Bathtub Refinishing and Reglazing

The bathroom is an essential room in your home, and yet it is often overlooked when it comes to updating and remodeling. People tend to focus their attention on the more public, visible rooms in the home such as the kitchen and family room. However, a bathroom update can dramatically improve both the function and the resale value of your home.

When updating a bathroom, it’s essential to take a close look at the bathtub. Typical bathrooms are small, so a bathtub takes up a significant amount of the square footage in the room and has a huge impact on the look, feel, and style of a bathroom. An old, stained, chipped, or merely outdated bathtub can undermine all the rest of your improvement efforts.

Currently, the cost of a new, standard, fiberglass bathtub is $300-$500 with the average installation cost around $2900. Also, homeowners need to add in the price for removal and disposal of the old tub, and if you have a cast-iron bathtub, those costs can be substantial.

The costs of a bathtub replacement can greatly impact the overall budget of a bathroom remodel, and may be prohibitive for some people. However, if the bathtub is fully functional, with no leaks or structural issues, refinishing is a great alternative to update the look and increase the lifespan of a bathtub, for a fraction of the cost of replacing it. A refinished tub can look as good as a new one while giving you all the benefits of an updated bathroom without as many of the headaches.

When to Refinish vs. When to Replace a Bathtub

Here are some general guidelines for when to replace a bathtub or refinish it to like-new condition.

Refinish when:

•        Bathtub is structurally sound

•        Bathtub is made of high-quality materials

•        Bathtub is an unusual shape or size

•        Bathtub fixtures are plumbed in an unusual, specific way

•        Bathtub surround is difficult to change or remove

•        Removal is very difficult (exceptionally heavy, can’t fit through doorways)

•        You like the size, form, and shape of the bathtub

Replace when:

•        Bathtub is severely damaged

•        Bathtub is made of low-quality materials

•        Bathtub is standard shape and size

•        Bathtub fixtures are plumbed in a conventional way

In short, if the bathtub is a newer, lightweight fiberglass tub, in very bad shape, and is a size, shape, and has a plumbing configuration that is standard, then it’s probably easier and less expensive to just buy a new bathtub similar to the old one and replace it.

If removal and replacement would require a lot of effort to get it out of the house, require a plumbing modification to install a new one, or if a new tub of the same materials or quality would be extremely expensive, then it’s better to refinish.

Refinishing vs. Reglazing: What’s the Difference?

Truthfully, there is no meaningful difference in these terms, and people use them interchangeably along with “resurfacing.” The specific refinishing process depends on the material the bathtub is made of, but all these terms apply to the process of smoothing or repairing chips or cracks, stripping off the existing surface of the bathtub, then adding a new surface.

Porcelain and cast-iron tubs often have a shiny, enamel-like finish that is achieved with a glaze, which is why the process is commonly referred to as “reglazing” regardless of the materials involved. Some antique porcelain bathtubs are reglazed by being removed from the home and taken to a professional shop for a dip-glazing. However, that is an unusual circumstance and most refinishing or reglazing are done in the house with the bathtub in place.

Professional or DIY Refinishing?

There are kits available from home improvement stores that allow a homeowner to refinish their bathtub. This is the most cost-effective approach.

However, even a skilled homeowner is unlikely to achieve the smooth, even results that a professional bathtub refinisher can.  And a professional has a much broader array of colors available than those currently offered in kits from the home improvement store. There are a number of professional services for a bathtub resurface like the Miracle Method.

When considering whether bathtub refinishing is a project you want to take on yourself, it’s a good idea to start small. Purchase a refinishing kit and practice on the bathroom sink. Practice to see if you can get the coating right to see if you like the results.

DIY Bathtub Refinish Equipment

In order to use a kit to refinish a sink or a tub, it’s important to follow the instructions in the kit, but here is the basic equipment you will need:

•        Putty knife

•        Razor scraper

•        Screwdrivers

•        Utility knife

•        Orbital sander

•        Respirator

•        120 grit sandpaper

•        Scouring powder

•        Dish scouring pad

•        Fan for ventilation

•        Bondo or other filler

•        Lacquer thinner

•        Durable, chemically resistant gloves

•        Eye protection

•        Silicone digester

•        Masking tape

•        Masking paper

•        Paper towels

•        Tack cloth

•        Drop cloth

The exact refinishing process will vary depending on instructions on the kit, but generally speaking, these are the steps to follow.

Remember that refinishing produces dangerous and toxic gases like methylene chloride. Make sure the bathroom is well ventilated, always wear hand and eye protection, and use a respirator when working with hazardous chemicals. Make sure there is no source of ignition in or near the bathroom.

DIY Bathtub Refinish Instructions

•        Thoroughly clean every part of the surface. Many homeowners have poor results due to inadequate cleaning; cleaning is essential at every phase.

•        Use a razor scraper to remove excess caulk, putty, or debris around fixtures or edges of the bathtub.

•        If the existing caulk has any silicone, it must be removed with a silicone digester.

•        Use the razor scraper on the entire surface to remove soap scum.

•        Scour every part of the surface with scouring powder and a scouring pad. Rinse with a sponge and repeat, paying special attention to the area around the drain.

•        Dry the surface and inspect for any caulk, silicone, or soap film. If necessary, remove and scour again.

•        Dry again.

•        Dull the surface with etching powder.

•        Use a filler such as Bondo, Evercoat, or Dolphin Glaze to fill any chips, cracks, or defects.

•        Gently sand filled areas smooth. Repeat if necessary.

•        Sand the entire surface with 120 grit sandpaper, including areas where the tub meets the surrounding tile.

•        Clean with a tack cloth, removing all dust and grit from sanding.

•        Use lacquer thinner to wipe down the tub and immediately surrounding tile. Let it dry.

•        Remove or tape drain and fixtures. Use tape to mask all around the tub and the area where the tub meets the floor.

•        Clean the entire surface again with the tack cloth, making sure that it is smooth and has no grit, dust, or debris.

•        Apply primer according to kit instructions.

•        Apply new surface with a paint roller or according to kit instructions.

•        Apply a second coat with a paintbrush or according to kit instructions.

•        Remove tape a few hours later, to prevent debris from falling onto the wet surface.

•        Re-caulk if desired.

Considering the time involved, investment, equipment needed, and safety risks, it’s not a bad idea to hire a professional and in order to get the best results. The average cost of these DIY kits is $100 and the cost of the other equipment needs to be factored into the project. The average cost to hire a professional is $462, so it’s probably a worthwhile investment.