Bathtub refinishing

Old 11-27-05, 04:58 PM
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Bathtub refinishing

Hi, all. Newbie here. Well, not a newbie to remodeling. My new-to-me 1966 home in Colorado now has an all-new kitchen, refinished hardwoods, and more. I've done rehabs since I was in college (which paid for my tuition) some twenty years ago, so I've been around the block on even the hard stuff. (Though I still will not do roofing! Ha!)

This means the bathroom is next, and that's gonna be a big one. Bathroom looks to be original 1966 with some swet fittings added later, but still mostly compression and flare, if you need to know.

My question is this: just watched a TLC show that showed a BRIEF clip of a worker "painting" a chipped cast-iron bathtub (word in quotes because the shot was only three seconds long) as opposed to replacing it.

My reply: huh.

I know there are processes (proces?) for refinishing tubs, but are they DIY level .. and are they any good? Or, should I go get the tarp and the sledgehammer and start whaling away?
Old 11-27-05, 05:34 PM
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For the money and time, start whaling!

Professionals are best for refinishing however warranties given are not long.

Read this,


I'm not a fan of this process, even when professionals do it. It is not considered a DIY project if you are looking for better than average results. The need for the right equipment, chemicals and how-to-do knowledge is something that I don't even have nor want to do.

Issues that make me not desire this nor recommend it is based on the following,

1. Water serves a a catalyst for a peeling reaction.

2. The smallest gap between the drain flange and the beginning of the porcelain will start a peeling reaction.
NOTE: It is impossible to mask the drain perfectly and consistently every time.

3. The drain is the most vulnerable part of the bathtub because of water activity.

4. Any object that falls in the tub, i.e., razors, shampoo bottles, hair brush, can cause chips or cracks in the epidermal or outside layer and start a peeling reaction.

5. If any residue is present after the etching process and is not wiped out, it will cause a break down in the chemical adhesion process thus starting a peeling reaction.

6. Temperature conditions play a big part in the success of refinishing. A tub should be at room temperature when painting. If a tub is too cold or too hot it will not allow the paint to adhere properly, thus causing a peeling reaction.

7. When applying the paint, if there are any bubbles or air pockets on the surface of the tub it will not allow the paint to maintain a constant chemical reaction, thus causing a breakdown and a peeling reaction.

8. Once a bathtub has been refinished it is very difficult to successfully refinish again. This is because of a major inconsistency with the surface of the tub.

9. When refinishing a bathtub, especially one in poor condition, a refinisher will have to apply generous amounts of paint over a damaged tub to hide its condition. This makes the bathtub extremely slippery.
NOTE: This is not the case every time. But most common with polyurethane base paint.

10. Refinishing is very sensitive to the slightest amount of abrasive and if used will cause a peeling reaction.

As most things are based on money, even trying to do this yourself will be costly and when done professionally, it is not long lasting - 2 - 4 years at the very best! When all is said and done, replacement is the best option.

Here is something that one of our members wrote - sorry it is long but good.

These excerpts were written by Bill Syms Jr. for posts on
Excellent Information – 10/2004
Tub Reglazing
Reglazing a bathtub can be a cost effective part of a bathroom remodel and will perform over the long haul if it is done properly. It is like any of the other trades, the job will only be as good as the person doing the job as preparation is the key to making the coating bond to the tub.

Unfortunately when you are dealing with the larger franchised reglazing companies, finishing jobs fast precedes finishing jobs right. They cut out necessary steps needed to make the job last in order to save time. They also have a higher turnover of employees which means they "technician" that comes out to do the job might not have that much experience.

When I am involved in a bathroom remodel, the question comes up about replacing the old tub with a new one. I will be up front with you; I tell all of my customers that if you are thinking of getting a new tub, get one. There is no comparison to a reglazed tub. There are a few things to consider in making this decision.

1. Cost.
You can go to your local home improvement store and purchase a new bathtub from $100 to $3,000. However what needs to be pointed out is that the tub in a house built before 1970 is probably a high quality cast iron bathtub. That is why most of these though being a little worn still look half decent. Let’s say your house was built in the 1950's. Do you think that $100 tub will perform and last as long as the original? You be the judge.
Kohler makes a cast iron tub (villager) that can be found at most home improvement stores for about $275. It is a good quality tub. I charge $325 to reglaze a bathtub so although the tub is cheaper, when you figure in the cost of setting it and hooking up the waste / overflow, reglazing is actually cheaper.

2. Size.
People (and some contractors) don't realize that tub today are made to conserve water, therefore they are smaller on the inside. Go look at the tubs at the home improvement centers and compare them to your old one. If you like to take baths, this is important. Do you want to settle for a tub you barley fit into? I have purchased new tubs that are bigger on the inside that the generic tubs on the market but they are very expensive. In this case reglazing the tub is a viable option to the customer.

3. Character.
In older houses, modern fixtures actually clash with the character of the house. In these bathroom remodels the tubs are usually kept because they are so big and bold, especially if it is a claw foot tub. You can replace the tile, pedestal sink and toilet but if you change the tub it somehow does not look right.

OK, OK. But does the reglazing really work? My customer is going to spend thousands of dollars in material and labor to take this project on and hope this process works?

It all has to do with the materials I use and more importantly the preparation to make the coating bond. I have been reglazing tubs for 14 years, started with a company that serviced property management companies where quantify was more important than quality. My superior knew why my tubs did not fail as much as the other technicians; I was taking to long to do a job.

But this gave me a good reputation among the owners of the buildings as they requested that "Bill comes out to do the work".

My secret was in the way I prepared the surface of the tub, not taking the shortcuts that unfortunately most reglazers do. I also experimented with various coatings around the country to find the best product to use in peoples homes.

These are the steps to insure a good bond with your coating.

1. Cleaning the tub with an industrial cleaner.
Older tubs are normally worn and porous. This is why they are so hard to clean. An industrial cleaner acts like a degreaser and dissolves soap, oils and dirt. As I rinse the cleaner off I wet sand the surface of the tub to remove paint spots and calcium stains.

2. Acid washing the tub.
Porcelain is like glass. It is too glossy for any product to bond to it. Hydrofluoric Acid will lightly "ETCH" the surface of the tub.

Most companies skip this step for 2 reasons:

a. Saves time

b. Acid washing the tub has to be done very neatly as it will etch anything it comes in contact with. This is very important on a remodel, since the tub is reglazed last.

3. Repairing the surface.
The coatings used to reglaze bathtubs are not designed to fill in imperfections, rather to lay on a perfectly smooth, clean surface. A body filler (Bondo) is spread on the bottom and along the top ledges of the tub to fill in the porous areas. Once it dries the whole tub is sanded to smooth out the body filler and sand chalky areas of the tub from the acid washing.

Most companies skip this step because it is time consuming and if not done neatly can make a huge mess. Also if you do not etch porcelain, body fillers will not bond to them.

4. Adhesion promoter.
Not all tubs need an adhesion promoter. The newer tubs that are fired with China Porcelain (like a toilet) barley etch. Adhesion promoters help in these situations. I use a product that is sprayed in 2 coats.

Most companies use a tack rag with an adhesion promoter and just wipe it on the tub.

5. Primer.
It is very important that an "EPOXY" primer is used to bond to the tub. Nothing I have found performs better that epoxy.

Most companies do not primer to save time and money.

Once all these steps are taken, a good quality topcoat is all you need to make the tub look like a new one. Since most companies are trying to finish the job in 1 day they use accelerators in their topcoats to make them dry in as little as 4 hours.

But any chemist will tell you that slower cure times with coatings will create a better molecular bond thus producing a stronger coating on your tub.

If you look at this previous posting, you'll find that Bill did an excellent job of explaining the process and what to watch out for.
Unfortunately this is the case in the real world. Most reglazing companies do not etch and primer tubs and even more frustrating to customers do not honor their warranties.

Some coating companies don't help either as they promote products that cut out etching, primering and repairing. This technology is not perfected. These shortcuts will usually give the coating a life expectancy of 2 to 3 years or "just enough time for the customer to loose their invoice".

Most chemists that work at coating companies still say the best way to assure adhesion on porcelain is to etch, repair and primer the surface. However they are working every day for the miracle bonding agent that will work on glossy surfaces.

I reglaze allot of tubs that were reglazed before, most of them because they are peeling. Messy job too. You have to take a heavy bodied paint stripper (Jasco) and completely remove the old finish and start the job over from scratch.

I remember when I first started doing this for a living; a fellow reglazer told me "if you’re not doing 5 tubs a day, you’re not making money". 14 years later I still do 1 tub a day, I just don't redo them.

Here in California you can pay anywhere from $125 to $500 to have a tub reglazed.

$125 to $250
usually the 1st time business owner with the lowest price looking for jobs or large reglazing companies doing multiple jobs.

Both tend to be inexperienced in preparation and the products they are using. Tend to use products that are cheaper rather than better performing.

$275 to $350
usually the technician that breaks away from the big company and is making it, sole proprietors and franchises.

The only reason you are charging more is because you are setting the prices. Still have the 1st timers and new franchise owners with little or no experience, but this is where you will usually find the expertise if your lucky.

$375 to $500
Franchises that are mass marketing to home owners. The expert bids the job and sends the laborer to do the job.

In California there is so much work, you are depending on the person selling you the job. Honoring your work tends to be the exception rather than the rule. California contractors are required to warranty their jobs for observable defects for 4 years. Most Tub reglazers warranty their tubs for 5 years. You will find warranties from 3 to 10 years.

Earlier this summer I was doing a tub in a house and next door a tech from "Tub King" was also doing a tub. He proclaimed to me "If you're not charging $300 per tub, you don't know what you are doing"(I told him I was charging $275). The next day he was embarrassed when we looked at each others jobs and wanted to know what products I was using. In Pasadena, Tub King has 14 techs, who are all busting tail.

OK, OK, sounds like I am making your case for you. Let me tell you what you should be looking for in a reglazing job. First a good place to start is the internet. Search "bathtub reglazing" and review the many company’s web sites. Almost all of them will have FAQ sections in them. They are telling you what to ask a reglazer when they are trying to sell a job.

Ask the person who is trying to sell the job what kind of process they are using to reglaze a tub. You should hear from start to finish everything they do to complete your tub. The more thorough the explanation, chances are the better the tub will look and perform. Ask them very specific questions about the chemicals they are using. I would also ask how much experience they have and if they are licensed / bonded and if the person with the license will be doing the job. This person should have knowledge of tile cleaning and repairing, regrouting, recaulking, shower door installation and plumbing repairs.

A tell tale sign to question is someone who want to finish a job fast. If you are told a tub takes 2,3 or 4 hours to complete, they are trying to do more than 1 (or 2) jobs in a day. I laugh when companies advertise that you can pull the masking down the next day or charge you to caulk the tub upon completion. If you do not want your jobs to fail you should take care of things that your customer would expect you to do or would ruin the tub trying to do themselves. It takes me 5 to 8 hours to do a tub (due to repair, masking and ventilation situations) and I always return the following day to finish the job. A tub upon completion should have a very high gloss (without polishing) without runs or other imperfections in the coating. The entire surface of the tub should be coated evenly.

This year, California has a new classification, D-12, synthetic products for states contractors licenses. State law permits you to do any kind of work under $500 without a license / contract, so tub reglazing is viewed as Handyman work.

Hope this helps!
Old 11-28-05, 04:55 AM
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A BIG help!


I kinda figured as much, but thanks for confirming what I suspected. Out comes the hammer. And the tarp.

The one remodel job I have never done .. is replace the bathtub. Mine is cast iron, but looks to be quite thin, and is only about 24" high. Beat that thing fairly hard, and it'll come out in pieces, right? Need I worry about wall studs behind it when hammering, or are tubs usually mounted underneath the ends of the studs? House is brick, if that helps .. tub is on an insulated exterior wall (the back wall).

Actually, I take some of this post back. I once helped a friend take out his bathtub, which we took out in one piece. Since I'm working alone on this home, I don't think I can haul it out whole. It was bad enough with two people.

Or, does anyone recommend torching it apart?
Old 11-28-05, 05:21 PM
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I wouldn't recommend using a torch unless you have a really good insurance! Bad idea - don't use a torch!

Determine first whether the tub is cast iron or pressed steel. If it's cast, you could break it up with a sledge hammer for removal. So, for cast iron tub removal, first cover the tub with an old tarp before you start. Remove anything in your way, including toilet, if necessary. If toilet is to remain, cover this up as well as the vanity, mirror, toilet. Least but not least, if there is a window within the bathroom, protect this as well. Wear protective clothes to include long sleeve shirt, goggles, hat and leather gloves. A mask would also be a good idea. The porcelain will chip off and this can cut the skin very easily. A cast iron tub can be broken up with a maul/sledgehammer 5 to 10 lb. for removal. If you are wondering cast iron tubs are very heavy from 200-400 lbs so breaking it up is the best option.

If it is pressed steel, it will have to be removed in one pc or by the use of a sawzall, it can be cut with a metal blade. This takes time but it can be done. Best option though is one pc removal.

Most tubs are actually anchored directly to the wall studs with screws or nails. The problem with removal is that no matter which way you twist it (up or side to side) the area that the tub occupies will become longer than the five foot opening. This is assuming that you have one finished side (what you see outside the tub). When you tilt the tub up on one end (say the right end is being lifted) the top left will hit the wall and the bottom right will hit the wall. With the wall covering removed down to the studs, you may be able to lift the tub and move it out of the room on end. You will have to slide it clear of the plumbing before you lift it. An easier option, if dueable, is through the wall of an adjacent room by sliding the tub out from one end.

The trick to removing tubs is to first remove the tile and sheetrock behind it (5 foot wall to top of tile) and above both ends of the tub up to tile line and in front of both ends for 4 inches or more up to next stud. Unscrew drain assembly with a cross-shaped drain removal tool. Unscrew overflow cover plate and pull out any cover and connected drain plug and rods. The top of the tub is usually nailed to 2 or more studs along the back 60 inch side.

Slide out the tub toward the door at least 4 inches. Now it is clear of the studs and can be raised at the shallow end (not at the water valve end) to vertical with two strong people. Steel tubs may weigh 60-100 pounds.

Hope this helps!
Old 11-30-05, 06:15 AM
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A WORLD of help, Doug.

More questions, of course. But what you've given me so far is invaluable.

1) How does one determine if the tub is cast iron or pressed steel? As both are magnetic, the magnet test probably wouldn't help. Do you just bash it until you find out if you're making any progress?

2) Do you recommend I rip out the sheetrock before trying to rip out the tub? The one time I took out a tub, we got lucky and didn't have to.

3) The tub is enclosed on three sides -- back exterior wall, behind the tub, and the wall with the water supply and drain. No tile -- it's all vinyl over sheetrock, if even that. Does that change anything?
Old 11-30-05, 06:23 AM
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The best way to tell what you have for a tub is look at the tub thru the access panel.

If the tub has a rough surface, it is usually cast iron.

If the tub is steel, the surface is smooth. One key is the tub lip - the top of the tub, this is usually thicker and it is an indication that it is cast.

Tapping on the tub can be an indicator of what it is - more of a thud it is cast, more of a metal sound, it's steel.

Once you determine what you have, this will determine your approach. Regardless, remove the sheetrock since this will be gone anyway.

What is replacing this tub? Another tub with surround walls or a 2 or 3 PC firberglass/acrylic unit?

Hope this helps!
Old 11-30-05, 04:19 PM
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What I wanna do...

You're an immense help, Doug.

I'm kind of up in the air as to what I'll do, but I would love to do a fiberglass tub that's the same size as my current one (no built in shower enclosure) with tiled walls all three sides and sliding glass doors.

I'll try the "steel versus iron" tests tonight. Right now, from what you've written, gut tells me mine's a steel one.
Old 11-30-05, 04:27 PM
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You're very welcome!

Glad the information is helping.

Good Luck!

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