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 tubs. 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. Don’t be intimidated by the metal, though – copper is surprisingly low maintenance, and made solid and strong enough to potentially outlast your house. Intrigued? Here are a few things you should know if you’re thinking of buying one.
1. Copper Tubs Are More Expensive, But Are Built Like Tanks
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If you’ve been paying any attention to the price of precious metals, chances are that you’ve noticed copper is on its way up, too. Now, it’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 (more on this later) that set them apart from any other kind of tub, not the least of which that they’re well-nigh indestructible. Tubs like this Double Clawfoot Slipper from Barclay 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 – and that’s the kind of quality and durability you can’t find in any other material.
2. Pure Copper Has A “Living Finish” That Naturally Repairs Damage
This is perhaps the most fascinating characteristic of copper tubs. 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, just like a penny the copper will start to age and will eventually become the same dark, lustrous color as the rest of the tub. The highest quality tubs, like this Essex 66, actually use a fired hot process to age the copper to form the patina, meaning it’s a completely natural finish, rather than one that’s waxed on or otherwise applied. So even if you were to scrub the patina off the entire inside of the tub (which I, of course, wouldn’t recommend!), it will eventually return to the original color, or something close to it, all by itself as it ages with use, it’ll just take a little while.
3. Copper Tubs 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, and 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. And while copper sinks, especially kitchen sinks, are pretty likely to see some acid once in a while (think: the tomatoes from your spaghetti dinner) which can make them a less-than-ideal choice for some, as long as you go cleaner-free and make sure any harsh hair products are thoroughly rinsed out of the tub after use, you shouldn’t ever have to worry about accidentally damaging the finish – in fact, the more you use a tub like this Lexington bathtub, the deeper, richer, and more lustrous the finish will become.
4. Copper Is 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 bacterias 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, making them not only self-repairing but also, to a certain extent, self-cleaning. Even tubs with a weathered, antique finish like this Sierra Copper Arlington Tub possess the same antibacterial qualities.
5. Look For At Least 16 Gauge Copper – The Lower The Number, The Better
The gauge on a piece of metal, 14 in the case of this Essex 66R, 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 are 15, which is a thick, solid, quality weight you’ll be able to feel every time you touch the tub. Any 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. Pipes, pots, pans, even pennies are combined with often mysterious (or at least unmentioned) alloys, which is fine for most applications, but can reduce or impair many of the beneficial qualities of copper listed here, including reducing their timeless, luminous beauty – and their longevity! 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 definitely worth asking your dealer or even the manufacturer to make sure you’re getting an unadulterated product that will last you a lifetime. As well, be aware that some tubs, like this Medicis from Herbeau, may be made with pure copper plating fused with, in this case, pewter or brass, unless you specify that you want solid copper – which can be incredibly beautiful, but again 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, and because it’s typically done with a different metal, rather than blending with your tub’s beautiful living finish, a soldered seam will blacken and become prominent and unsightly. So for the most durable tub with a consistent finish throughout the body, look for a copper weld construction like the one found on this Providence tub.
8. Pick A Tub You’ll Be Happy With In 20 Years
Any new luxury bathtub is a big, long-term investment, but a copper tub is especially so, if only because they’re designed to last. 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, like this Essex 72 copper tub work especially well, simply because they look like they could have been around 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 tubs. 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?