Before You Buy a Tub Surround: The Complete Guide

If you’re remodeling your bathroom and looking to replace your old, worn-out tub surround, installing a new tub surround is a relatively easy and affordable way to give your bathroom a fresh new look. But before you run out and buy a new tub surround, there are some important factors to consider to ensure you select the right material, size, and style for your space. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know before buying a tub surround for your next bathroom renovation project.

What is a Tub Surround?

A tub surround, also known as a tub wall kit or bath surround, refers to the walls that enclose and surround your bathtub. Tub surrounds typically consist of 3-5 wall panels that are installed over the existing tub surround material like tile, fiberglass, acrylic, etc. The tub surround panels cover the three main wall surfaces – the back wall and two side walls of the tub area.

Tub surrounds come in a wide variety of materials, sizes, colors, textures and installation types. The most common materials for tub surrounds are fiberglass, acrylic, polystyrene, tile, cultured marble, and engineered stone.

Tub surrounds serve both practical and aesthetic purposes in the bathroom. On a functional level, they protect the bathroom walls around the tub from moisture damage and leaks. Visually, they provide an easy and affordable way to give your bathroom a fresh new look without the mess and labor of removing and replacing bathroom tile or other wall materials.

Benefits of Installing a New Tub Surround

There are many good reasons to consider replacing your outdated or damaged tub surround:

  • Cost: A tub surround is significantly less expensive than retiling or replacing all the bathroom walls. The average cost to install a new tub surround is $800-$2500 compared to $4500+ for a complete tub/shower remodel.
  • Time: A DIY tub surround installation typically takes 1-3 days compared to 1-2 weeks for a full bath remodel. Hiring a pro may only take 1 day.
  • Visual Impact: New tub surrounds come in many fresh colors and textures to give your bathroom a quick facelift.
  • Leak Protection: A tub surround seals off bathroom walls from moisture damage. Old tile, grout and caulk can leak and cause water damage.
  • Ease of Cleaning: Smooth tub surround materials like acrylic and fiberglass are easy to keep clean. Tile grout tends to collect dirt, stains and mildew.
  • Alter Current Footprint: You can choose a tub surround size that best fits your existing space rather than being limited by existing wall positions.
  • Accessibility: A walk-in tub surround can be installed to help users with mobility challenges.

Overall, if your current tub surround is worn out or you want to quickly update the look of your bathroom, installing a new tub surround is an easy and affordable solution.

Tub Surround Buying Considerations

With many types of tub surround sizes, materials, colors and options on the market, select one that meets your particular bathroom space, needs and style. Key factors to keep in mind when shopping for a new tub surround include:


  • Measure the height and length of your current tub area. Surrounds come in standard sizes but can also be custom cut to size.
  • Consider a walk-in or accessible size if needed for users with mobility challenges.
  • Make sure it fits properly, allowing for any plumbing fixtures. An alcove tub surround fits between three walls.


  • Fiberglass and acrylic surrounds are affordable, durable, and easy to clean.
  • Tile provides a high-end, custom look but requires more installation work.
  • Polystyrene foam is lightweight yet durable.
  • Cultured marble offers an elegant look and feel.
  • Engineered stone has the elegance of natural stone but is more affordable.


  • Consider a color that complements your flooring, paint, cabinetry and other fixtures.
  • Matte or textured finishes help conceal water spots and mineral deposits.
  • Darker colors tend to make a small bathroom look smaller. Lighter colors open up the space.


  • Shop sales and clearance items for best pricing.
  • Factor in other costs like plumbing modifications, demolition, disposal, etc.
  • Hiring a pro will add $500-1000+ to your total but saves installation time.

Special Features

  • Look for mold/mildew resistance in humid climates.
  • Consider a textured, non-slip floor if no separate tub mat will be used.
  • Storage shelves, grab bars, seats and other accessories can also be beneficial.

Before You Buy a Tub Surround

Ready to start shopping for your new tub surround? Here are 5 tips to guide you before making a purchase:

1. Accurately measure your existing tub space.

Grab a tape measure and carefully measure the length, height, depth and any plumbing fixture locations of your current tub and walls. This will determine what size tub surround will properly fit your space. Keep the measurements handy when shopping.

2. Demolish and remove the old tub surround.

Once you have the new surround, completely remove the old surround material. This allows inspecting for any hidden leaks or damage. Dispose of the old tub surround according to local regulations.

3. Look for special installation requirements.

Some surrounds may require additional framework, plumbing modifications or reinforcement to install properly. Know what’s involved so there are no surprises once you start the project.

4. Have all necessary installation tools available.

To install the tub surround, you’ll need basic tools like a utility knife, caulk gun, level, drill, screwdriver, etc. Ensure you have the proper tools for the installation.

5. Read the installation instructions thoroughly.

Before starting, read the manufacturer’s installation guide that comes with your surround. Understand all preparation work, required materials, installation steps and curing times before beginning.

Following these tips will set you up for a smooth and successful DIY tub surround installation project.

How to Choose the Right Tub Surround Material

One of the biggest decisions you’ll make when shopping for a new tub surround is the material. There are pros and cons to each option that impact look, durability, ease of installation and cost. Most common tub surround materials include:

Fiberglass Surrounds

Fiberglass is a composite material made from glass fibers bonded with plastic resin. As a tub surround material it offers:


  • Durable and scratch-resistant
    -Low maintenance
    -Available in many colors
    -Molded for a custom fit
    -Relatively inexpensive


-Can be prone to yellowing
-Enamel paint coatings can chip over time
-Seams may be visible
-Rigid material can be difficult to install

Overall fiberglass is a cost-effective and durable tub surround option that’s easy to keep clean.

Acrylic Surrounds

Acrylic sheets are formed from acrylic resin that’s flexible, waterproof and durable. For tub surrounds, acrylic offers these benefits:


-Lightweight for easy installation
-More impact resistant than fiberglass
-Resists discoloration
-Many color and finish options
-Affordable price point


-Prone to scratching
-Not as durable long-term as some materials
-Can potentially yellow over time

If you want an inexpensive tub surround that’s super easy to install, acrylic is a great choice.

Ceramic Tile Surrounds

Ceramic tile has long been a popular tub surround material due to its high-end appearance and customization options.


-Extremely durable and waterproof
-Scratch and stain resistant
-Easy to clean
-Customizable patterns, textures, colors
-Matches floor and wall tile


-Most expensive material option
-Professional installation recommended
-Grout lines prone to getting dirty
-Re-grouting needed over time

Tile requires more installation work but delivers a luxury feel and completely custom look.

Cultured Marble Surrounds

Cultured marble is a composite of crushed marble particles and polyester resins. As a tub surround it offers:


-Elegant, natural stone look
-Warmer feel than acrylic or fiberglass
-Nonporous and waterproof
-Easy maintenance
-Durable and scratch-resistant


-On the pricier side
-Prone to chips and cracks
-Securing to substrate can be tricky
-Fewer integral design options

For a classic marble aesthetic that’s more affordable than real marble, cultured marble is an excellent tub surround choice.

Polystyrene Surrounds

Polystyrene is a lightweight, resilient plastic material used to produce waterproof and durable tub surrounds.


-Super lightweight for easy installation
-Low cost option
-Waterproof and non-porous
-Durable and scratch-resistant
-Easy soap and water cleaning


-Prone to heat damage
-Not as durable long-term as some materials
-Limited color and style options
-Can be noisy when tapping on walls

If you’re looking for an inexpensive, super lightweight tub surround, polystyrene is a good choice.

Engineered Stone Surrounds

Engineered stone blends ground natural stone like quartz with pigments and resins. It provides the look and feel of real stone without the higher cost and maintenance.


-Natural stone appearance
-Resistant to scratches, stains, mold and mildew
-Nonporous and waterproof
-Durable and long-lasting
-Easy to clean


-Higher cost than acrylic or polystyrene
-Challenging for DIY installation
-Prone to cracks if impacted
-Limited color and finish options

For a durable, stylish tub surround with the beauty of natural stone but fewer maintenance issues, engineered stone is ideal.

Tub Surround Styles

Beyond the material, also consider the style of tub surround that will best fit your needs:

  • Alcove style: Designed for installing in a bathtub alcove between three walls. Requires watertight plumbing seals.
  • Corner style: Fits into a corner tub installation; two L-shaped panels meet at the corner.
  • Neo-angle style: Angled tub shape fits into a corner; panels attach to the uniquely angled walls.
  • Walk-in style: Features a cut-out doorway for easy entry; often ADA compliant for accessibility.
  • Three-piece surround set: Contain three separate wall panels for installation flexibility.
  • Full surround kits: Offer panels to cover all four tub walls, providing a seamless look.

Choose the style that’s right for your specific tub type and installation space.

How to Install a Tub Surround

Installing a tub surround is usually a relatively easy DIY project, depending on the type of material you select. Here is an overview of typical tub surround installation steps:


  • Remove any existing wall tile, grout, fiberglass, acrylic or other tub surround material from the installation area.
  • Inspect walls for any hidden leaks, rot or other damage. Repair issues before installing new surround.


  • Take measurements of all tub/installation walls (length, height, corner angles, etc).
  • Cut surround panels to custom fit your measurements as needed.

Prepare Walls

  • Clean and sand walls to remove any remaining debris or roughness.
  • Apply moisture barrier primer/paint if recommended by manufacturer.

Mount Surround

  • Apply tub surround adhesive fully coating the walls or surround panels.
  • Carefully mount panels level and square on tub walls. Press firmly.
  • Use any recommended mechanical fasteners for added support.
  • Follow cure times before filling tub.
  • Seal all seams and edges with silicone caulk. Smooth with wet finger. Allow to fully cure.

With the right preparation and materials, you can install a tub surround successfully in your bathroom.

Tub Surround Costs

Exactly how much does it cost to replace your tub surround? Here are the average price ranges:

  • Fiberglass tub surrounds: $350 – $700
  • Acrylic tub surrounds: $500 – $1000
  • Polystyrene foam surrounds: $250 – $600
  • Cultured marble surrounds: $1000 – $2000
  • Tile tub surrounds: $1000 – $2500
  • Engineered stone surrounds: $1200 – $3000

Keep in mind you may incur additional costs for plumbing modifications, new accessories, removal/disposal of old materials, and hiring professional installation. Shop sales and clearance items or DIY installation to save on costs.

Tub Surround Maintenance

Caring properly for your new tub surround will keep it looking fresh and prevent the growth of mold, mildew and bacteria. Here are some key maintenance tips:

  • Wipe down surround walls after every use to prevent soap scum and mineral deposit buildup.
  • For deeper cleaning, use a non-abrasive bathroom cleaner and soft scrub brush or sponge.
  • Avoid using harsh chemicals, acidic cleaners, abrasive brushes or pads which can damage the finish.
  • Use bathroom exhaust fans and open windows to allow airflow and reduce humidity levels.
  • Apply a silicone caulk waterproof sealant around edges and seams yearly or whenever cracks appear.
  • Check for any leaks or water damage behind walls yearly as preventative maintenance.
  • Follow any specific care instructions from the tub surround manufacturer.

With proper care and maintenance, a quality tub surround material should last 5-10 years or longer before needing replacement.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tub Surrounds

Some common questions homeowners have when shopping for a new tub surround include:

Are tub surrounds waterproof?

  • Yes, tub surrounds are designed with waterproof materials that resist moisture damage and mildew growth. Fiberglass, acrylic, cultured marble and engineered stone surrounds are inherently waterproof. Some may have additional waterproof coatings as well.

What thickness of tub surround should I get?

  • Tub surrounds typically range from 1/4 inch up to 1/2 inch thick or more. Thicker surround panels provide more durability and rigidity. At minimum, aim for 1/4 inch especially for larger sizes to prevent buckling or warping over time.

How much does it cost to have a tub surround installed?

  • For professional installation, expect to pay $500-$1000 above the cost of the surround itself. This covers labor, plumbing modifications, disposal of old materials, etc. Doing it yourself can save you these added costs.

Can I install a tub surround over existing tile?

  • It’s not recommended to install tub surrounds directly over old tile. The grout lines will likely show through the surround. Removing old tile allows inspecting for leaks and creates a smooth surface for proper tub surround installation.

How long does a tub surround installation take?

  • For an experienced DIYer, expect 1-3 days for the complete tub surround installation. Hiring a professional may only take 1 day but adds to the overall cost.

Do I need to seal a tub surround?

  • Yes, properly sealing the edges with a tub surround is critical to prevent leaks and water damage. Use a flexible silicone caulk and apply a continuous bead along all edges and seams. Smooth with a wet finger before curing.

How do I cut acrylic tub surrounds?

  • Use a fine-toothed jigsaw blade and cut very slowly to prevent cracking, chipping or overheating the acrylic. Support the panel near the cut and keep the saw blade lubricated.


Installing a new tub surround is one of the most affordable and effective ways to give your bathroom a fresh new look and better protect walls from water damage. With many choices in materials like fiberglass, acrylic and tile, and styles like alcove or walk-in, select the option that best matches your bathroom space and design needs. Carefully measure your existing tub, demolition old materials, and properly prepare walls for installation success. With the right tub surround choice and good DIY skills or professional installation, you can easily upgrade your bathroom in less time and for less money compared to more extensive remodels. This detailed guide covers all the key steps, considerations and tips to remember before buying a tub surround. Follow these and you’ll be well on your way to a bathroom update you’ll love.