Bathtub refinishing—also known as resurfacing or reglazing—is an option when porcelain, enamel, or fiberglass tubs become chipped, badly scratched, or cracked. Reglazing helps you save money by avoiding bathtub replacement, plus it prevents even more waste materials from ending up at the landfill.
But what do you do when that reglazing job, which undoubtedly looked great at first, becomes worn or damaged a few years down the road? Spot patches are usually the first thing to do. Patching prevents rust and peeling paint from expanding. Completely reglazing the entire tub is another option that adds another five to seven years' life to the tub. Beyond that, a tub liner or a completely new tub are the best options.
How to Patch a Reglazed Tub
The lowest cost solution is to repair and reglaze only the problem areas. For reglazing problems that stem from the servicing company, check your warranty. Some companies have five to seven year warranties that cover issues due to workmanship, peeling, or other failures of the new coating adhering to the original surface.
Professional work will always be the better option for reglazing than do-it-yourself, as the company can color-match the paint.
Find a Color Match
Assess the color of your bathtub and find a patching compound that most closely will match the color, whether white, off-white, beige, black, gray, or blue.
Clean the Tub
Clean the damaged area with a non-abrasive household cleaner. For stubborn stains, use a nylon pad. Any residue left behind will weaken the bond between the patch and the tub.
Mix the Patching Compound
Tub patching compounds often come in two parts: one part is the resin and the other part is the hardener. When mixed, the compound hardens quickly. So, mix only when you are ready to apply it to the tub.
Mix the compounds on a piece of cardboard with a popsicle stick until there are no swirls: the compound must be one color. If the compound has a separate pigment, incorporate the pigment into the compound.
Apply the Patching Compound
Use a putty knife to apply the patching compound in a thin layer to the damaged section. The patching material should overlap the edges of the damaged area. Let the patched area fully cure.
Sand the Patch
With fine-grit sandpaper, sand the patched area. Clean the dust from the area.
Apply More Patch (Optional)
If the patch is pitted or not thick enough, apply a second patch, let it dry, and sand it again.
Fully Reglaze the Tub
Refinishing can be done by professionals or by using a do-it-yourself reglazing kit. For best results, hire a professional bathtub refinished. For a solid coating that sticks well, the bathtub surface must be carefully prepared with a thorough cleaning and sanding. Any flaking, dings, or nicks will need to be fixed before applying the second coat. After cleaning:
- Sand the surface to scuff it up.
- Repair any cracks or holes with polyester putty or Bondo.
- Spray or roll on a coating consisting of epoxies, urethanes, polymers, or hybrid polyester-polyurethane blends.
- Let the coating cure for 24 to 48 hours.
- Apply the second coating.
Install a Bathtub Liner
A bathtub liner is a thin, solid shell of acrylic or PVC plastic that slips inside the old bathtub to make it seem new.
With this option, a bathtub liner company comes to your home, takes precise measurements, and orders or fabricates a shell that exactly fits the size and contours of your tub and surround.
Look for well-established firms that can offer references who will agree to speak to you. Only trust references who have had the liners in place for several years, as it can take time for liner problems to manifest.
It may require up to eight weeks for the liner to be fabricated. Total costs can run to $2,000 or more.
Bathtub liners have their downsides. The liners are a second shell within the existing bathtub, so they reduce the tub size. If anyone in the home likes baths more than showers, this can be an issue, especially with standard-size 60-inch tubs. Larger tubs may afford more room for the shell.
Bathtub liners can leak if not properly installed. Water that leaks between the liner and the tub will create mold and mildew. When that happens, the only solution is to install a new bathtub.
Install a New Bathtub
No bathtub will last forever. Refinishing may five to seven more years, but eventually the tub will need to be replaced.
It may be better to bite the bullet and replace the bathtub when it first begins to show its age, rather than going through the hassle and expense of refinishing the tub or installing a liner.
The average national cost of replacing a bathtub is $3,000 to $4,000, though costs of $5,000 or more are common. If that sounds like a lot, keep in mind that it's possible to spend $3,000 on various stop-gap measures such as multiple refinishing and bathtub liners. So in the long run, installing a new bathtub may make sense, provided it fits your budget.