Bathtub refinishing—also known as resurfacing or reglazing—is a valid option when porcelain, enamel, or fiberglass tubs become chipped, badly scratched, or cracked. Refinishing helps you save money by not replacing the tub and it prevents even more waste materials from ending up at the landfill.
But what do you do when that refinishing job, which looked so great at first, becomes worn or damaged a few years down the road?
Typical Bathtub Reglazing Problems
Bathtub reglazing problems happen when do-it-yourself or even professional reglazing go bad years later—or sometimes, alarmingly soon after installation.
Bathtub reglazing problems that you will see due to poor installation are usually flaking, peeling, or bubbled coating.
Reglazing problems that occur years later are typically due to usage: scratches, gouges, nicks, and dings.
Patch and Partially Reglaze the 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.
Fully Reglaze the Tub
Because bathtub glazing is essentially an on-site paint job, it can be painted again.
For a good second coating that sticks well, the bathtub surface will need to be carefully prepared by thorough cleaning and etching, and any flaking, dings, or nicks will need to be fixed before the application of 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.
Refinishing can be done by professional installation or by using a do-it-yourself reglazing kit.
Such repeated refinishing applications cannot be repeated indefinitely. Refinishing is regarded as a temporary fix in the best of circumstances, and two refinishing coatings are the most you can reasonably expect to apply.
Don't be surprised if the second refinishing has an even shorter life than the first coating.
Install a Bathtub Liner
A bathtub liner is essentially exactly what it sounds like—a thin, solid shell of acrylic or PVC plastic that slips inside the old bathtub to make it seem new.
You get brand new, smooth surfaces that fit inside the old tub like a glove. While there are stock bathtub liners available at home improvement centers, which you theoretically can install yourself, these often do not fit perfectly. Plus, they may flex and crack under your weight. They are also hard to seal perfectly with the drain and tub valves openings.
If you want to go this route, have a bathtub reliner company come to your home, take precise measurements, and have a shell fabricated 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 some time for liner problems to manifest.
It may require up to eight weeks for the liner to be fabricated. Total costs can easily run to $2,000 or more. But this is still less expensive than having a new bathtub installed.
Install a New Bathtub
No bathtub will last forever. Refinishing may get you three or four extra years, and a liner may serve fine for five to seven additional years. But eventually, your 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.