Why refinish a bathtub?

Your tub has gotten old and unsightly and you are ready for a change. You may be tempted to buy a brand-new bathtub unit for as little as $300 at a retail hardware store, but be warned the actual costs will likely be much greater.

To start, most bathtubs are installed in a home during its initial construction and trying to get it back out is not easy. To remove an existing tub, finish items such as trim, bathtub surrounds, plumbing and sometimes even tile will need to be torn out, and depending on the tub’s size, you may have to find a way to cut it into pieces to fit through a door frame.

And you haven’t even brought the new tub in, reworked the plumbing to accommodate and replaced all the finish work you took out with the old tub. Suddenly, your $300 tub has grown into a $3,000 bathroom remodel project with a headache to match.

On the other hand, you can refinish or line an old tub for less hassle and still get a tub your neighbors will swear is new. Refinishing, also known as reglazing, a bathtub offers a cost- and time-effective solution. Starting around $300 to $400 for a standard-sized tub, a bathtub refinishing company can add a brand-new coating to the bathtub in a day, allowing it to be used again in two to four days without the additional delays and mess 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 porcelain, cultured marble, fiberglass, acrylic, Formica and tile.

Steps of refinishing a bathtub

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 be 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, rust or weak spots still in the substrate that the new finish will be applied to. All imperfections will be addressed so your new tub finish will go on a quality base.

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, with appropriate drying time allowed between layers. Lastly, a sealing coat is applied to finish the application process.

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

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

Video: Bathtub Refinishing Tips

Common problems with bathtub refinishing

If you’ve hired an experienced, reputable professional to refinish or reglaze 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, bubbles can appear. This is usually due to insufficient drying time or not allowing the coating to set properly before using,

Fading: Fading can occur if the refinish coating or paint is mixed too thinly, not allowed to dry properly or if improper cleaners are used following the refinish. Harsh abrasives or chemicals are not to be used on refinished tubs.

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 redone. This can occur if refinishing chemicals aren’t mixed properly or the refinish coating reacted to a cleaning agent or chemical.

Hiring a bathtub refinisher

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. Follow these steps to find a reputable contractor for your professional bathtub refinishing service.

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.

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.

Check and verify that the company is bonded and appropriately 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.

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