There are plenty of freestanding tubs out there that make excellent centerpieces for a big bathroom remodel. But if you’re looking for a real show stopper, you can’t beat vintage copper bathtubs. These huge, burnished beauties make an incredibly bold statement in any bathroom and add a little Victorian (or better yet, Old West!) flair to your decor. But I’ve got a secret: they aren’t as fussy or intimidating as they might seem. Copper bathtubs need very little maintenance, and are solid and strong enough to outlast your house. Intrigued? Here are a few things you should know if you’re thinking of buying one.
1. Copper Bathtubs Are More Expensive, But Built Like Tanks
If you’ve been paying attention to the price of precious metals, chances are you’ve noticed copper is on its way up. Tt’s no gold or silver, but it’s definitely valuable, especially because any copper tub you buy should be made of pure (rather than recycled) copper or another material with a copper finish. Unadulterated copper tubs have a number of unique properties that set them apart from any other kind of tub. Not the least of which is that they’re well-nigh indestructible. Copper bathtubs are solid, heavy, have very thick walls, and are resistant to corrosion and decay. Basically, if you bought a solid pure copper tub from the 1890s and one today and compared them in 100 years, they’d both probably look about the same as the day they were made. That’s a kind of quality and durability you can’t find in any other material.
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2. Pure Copper Has A “Living Finish” That Naturally Repairs Damage
With cast iron, porcelain, or acrylic tubs, you basically have to live with any scratches, chips, nicks, or stains that appear as the tub ages – or go great lengths to repair them. But if you damage your copper tub, it’ll show up, at first, the color of a shiny new penny – the color of raw, unaged copper. But as you continue to use the tub, the copper will start to age, just like a penny. Eventually, it will become the same dark, lustrous color as the rest of the tub. The highest quality tubs undergo a heat-aging process to form the patina. That means the finish is natural, rather than applied. Even if you were to scrub the patina off the entire inside of the tub (which I wouldn’t recommend!), it will eventually return to the original color, or something close to it.
3. Copper Bathtubs Are Truly No Maintenance
As the corollary to the “living finish,” copper tubs also basically don’t need to be cleaned – even to the point that they shouldn’t be. To go back to the idea of a penny – you probably did a science experiment at some point in your life where you dropped an old penny in a glass of lemon juice or vinegar and pulled it out looking brand new. The same goes for your bathtub: any harsh cleaners, chemicals, acids, or abrasive cloths can strip away the patina of your tub and leave it looking bright and shiny instead of aged and regal. So instead of doing a big weekly tub scrub with your trusty canister of Ajax, you or your cleaner just want to periodically rinse the tub with a mild soap and water.
If you have especially hard water, you also want wipe it dry with a soft cloth between uses to prevent mineral buildup. Consider applying a mild wax to the surface once a year or so to help the water bead and drain on its own. That’s it. Copper sinks, especially kitchen sinks, are likely to see some acid once in a while (think: the tomatoes from your spaghetti dinner), and need to be babied accordingly. That can make them them a less-than-ideal choice for some. But as long as you go cleaner-free and make sure any harsh hair products are thoroughly rinsed out of the tub after use, you won’t have to worry about damaging the finish. In fact, the more you use a copper bathtub, the deeper, richer, and more lustrous the finish will become.
4. Copper Bathtubs Are Naturally Hygienic – Even Anti-Bacterial
If the thought of not being able to bleach down your bathtub bugs you, consider this: on a stainless steel sink (say, like the ones surgeons use) certain harmful bacteria can stay alive for over a month. But on a copper sink? That same bacteria will die within a few hours. No one really seems to know exactly why, but while steel tubs and nice bright white porcelain might look clean, copper vessels actually eliminate baddies on a microscopic level. That makes them not only self-repairing but also, to a certain extent, self-cleaning. Even tubs with a weathered, antique finish possess the same antibacterial qualities.
5. Look For At Least 16 Gauge Copper – The Lower The Number, The Better
The “gauge” of a piece of metal indicates how many times it has been pressed between rollers to thin it. The higher the number, the more passes, and the thinner the metal, which is NOT a good thing in this case. Most of the tubs from Sierra Copper and Premier Copper are between 14 and 16, which are both thick, solid, quality weights you’ll be able to feel every time you touch the tub. Any gauge thinner than 16, though, and you run the risk that the copper, which is a naturally malleable material, could warp or dent over time.
6. Pure, Not Recycled Copper
There’s still quite a bit of unmined copper in the world, but many of the products you think of as being made of copper actually come from recycled sources. The copper used in pipes, pots, pans, even pennies can be combined with alloys. That’s fine for most applications, but can reduce or impair many of the beneficial qualities of copper listed here. If you can’t tell from looking or labeling whether or not the tub you’re interested in is made of 100% pure copper, it’s worth asking your dealer or the manufacturer to make sure you’re getting an unadulterated product that will last you a lifetime. As well, be aware that some tubs may be made with pure copper plating fused with pewter or brass unless you specify that you want solid copper. The result can still be beautiful, but may lack many of the desirable qualities of copper.
7. Welded Not Soldered
In a quality brand, this isn’t something you should even encounter, but make sure you opt for a tub with welded seams rather than soldered ones. Soldering is the significantly weaker of the two methods of joining together sheets of metal. While a welded joint uses the base metal to combine two pieces, soldering uses a different compound to hold two pieces of copper together. That means that rather than having a seamless join, a soldered seam will blacken and become prominent and unsightly over time. So for the most durable tub with a consistent finish throughout the body, look for a copper weld construction.
8. Pick A Tub You’ll Be Happy With In 20 Years
Any new luxury bathtub is a big, long-term investment. But copper bathtubs are especially so, with an heirloom-level quality and a matching price tag. So opt for a timeless design that you’ll love in the long run – 5, 10, 20, 50 years down the line. Ones that echo the Victorian/Old West designs work especially well, simply because they look like they could have been around for a hundred years already. That said, cutting edge, modern copper tubs can be great, too. Just make sure that you’re getting a look you really enjoy as opposed to catering toward current trends, because your tub will definitely outlast them!
There really is something special about copper bathtubs. Maybe it’s that mysterious anti-bacterial quality, or maybe it’s just the regal, king-of-the-world feeling you’ll get every time you sink down into that antique-styled beauty, but no other tub will give you quite the same feeling. Well, unless you expect to spend some time steeping in a solid gold soaking tub! If you have a copper tub, or wind up getting one, I’d love to hear what you think – is it everything you dreamed, or at least as easy to clean?