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Bathtub Refinishing Cost, DIY Tips & When to Hire a Contractor

We put together a bathtub refinishing cost guide which includes useful DIY tips, the cost of materials as well as the cost to hire a contractor for the job.

Bathtubs are almost a necessity in the modern home. A lot of people use showers to wash the daily grime from their bodies but there is nothing quite like a long soothing soak in a hot soapy bathtub. At one time a bathtub was the only type of all-over wash that was available (apart from the local river or pond); especially in the time before shower heaters and pumps became a more manageable size. It wasn’t so long ago that the way to have a bath was in a galvanised iron laundry tub in front of the kitchen or living room fire, filled with hot water from the kettle. Because it was such a rigmarole organising the bathing rota, heating the water and emptying the used water, families would have a ‘once-a-week’ bath and take it in turns to use the tub with the same water.

These days most homes have a shower and a bathtub, the shower is used for the regular daily body wash before starting the day’s work or before going out in the evening, while the bathtub is reserved for the special occasion when you have some time to devote to yourself. With the rising cost of water, it makes sense to use a shower rather than a bathtub unless you really want to pamper yourself

Let’s face it then, the bathtub is a lazy luxury for most people so it makes sense to spend some money on it and make it somewhere special.

Why do we need to refinish

Most people have the same tub in their bathroom that was there when they moved into the place. Probably the colour is either white (not so bad) or more often is what was popular in the 1960s and 1970s, probably Avocado or some such hideous colour. Leaving the colour aside, if it is a bath installed before the 1970s then it is probably either a cast iron or steel tub covered in an enamel finish. If you are really lucky then it is even older and is made from an ornate cast iron with vitreous china or porcelain finish. All these tubs have one thing in common; as they become older, they chip or flake and nearly always stain from the mineral deposits in the water. Modern baths manufactured after the 1970s are often made from some kind of synthetic material such as epoxy, fibreglass, acrylic, polyurethane or some other kind of polymer. These don’t have the same problem of chipping because they are the same colour all the way through but they are susceptible to scratching if abrasive cleaners are used or cracking if their load is distributed unevenly.

More and more people are remodelling their homes with retro and antique décor and fittings. Salvage yards sell reclaimed bathtubs as well as toilets and sinks for installation in these retro styled rooms. Unfortunately, because of their age, nearly all of these reclaimed tubs have chips, stains or scratches.

The answer to all these problems, whether old, chipped enamel tubs or cracked and scratched acrylic tubs is to have them repaired and refinished. Of course you can always buy a new one, but where is the fun in that?

Today we are going to chat about refreshing, repairing and refinishing your bathtub. How to go about it, what materials you can use and whether there are contractors available to do it for you. We will also talk about the problems, both in quality and in safety that can take place when you try to do the job yourself.

Different kinds of bathtub

In order to understand the method of repair we must take a look at the various types of tub and the different materials used in their manufacture.

First of all though, the operation of bathtub refinishing has many names, some of which are quite common and you may already be familiar with them, while others are not so common.

  • Refinishing
  • Resurfacing
  • Reglazing
  • Re-enamelling
  • Relining

All these (with the possible exception of relining) mean the same thing so don’t get confused if you see any of these services advertised by contractors.

Relining is different because it is the process of fitting a made to measure false liner inside a severely damaged bathtub to provide a watertight container. Just to let you know, relining a bathtub is a professional job not a DIY project for the simple reason that each liner is made to measure to fit your specific tub.

So let’s get down to it shall we?

There are many different materials from which you can manufacture a bathtub. Probably more than you thought was available. Let us list a few and see if we can determine the pros and cons of each material, shall we?

Fibreglass. This material is also known as FRP or fibreglass reinforced plastic. This is probably the least expensive of materials from which your tub can be made. The tub is basically formed by building up layers of fibreglass over a mould shaped to the dimensions of the required bathtub. The finished shape is then coated with a Gelcoat resin to provide a smooth coloured surface. This material will provide a cheap, light weight, easily installed bathtub with a finish that can be easily repaired if needed. On the other hand tubs made from fibreglass are thin, flex easily and require seating into a metal frame before levelling. They don’t have a very long lifespan and are prone to scratches, fading and cracking.

Enamelled steel. These are sometimes called ‘porcelain on steel’. This is also a relatively inexpensive material and is very common, especially in older tubs. The tub is formed from a thin sheet of steel and then coated with a layer of porcelain enamel. These bathtubs are easy to clean and have a long lifespan. They are resistant to most chemicals and remain smooth and glossy for many years. Disadvantages include their weight. They are heavier than fibreglass or acrylic tubs. They can chip under impact and they can rust where the protective surface has broken. The range of sizes and shapes commercially available is very limited compared with fibreglass and acrylic.

Acrylic. These tubs use a fibreglass sheet for reinforcement with vacuum formed sheets of coloured acrylic on top. They have the same advantages as fibreglass tubs but are more expensive. Like fibreglass tubs, they can scratch, discolour and fade over time, although the better quality acrylic tubs have better durability. There is a good range of shapes, sizes and colours available but for some people they may lack the appearance of quality.

Cast iron. These tubs will last literally for years. They are made by pouring molten iron into a mould of the desired shape, smoothing the surface and then coating it with a layer of enamel. This is probably the most durable bathtub available and is proof against chips, scratches, dents and corrosion from most household chemicals. There is a good range of colours and shapes available and the tub tends to hold the water’s heat well. Disadvantages are that the tub is so heavy that it will require extra help to install and sometimes needs the flooring reinforced. They are however some of the best quality tubs on the market but also some of the most expensive too.

Solid surface tubs. These are a relatively new material for bathroom use and have many good qualities. It is made by combining high grade polymer resins with natural crushed stone particles. The mix provides a smooth and strong surface which is resistant to stains and damage. Solid surface products are available as bathtubs, sinks, basins, seats and shower trays. They are moulded into crisp, clean shapes without needing the curves and thick walls of other materials. The colours tend to be natural and subtle and the finish is easily repaired if required. Because they are moulded they come in a very wide range of shapes and sizes. They can however be heavy, as would be expected of a stone product, and they are quite expensive, although in use they have a very sturdy and stable feel to them.

Marble. These tubs are made from crushed limestone mixed with an epoxy resin and finished off with a Gelcoat. The available range of colours, sizes and styles is very large and the Gelcoat used with this material is of better quality than the fibreglass option. The average cost is somewhere between cast iron and acrylic.

Ceramic tile. Tubs made from ceramic tiles are made on site to whatever size and shape you desire (think – a mini swimming pool). There are more design options with this type but the maintenance of grout can be a nuisance as well as having an irregular surface to sit on.

Stone. Many different stone materials can now be used to manufacture a bathtub. These are very heavy and will require a structural framework to support the weight:

  • Granite
  • Marble
  • Basalt
  • Onyx
  • Sandstone
  • Many other types of stone

Wood. There is also a big market for bathtubs made from certain hardwoods such as teak. Yes, a wooden bathtub as well as a stone one will have a certain ‘WOW’ factor, but you can be assured that you will also pay for the privilege. Wood will also require a lot of maintenance to keep its ‘as-new’ beauty.

Replacing vs refinishing a bathtub

There is no doubt about it; to refinish a good quality cast iron enamelled bath will be cheaper than buying a new one. If the bath is an antique then it will be impossible to find a brand new one anyway.

Replacing

Most basic bathtubs will cost you not much more than $300 and this is also the minimum cost you will find to refinish a tub. But the cost to replace a tub is not just about buying a new one; there are many hidden costs as well.

  • Removal of the old tub can cost from $70 to $150. You may even have to smash the old tub to get it out of its location anyway.
  • Hire a plumber to attach pipes to the new tub will cost about $300.
  • Fitting the new tub will be about $2,500.
  • Refinishing. To refinish a bathtub can cost between £200 and $1000, the average being about $500.

Considering these costs it looks like the cost of refinishing is far less expensive than buying a new good quality bathtub especially if you have an antique tub that is irreplaceable.

You must remember that having a tub refinished is not always a good idea. If your tub is seriously damaged then refinishing may just be a temporary solution that will need to be repeated regularly. If this is the case then you will have to consider either a lining or a full replacement.

How to refinish a bathtub

Refinishing a bathtub is done to refresh the surface by either changing the colour or repairing chips, cracks or removing stains to give your tub a like-new condition.

The process follows a few basic steps which we can list here (we will go into it in more detail later):

  • Repair chips or cracks. Epoxy or Polyester putty is used to smooth and seal imperfections in the surface.
  • Etch the surface. A bathtub surface is smooth and non-porous. In order for the new surface to bond to the old, you have to give the surface what is known as a ‘key’ or mechanical adhesion. Etching is normally done with an acid.
  • Apply bonding agent. After the surface has been prepared using the previous two steps, a bonding agent is needed to improve the adhesion of the finished coats.
  • Apply primer. The primer is the first paint coat and adheres to the bonding agent.
  • Apply topcoat. The topcoat is the final layer. Topcoats are usually two component, synthetic polymer paints and are designed to give a smooth impermeable surface. Although suitable in the short term, these do not have the durability or resistance to abrasion that the original bathtub surface had.

Looking at these steps you can understand why many people opt for hiring a specialist company to do the job for them. To do a good job yourself is almost impossible as it is very difficult to produce an etched surface suitable for mechanical adhesion and provide a smooth surface when applying the various coats. Even if your DIY job looks good to start with, it doesn’t take long before the new layer starts to crack and peel. There are however many DIY refinishing kits on the market and we will be looking at the prices of these later.

Bathtub liners

While we are talking generally let’s just mention bathtub liners. To buy one the price is as much or is more than the cost of refinishing so it is not the cut-price option that you might at first think. But a liner is cheaper than buying a replacement bath so they might be worth considering. As we said previously a liner is not a DIY project so will need a professional to do the job. Once you have one however there are a number of things you can do to help maintain your liner and keep it looking good.

Among the biggest problems when having your bathtub relined is that water can become trapped between the liner and bathtub. You may not think this is much of a big deal, after all it’s only water, but what you forget is that it is stagnant water. Fungal and algal growths such as mould and mildew will form in the cavity and start producing an unpleasant odour. You can often tell if you have water trapped because the liner will feel different when you step on it. All is not lost however as there are some simple maintenance steps you can try, and if done regularly you will find that your bathroom does not degenerate into a stinking swamp!

Remove the drain shoe. First remove the drain shoe with a slot screwdriver and a pair of pliers. This is not an easy job but if you persevere, you will find it is possible. First step is to poke the plier handles into the drain and then slide the screwdriver between the handles. This allows you to unscrew the drain shoe using the screwdriver as a lever. Gently rotate the screwdriver counter clockwise which will turn the pliers as well. This in turn will unscrew the drain.

Remove the trapped water. Lift out the drain shoe. Put the nozzle tube of a domestic nozzle type vacuum cleaner over the drain hole and switch on. The vacuum will draw all of the trapped water towards the drain hole and the nozzle. Make sure you remove all the standing water from the cavity or else the mould will not go away.

Let the cavity dry. After you have sucked out as much of the standing water as you can, you must allow the cavity to continue drying out for as long as possible. Leave the drain shoe out of its hole for at least 24 hours so that the excess moisture can evaporate. Remember that if the room is humid, there will be a lot of water vapour in the air which will prevent the moisture in the cavity from evaporating. If you have an electric fan and a dehumidifier then these will help to reduce the moisture in the air.

Now fix the problem. You have managed to remove all the moisture from the cavity between the bathtub and its liner, but how did the moisture get there in the first place? If you don’t find the problem then it will just reoccur and you will have a never-ending job every few weeks. Try to find out where the water is entering the cavity. It will probably be that the liner is not properly sealed. No problem, use a caulking gun and a tube of bathroom silicone caulk to reseal the edge of the liner.

DIY refinishing steps

As stated before, to refinish a tub is probably something you don’t want to try yourself. Although the operations look easy, it takes skill and practice to get it right and a smooth surface is very difficult to achieve.

Prepare. Remove all trace of caulking around the bathtub rim. Clean the entire bathtub surface using household chemical cleaners to remove all dirt and scum residue. If the scum is particularly stubborn there are chemical products available.

Rinse. Rinse all surfaces with clean water and dry thoroughly.

Mask. Remove the drain cover. Use masking tape and paper or plastic sheet on all the surfaces you don’t want to paint. Remember that you will be painting using a spray gun so it is worth covering an area a lot larger than you would do if you were brush painting.

Fill. Fill any chips or cracks with polyester putty. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when mixing and applying the two part filler. Allow the filler to dry.

Sand. Sand and feather the filled chips. Gently roughen all surfaces using a palm sander.

Vacuum. Use a va cleaner tube with a brush attachment to remove all visible dust from the surface followed by a wipe with a tack cloth to remove all trace of dust.

Bonding agent. Use a spray bottle to apply the correct bonding agent for the bathtub material (Some materials may not require a bonding agent). Allow time for the bonding agent to dry.

Primer & spray gun. Pour primer into the paint pot of the spray gun, and then attach paint pot to the spray gun (Follow manufacturer’s instructions when handling the spray gun).

Apply primer. Apply two coats of primer on each surface. Use a back and forth motion to try and get the primer applied evenly. Allow at least thirty minutes (or drying time recommended by the manufacturer) between coats for the primer to dry.

Acrylic top coat. Using a similar method, apply three coats of the acrylic top coat to the surfaces. Wait at least thirty minutes (or time recommended by the manufacturer) between each coat.

Wait. Allow from 24 to 48 hours for the new bathtub surface to completely dry (or time recommended by the manufacturer).

Remove masking. Remove masking tape, paper and plastic masking. Dispose of in accordance with your local waste disposal regulations.

Safety notes. You will more than likely be applying the new finish indoors in the bathroom, so it is worth considering a few safety rules to ensure the continued health and comfort of your family.

  • Wear an appropriate respirator when mixing and applying bonding agent, primer and topcoat.
  • Wear appropriate coveralls to protect your clothing and skin during the operation.
  • Wear safety spectacles during sanding and paint spraying processes.
  • Wear dust mask when sanding the surface.
  • Ventilate the room as much as possible.
  • Do not allow unprotected people into the room until all fumes have dissipated (follow manufacturer’s instructions).
  • Dispose of masking materials, sanding dust and empty paint containers in accordance with your local and national environmental legislation.
  • Always download or ask the retailer for the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) of all paints and chemicals and read thoroughly.

DIY tips

There will always be little tips that will make the job go smoother and save work for both you and the contractor, so let’s have a look at those now.

Before starting on repairs to the bathtub, have a look at the plumbing fixtures and fittings. Make sure all leaks to the drain and the faucets have been fixed and if you want some new style faucets then choose them now and have them fitted before the finisher arrives.

A professional refinishing technician will always protect the rest of the bathroom by covering the floor and other fixtures with heavy duty polyethylene sheet. Many will also hang polyethylene sheets from the ceiling to make an enclosed room within a room. This will prevent paint spray and dust from finding its way into other fixtures and indeed the remainder of the house.

A professional technician will have an exhaust fan to remove toxic fumes from the bathroom, and this will be working for many days. This will prevent the curing fumes from spreading around the house.

Make sure you completely remove the old glossy surface or the new finish will not adhere properly.

When the old finish has been completely removed, carefully inspect the surface of the tub for cracks, dents, chips, rust and other imperfections. Repair these with suitable filler and sand the filled areas smooth.

Make sure you leave the correct time interval between applying the primer and each of the topcoats. These will vary depending on the product so make sure you read and follow exactly the manufacturer’s instructions.

Many potentially good jobs have been spoiled by lack of proper preparation. You must never rush the stages and always ensure that you cannot improve on a stage before you move on to the next.

Consider timing. The final topcoat must be allowed to dry for at least 24 hours before use. This means that no-one will be able to use the bath for at least that length of time.

Consider how the weather will affect the drying times of the paints. Humid summer weather will slow the drying time while cooler months will help dry faster. Use a fan to help dry the paints and have a dehumidifier handy in case of excess humidity.

When the refinishing has been completed, you must always clean the bathtub with non-abrasive cleaning agents to avoid damaging the surface.

How to choose a professional

If you decide to go for a professional refinishing technician, remember that they will be able to guide you on choice of finish and colour. Many of them will be able to provide custom colours to match your existing colour scheme.

Before you choose your refinishing technician ask around and get estimates from two or three different contractors to ensure you have the best possible deal.

When you have a shortlist, don’t forget to ask the refinishers the following questions:

Ask about the products. Ask about the type of finishing paint they will use. What choices of colours are available and are there any warranties on materials and labour?

What will happen? How many people will be present on the job? Does the company employ directly or use subcontractors? Do they perform criminal background checks on the employees?

The company’s history. How long has the company been refinishing bathtubs? How many similar projects are completed in a typical month? Are there any references to check?

As with all contractors make sure they are licensed and hold the proper insurance. Check that all documentation will be in force during the period they are working on your property.

Always remember that you only get what you pay for and bathtub refinishing is no exception. There are some professional refinishing companies that advertise a cheap and fast refinishing job. If you are tempted to choose one just have a look back at the paragraphs when we talked about what was involved in giving your bathtub a new finish coat. If done properly it can be a long and drawn out process, but worth it in the end. So remember that if someone says they can do the job on the cheap they are probably willing to sacrifice quality and reliability. Always look around at more than one contractor before you choose and don’t always choose the cheapest option either.

If we are talking about getting a professional to do the job then the materials and consumables will probably cost between $70 and $100 (look in the ‘costing’ section elsewhere in this article for more detailed prices). We also have to take into account not only the time taken actually working on the tub but also the time waiting for each coat to dry. No matter how hard you try, you cannot rush this waiting time, it is built into the job and the professional cannot go off and start another job while he is waiting for yours to dry can he? He will have to charge you for that waiting time at the same rate as the working time. That is only fair. There is also the cleaning up time as well. All traces of the dust must be removed otherwise it will settle onto the nice new glossy surface and ruin the finished product.

Bathtub refinishing cost

DIY refinishing can be very worthwhile if you are sure of your painting skills and can get a smooth surface, otherwise the finished product can look very cheap and shoddy. The cost of DIY materials will depend on the manufacturer and the quality of product supplied. The cost will also vary depending on where you decide to purchase. Be on the lookout for bargain offers as some DIY warehouses regularly give discounts on selected items. As well as being able to buy the individual components separately, there are many types of refinishing kits available that provide all the components needed to carry out a DIY refinishing job. The only things you need to supply are a spray gun for the paint and your own DIY skills.

Cost of DIY refinishing materials
Rustoleum Tub & tile refinishing kit (epoxy paint)
High density foam roller & tray
Sanding sheets
Epoxy body filler
Gelcoat scratch patch
Bathworks DIY bathtub refinishing kit includes:
Refinishing paintProtective gloves
PrimerPaint brush
HardenerSanding sheets
Non-skid additiveEtching cleaner
Paint roller & trayTack rag

If you decide to go down the professional bathtub refinisher option then the cost of hiring a technician will depend on the amount of work involved in renovating your tub, the area in which you live as well as the individual company and the skills of the technicians.

Contractor cost to refinish a bathtub
Low end$200
High end$1000
Typical range$350 to $600
National average$500

Although not strictly classed as refinishing, fitting a liner can be an option as well. As there are many different styles of bathtubs available, it is impractical for DIY warehouses and other retailers to stock every different type of liner. Because of this, each liner will be made to fit your individual tub and will be fitted by a professional. There is no DIY option.

Contractor cost to install a bathtub liner
Low end$500
High end$6000
Typical range$1,500 to $4,000
National average$2,700

If you decide that you do not want to go down the refinishing or relining route, then all that remains is for you to replace your tub with a new one. The deciding factors on cost with this option are size, freestanding or alcove tub and material. Prices are indicative only and may vary depending on whereabouts in the country you live as well as which retailer you use.

Cost of new bathtub (not including installation)
Enamelled cast iron tub$500 to $2,000Standard 5ft
Enamelled steel$300 to ?2,000Standard 5ft
Acrylic bathtub$500 to $900Standard 5ft
Fibreglass bathtub$200 to $500Standard 5ft
Cultured marble$1,500 to $2,300Standard 5ft
Acrylic/fibreglass bathtub$1,500 6ft Freestanding clawfoot

The cost of the tub is not the only factor when having a new tub fitted. You will also have to pay for a plumber to install the tub as well as new fittings such as faucets.

Contractor cost to replace and install a new bathtub
Low end$185
High end$8,700
Typical range$1,000 to $5,000
National average$3,000
Plumber’s hourly rate$45 to $150 per hour

Safety

As with all home improvement jobs there are certain safety rules you need to follow if you want the finished product to be problem free. If you are using a professional bath refinishing technician to refresh your tub or a certified plumber to fit your new bathtub then it is up to them to follow certain common sense codes of behaviour, some of these enforceable in law. A list of these (and these are by no means exhaustive) are as follows.

Contractor’s safety rules

  • Wear suitable protective clothing to protect your clothes and skin.
  • Wear suitable protection for eyes and lungs.
  • Lift heavy objects with suitable lifting equipment and extra personnel.
  • Prevent paint droplets and fumes from spreading into the remainder of the house.
  • Prevent dust from spreading into the remainder of the house.
  • Keep children and pets away from the work area.
  • Read the SDS (safety data sheets) supplied with all chemicals and paints (sometimes this is printed on the original container)
  • Carry out a risk assessment of any hazards expected while refinishing the tub. Provide a copy to the customer.
  • Dispose of all waste in accordance with local and national waste disposal regulations.
  • Make sure you are insured for any damage to the customer’s property and to any person.

If you are doing the bathtub refinishing or installing your tub as a DIY project then similar rules and codes of practice apply but they are not usually legally enforceable. Once again, this list is not exhaustive and I am sure you can think of some I have missed.

DIY safety rules

  • Wear a dust mask when sanding down the bath.
  • Prevent dust from entering the remainder of the house.
  • Wear a respirator when working with chemicals giving off fumes and when paint spraying.
  • Ventilate the workroom as much as possible and prevent fumes from entering the remainder of the house.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions at all times and read the SDS (safety data sheet).
  • Dispose of empty chemical containers and waste materials in a considerate manner and always in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, local and national waste disposal regulations.
  • Ask a friend to help you lift heavy objects.
  • Keep your children and pets away from the working area.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke when working with chemicals.
  • You must hire a plumber to install pipes and fittings on new bathtubs.

Video resources

Conclusion

Today we talked about what to do when the enamel on your steel bathtub gets old, chipped and cracked. You don’t need to buy a new one do you? No, all you need do is call in the bathtub refinishing technicians to sort out the job for you.

We talked about the different types of bathtubs available on the market and what they are made from. We discussed what happened when they became old and worn and how you could refresh the appearance by just giving the tub a new surface. We also found out that even though it is possible to refinish your tub as a DIY project, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea as it takes a lot of skill to produce a smooth professional finish. Anything less would look cheap and tacky.

Just in case you did want to try refinishing, we talked through the steps of how you should go about it and the problems you can come up against. We looked at and compared the costs to replace your tub for a new one versus refinishing your existing tub.

We listed the safety aspects of the job and what must be considered when dealing with jobs creating dust, paint droplets and fumes. We then looked at some tips to try to make the refinishing task as efficient and as painless as possible.

We talked about the type of contractor needed to refinish your bathtub and the plumber that is needed to hook up the faucets on your new one.

We have found that it is not always necessary to buy a new tub; you can just give your old one a fresh new lease of life. Enjoy.

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