Any dedicated bath taker knows that bathing is not about getting clean. It’s the spa experience, the opportunity to relax, the cocktail at the end of the day. While a shower seems essential, a bath is a luxury too few of us indulge in.
You wonder why. It’s not as if bathing has changed over the centuries. If we weren’t swimming in the creek to get the grime off our body, we needed some sort of bucket to plunge into instead. Bathtubs are nearly the same as they’ve been since ancient times.
It’s just that bathing has been in, then out of fashion depending on who was in charge. The Romans and Greeks were all about bathing in public houses built above or near hot springs.
But barbarians destroyed their plumbing systems, and then the Christians came along and discouraged cleanliness altogether. Bathing was associated with wine, women and song, and was considered immoral in most circles. Because, you know, you had to get naked to do it.
But that was Europe for a thousand years. Hindus, Islamic cultures and most of Asia were avid bathers and thought that Europeans were filthy. And they were, as were most early Americans.
Regular bathing didn’t go mainstream in America until the 1900s, and even then a bath was a weekly practice whether you needed one or not. And that was in a copper or zinc bucket set in the kitchen next to the stove.
Bathtubs didn’t turn into a plumbed-in-place fixture until after World War I.
The first large tubs were mahogany troughs lined with lead. Solid porcelain tubs in a slipper style, with or without feet, caught on in England in the Victorian period, but were impractical to ship and out of reach of most incomes.
The Alexander Manufacturing Co. in Detroit introduced the cast-iron tub, using a process that bonded porcelain over cast iron, in 1912. Kohler ran with the technology and made the built-in bathtub a household must-have by 1939.
In the beginning, bathing was a tough sell. Kohler needed a rigorous advertising campaign to convince Americans to bathe regularly. And soap companies like Ivory and Colgate joined in to teach the population that cleaner was better socially, and ultimately healthier, too.
The Depression cinched the deal when the main source of entertainment was radio shows supported by soap and toothpaste companies and their constant barrage of reasons why hygiene was important.
Baths may be a bit out of fashion again, in favor of showers, but you can’t beat the experience. The Romans had the right idea all along.
A luxurious bath requires warm water, some fragrant oil or bubbles — but most of all the right tub. There are plenty of styles — freestanding, claw foot, pedestal, to name a few — but if you’re in the market for a new bath tub, look for one that will allow you to comfortably stretch your limbs so the soothing water can totally surround you. Here are some tips on what to consider.
TRY ONE ON FOR SIZE
It’s easy to fall in love with a claw-foot tub or the latest egg-shaped beauty. But experts say to never buy a tub without trying it on. In other words, don’t let your bathroom designer pick one for you. While you will need a tub that fits your space, whether it is built-in or freestanding, don’t choose one without getting in it — it needs to fit your body.
• Bigger isn’t always better. If you can’t brace your feet at the end of the tub, you could easily slide under while reclining on the backrest.
• Choose a tub that feels right in a relaxed position.
• A tub that is too big or too long may take too long to fill and may not be comfortable for the frequent bath taker in your family.
• Don’t choose a 50-gallon tub if your water heater holds only 40 gallons.
• Make sure the tub you choose is not too narrow. You need room to wash.
• Consider the slope of the backrest and decide if it works for you.
• Think about how deep the tub is. While a deep soak sounds good, sides that are too high can prevent arm movement.
• If children are going to be the primary users, choose a tub that doesn’t break your back leaning over it.
• Air: Warm air shooting into the tub water is the new spa experience. This keeps the water warmer longer than jets, and the tiny air vents don’t collect bacteria.
• Grab bars: The ones installed at the factory are far prettier than aftermarket bars.
• Armrests: Most soaking tubs include them as a comfortable spot to put your arms when reclining.
• Acrylic material: Oversize tubs will mostly be made of acrylic or composites. Cast iron is too heavy for anything larger than a freestanding claw foot.
• Jets: Many bathtub dealers don’t carry jets these days. Jets cool the water quickly and breed bacteria and slime.
• Tubs for two: Oversize tubs use too much water and take too long to fill.