Upgrade Your Bathroom with These Tips on Removing and Replacing an Old Bathtub
Swapping out your dated tub for an updated unit is a doable DIY project with our tips on choosing and installing a new bathtub.
If your bathtub is leaking, worn, cracked, or just looking tired, it might be time to upgrade to a new one. A standard bathtub replacement can be purchased at your local home center and installed by a plumbing professional. However, removing the old tub and installing its stand-in can be time-consuming and costly, so buy the best bathtub you can afford to ensure you won't have to repeat the process for another 15 or 20 years. And if you'd prefer to take a DIY route, we'll show you how to remove the tub on your own in our step-by-step guide to replacing a bathtub below.
Because you're swapping out an existing tub, your options will be limited by the current tub's dimensions, as well as the size of your bathroom's doorway. Before buying a new tub, you'll need to know the tub's exact width and length measurements and where the drain is placed (left, right, or center).
An inexpensive replacement tub may be narrower than the old tub. Many people find a narrow tub uncomfortable, so be sure to consider comfort before you buy. Most tubs fit into a 60-inch opening, but some older ones can be longer. Measure to make sure your replacement tub will fit. Some spa or whirlpool tubs fit a standard tub opening, and installing one is not much more work than installing a standard tub, although a spa or whirlpool needs to plug into a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) electrical receptacle.
Tips for Buying a New Bathtub
Materials matter when shopping for a new bathtub. Acrylic or fiberglass tubs are inexpensive, light, and easy to install. Some have finishes that are fairly durable, but they can become dull in time. An enameled steel tub has a sturdier finish but lacks insulating properties, so bathwater will typically cool quickly. Enameled cast iron is the most expensive and heaviest material but might be worth the cost because it retains a gleaming finish for decades, fills quietly, and keeps water warm the longest.
Generally, standard bathtubs feature decorative aprons on an exposed side(s) and are found in white, biscuit, and cream, though other colors such as black, pastel blue, and pink finishes are available on midrange and pricier tubs. Rectangular tubs can feature rectangular, hourglass, or oval interiors, so give each bathtub you're considering a test run if possible. Lay down in the bathtub to check fit and comfort level. Are there contoured head and armrests, slip-resistant floors, and ample rims for holding toiletries and/or bath toys? Integrated seats, available on some midrange bathtubs, introduce added convenience while tubs with a curved apron wall supply extra bathing space.
Bathtub Price Guide
The prices of standard bathtubs vary more by material than design. Here's a look at the typical costs and the pros and cons associated with the most common types of standard bathtubs.
Enameled steel bathtubs range from $150 to $850. Less expensive and lighter in weight than cast iron, these tubs chip somewhat easily, can be slippery, allow water to cool quickly, and offer limited color choices.
Enameled cast-iron tubs range from $375 to $2,200. Available in a wide range of colors, these tubs are durable and retain heat, but they are also heavy and might require additional structural support.
Acrylic tubs range from $300 to $2,000. Lightweight, fade-resistant, and available in many styles with integrated comfort features, acrylic tubs hold heat well when insulated but might show scratches.
Fiberglass/plastic composite tubs range from $250 to $800. Polyester gel coat finishes and fiberglass backing often supported by wood or metal framing create a budget-friendly, lightweight tub in many styles.
Proprietary composite tubs range from $250 to $900. Americast by American Standard and UltraCast by Briggs are examples of materials that combine heavy-gauge steel, porcelain enamel, and resins to build bathtubs that offer all the benefits of cast iron at half the weight.
How to Remove an Old Bathtub
Removing the bathtub yourself isn't all that difficult. Before you begin, measure the tub and make sure you'll be able to get it past other fixtures and out the door. Remove the sink or the toilet if they will be in the way. To protect the floor, cut and tape pieces of plywood to the floor and cover with a drop cloth. Then follow these steps on how to remove your old tub.
What You Need
- Strainer wrench
- Pry bar
- Reciprocating saw
- Utility knife
Step 1: Pull Out Bathtub Drain
From inside the tub, unscrew and remove the overflow cover plate. If a drain assembly is attached to it, pull it out. (A drain assembly with a plunger is shown.) Unscrew and remove the mounting bracket if there is one.
Step 2: Disconnect Drain
To disconnect the drain, you might need to remove a screw or two and remove the strainer. You could also need to lift out a stopper and a rocker assembly. Use a strainer wrench to remove the drain flange.
Step 3: Disconnect Waste-and-Overflow
From an access panel behind the tub or from below, disconnect the waste-and-overflow (WO) unit from the drain line. Depending on the installation, you might need to unscrew a slip nut or loosen the screws on a no-hub coupling. If the parts are cemented plastic, you'll have to cut through a pipe. Remove the WO unit from the tub. (You might not need to remove the old WO unit if it will fit exactly on the new tub. Measure carefully.)
Step 4: Remove Tub Spout and Tiles
Remove the tub spout and remove the wall surface all around the tub to a height of about 8 inches. (If there are tub faucet handles, leave them in place if they are at least 8 inches above the tub.) Use a flat pry bar or putty knife to pry off tiles. Cut through drywall with a drywall saw. If the wall is plaster, use a reciprocating saw, taking care not to cut into the studs. Pry off nails or unscrew screws.
Step 5: Pry Away Tub
Pry out or unscrew any nails or screws anchoring the tub flange to studs. Where the tub rests on the floor, use a utility knife to cut through the bead of caulk if there is one. Use a crowbar to pry the tub an inch or so away from the back wall.
Step 6: Lift and Slide Tub
Unless the tub is an old-fashioned claw-foot or another type of stand-alone bathtub, it will fit fairly tightly between studs on either side. That means you probably can't slide it out unless you cut away the wall surface on both sides. The best way is usually to lift the tub on one end. Pry up one end of the tub first with a crowbar, then with 2x4s. Working with a helper, stand the tub upright and slide it out.
How to Install a New Bathtub
Once the old tub has been removed, you're ready to install the new one. Follow these step-by-step instructions to learn how to install a bathtub.
What You Need
- Measuring tape
- Waste-and-overflow unit
- Ledger boards
- Drain shoe and gasket
- Overflow trim and flange
- Shoe tube
- Plumber's putty
- Strainer wrench
- Plastic putty knife
- New tub
- Cement backerboard
- Apply grout
- Silicone or tub-and-tile caulk
Step 1: Check the Drain
Check the drain and replace any damaged parts. Consult the manufacturer's literature and measure to make sure the drain is in the correct location. Purchase a waste-and-overflow unit ($33, The Home Depot) and determine how you will connect it to the drain line. Screw ledger boards to the studs at the height recommended by the manufacturer. Ideally, the finish flooring material should run under the tub.
Step 2: Dry Fit Tubes
Working with the tub turned on its side, dry-fit the overflow tube and the shoe. Make any necessary cuts, then make permanent connections. Place the gasket on the overflow flange, position it behind the overflow hole, and insert the linkage.
Step 3: Add the Overflow Trim
Inside the tub, slip the screws into the overflow trim. Hold the overflow flange in place and hand-tighten one of the screws. Start the second screw and tighten both with a screwdriver.
Step 4: Insert Shoe Tube
Insert the shoe tube into the opening in the overflow tube. Slip the other end into the drain hole.
Step 5: Screw in Flange
Inside the tub, place a rope of plumber's putty ($1, The Home Depot) under the strainer or drain flange. Hold the shoe with one hand while you screw in the flange. Finish tightening with a strainer wrench. Clean away the squeezed-out putty with a plastic putty knife.
Step 6: Tilt in the Tub
Before tilting and moving the tub, plan the move so you avoid damaging the waste-and-overflow unit, which protrudes below the tub. It might work best to rest the tub on 2x4s part of the time. Move the tub into position with a helper. You may have to tilt the tub. Slide it into the opening and gently lower the tub in place, using a helper to guide the overflow tube into the drain line if needed. Slide the drop cloth or any other protective material out from under the tub. Protect the tub interior.
Step 7: Check for Level
Check the tub for level; an out-of-level tub might not drain completely. Attach the tub to the studs according to the manufacturer's directions. You probably will nail or screw through an acrylic tub flange. For a metal tub, drive nails just above the flange.
Step 8: Connect Waste-and-Overflow Piece
Working from behind or below, connect the waste-and-overflow tailpiece to the drain line. To test for leaks, close the stopper and fill the tub. Open the stopper; watch and feel for any sign of wetness.
Step 9: Add Tile Around Bathtub
To fill the gap above the tub, cut and install strips of cement backerboard, which is more moisture-resistant than green drywall. Install tiles to fit, allow the adhesive to set for a day, and apply grout. Apply silicone or tub-and-tile caulk where the tiles meet the tub.