How To Refurbish A Bathtub

Is your bathroom outdated? Does it feel used and abused? The problem might be your old bathtub, or more specifically, the old tub’s drab finish. Even if you clean the bathtub regularly, the tub’s finish can still make the whole room look dingy. Your tub might need to be refinished. Refinishing a bathtub is the process of applying a hard epoxy coating over a tub’s existing fiberglass, enamel or acrylic surface using a paintbrush or airbrush. Let’s look at the signs and symptoms of a tub that needs to be refurbished.

Signs Your Bathtub Needs Refinishing 

  • Your old tub is no longer shiny. New bathtubs are freshly glazed and typically boast a light-catching, glossy shine. However, over time and after plenty of everyday use, that finish can wear away, leaving a dull, drab appearance. Not only is shine gone, but the protective surface has probably worn away, too. Refinishing it can help refresh the shine and the protection.
  • Your old bathtub always looks dirty. That’s because it is Your tub might have been sparkling white, but over time it might look splotchy and beige. A properly finished tub is glazed, creating a non-porous finish. Once that finish wears away, however, the tub becomes porous, and the dirt and grime can settle into the surface. Scrubbing with harsh bathroom cleaners doesn’t always help and might make the drab finish look worse. You want a soak in your tub to help you feel clean, fresh and hygienic, not grimy.
  • The finish of your old bathtub is scratched, cracked or chipped. Life happens, and a lot of that life has probably occurred in your bathroom. Your children probably grew up playing with toys in that tub during bath time, but perhaps not all of those toys were soft and tub friendly. Maybe you give your dogs their baths in that tub, and the claws on their paws have scratched the surface. Maybe you’ve even dropped something heavy, such as a shower wand, and damaged the surface. If you chip the finish of a tub, it might reveals the steel or cast iron beneath the surface, which can rust and look terrible.
  • Your vintage tub needs an update. A house from the 1950s might be solid as a rock, but that pink, baby blue or mint green tub can make the rest of the bathroom feel outdated. Resurfacing the bathtub can give it a brighter, white surface to complement the rest of your bathroom.

Before You Begin

It’s important to note that refinishing your bathtub yourself won’t necessarily give the tub the appearance of being entirely new. Depending on your experience and capabilities, your work might not be as good as that of professionals. However, if you’re handy around the house, you enjoy learning new home-improvement techniques, and your tub’s surface needs attention but is otherwise in good condition, refurbishing your bathtub could be a straightforward weekend project. Still, it might be a good idea to get contact information for professional tub refinishers, in case the job becomes more than you can handle. This is especially true if you don’t have a second tub or shower in the house, and your housemates will need to bathe in the next few days.

How Do You Refinish a Bathtub?

Learning how to refinish a tub yourself can be done by watching home-improvement tutorial videos online. You can also check your local home-improvement stores to see if they offer classes that teach how to refinish a bathtub. Before you begin your project, make a list of the supplies you’ll need and purchase them in one trip to the hardware store. You won’t want to be in the middle of the project and realize you need to make another trip.

Bathtub Refinishing Supplies 

  • Bathtub refinishing kit
  • Screwdriver
  • Putty knife
  • Abrasive pad
  • Rubber gloves
  • Breathing protection
  • Bucket
  • Sponge
  • Paint roller and roller cover
  • Paint sponge
  • Roller tray
  • Caulk gun
  • Chemical caulk remover
  • Bleach
  • Abrasive cleanser
  • Drop cloth
  • Painter's tape
  • #400 to #600 wet/dry sandpaper
  • Paper towels
  • Tack cloth
  • Tub and tile caulk

Bathtub Refinishing Process

  1. Read and follow the manufacturer's instructions that were included with the refinishing kit. Use only as directed.
  2. Ventilate the room. Even though many tub refinishing kits claim to be odorless, it is in your best interest to keep the room ventilated while you work. Open nearby windows and run the exhaust fan.
  3. Wear personal protective equipment, including rubber gloves and breathing protection, especially when sanding the tub.
  4. Unscrew and remove all the metal hardware from your tub. This includes the faucet spout and cover plates. Use a putty knife to clean dirt and caulk residue from openings.
  5. Thoroughly clean the tub. Remove the caulking from the joints around the tub. You might need to use a chemical caulk remover to rid the tub surface of all traces of caulk residue. Use bleach to remove mildew. Thoroughly scrub the tub surface with an abrasive cleanser. Rinse completely with clear water.
  6. Cover areas around the tub — including the floor and walls — using painter's tape and drop cloths.
  7. Etch the tub’s surface by combining the kit’s etching powder with water and applying it to the surface of the tub. The etching powder should help prep the old finish so the new coating will adhere to the tub’s surface. Scrub the tub surface using an abrasive pad. Rinse the bathtub completely with clear water.
  8. Use #400 or #600 wet/dry sandpaper to sand the bathtub while the tub is still wet. This will roughen the tub surface further, allowing the new coating to better adhere to the surface and not peel away after all your hard work. Sand and roughen the entire tub, including the corners and edges. Rinse the tub and let it dry.
  9. Wipe down the dry tub to remove dust, lint or paper residue.
  10. Apply the kit’s primer to the tub surface using a foam brush and paint roller. Follow all label instructions. Let the primer dry.
  11. Follow the kit’s label instructions to mix the epoxy coating by blending the hardener/catalyst into the epoxy resin. The epoxy coating will begin to harden once mixed, so be prepared to apply the coating to the entire tub in one session.
  12. Use a paint roller to apply the coating to the sides of the bathtub. To prevent lines and drips, alternate using horizontal and vertical roller strokes. Use the sponge paint brush in the corners and other hard-to-reach areas.
  13. Follow label directions regarding timing of the second coat’s application.
  14. Allow the second coat to dry and cure, as per label directions. Curing might take up to three days. Keep the area ventilated.
  15. Seal the tub with fresh silicone caulk and allow it to cure. Reinstall hardware.

Bathtub refinishing can add new protection to your tub while making it look better. The project can cost a few hundred dollars, depending on which supplies and tools you already own, but refinishing is typically an affordable way to improve the look of the entire bathroom. On the other hand, if you’re not a do-it-yourselfer and learning how to refurbish a bathtub just isn’t on your to-do list, upgrade to your dream bathroom, starting with a new tub. Learn about Modern Bathroom’s exciting tub and shower options here.        

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