Do It Yourself vs. Professional Bathtub/Shower Refinishing

Bathroom With Gorgeous Bathtub 500786157
Bathroom With Gorgeous Bathtub. But Should You Refinish It?. Getty / Astronaut Images

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, transport 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 YourselfProfessional
In BriefUsing 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.

Spray 3-4 layers of top coat mixture are spray-painted.

Possible final buffing.

DIY?Possible.  However, as with most painting jobs, prep work is 75% 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.
LooksFair.  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.
CleaningNever 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 ColorsVery 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 PointsCost savings and avoidance of work crews coming in your home.Avoidance of fumes and mess.  Better surface prep than you probably can do.
Worst PointsDifficult 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?
LongevityAbout 2 years.Predicted to last 5 years or more.  Miracle Method says 10-15 years. In my experience, my pro-finished tub lasted 3 1/2 years, though I used abrasive cleaners on it.
CostAbout $100$425 and up

Summary

If it's done in your home, why can't you do it?  There was a time I never would have considered do-it-yourself tub refinishing.  Having tried it once and gotten satisfactory--though not spectacular--results, I felt it was a worthy competitor to professional tub refinishing, but only when 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% of the project.