Angie's LIST Guide to
Bathtub refinishing

Over time, the bathtub can being to show signs of wear - stains, scratches or a dull finish or other ugly marks. Bathtub refinishing is an option that can return a bathtub or shower enclosure to like-new appearance.
 

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Rather than replacing the tub itself, refinishing can help update an old or damaged bathtub. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Ronald R.)
Rather than replacing the tub itself, refinishing can help update an old or damaged bathtub. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Ronald R.)
 
 
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Why refinish a bathtub?

Bathtub refinishing can help outdated fixtures look like new. (Photo courtesy of Chris Fure)
Bathtub refinishing can help outdated fixtures look like new. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Chris F.)

You can buy a brand-new bathtub unit for as little as $300 at a retail hardware store, but the actual costs of removing and replacing will likely be much greater.

Houses are typically built around bathtubs during the initial construction. To start, most bathtubs are installed in a home during its initial construction. To remove an existing tub, finish items such as trim, bathtub surrounds and plumbing that are built up around the bathtub and will need to be removed. Depending on the tub’s size, it can also mean that removing a bathtub from a room may require cutting it into pieces to fit through a door frame. When installing a new replacement bathtub, the plumbing would have to be reconfigured to fit and all the surrounding trim would have to be recreated.

The costs, which may run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars, and headache involved with replacing a bathtub may it a project that many homeowners would rather avoid.

Refinishing a bathtub, on the other hand, offers a cost- and time-effective solution. Starting at less than $300 to $400 for a standard-sized bathtub, a bathtub refinishing company can add a brand-new coating to the bathtub, allowing it to be used again in two to four days without the additional delays caused by replacement.

Although there are DIY products are available, bathtub refinishing is a probably a job best left to the professionals. Stripping an old finish off a tub, repairing and patching holes or cracks, and ventilating a room to expel the fumes produced by the refinishing process are all steps better left to a trained professional.

And refinishing isn’t just limited to bathtubs, the process can be applied to sinks, wall tile, countertops, shower stalls and kitchen countertops of almost any material, including orcelain, cultured marble, fiberglass, acrylic, Formica and tile.

The refinishing process

While refinishing companies may have techniques or products that differ, the refinishing process itself is generally the same.

1.  Site preparation

Because tub refinishing is messy, most companies will take adequate precautions to ensure dust and overspray from the refinishing process doesn’t reach other parts of the home. This can be accomplished by covering the bathroom with heavy duty plastic or sheeting attached via painters tape.

Since bathtub refinishing does produce an odor that may irritate home occupants, part of the site prep will include ventilating the area with a fan or exhaust system to keep odors contained to the bathroom or expelled into the outdoors. What odor remains typically dissipates in a few days.

2. Sanding down the old bathtub finish

The first step towards applying the new finish is removing the old one. The existing finish must stripped off and then the surface sanded down to create a smooth surface for the new finish to adhere to.

3. Repairing chips, cracks or imperfections

After stripping and sanding, there may be imperfections such as cracks, chips or rust or weak spots still in the substrate that the new finish will be applied to.

4. Primer, new surface and top coat

Application techniques and methods vary, but generally a primer will be applied to the surface and allowed to dry. Then multiple layers of refinishing coating will be applied after allowing the preceding coat to dry or set. A sealing coat is then applied to finish the application process.

Depending on the company and product, it will usually be about two to four days before you can use the bathtub to allow time for the product to set properly.

If applied correctly, a refinished bathtub should last 10 to 15 years before requiring another refinishing.

Common problems

If you’ve hired an experienced, reputable professional to refinish or recoat your bathtub and the project was completed successfully, it should be difficult to discern the tub was ever finished at all. However, not every job is perfect and not every bathtub refinishing professional is experienced or reputable.

Look for these signs of problems with a bathtub refinish:

Bubbles

If air becomes trapped in between individual layers of paint due to insufficient drying time or not allowing the coating to set properly before using, bubbles can appear.

Fading

If the refinish coating or paint is mixed too thinly, not allowed to dry properly or improper cleaners are used following the refinish, fading can result.

Rough texture

A refinished bathtub should feel as smooth to the touch or even smoother than the original finish. If the refinished bathtub has a texture that’s rough to the touch, this can indicate the surface wasn’t sanded or cleaned properly before the coating was applied.

Sticky or tacky feel

If the refinished bathtub feels sticky or tacky to the touch after the required curing or setting time, avoid using the tub. The tacky feel indicates the refinish coating hasn’t set properly and may be need to be done. This can occur if refinishing chemicals aren’t mixed properly or the refinish coating reacted to a cleaning agent or chemical.

Hiring a refinishing contractor

While all bathtub refinishing projects are designed to provide the homeowner with a like-new bathtub unit, not all service providers will deliver desired results. If possible, call and request estimates or quotes from multiple contractors. Ask about their product, how long it takes and if there are any warranties or guarantees.

During the consultation ask the contractor questions about their level of experience in this field, and how many projects they typically complete in a month’s time.  Since the process takes place in your home, be sure to ask if they utilized employees or subcontractors, and what kind of background checks they conduct.

Ask for customer references and to see photos of completed projects. Most contractors will have photos of bathtub refinishing projects that they have completed.  Check and verify that the company is properly licensed, bonded and licensed as required for your area’s regulations.

As with any contracted service that is performed within your home, always get a written estimate for services.  This will prevent you from getting unexpected charges on your service invoice when the bathtub refinishing is completed.

Comments

can the floor drain with rust and the facets be replaced as well

@Marlene,

In regards to the drain and faucet on your tub, they can typically be removed and replaced in this process. Your faucet will either have a notch in the bottom rear of it where it is secured by a small allen screw, or it may simply twist off counter-clockwise. The drain can be removed in most cases with relative ease. Some older drains get rusted in place and need to be removed by notching into the metal and hammering them out. Regardless, it is ideal to have the drain removed during the refinishing process and installed again after the coating dries. If the drain is left it place, and simply taped over, there is a near certainty that it will be the initial failing point of your coating down the road. I would find a refinisher that will pull that drain for you, or if it is stuck beyond his/her level of expertise, get a plumber to remove it and install a new one. The refinisher could then easily remove the new drain when they come to do your tub.

I'm weirdly squeamish about old bathtubs that have been used by God knows how many people. I'm buying an older home, and although the bathtub doesn't look that bad, I still have a hard time putting my child into that bathtub when it just doesn't seem clean enough to me (probably irrational on my part). Would refinishing or one of these tub liner solutions be cleaner than presumably an old tub can get by scouring powder alone? Or is this an impractical service if there are no obvious flaws?

Has anyone heard of miracle method? It seems pretty expensive, how long does a refinished tub really last?

A reglazed tub should last 10 to 15 years

Does anyone have any recommendations of someone in the Northeast Philadelphia area who has refinished bathtubs and did a great job and was reasonably priced?

I have existing porcelain bathtub that was painted about 10 years back. Corners and around drain needs repainted.

does anyone know of anyone in the Grand Prairie who can refinished a bath tub and shower that is not to expensive?

We hired a man to do the reciting and he caulked the tub after he finished coating it before the coating had time to dry.

The caulking job was a mess and melted into the coating. What is our next step? He avoids contact.

The caulk needs to be carefully removed and re caulked. any damage that has occurred will need to be touched up. this is an easy and inexpensive process that can be completed in about an hour by a trained professional.

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