Bathtub Refinishing vs. Tub Liners: Which Is Best?

Bathtub with water in it


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With all other factors the same, complete bathtub replacement is what most people would prefer when a bathtub wears out or when its style or color are no longer acceptable. But bathtub and shower replacement is expensive, messy, and 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 complete replacement.

Both tub liners and tub refinishing share one attractive feature—your current tub stays in place. This takes the mess and cost 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. 

What Bathtub Refinishing and Bathtub Liners Are

Bathtub Refinishing

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. 

If tile surrounds are refinished along with the tub, all of the tile is finished, including the grout. For some owners, this can be an issue if they like the appearance of contrasting grout and tile colors. For others, grout glazing makes it easier to keep the grout clean.


Bathtub refinishing companies typically can finish other hard surfaces in the bathroom such as tile countertops, sinks, and backsplashes. As an additional project, this will be an extra charge.

Bathtub refinishing is a great option if the tub is not too damaged—tubs with severe damage may not be candidates for refinishing.


  • No demolition
  • Disposal not required
  • Bathtub remains in place
  • Do-it-yourself kits available
  • Peripheral areas (like countertops) can be refinished


  • Odor and overspray during finishing
  • Deeper problems not fixed
  • Glazing may chip and peel
  • Glazing covers over tile grout
  • Special cleaners and cleaning techniques required

Bathtub Liners

A bathtub liner is a solid insert that is placed inside your existing tub. Prior to installation, the liner looks much like 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. The liner reduces the size of the bathtub, which might be an issue if you like taking baths.


  • No demolition
  • Disposal not required
  • Bathtub remains in place
  • No overspray or odor
  • Tub is ready for use immediately


  • Water may get trapped under liner
  • Bathtub space is reduced
  • Floor may flex
  • Must be professionally installed
  • More expensive than bathtub refinishing
  • 01 of 05


    In terms of finished appearance, bathtub 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. Plus, with refinishing, you can choose nearly any color you like. With liners, the color choices are reduced to just a handful.

    One exception is if the old tub is in particularly bad shape—rusted, cracked, scratched, or dented. In this case, 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. 

  • 02 of 05


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

    A 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, except for those used to bind the liner to the tub.

  • 03 of 05


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

    Although costs vary depending on the company, tub refinishing is usually less expensive than having a liner installed. Bathtub refinishing starts at around $600, although some homeowners report lower estimates. What makes tub refinishing a potential cost-saver is that it does have a DIY element. DIY tub refinishing kits cost as little as $50 to $100. With tub liners, it's not possible to do this by yourself.

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

  • 04 of 05

    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 $50 to $100. 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.  

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05


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

    Tub refinishing adds a thin coating on the surface of your tub, which eventually will wear away or crack. How long a refinished tub will last hinges on adopting certain habits, like cleaning with non-abrasive cleaners and cleaning often. Generally, a refinished tub will last from three to five years.

    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. If water finds its way into the space between the liner and the original tub, mold and mildew can develop.