DIY Refinishing Advice: How to Refinish a Bathtub

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Have you been eyeing your tub’s bottom? All the rust and chips sure don’t do the tub any favor. If it’s worn out to a point where you can see the metal underneath, perhaps it has been a long time since you’ve been drawn into your bathtub. And we totally get it! It doesn’t look nearly as good as it used to. The good news? You don’t have to replace your favorite tub just yet. We’ll help you decide if it’s worth refinishing your tub to save some money or replace it with a glazing brand new tub instead. Bathtub refinishing is far cheaper than buying a new one. At first, it might seem suspect, but when it comes to saving its surface, there’s no hack. It requires precise step by step work, and this guide has everything you need to consider and learn how to refinish it yourself, so follow through.

Is Refinishing Your Old Tub Worth it?

There’s still hope for your tub color, even if it has gone out of style. Bathtub refinishing can undoubtedly save your old tub and preserve an older design! Done correctly, it is an effective and inexpensive solution for a tub in good working condition. However, refinishing isn’t always the best solution, especially for tubs in bad disrepair. While it does save you time and effort, if you’re involved in a large remodeling project and want a tub with modern features refinishing is not worth it. If your tub is leaking, continually needs repair, or is full of mold, swapping it for a new tub, which is typically less cost-effective, would be your best option.

Bathtub Refinishing Process

Step 1: Prepare the Bathtub and Working Place

Bathtub chemical cleaning fumes are dangerous for your health. You don’t want anyone breathing them, so the workplace should be appropriately ventilated and dried out before starting the refinishing process.

  • It would be best if you turned on the bathroom’s ventilation fan and opened a window or door to help push air out of the room. 
  • If your bathroom doesn’t have a fan or a window to force fumes out, be sure to open as many windows as possible in the nearby room.
  • Additionally, to help dry the room and circulate airflow, you can place a fan in the window if it has one. Alternatively, you can put it in the bathroom doorway.

Step 2: Remove All the Caulk

Before starting with the refinishing process, use a putty knife to remove the tub’s caulk seal. To successfully refinish the tub, it’s essential to remove all the caulk. This is one of the hardest, if not the most challenging, tasks. It requires a lot of patience, so keep that in mind. Most of the caulk will be around the tub where it meets the tile surround, and likely layers sealing the glass shower door where it meets the tub. A good tip is to rinse off the caulk as you slice it throughout the process to get a better look at how far you’ve gone.

  • With a utility knife, start slicing with its edge into the caulk to cut it in half. You’ll want to continue to slice the caulk with vertical and horizontal cuts from above on the tile and bathtub side until it becomes loose.
  • From all of the slices through, once the old caulk is loosened enough, use a putty knife to work it the same way from the sides and easily remove the caulk for its disposal. 
  • Finish off any remaining caulk with a razor blade and remove it off the tiles or tub. If you’re unable to scrape it off with the blade, use sandpaper and remove it with ease.

Step 3: Apply Commercial Cleaner to the Tub’s Surface

Now that you have removed all of the caulk, it’s time to give your tub a fastidious clean.

  • Apply a commercial tub cleaner over the tub’s surface and thoroughly scrub and clean it with a rag or sponge. 
  • You might need to do this repeatedly to get rid of all the soap scum and grime out from your old tub. 
  • Cleaning the tub properly of soap, scum and oils is the most crucial aspect to getting your tub adequately refinished, so pay attention, especially around the drain. 
  • You don’t want anything hindering the new finish, so give the tub a good rinse and ensure it is spotless before moving on.
  • Take your time to inspect for any caulk, silicone, or soap scum leftovers. Scrape and clean accordingly and use paper towels to dry out the tub completely.

Step 4: Make Necessary Bathtub Repairs

If your tub has small and shallow scratches or small cracks, now is the time to repair the tub. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t be reglazing a tub that has significant cracks. That could lead to leaks and eventually cause your bathroom to become a flood zone, so instead, look to have it swapped with a new one.

  • You’ll want to place a few old towels or masking paper in the tub’s bottom and, accordingly following the manufacturer’s instructions, mix up some polyester filler.
  • Grab a putty knife and start applying your polyester topping over the chips or minor cracks to fix those bathtub anomalies.
  • After a few minutes of drying and the excess is ready to be sanded off. You might need to repeat the process. If necessary, you can also apply a bonding agent to the chipped areas, resulting in successfully repaired defects.

Step 5: Mask the Tub and Its Surrounding

Start masking around the tub’s edges and lay down a drop cloth in front of the tub to protect the floor. If you have a freestanding tub, you can move onto the next step. To help prevent the new finish from reaching anything other than the tub, you’ll want to mask the drain as well by applying painter’s tape over it. 

  • Be sure to remove the excess tape by cutting around it with a sharp razor blade. 
  • Combine masking paper with tape and re-mask over the first layer of tape cover. 
  • Before you start the refinishing process, wrap everything in plastic, excluding the tub itself.
  • You don’t want any drops of water in the middle of your refinishing task, so cover the tub spout and shower head by placing a latex glove over both of the fixtures. You can also tie them in trash bags, in case there’s any leaking.
  • Once you’ve finished covering the fixtures in plastic, increase the security by applying painter’s tape.

While you’re at it, you might want to refinish the shower walls if they’re part of the bathtub. However, if that’s not the case, cover it with masking paper or loose plastic and have them adequately secured in place with painter’s tape.

Step 6: Apply Bonding Agent to the Tub’s Surface

To successfully DIY this task, the new finish should stick to the old surface.

  • Before reglazing, you’ll need to apply a bonding agent over the tub’s surface. This will ensure superior adhesion and more outstanding durability to the porcelain or ceramic tile glasslike surface. 
  • Bonding agents should also be used for iron made tubs so that the new finish doesn’t peel off.
  • Make sure the bonding is very dry and follow the label’s instructions. Then rag on a bonding agent, which will chemically bond the new finish onto the tub’s old surface. 

Step 7: Mix the Reglazer and Get Ready to Paint

Before you start, be sure to wear protection: gloves, respirator, and eye protection. The new tub surface is achieved by applying the reglazing or bathtub finish, a substance like thick paint. 

  • Thoroughly mix the “reglazer” per its instructions to adequately dissolve any pigment that may have settled at the bottom. 
  • Once you pour the activator into the material, you’re on the clock because you have about an hour or an hour and a half to have it mixed and applied.
  • While some bathtub reglazing kits need to be mixed and applied with a roller or paintbrush, they’re also sold as sprayers in self-contained cans.
  • Always follow the directions on the package, you’ll want to make sure everything gets mixed really well. You’ll definitely feel the difference the more you stir it. 
  • Typically it takes 5-10 minutes of stirring to get all the edges off the stick and the bottom. Then again, it’s best to follow the label’s instructions as different finishes require different methodology.

Step 8: Apply the New Finish to the Tub’s Surface

If you’re using a spray-on finish, be sure to use paper towels when necessary to prevent any overspray. As you spray from left to right, don’t backtrack and keep the can closeby to create a smooth finish with a mixed “reglazer”. Apply the mixture in a single direction using a high-quality short nap roller. 

  • Avoid touching the finish and excessive brushing or rolling, using light, even strokes to properly cover the tub, while keeping a wet edge as you go. 
  • For touch-ups and corners, use a small foam brush. Tiny bubbles will appear on the surface while painting. As the paint dries, bubbles will disappear due to its self-leveling properties. 
  • Always allow freshly painted surfaces to dry for at least one hour before applying a second coat. 
  • Remove the painter’s tape after one hour of the final topcoat. Wait three days to expose the surface to water.

Step 9: Let it Dry Before You Apply Additional Coats

Before applying the next coat, each one will need a few minutes to cure. Give the first layer about 15 minutes to dry. Once the primer is dry to the touch and isn’t tacky, it’s time to apply a second coat of glaze.

  • Keep in mind that the bathroom should be well ventilated. With that said, you might want to wait a bit longer if the weather has been damp or if you have reduced ventilation.
  • Each coat should adequately seal and adhere to one another. That’s why it’s crucial to let each coat properly dry out before applying the next one. Typically you have to coat the tub three times before letting it cure completely.
  • Once you’ve finished applying the coats, let the tub dry for at least a day. Keep the ventilation at the highest level possible and don’t touch the new finish or run water through the tub.
  • Plan in advance to restrict toilet usage in the bathroom while the tub dries as the fumes can still be dangerous, even with proper ventilation.

Step 10: Recaulk Around the Tub

After a day of waiting, your newly refinished bathtub is ready for new caulk. Before you start caulking, carefully remove all the tape at a 45-degree angle. Get rid of the plastic from the wall and hardware used as protection in and around the tub. The tape removal shouldn’t affect the finish; however, if that’s not the case, the tub might not be ready for use just yet. On the safe side, refer to the bathtub finish instructions to ensure how long it takes to dry completely before the tub is ready for usage.

  • It’s recommended to use a non-silicone caulk with anti-mildew properties. 
  • Cut off the tip as recommended and start caulking by squeezing the tub along all the earlier cleared spots from the caulk.
  • Once you’ve applied the caulk, put on a latex glove and smooth the blob of caulk with your finger.
  • As you’re creating a smooth finish, hold your hand as flat to the tub as you can while running it over the caulk.
  • Carefully read the instructions on the tube label and let it completely dry before using the bathtub.

FAQs

How Much Does it Cost to Refinish a Bathtub?

The most expensive part of replacing a bathtub is not the cost of the new tub. Houses are built around tubs, and tub refinishing cost is lower than the cost of replacement. With that said, if the cost is the driving factor, refinishing the tub will save your old charm and give it a new shine with an average professional price of $452, according to Angie’s List.

How Long Does a Refinished Tub Last?

With proper care and maintenance, a refinished bathtub surface should last at least 15 to 20 years and preserve the life of your old charm. At the same time, that might not seem like an extended period of time at first. It sure does beat buying a new bathtub that won’t be as authentic.

How to Treat a Refinished Bathtub?

To protect the surface of a refinished bathtub it’s best to stay away from using abrasive cleaners. Bleach, steel wool, or even strong detergents will strip the protective qualities of your refinished bathtub, which will damage your tub over time. To keep your refinished bathtub protected for a more extended period of time, clean it with non-abrasive solutions such as baking soda, soap, or mild detergents. Waxing can also help and should be done two weeks after the application and at least every sixty days after the first waxing. If you notice any chips or minor cracks in the bathtub surface, repair them accordingly as soon as possible or risk water gathering under the tub, leading to additional problems.

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