Everything You Need to Know About Bathtub Refinishing

Here's our guide to the pros and cons of bathtub reglazing, plus how to refinish a bathtub yourself.

Relaxing in a warm bath is a great way to unwind after a hectic day. However, when your bathtub is dingy or deteriorating, taking a bath can be a much less pleasant experience. A tub that's chipped, scratched, rusty, or worn can make your bathroom look dated and unattractive. Before you get rid of that old tub, though, consider refinishing what you already own. Usually more cost-effective than swapping it for something new, refinishing a bathtub saves you the time and effort involved in a larger bathroom remodeling project. Plus, it allows you to preserve an older design, such as an antique clawfoot tub, that adds character to a bathroom but has seen better days. Check out our guide below for everything you need to know about bathtub refinishing.

dormer bathroom claw-foot tub
James R. Salomon

The Average Cost of Bathtub Refinishing

Replacing an existing bathtub with a newer model is not always a simple chore. The original tub almost always needs to be cut into pieces to fit through the bathroom door. There might also be flooring, trim, surrounds, and plumbing that will need to be removed and replaced. While a new tub can cost as little as $150, labor expenses for the replacement process can easily add $1,500 or more to the bill.

Instead, many homeowners have the existing tub reglazed or refinished, which typically costs $300-$600, depending on the area and process. If your bathtub is dingy and stained, or even if it sports some serious rust and cracks, a trained professional can likely fix and re-coat the surface for a like-new look.

Professional Bathtub Refinishing Process

Cast-iron, steel, and fiberglass tubs and shower stalls can all be re-coated to match the original finish or in an entirely new color. The bathtub refinishing process involves three steps:

  • First, the technician strips off the old finish and sands the tub to create a smooth surface.
  • Next, any holes, cracks, chips, or rust spots are repaired.
  • Finally, a primer, multiple layers of coating, and a sealant are applied. The bathtub can usually be used again in one to three days, and the finish should last 10-15 years.

To find a reputable contractor, ask friends for recommendations or check with the Better Business Bureau.

black accents white bathroom
Julie Soefer

How to Refinish a Bathtub

Although this work is usually best left to a trained contractor, there are DIY bathtub refinishing kits ($80, The Home Depot) available at many home improvement stores. It's important to note that these products don't use the same technology as the professionals, and the results are less durable and often look painted on rather than smooth.

If you plan on refinishing a bathtub yourself, make sure the area has proper ventilation before you begin. Open all bathroom windows and doors and turn on the vent fan to help air out the room. After putting on safety goggles and gloves, follow these DIY bathtub refinishing steps:

  1. Repair any chips or cracks with a heavy-duty patching compound ($6.78, The Home Depot). Let the product cure completely before continuing.
  2. Remove all metal drains, faucets, and hardware as needed.
  3. Thoroughly clean the bathtub with a solution of bleach and water or an abrasive cleaner such as Comet ($13, Walmart). Rinse the tub.
  4. Remove all caulk and wipe the area dry.
  5. Sand the tub to roughen the surface, which helps the coating stick. Rinse the tub to remove dust.
  6. Dry the tub with a cloth. When the surface is completely dry, wipe the tub with a dry tack cloth to remove any remaining dust.
  7. Lay down a drop cloth and tape off the area around the tub as well as any remaining hardware.
  8. After ensuring you have proper ventilation, follow the manufacturer's instructions for applying the paint. Use a high-quality, short-nap roller ($6, The Home Depot) for the main areas, and touch up corners or other hard-to-reach spots with a small foam brush.
  9. Apply additional coats as needed, waiting for sufficient drying time between coats.
  10. Once the coating is dry, remove the tape, reattach hardware, and caulk around the tub.
  11. Let the coating cure completely before using your bathtub.

After DIY bathtub refinishing, it's best to avoid using abrasive cleaners to protect the surface.

When Is Bathtub Refinishing Worth It?

Refinishing is well-suited to very old tubs, which typically have more character and are made of higher-quality materials than what's available today. The process isn't always the best solution, of course. For example, for a newer, low-quality tub, you'll typically get better results by replacing it with a higher-quality model. Tubs that are in bad disrepair might also not be suited for reglazing. Also, if you're remodeling and want a larger tub or one with more modern features, such as jets, you'll need to demolish and replace the bathtub instead of refinishing it.

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