Tips & Techniques

I Always Dreamt of Getting a Clawfoot Bathtub—Until I Got One

All the things nobody told you about owning (and using) one.

March 17, 2021
Photo by Food52

Everyone has an idea of what their dream house will look like. Maybe it includes a terraced garden or acres of untamed forest; perhaps it comes with charming wooden shutters or a sleek, modern metal staircase; or that it's just a cozy 700-square-foot city-center apartment. For me, every version of my dream home—from my days playing MASH on the playground, to using the Sims 2 design layouts I found on the internet, to house-hunting as an adult—all included one thing: a clawfoot tub.

To me, a clawfoot bathtub epitomized the peak of decadence—a romanticized fever dream where adulthood and self-care and luxury (not to mention copious amounts of free time) collided in an aspirational-yet-attainable ideal—all represented in one little cast iron fixture. The idea of owning a home that boasted a clawfoot tub came with promises of fluffy bubble baths accompanied by wine, and lazy afternoons reading a book. It represented all that I thought homeownership would be: satisfying, comfortable, and uncomplicated.

That sound you hear? That’s the sound of all my dreams cracking when I quickly realized—upon purchasing a home with said clawfoot tub—that my bath-time aspirations were all sorts of flawed. It took just one shower on our first night post-move—a wet curtain sticking to me from all angles and my feet sliding out from underneath me—for me to realize that my golden goose actually kind of… sucked?

OK, to be clear, our clawfoot tub is quite beautiful, with bronze fixtures and an elegant shape. And taking a bath in it is actually quite lovely (though I’ve only had one in the four months that we’ve lived here, so read into that what you will). However, for everyday uses, like a post-workout rinse or a hurried suds-up during the baby’s nap, it’s truly a royal pain. So, unless you have the room for a bath and a free-standing (separate) shower, I’d wisely caution against investing in a clawfoot tub that you think can do double-duty because—spoiler alert—it can’t. At least, not that well.

Since we’re not looking to add “bathroom reno” to our old-home to-do list right now, I had no choice but to figure out how to make our shower situation more manageable. After hours spent panic-Googling “how to shower in a clawfoot tub” and “why is my shower curtain clinging to me” it became abundantly clear that the internet wasn’t much better off than I was in this realm. So I set off on the selfless (selfish?) quest to come up with some tried-and-true rules for using a clawfoot tub. While they haven’t completely solved all of our gripes, they have helped immensely—so hopefully, if you find yourself in the same clawfoot tub of despair, they can help you, too.

Invest in washable shower curtains and liners

Trust me on this one, you’re going to need them. Because you have to drape your curtain liners inside the tub in order to keep water from spilling out as you shower, they will be getting wet constantly. Allowing them to air-dry completely after each use is key, but your life will also be a lot easier if you invest in a few (yes, you’ll need more than one to go all the way around your tub) that can be thrown in the wash periodically to help remove any soap scum or mold. Luckily, these aren’t hard to find—pretty much any style that boasts water-resistant cotton or polyester should do the trick.

Buy a rod larger than you think you need

One of the biggest issues you’ll encounter showering in a clawfoot tub is the dreaded curtain cave. Picture this: You’re all ready to enjoy a warm rinse after a long day of work when suddenly you have wet (cold) cloth sticking to you from all sides. Honestly, it’s kind of like what I’d imagine a human car wash to feel like, and not in a cool way.

Anyway, I digress. One of the ways to avoid this, ahem, sticky issue, is to buy a shower curtain rod that’s larger than the overall size of your tub. With clawfoot tubs, you typically purchase an oval or rectangular rod system that hangs from the ceiling (they’re sometimes also referred to as “rings” or “surrounds”). By purchasing one slightly larger than the width of your tub (like a 60” rod for a 54” tub) you’ll naturally be pulling the curtain liners out a bit as they drape inside the tub, creating a natural tension that prevents a decent amount of clinging.

Balance your bathroom temperatures

Another reason your curtain liner may cling to you during your shower in a clawfoot tub is due to the imbalance of temperature between your tub and the rest of the bathroom. Think of it this way: the shower space, enclosed by curtains, is warmer than the surrounding air, creating a sort of vacuum effect that causes—you guessed it—the liners to billow in. One solution is to leave a crack in your curtains several inches wide so that some of the steam and humidity can escape your enclosure. If that’s too cold for you, you can try increasing the temperature of the air in the rest of the bathroom—sometimes letting the shower run for a bit before you get in (thus, warming up the room, too) can do the trick, but a small space heater (set well away from the water, of course) can help, too.

Get an anti-slip liner for the base.

Here’s something to keep in mind: The available square footage for standing in a clawfoot tub is significantly less than in a traditional shower. Add in sloped edges and soapy water, and you pretty much have all the ingredients for a trip to the emergency room. All that considered, a non-stick mat for the base of your tub should be a must-have on your list. Look for one that boasts a bit of grip and texture, and has suction cups that help adhere it to the base of the tub. Bonus points: little ones won’t slide around in the bath as easily, either.

Use moisture-resistant paint

As much as you may have worked to leak proof your tub’s shower with curtains and liners, there are probably a few sprays of water that are going to make their way through. Safeguard your room’s design (and your investment in your home) by using only moisture-resistant paint in your bathroom, especially in the area around your tub. That way, if any water splashes up behind your shower head (or any moisture makes its way up to the ceiling) you can be sure you won’t be dealing with major mold issues down the road.

Invest in a shower caddy

Before we get into the final accessory you need, let me assure you: this is not your college-dorm shower caddy we’re referring to. Luckily, things have come a long way since then, and your options for toting your toiletries to and from your tub when you shower have gotten much more stylish. Keep in mind, oftentimes clawfoot tubs aren’t enclosed like a shower is, making built-in storage unlikely—hence, the need for additional storage is born. For our home, I opted for an over-the-tub brass shower caddy and a rolling cart to the side of our tub to house any extras. Bonus: the cart is a great place to rest my wine when I do end up taking that bath.

Have you ever owned a clawfoot tub? Tell us about the relationship you had with it.


See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Deborah Wilson-Leslie
    Deborah Wilson-Leslie
  • Berklee Gemeiner
    Berklee Gemeiner
  • Erica Johnson
    Erica Johnson
  • judye
    judye
  • Sarah Steiger
    Sarah Steiger
Writer, Editor and Stylist

12 Comments

Deborah W. March 28, 2021
Our old house has an old clawfoot tub that looks fantastic but that's where the love stops. Unfortunately our tub holds a very small amount of water because the overflow drain sits well south of a spot that would allow the tub to hold enough water to actually enjoy the soak. I've tried to cover that drain, it just doesn't stay covered. Second, by the time you fill the tub with hot water it's already on it's way to getting cold because the surface area is simply too vast. Last thing, as previously mentioned, it's too big for a short person. When my mom, also vertically challenged, put in a new bathroom, she knew exactly what to do! She went to every plumbing showroom around and climbed in to test tubs to be sure she got one that worked for her. In case you're wondering, it's fantastic!

If someone has a suggestion for covering the overflow drain, please let me know. Maybe I'll give it another try.
 
Author Comment
Alyssa L. April 1, 2021
I feel your pain, Deborah! I've seen people have luck using a ziplock back as a "seal" in between the overflow drain cap in the pipe, it might be worth a shot?
 
Berklee G. March 23, 2021
I don't have a clawfoot tub but I do use shower curtains to protect my walls and wind when I use my handheld shower. My tip is try using magnets to anchor the curtains to avoid their "hug". (My tub is cast iron from the '50s.)
 
Author Comment
Alyssa L. April 1, 2021
Such a great tip, Berklee!
 
Erica J. March 23, 2021
Clawfoot tubs are very common in old New Orleans homes, and I've figured out a few hacks for showering in them: you can use inexpensive hose clamps to attach a small shower caddy to the post. A handheld shower head on a holder can give you a few extra inches of height if your shower head is too low. Keep a stool close by for ease of getting in and out, and buy some extra magnets to keep the shower curtain in place - especially if you have to cut the bottom off the liners to fit.
 
Author Comment
Alyssa L. April 1, 2021
All amazing tips—I'm going to be stealing the hose clamp idea for sure. Genius!
 
judye March 21, 2021
There is another problem with claw foot tubs. I am short (maybe 5’1”). Whenever we stay in a place with a tub like this I find impossible to get in and out of it safely without help. Just can’t get my short legs over those tall sides.
 
Author Comment
Alyssa L. April 1, 2021
Totally agree! I'm short as well and had to put a stool nearby to help myself out with. But my 6'3" husband has the opposite probably and practically dwarfs the shower!
 
Sarah S. March 21, 2021
We have a claw foot that is only used for baths and after reading this, I plan to keep
It this way! I thought I would turn it into a second shower as the kids got older and needed more privacy, but now I’m thinking it might be worth only having one shower for our family and keeping the claw foot tub as a special domain for baths only.
 
Author Comment
Alyssa L. April 1, 2021
Could not agree more, Sarah—I think our long-term plan is to eventually move the tub into a primary bathroom when we have one, where it can be enjoyed as a tub and nothing more! :)
 
jen March 18, 2021
Despite the challenges you have accurately described, I still love my clawfoot tub. The weight of the flaws pretty much fades away when I sink into a hot bath.
 
Author Comment
Alyssa L. April 1, 2021
It's true—I need to make it a point to take more baths and appreciate its glory!