Bathtub Refinishing vs. Tub Liners: What Is Best?

Bathtub with water in it

 

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Total bathtub replacement is what we'd all prefer when a bathtub wears out or when we can no longer tolerate the style or color. But the replacement is expensive, messy, and very difficult as a DIY project. This is why two popular options exist: bathtub refinishing and tub liners. These options meet the needs of homeowners who want a renewed bathtub without the expense or hassle of replacing it entirely. 

Both of these options share one attractive feature—your current tub stays in place. This takes the mess of demolition out of the equation. But except for this common element, the two options are quite different, as a point-by-point comparison shows. 

  • 01 of 09

    What Tub Refinishing Is

    Bathtub refinishing is a multi-stage process of coating your existing bathtub and surround. The refinishing technician cleans, sands, patches, and paints over your existing surface with no need to remove it.

    A special coating made just for bathtubs is used, not ordinary paint off the shelf. The actual formula varies, depending on what material is used in the original tub. DIY kits are also available for refinishing a tub, though they generally are less successful than a professional application. 

  • 02 of 09

    Tub Refinishing Pros and Cons

    Pros
    • No demolition work

    • Tub remains

    • Possible DIY finishing

    Cons
    • Odor and overspray

    • Severe problems not fixed

    • Coating can eventually chip or peel

    • Must use special cleaners

  • 03 of 09

    What Tub Liners Are

    A bathtub liner is a solid insert that is placed inside of your existing tub. Prior to installation, the liner looks just your current tub—just a smaller version of it.

    Your current bathtub is first measured by a remodeling contractor or technician from a firm specializing in liner installation. If an appropriate liner is not in stock, one is ordered for custom fabrication. On the day of installation, fixtures, drain, soap dishes, and other obstructions are removed.

    The liner is installed right over the old bathtub and surround. The existing fixtures, or new ones, are installed over the liner.

  • 04 of 09

    Tub Liners Pros and Cons

    Pros
    • No tub removal

    • No odor

    • Quick; no waiting for coating to dry

    Cons
    • May trap water under liner

    • Makes tub space smaller

    • Floor may flex

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  • 05 of 09

    Appearance

    In terms of finished appearance, refinishing wins this comparison. While judging appearance is always a matter of personal preference, most people find that refinishing produces better results because the process maintains the exact contours of your current bathtub. 

    One exception is if the old tub is in particularly bad shape—rusted, cracked, scratched, or dented. Here, completely covering the old tub with a liner may produce better results. However, if you have a unique bathtub or one with a unique shape that you like, refinishing maintains the same lines, just with a new surface.

    Bathtub liners slightly reduce the inner size of your bathtub, which may be a problem for users who like to use the tub to take baths. 

  • 06 of 09

    Demolition

    In terms of the mess and hassle involved, bathtub liners win out since liners create almost no demolition mess.

    A good remodeling contractor should leave your bathroom in spotless condition whether they are refinishing the tub or installing an insert liner. But during the process itself, refinishing is messier because it involves sanding and spray-painting.

    The refinishing company will create negative airflow in the bathroom, moving paint-laden air out a window. Also, elements in the bathroom beside the bathtub will be covered up.

    By contrast, installing a tub liner is mainly a carpentry or construction project, involving no paint and few solvents.  

  • 07 of 09

    Expense

    If costs are a consideration, refinishing may be the better choice for you.

    Although costs vary depending on the company, refinishing is usually less expensive than having a liner installed. Bathtub refinishing starts around $600, although some homeowners report lower estimates.

    With a liner, costs begin around $800 and can be considerably higher in areas where labor is in short supply or where the installation is complicated.

  • 08 of 09

    Doing It Yourself

    For dedicated do-it-yourselfers, refinishing gets the nod over installing a liner, simply because DIY options are very limited for installing your own bathtub liner. 

    You can perform a basic bathtub refinishing job yourself for $100 to $200. Without significant prep work, though, your results may be less than satisfactory. Professional crews specialize in this work and will do the job faster and better than is possible with any DIY refinishing kit.

    Bathtub liners are typically measured, fabricated, and installed by a company that offers a package service. Home improvement centers may stock liners for a few of the most common bathtub sizes from the major manufacturers, but most homeowners find that it is much better to hire a company specializing in such work.  

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  • 09 of 09

    Durability

    For longevity, a bathtub liner wins over refinishing. The caveat is that the liner must be expertly installed.

    Refinishing adds a microscopically thin coating on the surface of your tub, which eventually will wear away or crack. A liner, on the other hand, is much thicker and more durable, and if installed correctly it will last for many years—perhaps even decades. The weak point of a liner is that it creates a double layer, and if water infiltrates the space between the liner and the original tub, mold and mildew can develop.