Get a like-new look for that old bathtub for a fraction of the cost and hassle of a large renovation by refinishing the tub instead of replacing it. In most cases, replacing a bathtub requires an extensive amount of work and a considerable investment of both time and money. Refinishing, a process that’s also commonly known as reglazing or resurfacing, allows you to repair any scratches or dents, remove the old finish and apply a fresh finish with a glossy top-coat that makes the tub look brand new.
The overall cost of this project, and whether or not it makes sense for your situation, depends on a variety of factors. Read on to learn more about the pros and cons associated with refinishing or replacing your bathtub. We’ve also compiled information to help you decide whether to hire a professional or try doing it yourself.
Refinishing vs. Replacing a Bathtub
There are many reasons for giving your bathtub a facelift. Whether your existing one is simply old and unsightly or you’re remodeling the entire bathroom, rehabbing the tub can make a significant difference in the look of the room. When it comes down to getting the job done, the question remains: should you replace or refinish?
Most basic tubs retail for as little as $300, which may be equal to or even less expensive than refinishing. Before you start shopping, you need to consider the hidden costs involved in replacing a bathtub, which include:
Demolition and removal of the old tub typically adds $70 to $150 to the final price
Hiring a plumber to re-attach pipes costs $299 according to the national average
Installation of the new tub costs $2,896 according to the national average
If you’re thinking of replacing your tub with a shower pan, first consider the effect this could have on the home’s resale appeal. Most prospective buyers shy away from homes without a bathtub, particularly if they have children
Once you add everything up, that $300 tub turns into a project that costs more than $3,000. There’s also always the chance that you’ll encounter structural or plumbing problems along the way, which extends the time and cost of the project.
To refinish a tub, most homeowners spend between $200 and $900, with the average cost coming in at around $460. If you consider all of the costs associated with replacing, refinishing seems like a real bargain. Additionally, if you have an irreplaceable antique or rare bathtub, you likely want to keep it to preserve the charm of your decor or the historical accuracy it provides in an older house.
It’s important to note that to refinish a bathtub isn't always the best idea. If the tub itself is damaged, refinishing may only be a temporary solution that needs to be repeated on a regular basis. It can also mean that the bathtub, and your bathroom as a whole, aren’t usable for 24 hours or longer. Compared to the length of a bathroom remodel, however, that drawback is minimal.
Whether you decide to hire a professional or do the project on your own, it’s important to research the materials used to refinish the tub, including how to refinish a bathtub and how long it typically lasts. You need to fix any plumbing issues before starting the project. To help you decide whether to hire a professional or try this update as a DIY project, read through some tips for both choices.
One of the main benefits of refinishing on your own is saving money. However, if you approach this as a DIY project, you have fewer color choices and they may end up with a questionable finish. If you’re approaching this as a DIY project:
Find a Kit. Look for a complete kit that includes everything you need for the project, including cleaner, sandpaper, primer, refinishing paint, a roller, a brush and a tray, all for $60 to $100. The best kits use a durable resin coating instead of epoxy, which is quick to discolor and chip. Most of the cheaper kits only come with the epoxy coating, which means you still need to buy all the extras and you might end up wanting to refinish the tub again in a year or two.
Take Safety Precautions. Most professionals wear coveralls and HEPA air filters to protect themselves from the fumes and from coming into contact with the refinishing paint. At the very least, you should wear a mask, goggles and gloves.
Complete the Steps. Start by protecting the areas you aren’t refinishing with a tarp or plastic sheeting. Prepare the tub surface by sanding it down and repairing cracks before applying the primer, refinishing paint and topcoat.
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Tub Refinishing Tips
If you rely on a refinishing company to do the work for you, the only thing you need to worry about is making sure that the plumbing fixtures are in good shape. For example, if you want to replace the faucet or if you have a leak, that should be completed before the refinisher arrives. If you opt to go at it alone, here are a few tips to get you started.
Prepare the Area
Pros will protect the rest of your bathroom and home by covering the floor and other fixtures with heavy-duty plastic to prevent overspray and dust from carrying over to areas that aren't being refinished. Using an exhaust fan to ventilate the bathroom for several days helps contain the odor of the refinishing products.
Remove the Old Finish
Before you can add a new finish to your bathtub, you need to strip the old one off by sanding the surface thoroughly. The new finish adheres best to a perfectly smooth surface.
Once you have the old finish sanded off, evaluate the surface of the tub. Any areas with rust, cracks or chips must be repaired with a waterproof crack-repair product or something similar.
Apply the New Finish
The exact instruction may vary from product to product, but most tub-refinishing products include a primer that's applied to the prepared surface. Allow the primer to dry before applying several coats of the refinishing material. Let the material dry between each layer and before applying a sealing coat. Once the top coat goes on, the tub's new finish typically needs to set for 24 hours before you can run water over it.
If You Hire
When you hire a professional, you can allow the pro to guide your choices in the color and finish of the reglazing tub product. Many pros can create custom colors to match what you already have or provide a completely different, fresher look. Before you hire someone to refinish your bathtub, get estimates from at least two or three companies to make sure you’re getting the most competitive rates. Ask potential contractors:
About the products: What kind of refinishing bathtub paint do you use? What are your color choices? Are there any warranties?
What to expect: How many workers will be present during the job, and how long will it take? If you use subcontractors, do you perform background checks?
Their background: How long have you been refinishing bathtubs? How many similar projects do you typically complete every month?
Additionally, verify that the contractor is licensed and insured. Ask for pictures of the contractor’s previous work, and check the professional’s references to gauge other customers’ level of satisfaction.
Although it may seem tempting to save money on a pro and try your hand at refinishing the tub on your own, approaching this as a DIY project can have its pitfalls. Without thorough surface preparation, complete removal of the old finish and allowing each layer to completely dry before adding the next one, your newly refinished tub will have a rough texture.
Other potential problems include bubbles popping up in the layers of epoxy because of improper spraying techniques, brush or roll marks when using paint-on epoxy and failing to let the tub dry long enough, which can mar the final coat and leave the finish looking smudged. If the tub feels tacky, even after you wait for the required amount of curing time, the coating might not have set correctly and you may need to repeat the process.
Hiring a professional to refinish your tub is relatively inexpensive — usually costing as little as a couple hundred dollars. In return for paying to have someone do the work, you save time, eliminate the worry of making mistakes and receive numerous benefits, such as:
Avoiding the mess and fumes of the refinishing product
Having superior surface preparation
Enjoying high-quality finishing that makes the tub look like new
Getting an increased number of color choices. Most professional refinishers can match your existing color or create custom shades
Obtaining a finish that can last anywhere from 5 to 15 years compared to the 2-year longevity of DIY products
Whether you choose to do this as a DIY project or hire a professional, there are several things to consider before you get started. Perhaps most importantly, consider the timing. The finish must dry for at least 24 hours, which means no one can shower for a full day after you’ve applied the final coat.
You should carefully consider the potential role that weather plays on the amount of time that the finish needs to dry. For example, summertime humidity typically slows the drying process down, and it may take two days or longer for the finish to set and dry unless you can run a dehumidifier in the bathroom. Undertaking a tub refinishing project in the cooler, less-humid weather of fall or spring may make more sense. If the weather is humid during the project, you can also use a fan to speed up the drying process and to prevent tiny particles of dust, debris or dirt from falling onto the finish.
Lastly, it’s crucial to follow proper cleaning techniques for your newly refinished bathtub. Only use non-abrasive cleansers to avoid dulling the surface.