confusion we have about bathroom garden tubs. It’s all so confusing, as when I grew up we had a simple bathtub. Period. Ted S., Chevy Chase, MD

DEAR TED: I hate being drawn into these tug of wars between spouses. How long have you been married? Never mind, I pretty much know. Ted, the sooner you discover to capitulate in wrangles with your wife, the smoother things will be. I’ve borrowed a nickname for my wife from a great past television series she and I watched. It really keeps the peace around our home when I call her She Who Must Be Obeyed.

This unique bathroom tub is sunken into the floor and covered with tiny mosaic tile. PHOTO CREDIT:  Tim Carter

This unique bathroom tub is sunken into the floor and covered with tiny mosaic tile. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

I will give you the first point in the contest. Over the past 40 years, there has been a dramatic increase in the types, styles, and models of bathroom tub fixtures. That being said, the second point goes to your wife. The term fixture is taken from the plumbing code and refers to any fixed item that’s connected to a end of a plumbing drain line in a room.

For example, sinks, toilets, showers, tubs, urinals, etc. are fixtures. Yes, I know you’ve heard the word used more frequently with lights, but a bathroom tub fixture is the actual bathtub. In fact, to get technical, there is a numeric value attached to each fixture in the plumbing code that’s used to size the large drain stacks that collect all the water and waste that comes from each individual fixture. This numeric value is called a fixture unit.

You and your wife should spend lots of time looking at bathtubs. I’m stunned by the subtle features that are being incorporated into many models, even lower-grade builder models.

Just this past weekend, I was staying at a very nice condominium in Vermont. I was there as a guest with some friends and we all skied for two days. The bathroom I used in this condo had a simple cast-iron bathtub, but it’s design was very different than the vast majority of the ones I’ve been in before. The long side of the tub that touched up against the tile wall had a very large shelf along the entire length of the tub. It was wide enough to easily set a paperback book, bottle of wine, glasses, candles, a vast variety of body care products, etc. I could easily see soaking in this tub with a cool glass of any liquid refreshment sitting on that shelf.

The term bathroom garden tub, I believe, is purely a marketing term. I’ve seen these platform or sunken tubs set up against a large window that looks out to a garden or small privacy area of a yard. In fact, last fall I was visiting another friend in Phoenix, AZ, who had the most unique garden tub I’ve seen. It was a sunken tub that was covered with gorgeous mosaic tile. I didn’t have time during that visit to take advantage of this miniature swimming pool, but you can bet the next time I’m there I will soak in it gazing out the window at the garden hardscape and metal sculptures with Camelback Mountain in the background.

As you start to narrow your decision about bathroom tub fixtures, be sure to consider all the aspects of tub installation. Bathtubs are, for the most part, permanent fixtures. They are intended to be in place for decades. If you intend to be in this house for a long time, then be sure to invest in a quality tub. Price is usually a good barometer of quality. Higher prices often mean better products.

Whatever you do, don’t go cheap on the bathtub faucet. Once again, these faucets usually stay in the wall for a long time. Buy a cheap tub faucet, and you’ll regret it. Look for a faucet that’s priced in the middle part of the price range. I also recommend getting replacement cartridges for the faucet at the same time so you have these parts on hand years from now. Put them in a plastic bag and attach it to the inside wall of the vanity cabinet for yourself or a future homeowner.

Once you have your new bathtub, be sure to care for it. All too often people ruin bathtubs in short order using cleaners and cleansers that create permanent scratches. Be sure to carefully read the manual that comes with your tub. Most list approved cleaners that will not harm the surface of the tub.

Avoid the use of cleaners that contain abrasive particles. These cleaners really work well, but they absolutely can and will scratch acrylic finishes over time. Don’t believe me? Have you ever seen crystal-clear plastic kitchen utensils that have been cleaned in a dishwasher many times? The objects get a frosted look to them because of the small amount of pumice and sand that’s in dishwasher detergent. This abrasive element is what really cleans the dishes as the water thrashes it against your plates, glasses and bowls.

Imagine how much harm that same fine grit can do when you lay into it with your elbow grease in a new tub? If you have hard-water stains, just lay a paper towel over them and soak the paper towel with white vinegar. Come back in six hours and lightly scrub with a regular brush. The stains disappear with no damage to the tub or surface.

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