Top Tips for Refinishing a Bathtub

Bob Vila

Want to replace your vintage cast iron bathtub? You may be surprised that a comparable antique tub, or even a period-style reproduction, can easily cost thousands of dollars.

Sure, $30 will get you a refinishing kit at the local home improvement center. But while that may sound like a deal too good to pass up, understand that bathtub refinishing is no modest undertaking. (Related from BobVila.com: Soak Up the Luxury: 11 Free-Standing Tubs)

However, if you possess the requisite skills, feel comfortable working with chemicals, and are able to commit the time it takes to accomplish the task, you can transform your old stained bathtub into a new version of itself within one weekend.

Here are some important considerations to bear in mind:

Calculate the True Cost

Check to see what is included in your refinishing kit. If it comes with paint and only paint, then you will have to purchase other essential project materials separately. These include but are not limited to painting tools (brush, roller, painter's tape), protective gear (rubber gloves, eye wear, respirator), and cleaning supplies (drop cloths, mineral spirits, chemical cleaning agents). While it's possible to achieve a satisfying finish with a brush and roller, a paint sprayer will provide the most most professional-looking result.

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(Photo credit: T. Popovitch)

Understand the Project Scope

Like any do-it-yourself project, bathtub refinishing involves an order of operations. As a first step, rid your tub of scum or soap residue, and be sure that chipped or pitted areas are filled with putty and sanded. Also, remove the drain cover, lever plate, and caulking around the tub's edge. Since you will be working with chemicals, wear adequate protective gear and keep the room well-ventilated throughout the process. Allow sufficient dry time between each application, and remember that once the project is complete, you won't be able to use the tub for three to five days—something to think about if it's your home's only bath. (Related from BobVila.com: SPA-oritize Your Home Bath)

Prepare for the Unexpected

You never know when a straightforward bathtub refinishing job can turn into an elaborate bathroom overhaul. When I removed the old caulking around the tub in my own 1918 bathroom, I found hidden areas of damp in the walls. We had already planned to install new walls in the house, just not immediately. Needless to say, our priorities changed after this discovery. Indeed, older homes are full of surprises, so be ready for anything.

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(Photo credit: AllSurfaceRenew.com)

Consult a Professional

If you would rather not do the work yourself, professional bathtub refinishing may be an option worth pursuing, depending on where you live and how much you can spend. In your search for a local refinisher, don't forget to ask whether additional expenses (e.g., travel) are counted in the estimate. You can expect to pay between $300 and $650, according to the Professional Bathtub Refinishers Association.

For more on bathrooms from BobVila.com, consider:

Helpful Hints for Cleaning Bathtubs
Nate Berkus on Updating a Dated Bath 
7 Easy Ways to Boost Bathroom Storage

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