DIY vs. Professional Bathtub/Shower Refinishing

Bathroom with gorgeous bathtub

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Bathtub and shower refinishing is a cosmetic fix-it job where the tub or shower is essentially painted while in place. 

Reglazing of fine, antique porcelains requires removal from the bathroom, transportation to a shop, and dip-glazing. This is not what consumer-level tub refinishing is about. Most refinishing is site-based—the shop comes to your home—and it is done for significantly less money than shop-based refinishing.

  Do It Yourself Professional
In Brief Using a kit, the homeowner paints his or her own bathtub or shower with rollers and brushes. One or two professional refinishers come to your home and paint your bath/shower using spray guns.
In Detail

Remove or tape drain and fixtures

Scrape tub with a razor

Dull surface with etching powder

Sand surface

Clean with tack cloth

Tape caulking

Apply primer

Apply coating with roller, then with brush

Remove tape

Clean bathtub and remove caulking

Mask around tub

Remove fixtures and overflow cover

Ventilate to outside

Lightly sand and vacuum bathtub

Possible acid etching

Fill and sand chips and scratches

Drop-cloth all areas around tub

Spray-paint up to 3 coats of a primer; let dry

3 to 4 layers of top coat mixture are spray-painted

Possible final buffing

DIY? Possible. However, as with most painting jobs, prep work is 75 percent of the job. If you can get past the part where you razor off soap scum from the surface, the rest is downhill. Fumes are noxious, and you must take precautions to have a steady outflow of air from the site. Professional refinishers denigrate DIY-refinishing as a hack job, and in a sense they are right. Most homeowners do not have the skills and tools to produce pro-level finishes.
Looks Fair. Using roller and brushes results in a less-than-perfect finish. Also, homeowners may not clean tub well enough for paint coating to stick sufficiently well. Excellent. Quality of a well-refinished tub rivals that of a new tub's surface.
Cleaning Never use abrasive cleaners on a refinished tub. Dishwasher detergent is soft on the surface and does an excellent job of cleaning, though make sure not to let the soap scum build up too much, or the detergent will not work. Same as DIY.
Range of Colors Very limited. White and almond tend to comprise the entire range of available colors. Wide. Most refinishing companies can match any existing color or whip up a new color. So, the choice of colors is infinite.
How Long Does It Take? About 5 hours, with tub/shower ready for reuse in 24 hours. 3 to 5 hours for the process, with the tub/shower ready for use within 24 hours.
Where Do You Find It? Buy a kit online. Bathworks sells a good, all-inclusive kit for under $100. Rustoleum's Tub and Tile Refinishing Kit is about a quarter of the cost of Bathworks and contains only the essential ingredient—the acrylic-epoxy coating. Miracle Method is the most widely recognized national brand. Permaglaze is another big brand, with about half the franchisees as Miracle Method. As this is a highly competitive market, you can also find good independent refinishers.
Best Points Cost savings and avoidance of work crews coming in your home. Avoidance of fumes and mess. Better surface prep than you probably can do.
Worst Points Difficult job to do with uncertain results. If you don't prep the surface adequately, the longevity of your finished job will be highly compromised. If you're paying this much to re-paint a bathtub, should you pay more and just get a whole new one?
Longevity About 2 years. Predicted to last 5 years or more. Miracle Method says 10 to 15 years. In our experience, a pro-finished tub lasted 3 1/2 years, though abrasive cleaners were used on it.
Cost About $100 $425 and up

Summary

If it's done in your home, why can't you do it? There was a time we never would have considered do-it-yourself tub refinishing. Having tried it once and gotten satisfactory—though not spectacular—results, we felt it was a worthy competitor to professional tub refinishing but only when the cost is factored in. If cost were not an issue, professional refinishing will produce superior results. The work is far more pain-staking than you might imagine, with surface prep comprising about 75 percent of the project.