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gel coat vs acrylic for walk in tubs

Walk-in tubs – Acrylic or Gel-coat


How Are Walk In Tubs Made?

Depending on the manufacturer, walk-in tubs are made of Acrylic and reinforced with fiberglass or gel-coat and reinforced with fiberglass. These are the two primary materials and manufacturing methods being used today.

Gel coat is colored polyester resin sprayed onto a mold then reinforced with polyester saturated fiberglass. The material and manufacturing process is less expensive. Being more porous and brittle than acrylic, the gel-coat/fiberglass surface has a greater tendency to dull and discolor over time. Some other drawbacks to using gel-coat/fiberglass is the hardness of gel coat surface.


This picture shows a plug taken from a boat hull, you can see how thin the green gel coat really is!

When a tub flexes the gel-coat, being less than .5mm in thickness can develop hair line cracks at stress points if the tub is not adequately supported, and scratches that show up over time cannot be repaired. There are some pros to owning a fiberglass tub which include the fact that they are lightweight which makes them easier to install, they should be less expensive due to lower manufacturing costs, and when cracks do appear they can be repaired with an epoxy resin repair kit.

This gel-coat surfaced fiberglass walk-in tub below was installed new in 2008, photo taken December 2011. It was purchased and installed in Vancouver by a leading supplier of gel-coat walk-in bathtubs. The woman who owns this tub is very particular and cleans regularly. Observe the green staining caused by the growing of mildew forming on the porous gel-coat surface despite her best efforts to keep it new looking. She was persuaded to spend $14,500.00 plus tax by the sales lady representing a direct sales company during her in home consultation, and at the time it came with only a one year warranty!!


Gel-coat is porous and harder to clean than Acrylic.

Unlike the gel-coat fiberglass tub in this photo, tubs built with Premium High Gloss Acrylic, are easy to clean and will remain looking new for a lifetime.

Difference between Acrylic and Gel-coat Surface

Acrylic is a sheet of material that is heated and vacuum-formed over a mold, creating a continuous waterproof membrane. Acrylic sheets are available in thicknesses up to 30mm but for walk-in tub and shower applications thicknesses from 3.17mm to 6.5mm is the industry standard. It is then reinforced with acrylic resin saturated fiberglass for added stability and insulation value. The manufacturing process is more complex and labour intensive than the gel-coat fiberglass manufacturing process. Acrylic is non-porous by nature, warm to the touch and retains its high gloss finish better than any other material. Acrylic is well recognized for its ability to withstand constant use and cleaning. It is not necessary to use harsh or abrasive cleansers, clean ability is excellent.



Let’s compare gel-coat to acrylic surfaces on some very specific characteristics

Acrylic Surface

Let’s compare gel-coat to acrylic surfaces on some very specific characteristics

Acrylic Surface

  • Non Porous
  • Excellent repairability
  • Colour fast – Excellent
  • Useful life – 30 + years
  • Initial cost – Moderate
  • Strength – Strong
  • Surface – High Gloss
  • Thickness – 3.17mm – 6.5 mm
  • Clean-ability – Excellent
  • Styles – Wide Variety
  • Value – High
Gel-coat Surface

  • Porous
  • Good repairability
  • Colour fast – Fair
  • Useful life – 1-8 years
  • Initial cost – Low
  • Strength – Fragile
  • Surface – Matte
  • Thickness – .2 mm – .5 mm
  • Clean-ability – Poor
  • Styles – Moderate Variety
  • Value – Fair


The big plus with acrylic is that it is a solid surface, meaning it has a very high filler content. If you have a Corian or similar countertops in your home, then you know what solid surface material is. No mildew, mold or bacteria can penetrate because it is non porous. Acrylic; being a solid surface, is easier to clean, has a glossy finish and will last for many years. It will not fade over time as the colour is all the way through the material not just on the surface.

Whereas, with gel coat fiberglass the gel coat rubs off or can develop hair line cracks at stress points and then the pores/fibers of the fiberglass are exposed. Once the pores and fibers are exposed they can harbor bacteria, mold and mildew and grime and soap scum get imbedded into the surface which begins the breaking down of the product. Using a gel-coat is like having a paint sprayed onto the fibreglass to “seal” it. It wears off over time which is why it fades and wears and becomes even harder to keep clean. While fibreglass costs less, it will never last longer or as long as acrylic.

This article was written by: walkintubsvancouver

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