Bathtub Refinishing: What to Know
If your bathtub appears dingy and worn, has pockmarks or scratches, or has even yellowed with age, it might be time for something new. But a shiny new tub can cost a pretty penny, especially after installation. Want to save money but still want that bathtub looking like new? Tub refinishing is an excellent option.
The Basics of Bathtub Refinishing
Tub refinishing goes by many names – resurfacing, re-glazing, and even re-enameling. Whatever you call it, the process involves repairing any damage, such as chips or small cracks, then using either etching or wet sanding to rough up the surface to accept the new coating.
In the process, the drain is removed from the tub, and it’s tested for leaks. If the cracks are too large or too deep, bath re-glazing might not work for your bathtub. In that case, you might need to choose a bathtub liner, which fits over the existing structure, or choose a new bathtub altogether.
Assuming all is well, the coating is applied to the etched surface, and you have a like-new bathtub that is ready to use within a few days’ time.
How Do the Refinishing Options Compare?
Keep in mind that while recoating can make a bathtub look like new again, it really is just a cosmetic upgrade. It might need to be touched up in the years to come to keep it looking great. It works better for some bathtubs than others – for instance, it’s highly recommended to at least give it a go on a cast iron clawfoot tub, which would be a nightmare to move and replace. That’s especially true if it’s an antique that you really want to keep in the home.
Bathtub refinishing is quite affordable, at a cost of between $200 to $650 on average. And it’s fast, allowing you to use the tub again in a few days. However, there are some downsides: the job can only be performed once, so it needs to be perfect the first time. And the chemicals used to re-glaze a tub can be toxic enough that you’d need to clear out of the house for a while to allow for proper ventilation.
That leads to the other option for resurfacing a tub: using a bath liner.
Bath liners are acrylic “covers” that are designed to fit over your existing tub. A bathtub liner adheres to the original tub with silicone and heavy-duty two-sided tape. This sounds pretty simple, but the process actually takes a few months, because the professional must measure the bathtub very carefully and then create the molded liner. Installation, however, only takes a day.
This option is great if you have cracks or other issues with the existing tub that a re-glazing simply can’t fix. It costs a bit more, at an average of $1,500 to $4,000, but it’s much less invasive than refinishing, and doesn’t require you to leave the house due to the toxic fumes. You can choose from a range of limited colors, which can change the look of your bathroom.
When You Should Not Use Bath Re-glazing
Though tub refinishing can make a bath look like new for a quite affordable price, there are some things it just can’t do. Here are a few things that should make you reconsider the idea of refinishing your bathtub.
There are two types of cracks that your bathtub might have. The first are cosmetic cracks, those that are just on the very surface of the tub. These are most common with fiberglass tubs. The cracks spread out like a spider’s web. You might be able to feel them with your fingers as a roughening of the surface. These cracks can be easily sanded down and covered up when refinishing happens.
The second type of crack is a problem. That’s the structural crack. This is one that goes much deeper than the surface and affects the integrity of the bathtub. It is too deep to sand away, and might even be too severe for a repair before resurfacing. If the crack is deep enough that water is seeping through it, the tub is well beyond repair, and your only choice is replacement.
Signs of Rust
Rust is the beginning of the end for your bathtub. It’s a clear sign it has reached the end of its lifespan. Though resurfacing the bathtub can take away some of that rust and cover up the area, it is a very temporary fix – maybe just for a year or two. The refinishing can buy you the time to save up money to have the tub replaced, so it’s probably worth doing it if you can’t afford the greater expense of a bathroom remodel just yet.
Tubs of Low Quality
If you have the “contractor grade” tub in your bathroom, don’t be surprised if it starts to degrade much sooner than the typical 20 years a tub is built to last. These tubs are mass-produced and quite cheap, so cracking, rusting, and other problems can quickly become apparent. Rather than opting for refinishing, it might be more cost-effective to replace the tub with an upgrade to a nicer model that has a longer lifespan.
Tubs with Jets
On the other hand, if you have a higher-end bathtub that includes jets and other features, refinishing might be far too costly and time-consuming. It might not work as well, as it can be tough to get the coating to set well around the jets and ensure no water seeps in. Some excellent contractors might be able to pull it off, but the odds are that you will need to replace that tub rather than refinish it.
The Costs of Bathtub Refinishing
Bathtub refinishing is usually much cheaper than the cost of replacing a bathtub. This is especially true if you’ll have to completely demolish the old tub to move it out of the bathroom. Removing a tub often requires new trim, new flooring, surrounds, and even plumbing work, all of which can turn that few hundred you spent on a tub into a few thousand for labor and installation. In addition, there’s the time your bathroom will be out of commission while the contractor completes the work, which could be several days – or even weeks, depending upon the extent of the work.
Bathtub refinishing, on the other hand, can cost anywhere from $300 to $600. If you have a tub and shower combo unit, all of it might need refinishing, which drives the cost up to between $800 and $1,200. That’s much cheaper than what you can expect to pay for a bathtub replacement or a full bathroom remodel. You also have the added bonus of less time lost; the process itself can take a day, and allowing the coat to cure can take another day or two.
Do It Yourself or Hire a Pro?
Bathtub refinishing might look like something you could do yourself, and in some cases, that might be true. Do-it-yourself refinishing kits are quite affordable and promise to help you create a like-new bathtub in a matter of hours. However, the materials these kits provide aren’t the same as what the professionals use. You will likely not get as good of a result. The coating might look painted on, rather than smooth, and you might wind up with a coating that only lasts for a few months before it begins to show signs of wear.
Hiring a pro ensures you get top-quality work with the best materials. First, a technician strips off the old finish on your tub. Then, they sand it down to create a surface that helps the new coating adhere. Any cracks, chips, or holes are repaired. Then the bathtub receives a coat of primer, several layers of the coating, and a sealant. Count on it being out of commission for three days for the whole process, including curing time.
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