Bathtub Refinishing: A Step by Step Guide

Bathtub Refinishing

When your bathtub starts showing signs of aging, it may take on a dingy appearance and all of the cleaning in the world can’t revitalize it. There are two options which include replacing the tub, which an be extremely expensive or refinishing it, which is often much less expensive. If you’ve been thinking about tackling this challenge, here is a step by step guide that tells you everything you’ll need to know to take on this do-it-yourself project to reclaim your old bathtub, give it a face-lift and revitalize its appearance to make it look like new.

Refinish or replace?

While there are some bathtubs on the market today that cost as little as $200, this isn’t where the expense or the hassle comes in. The cost of hiring a professional can be through the roof, upwards of $1,000 for labor and materials and unless you’re a carpenter as well as a plumber, there is a lot of technical expertise to do the job right. in itself is enough to make it worth simply refinishing the existing bathtub if it’s not badly damaged or leaking. The process isn’t as difficult as it may sound and there are some amazing products out there that make it less of a challenge. This is something that can be accomplished within a day’s time and you don’t need to pay expensive labor costs, but there are a few materials you’ll need to pick up.

Benefits of refinishing your bathtub

One of the best benefits of refinishing your bathtub is that you won’t need to put up with having the bathtub take out of the bathroom. The removal process can be messy and it involves disposing of the old bathtub and the materials that you need to take out in many cases and replace. You won’t need to deal with the plumbing fixtures, the cement board or repair any damaged bathroom floor tile or wall materials which can easily happen during the process. Everything stays in place. You can also refinish your bathtub in any color that you want. You don’t need to stay with the white color unless that is your preference.

What is bathtub refinishing?

Bathtub refinishing is also called re-glazing or refinishing. It’s a lot like painting fingernails with fingernail polish. This is a cosmetic fix that is applied for bathtubs that are still in reasonable condition with no cracks or leaks. Re-glazing is one of the most affordable options, but there are also a few downsides that you should be aware of. You will need to work in an area that is well ventilated with a fan running and windows open. The substances which are used to complete this process can be dangerous to breathe in so you’ll need to be aware of the risks that go along with the re-glazing process. Although you can finish the job in a day, you’ll need to make plans to let this room of the house air out afterwards to clear out all of the toxic fumes from the refinishing materials and this can take between one and three days so you won’t be able to use your bathtub afterwards until the fumes have cleared and the glaze is properly set.

The tools and materials you’ll need

Before you start the job, you’ll need to gather together the necessary tools and materials. Plan to have a vacuum cleaner on hand with attachments that allow you to clean up any mess that you make as you go. You’ll also need to have paintbrushes or a paint sprayer, whichever you prefer to use to apply the paint. In addition, have a drop cloth available to minimize the mess, 400 grit sanding block and to make the job easier an orbital sander is helpful. You’ll also need a utility knife, a spackling knife, a caulk gun, steel wool, disposable gloves and a dust mask or respirator. On the materials side, you’ll need to have masking tape, plastic sheeting or paper, a two-part epoxy filler, degreaser, abrasive cleaner, caulk and a bathtub refinishing kit. You should also have eye protection on hand to avoid getting any of the sanded particles in your eyes and screwdrivers to remove the hardware on your bathtub.

Step 1: Preparation for bathtub refinishing

It’s a good idea to move everything out of the area where you are going to work to create an open space. If there are any stands slide them down so you have plenty of space to work and to organize your materials and supplies. One of the first steps in the preparation process is to open any windows so you have the best possible ventilation, and bring a portable fan inside the bathroom, and turn it on so it blow towards the open window for ventilation. If there isn’t a window in your bathroom, leave the door open and open the windows in nearby rooms. It’s best to do this project when other people are not near the areas where they can inhale the fumes, particularly small children, the elderly or others who may have respiratory issues because the fumes can be toxic. Also make sure that you are wearing protection for your hands, eyes and a respirator. If there is a ventilation system installed in your bathroom, turn it on. If there are other people in the home, you an seal off the door and use an open window or ventilation system to contain the fumes but you must wear a respirator.

The next step in preparation is to use your utility knife to cut the caulk away from the sides of the bathtub making both horizontal and vertical cuts. Completely remove the old caulk using a putty knife. If this makes black marks on the tub, don’t worry about it because they’re easy to remove. After all of the old caulking has been removed from the bathtub, discard it. You must be certain that all silicone caulking is removed from the bathtub before you start the re-glazing process. If you cannot remove it by hand, you can purchase a silicone digester which will effectively loosen it for removal.

Protect the surrounding areas

Another important step in preparation is to cover the wall or tub enclosure areas that are above, an beside the bathtub paper or plastic and securing this protective covering with masking tape. This is done so you don’t inadvertently spay the finish on walls or surrounding tile as it can be very difficult to remove. In addition, now is the time to remove any hardware that is on the bathtub. This includes any metal parts that will not be refinished, such as metal plates and the ring that holds the drain in the tub. Set them aside for later.

Step 2: Remove the porcelain glaze

The next step in the process is to remove the porcelain glaze from the entire bathtub. This is done by applying the stripper that comes in the bathtub refinishing kit. Most of these solutions are made of hydrofluoric acid. The acid dissolves the porcelain glaze and makes it easier to remove completely. It services the additional purpose of etching the surface of the bathtub so the new glaze that you apply will stick to it better. Make sure that all areas are covered with the stripper because you don’t want to leave any of the old glaze behind. After removing the glaze, wash to hydrofluoric acid away to leave a clean finish. Thoroughly dry the bathtub. If there are any rust spots remaining or bumpy areas, sand them down with the orbital sander or with 400 grit sandpaper and a sanding block. clean up all of the mess that is left behind and make sure that the bathtub is perfectly clean and dry before you move on to the next step.

Step 3: Apply the glaze

You’re now ready to complete the following steps for reglazing your bathtub. Before you start, wipe down the entire surface of the bathtub with a clean dry tack cloth to pick up any insects or dust that may have collected on the tub during the drying time. Even one small gnat or dust particle can ruin what would otherwise be a perfect and beautiful finish so be meticulous about this. The first step in glazing is to spray on a fast drying epoxy from the refinishing kit. This helps the finishing coats to better adhere to the surface of the bathtub and it is a necessary step. Two coats of the epoxy are sprayed on the entire surface of the tub to be painted. It dries fast, so you’ll only need to wait a few minutes in between the applications. Do your best to make sure that you get even coverage in all areas for the best possible results.

Step 4: Apply the finishing coats

The fourth step of the bathtub refinishing process is to apply the finishing. This is a product that is included in the bathtub refinishing or re-glazing kit. It is usually made of polyurethane. You must apply a total of four coats to the entire bathtub. If you’re using a sprayer, take care to apply the first coat evenly over all surfaces of the tub. After you’ve applied the first coat you’ll need to wait for it to dry. Information about the drying time will be included in your refinishing kit. Some of these finishes can be applied by hand with a paint brush and others are in a spray form. Either method will work but you must apply each coat as evenly as possible. After the first coat dries, lightly sand the tub, then use a clean tack cloth to remove any loose particles from the sanding process. This is a light sanding for the purpose of evening the surface and preparing it for the next coat. Repeat the process for the finishing coat with the application, drying and sanding two more times. You will not sand the surface after the fourth coat is applied.

Step 5: Polishing, drying, curing and putting hardware back

The final step is the polishing process. After the fourth coat of the finishing product has dried on the tub, let it cure for at least 24 hours to let all of the coats cure and harden. Do not turn on any water at all during this time. Although the entire process for refinishing a tub can take 4 to 6 hours there is a curing time that is necessary. While you’re waiting, this is a good time to clean the metal hardware for the bathtub using steel wool to remove any mineral buildups from hard water deposits, then polish it and get it ready for re-installation. After the curing time is finished and the final coat of glazing is dry, remove the protective paper or plastic from the walls, caulk around the bottom and edges of the tub and let this dry thoroughly and cure. Replace the hardware that you previously removed. Then clean the surface of the tub with a mild cleanser and wipe it down with a clean cloth. The results should be a beautiful new looking bathtub.

Final thoughts

The process for refinishing a bathtub is not rocket science, nor is it particularly difficult. It is however, a bit dangerous because of the toxic chemicals you’ll use for the project. As long as you observe the necessary safety measures and follow these steps, you can safety and successfully restore a bathtub that has seen better days to its former glory and make it look like it’s a brand new tub. This solution is for porcelain bathtubs which have cosmetic issues such as peeling, small pits or chips which can be sanded out easily or unattractive rust stains. The new finish must be properly cared for as re-glazed bathtubs are still subject to scratching from heavy abrasives, but it should hold up for another ten to fifteen years.


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