Ask Unclutterer: Can a bathtub be clutter?

Reader Kate S. submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

We have a lovely large whirlpool bathtub in our master bath that we never use. When we bought our house last year, it was a nice selling point, but now it just collects dust and goes unused. What should I do with the extra space? Or how can I minimize cleaning something I never use?

Kate, do you live in my house? Do you read minds? Honestly, this is the exact situation in my home. I have a stall shower that is used daily and a large, whirlpool bathtub that only is used when we bathe our cats. It takes a ridiculous amount of time and water to fill the bathtub to reach the whirlpool intake sensor, so we rarely use it.

In my case, I clean the tub immediately after I use it. The other times I just dust it with a dry cloth when I clean the bathroom.

I am at a loss for what to do with your situation otherwise. I hope that our readership chimes in the comments section and gives both of us advice for how to handle the situation. Like you, I feel that the whirlpool tub is clutter, but too expensive to remove (both in replacement cost and home value).

Thank you, Kate S., for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. My apologies for not having a solution — but I’m sure checking out the comments will help both of us.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

59 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Can a bathtub be clutter?”

  1. posted by Christine on

    This may sound crazy, but I feel that if you would even enjoy using the tub AT ALL, you should set aside one day a week/month/every other month where you fill it up and use it. Sometimes just using an item a little bit eases the feelings of guilt of having it in the first place. Buy some bath salts or bubbles (if you’re allowed to put it in a whirlpool tub, I don’t know much about them!) and enjoy!

  2. posted by Scarlett on

    I saw a solution years ago on the decorator Christopher Lowell’s show. Here is what I remember, plus my own thoughts.
    Cut a platform from heavy duty plywood to cover the hot tub. Then have a cushion made (towel fabric would be perfect) to fit over the platform, throw on some pillows (towel fabric as as well), and you have a great ‘couch’ area, that you can throw your wet towels on and make your bathroom have more of a spa feeling.

  3. posted by sara on

    You could do what a friend did in his college rental apartment- he filled the bottom with rocks turned it into a koi fish pond. (Kidding!!!! It RUINED the tub)

  4. posted by M.R. on

    @Scarlett, you could be a genius! I never use my HUGE tub either. Mind you, my bathroom has no linen closet and no towel bars…so the tub is a huge waste of space. I think, though, that I will use it to warm up in the winter when I come home from work and am freezing.

  5. posted by Karyn on

    My thought was to somehow transform it into storage space, so the plywood-cover idea could be the basis of turning it into a linen closet or similar bathroom storage if that’s needed.

    BTW, Kate’s feelings about the whirlpool tub are my feelings when I get an apartment with a dishwasher: Waste of valuable kitchen space. ;-) I’ve never liked using a dishwasher; I always do my dishes by hand, because it doesn’t take long and they come up cleaner. If I really need to “sanitize” something, there’s ye old pot of boiling water as an alternative to the dishwasher.

  6. posted by Kelly on

    If it were me, I’d schedule to use it twice a month or even once a week per Scarlet’s suggestion.

    My sister in law lives in a small modular home. Her bathroom has a stall shower and a whirlpool tub, which they never use. They’ve decided to remove the tub and move the washer and dryer (currently off of the kitchen) where the tub was in the big master bath. They’ll build a pantry for more storage/cabinet space where the W&D were!

    It will also be nice to have the W&D more hidden and somewhere they’re less likely to accumulate clutter on top of them.

  7. posted by Klyla on

    My solution was similar to what Scarlett mentioned. There was no room in the bathroom for a hamper so I turned the tub into one. I used a sheet of plywood cut to size, a piano hinge, glued fancy trim to the front, painted it all and here is the result, which I LOVE! http://justinrepairs.com/klyla/bath.html (The plants hide the soap cubby and faucet.)

  8. posted by knitwych on

    @Klyla, your solution is beautiful and practical — I love it! Definitely win-win.

  9. posted by Kelly on

    If I had lots of money, I would most definitely tear mine out, make that area a LARGE shower and use the tiny shower stall as a closet. BUT that’s not going to happen. I’m kind of digging the “convert it into storage/seating idea. I might be able to talk my husband into that.

    The only problem, though, is the faucet. What is the solution for that? Do you cut a hole in the plywood – do you tear it out? Part of the appeal of the plywood idea is that it’s not permanent – for reselling purposes.

  10. posted by Amy on

    I set up a clothes drying rack in our large tub when I do laundry, for items that must hang or dry flat. It’s out of the way there.

    I like the idea of scheduling time to use the tub once a month. I’ve heard that it’s bad for the pipes and hoses if you go a long time without using it.

  11. posted by Kate on

    Thanks for putting my question out there, and thanks for all of the ideas! This is great!

  12. posted by sharon on

    I might use our tub if it had jets. Instead it is just a large “garden” tub which doesn’t fill up any higher than a regular tub (you can’t soak). I have some quilts and throw pillows in there and my boys use it as a reading nook. I wish I could remove it.

  13. posted by Lose That Girl on

    Just a thought…. if you want to keep the tub underneath the cushions, or the ‘new’ storage area as suggested previously – for re-sale sake, you might want to run the tap once in awhile to make sure all the pipes work and to avoid leaks. I have a large corner soaker tub in our condo and have to go through this practice often to keep things operational.

  14. posted by Alison on

    We have the opposite problem…we use the heck out of our whirlpool tub and very rarely use the stall shower. Perhaps our solution will help you anyway…our stall shower is located in a bathroom which also houses our washer and dryer (small house). We turned our shower stall into a drying rack for those clothes ya don’t want to run through the dryer. The door to the stall shower is opaque so the whole thing is hidden. If you like this idea you could put up a shower curtain rod in front of your tub to hide your drying clothes. There are many ways of putting up drying lines…we use a combo of an octupus-style IKEA product that hangs from the shower nozzle, plus a wooden drying rack on the floor. You could install a hotel-style retractable drying line, or hang some sturdy dowel rods across…..whatever works.

  15. posted by kris on

    I have a board across the length of the sunken tub in my apartment and put plants across it. Brought life into my bathroom and it feels a bit like a jungle with the humid shower, sky lights and plants. Not less clutter, but definitely more inviting and use of space

  16. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    Good timing — I just had the plumber here on Tuesday. In the course of fixing our shower drain, he said something about all the sewer flies. (We had thought they were fruit flies, but apparently not.) They come up through the drains if you don’t keep water in the trap, and we have a whirlpool tub that we use only a couple of times a year. So whatever you decide to do with the tub, do run the water once a week or so to keep the trap full, or you might get bugs. (Same with sinks or toilets that might not get regular use.)

    If it were up to me, I’d ditch the tub and the existing shower stall and put in a bigger, nicer shower. Unfortunately, fair or unfair, it affects resale value to do that. My mom said the hell with it, she’d rather enjoy a great shower than have a PITA tub, so she ripped the tub out and threw resale to the wind. We’re not quite ready to make that commitment yet.

  17. posted by Meg on

    When we had one (we renovated our bathroom a couple of years and took the thing out!), we stored the laundry hampers (the rack kind with hanging laundry bags on it). Friends of ours lined theirs with a bath mat and put the cat’s covered litter box in it.

  18. posted by Bethany on

    I have this issue as well! I have a huuuge tub, but no whirlpool jets. I’d love to be able to use it for storage in a way that looks attractive, but still be able to soak in it occasionally. I love some of the creative ideas in these comments.

  19. posted by Mike on

    Fantastic ideas, folks, especially Scarlet’s couch/seating concept.

    My wife and I never used the tub until we had babies, and of course they wash in it now, but once they are teenagers that will be the end of that. I have a feeling the seating area will be a smash hit, serving as a better “get dressed” bench than the side of the master bed. Our shower is huge, thankfully, so it will continue to dominate usage.

  20. posted by Anonymous on

    Far out idea:
    If you can’t afford to renovate & have the tub removed..

    Line it with a heavy duty plastic liner, fill it with rocks and good soil & create an indoor garden. You might have to install some special lighting to encourage plant growth but it would be a lovely treat to have fresh tomatoes when it is -40 outside.

  21. posted by Snitzels on

    I was going to suggest crafting a cover for it as well. If it’s large enough, you could lay some furniture foam over it and cover it with a corresponding fabric and staple the ends under to form a cushioned seat type area. Impractical i know, but it would look pretty and at least you could pull the cushy cover off when you do want to use the tub and nothing permanent would have been done to it. Storing extra towels under would be nice too :)

  22. posted by Zman on

    More information on “sewer flies”.
    Any trap that is not used will eventually have the water evaporate out of it. This can also result in sewer gas (smell) coming out – that is the reason for the trap in the first place. Running water regularly is one solution, but if you don’t want to do that, pour some vegetable oil in the drain. It won’t evaporate, will block the gas/flies and will be washed down the drain with first water use.

  23. posted by Celeste on

    Repurpose the giant tub as a kid fun-zone.

    Buy little plastic balls and turn the tub into a ball-pit for your toddler to play in. We stupidly bought a ball-pit set and didn’t know you could just buy the balls themselves.

    Little kids like using the big tub because they can really frolic in it. Winter is looooong where I live and that is the only time we would let DD have bubbles indoors–but she had to be in the tub.

    @Erin, it’s really nice to get in the tub with a tiny baby, and a bigger tub is the way to go. It helps the most if you have the dad hand the baby in and take the baby out to dry off, though. It’s kind of job to try this alone.

  24. posted by Tom on

    I second the “schedule time to use it” solution. If it’s really a nice big tub, schedule time to take a bath with your SO. Spending a little time soaking can help relax muscles and unclutter your mind.

  25. posted by Thomas on

    Go to my website (bathcake.com) and buy some bath bombs and just sit in it and relax!!

  26. posted by Thomas on

    rather, my wife’s site. :P

  27. posted by allen on

    Just remember, anyone who is reading advice about removing them, that not having a bathtub SOMEWHERE in your home will vastly decrease it’s resell value, and that a bathtub in a master bath is a major selling point.

    If you’re going to own your home for 30 years, what do you care? If you’re only going to live there for five, though…

  28. posted by Anita on

    Sigh… I wish I had this “problem”!

    I second everyone who said “use it”. If it was a selling point when you bought the house, it must mean you imagined getting some enjoyment out of that tub. So take a night to yourself, get some bubble bath/bath salts/bath bombs/whatever and enjoy! And then let us know if you still see it as clutter ;)

    Also: a friend of mine has a fairly big tub that she doesn’t use very often, so she sometimes turns it into an impromptu painting studio. No idea how comfortable that is, but she says it’s a lot easier to wash fresh paint out of a tub than off a floor, especially since most of her place is carpeted.

  29. posted by Tamra on

    We have a large master tub that my husband and I NEVER use . . . BUT we bathe all three of our boys in there together instead of the tub in their bathroom. I love just having one bathroom to clean and they love the splashing space. Plus, bathing kids in a large tub is much easier–not so much stooping over, they can stand up when you rinse them off without water going everywhere, and the splashing is better contained by the large sides–and they think it’s a blast!

  30. posted by Renee on

    We have the same problem. I love my hot tub and used it more often before kids and during my pregnancies- works great when in labor, BUT, 4 times a year seems a waste. I put a nice fabric curtain with a rod and we can can close that to keep that area closed off- I store children’s things in it – their water toys, tub, squeegie and other items for the kid bath. On snowy days when we cannot go swimming or to the pool, it is a great indoor pool for my toddler and the jets just make it more fun for her but yes, it takes FOREVER to fill up and even longer to clean.

  31. posted by Kelly on

    I am one of the people jealous of your unused whirlpool tubs! I have a tiny tub that can’t be filled up very deeply, and we’re in New England so it’s one bathroom for three bedrooms to share – old house with no master bath.

    My parents have a big whirlpool that takes a while to fill up as well. My mom loves it. Tired of waiting for it to fill, she timed it one night, and now she sets the timer for the appropriate time (say 10 minutes) whenever she turns it on. She does the kitchen clean up and such and then when the timer goes off, her bath is drawn and she can just climb in.

  32. posted by Mary on

    I have a question about not running the water in the tub regularly. What if you HAVEN’T done that in years (we bought our house two years ago and haven’t been running water in the tub regularly).

    How do you know if you are aggravating a problem that you didn’t know you might have? If not running water can cause leaks, how do you know if there are leaks in the pipes that you can’t see, underneath the tub? Should you still go ahead and try running water in it?

  33. posted by Consultant Calamities on

    How funny. Those of us who don’t want a whirlpool tub tend to have one; those that DO want one, don’t.

    Our upstairs (master) bath had one, but we hated it! It just sat there and literally collected DUST. We had a TINY shower stall nearby. I HATED The shower stall, it was too small!

    we renovated, and tore out the whirlpool, moved the toilet, and added a nice shower/tub combo. LOVE it now!

    I do like the idea of covering them up and making a seating area though, for those who don’t have the $$ to do a big remodel.

  34. posted by deb on

    We put an addition on to our house a few years ago, I insisted on skipping the master tub and making a large shower. I love it! No tub to clean and I’m not a sit in the tub and relax type anyway. But I love the storage space in the tub ideas and the plants on a board idea – cool!

    We had a problem with sewer flies too with a utility sink drain – yuk! Never even knew they existed until then. Now we make sure to run the water there regularly.

  35. posted by Noah on

    I’m with the crowd that hates tubs in general. When I remodeled I ditched the tub and installed a huge shower and linen closet in the space that the former tub and tiny shower took up. Much better use of space for me, even if it does effect resale value.

    I don’t have children, but I can see a need for a tub when you do. I kept a regular tub/shower combo in the guest bath.

  36. posted by Sarah on

    If only prohibition were still in effect … you could have made a killing!

    (I have no helpful suggestion, only this.)

  37. posted by Barbara on

    I live in Tucson, and we are having a dry summer. My house is too old to re-plumb for grey water so I bail out the tub. It is a claw foot, and I have no shower. I tend to take pretty shallow baths, but I save the water. I have a bucket next to the toilet that I fill for flushing, and then another for watering the patio plants. I use a plastic yogurt container for the scoop.
    We should think of this as not just a clutter issue but thoughtful use of a precious resource. If we can use water twice before it goes into the ground, we are being smart. I have neighbors who use simple pumps to drain their tubs. I like the bucket because it adds to my weight lifting routine!

  38. posted by Eileen on

    We have a stall shower in the downstairs bath (no door) so we “converted” it to a “wine cellar”.
    Where I work is a converted apartment building and all the suites have a bathroom. Our suite had plywood over the tub and we used it for storage. One of the other units had a stall shower and I would have used it for storage.

    I love Klyla’s bath conversion. Very stylish.

  39. posted by Another Deb on

    I had an apartment with a second bathroom that was never used. I pulled the curtain closed and stacked that thing as full as a storage shed!

  40. posted by Marie on

    We adore our master Jacuzzi bath, though we rarely use the jets. There’s no rule saying you have to run it–a tub is a tub is a tub.

    Our bathroom has a corner shelf for a TV, and oddly enough an oversized tub makes for a luxurious date night. Eat pizza and watch a movie in the tub, and see if you don’t feel like a queen.

  41. posted by gypsy packer on

    @Kelly–I’ve seen this done in houses with limited space. In a mobile home, one owner removed the washer and dryer from a kitchen alcove, turned the alcove into a home office, and turned that tub area into a washroom.

    I’ve seen home gyms installed in large bathrooms. Build your platform enclosure and place exercise equipment on top.

  42. posted by Jessica on

    Thank you for this post! We are currently designing a master bath addition and I loved hearing about this tub issue. I was toying with the idea of installing a whirlpool tub and now I’m convinced that it would just end up being an expensive waste of space. In my very unscientific poll of friends with whirlpool tubs I found that NO ONE uses them. I have one friend who has lived in her house for three years and has never once used it.

    I think it is time to demote the whirlpool tub.

  43. posted by Elizabeth H. on

    I second Karyn’s opinion of dishwashers. I use mine ONLY to store my dishes. It frees up cabinet space for other items.

    I don’t have a whirlpool tub, but if I did I’d cover it with a padded seat and use the underneath for a hamper. Brilliant idea!

  44. posted by anca on

    to me, a bathtub is the most important thing i own- ok, next to my laptop- i say this because unlike a shower when i take a bath i unclutter my mind; i do not own a home, i just rent but when i do, a bathtub and net access are musts:)

  45. posted by Louise on

    I love this thread!

    To combine a couple of these suggestions: how about using the space for kids’ art projects? A small easel inside the tub would make a great place for little ones to paint.

    Another caution: if you do decide to store things in the tub area, consider using well sealed plastic bins. Bathrooms are much more humid than the rest of the house so keep that extra dampness in mind.

    Someone asked about covering the tub spout: If you made a seating area, perhaps an armrest could be designed that boxed in the spout.

    And here’s one more vote for tearing it out if you can afford it. One of the great decluttering mantras is “Don’t keep it if you don’t love it.” The bathroom is such a personal space, used every single day. I encourage you to make it exactly the way YOU want it, not some mythical future buyer. Right now it is YOUR home. Best of luck, and I hope you’ll write back with your solution!

  46. posted by Viv on

    We ripped ours out. We had a 90 gallon water heater and it would still run cold if we filled the tub. What a waste of money. When we did our reno, we put it in a small jetted Japanese style soaking tub for resale value. Those large tubs do nothing for resale and if they are in older colors such as grey, they actually detract from your home.

    We also did a trade where someone ripped out the hot tub on our deck and fixed the deck in exchange for the tub and motor. He DID turn it into a fish pond. The seats and varying depths made it perfect to overwinter fish.

    When our new home was built, I had the tub in the guest bath replaced with a large shower stall. It looks much better.

  47. posted by Luciana on

    Really, you people, this is really sad.

    You don’t know what clutter is, if you regard as a nuisance a luxurious appliance that most people in the world can’t afford.

    How hard can it be to clean it anyway?

    Jeez.

  48. posted by Brandon Green on

    In my time as a real estate agent in Washington, DC, I’ve seen plenty of cluttered bathtubs.

  49. posted by Mary Alexander on

    In my house, a whirlpool tub would not be clutter, but I understand that it is clutter in Kate’s house.

    One possible use of the bathtub is to jumpstart Kate’s creative imagination. Here is the exercise: stand in the middle of the bathroom. As fast as you can, and without stopping to judge the practicality or beauty of the ideas, picture different things in the space. Let them flash in front of mind’s eye quickly, like a slideshow. The more outrageous, the better. Laugh a little. If you have kids, let them play. Don’t think of it as a serious plan for the tub. Think of it as a game.

    Who knows what will happen and where this will lead? Or not. But if not, it redeemed the tub a little if you had fun.

  50. posted by Gail on

    Someone I know keeps their collection of teddy bears in their unused bathtub.

  51. posted by Serena on

    My partner and I added a whirlpool bathtub in our master bathroom, just a year ago, during renovation. We thought we’d use it a lot. Turns out we don’t. But occasionally, we do love to relax in the hot bubbling water, especially in the Winter, especially after workout. When we do use it, we clean it straight afterwards. When we don’t use it, it’s esay to clean, it just needs dusting.
    It is a pity we don’t use it more often. But do we regret having it? Not a chance. I can’t get myself to consider it clutter. It’s just plain wonderful!

  52. posted by Johanna on

    We have a single width extra long whirlpool tub. 2 people do fit cozily, and it doesn´t take too long to fill. After the novelty wore off I used it only about every 2 months.
    Now, I schedule ‘my time’ at least every 2 weeks, more frequently if I can. I find that I’m a nicer person after each luxurious bath with ‘me, myself, and I’.
    If you have a tub, any tub, please take advantage of the healing effects of water, and enjoy.

  53. posted by Kalani on

    Personally, I couldn’t buy anything without a tub deep enough to soak in, but then, I do enjoy baths and I know not everyone does. I like the solutions that don’t require removing the tub altogether; even if most people shower, not having a bath when you want one can be pretty miserable. Interesting comment re: dishwasher; again, in my mind, having a dishwasher is probably one of the most wonderful things. Wouldn’t it be cool if all appliances were even more like furniture, and we could re-arrange them at will? Then you could sell your tub to your neighbors or something.

  54. posted by Eileen/Nana on

    I just saw a great episode on HGTV where the designer cut a piece of plywood to cover the bathtub, then he/she then used spray glue to secure a piece of thick foam the same size on top of the plywood. Then using beautiful fabric they covered it making a wonderful window seat area with pillows. I WANTED ONE!! and I don’t have garden tub!! What a nice place to kick back and read without taking valuable real estate from somewhere else in the house! As a designer myself, I would add a false covered wall hiding the toilet if it is in view at all! (Yuck) I loved this idea because 1) it kept a selling point in place and 2) it repurposed an unused area. Also, adding a 3rd point, it didn’t add a bunch of clutter which is what we are about, right?

  55. posted by Eileen/Nana on

    I just read all the fun ideas. I like the hinge idea…I would put extra towels or out of season clothes (?) in nice covered containers in the tub or sheets and blankets for guests. Who would know but me? Having it hinged means you could easily remove the containers and run the water once a month or sooner and dry the tub overnight. It would be actually very simple to do only once or twice a month. I would also suggest plugging the tub after each cleaning. I really liked the plant idea to hide the faucets with a slick designers touch.If you wanted to go for a little ambiance to your nook you could hang a “candlelabra” from the ceiling and put some shiny vases of different sizes and colors to catch the sparkle from the candles. Use tealights, they are so much safer!

  56. posted by JT on

    Ugh. My parents house has the same issue, and lately while shopping for a new house they always bring up the whirlpool as a point of interest. It is the most annoying thing to have something that has never been used as a selling point. I just don’t get it. If it has no purpose, then how does it appeal to have it as a resell point.

  57. posted by Melanie on

    I think putting a plywood cover on it for storage is a good idea.

    However, I don’t understand padding the top and considering it a good place for you or your child to sit and look out the window or read. Aren’t these bathtub in the bathroom, next to the toilet? Not exactly the most pleasant place to lounge around.

  58. posted by RAM on

    Sewer gases can and do cause explosions and kill.

    Either seal the drain and the overflow or take measures to prevent the trap from drying out before “abandoning” it to another purpose.

    A quart of vegetable oil poured down the drain will not evaporate quickly. (If at all.)

    Master Plumber in TX

  59. posted by Ralph on

    I am remodeling my kids bathroom and I’m considering removing the fiberglass tub and walls and either tileing in a shower or buying a fiberglass shower and doing away with the tub. We will be left with one tub in the house. Will this hurt my home value when it comes time to resale? Should I remodel with a tub or will the shower only be fine?

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