A shower or tub surround that becomes dingy or scarred with age can be an expensive proposition to replace. If a full-out replacement is not practical, one option is to refinish the tub or shower with painting or resurfacing. Resurfacing—basically a process of painting the tub or shower with a two-part tub-and-tile epoxy paint—is normally done by pros who specialize in this service, but a budget-conscious homeowner might opt to do it themselves.
DIY products for resurfacing, sometimes marketed as shower kits rather than paint, are said to work on ceramic tile, porcelain, fiberglass, acrylic, cast iron, or steel surfaces. In reality, they are most successful on fiberglass and acrylic, with some users reporting disappointing results on ceramic tile and metal. These DIY products are widely available at home improvement centers, paint stores, and online retailers.
How Epoxy Refinishing Paint Works
Tub-and-tile epoxy paint is sold in a kit containing two cans of paint material—part A and part B. One part is a resin, the other a hardener/catalyst. When the two parts are mixed together, they undergo a chemical reaction and immediately begin to harden or cure. This chemical reaction is what makes epoxies so permanent and so strong. By contrast, conventional paints dry through a process of evaporation, not a chemical reaction.
Not surprisingly, epoxy paints emit strong fumes and must be used with care, following the manufacturer's instructions precisely. Ventilate the work area using fans to pull fresh air into the space and to vent the fumes outdoors. Manufacturer's instructions may dictate the use of respirator gear when using epoxy paints. Do not ignore this recommendation.
Before You Begin
Try to set realistic expectations before you start the project. Be aware that the effectiveness of these products is limited, and some homeowners who pursue this option come away somewhat disappointed with the results—and weary from the effort and work involved. Epoxy painting/refinishing requires extensive preparation of the surfaces in order to be effective, and the finished appearance usually falls a bit short of perfection. But epoxy tub-and-tile paint/refinisher can be an option for a bathroom that sees infrequent use or as a stop-gap measure in a bathroom where a more full-scale remodeling is planned for the future.
Before going down this path, remember that painting a shower is permanent. Future renovations will likely involve full-scale removal and replacement of the shower. Epoxy paint will stick very well, and you won't be able to remove it without damaging the shower materials. If you do end up with some failures—such as cracked, bubbled, or peeling paint—you can repair those spots, but you'll have to buy an entire paint kit to do so. This is because epoxy paint, once mixed, must be used in a matter of hours. You can't keep an old can of epoxy paint in your basement and pull it out for touch-ups.
Equipment / Tools
- Drain wrench and adjustable wrench
- Wire brush
- Utility knife
- Paint scraper or putty knife
- Respirator (if required)
- Paint bucket
- Roller tray
- Paintbrush (fine-bristle varnish brush)
- Roller with 1/4-inch roller cover
- Power drill with a mixing bit (optional)
- Scrub sponges
- Abrasive cleaner
- Lime-A-Way cleaner
- 400/600-grit wet/dry sandpaper
- Two-part epoxy refinishing paint
- 100% isopropyl alcohol (if needed)
Remove metal drains and hardware, using the necessary screwdrivers and plumbing tools. Faucets do not need to be removed, but escutcheon plates and cover plates should be removed, and tub spouts should be removed to provide access to all surfaces.
Clean and Repair the Surfaces
Remove loose paint and rust with a wire brush or sandpaper. If any damage is present, repair any chips and cracks with a patching compound appropriate to the wall material, such as Liquid Steel or Bondo.
Remove any dirty or stained surfaces with an abrasive powdered cleanser and scrubbing sponge. Rinse with clean water and allow the surfaces to dry completely.
Scrub the surface with an abrasive pad and a mineral-dissolving product such as Lime-A-Way. Rinse the surfaces, and repeat with a second scrubbing if necessary.
Use a utility knife and putty knife or paint scraper to remove all caulk. Use isopropyl alcohol to clean surfaces that were caulked. For proper bonding, all surfaces must be perfectly clean of contaminants.
The success of a refinishing project depends on very careful and thorough preparation. This phase is considerably more time-consuming than the actual painting, but it is critical to a successful refinishing job.
Scuff the Surfaces
Use 400-grit wet/dry sandpaper to thoroughly sand the entire surface. (Check the refinishing kit instructions; rougher sandpaper may be recommended with some kits.) This sanding roughens the surface and makes it possible for the epoxy refinishing paint to bond. This is arguably the most important and time-consuming step of the entire project; do it thoroughly.
Use a vacuum cleaner or clean cloths to wipe away sanding residue. Wipe down all surfaces with a tack cloth to remove the last traces of dust before painting.
Mix the Epoxy Paint
The process for preparing a tub/shower and applying the epoxy refinishing paint differs slightly between products. Rustoleum's Specialty Tub and Tile Refinishing kit is a typical product.
In general, though, you'll want to mix the two compounds—the resin and the catalyst/hardener—in a clean bucket. For best results, use a mixing bit on a power drill. If the paint appears too thick, it can be slightly thinned by adding no more than 10 percent of isopropyl alcohol. Once mixed, the paint will remain workable for about 6 hours under normal conditions.
For best results, epoxy refinishing paint should be applied at temperatures between 50 degrees and 90 degrees and at a humidity level below 85 percent. Make sure to ventilate the area well by opening windows or using fans.
Apply the Epoxy Paint
Apply a complete coat of paint to the tub/shower surfaces, using a good-quality fine-bristle varnish brush or 1/4-inch-nap roller. Brush in one direction to ensure a smooth surface, and feather the edges to avoid hard lines between brush or roller strokes. Avoid excessive brushing and rolling. The goal is a smooth, even coat; don't worry about thick coverage with the first coat.
Apply Second Coat
Let the first coat of paint dry for at least 1 hour, then apply a second coat. Let dry overnight. Clean up brushes using isopropyl alcohol.
Inspect the surfaces after the paint has dried overnight. If necessary, mix up a new batch of paint and apply a third coat of epoxy. Two coats are usually sufficient, but a shower in poor shape may require three.
Finish the Project
Allow the paint to cure for at least three days before reattaching all hardware. Conclude by applying new tub-and-tile caulk that matches the epoxy paint color.