How To Clean a Refinished Bathtub

Young woman cleaning bathroom with green cleaning products
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Congratulations, you have a newly refinished bathtub. The pitted, ugly Martian landscape that once confronted you every morning is buried under layers of sleek, shiny paint. But a week or two later, you're confronted with one uncomfortable thought that hits all owners of reglazed tubs: How do you clean the thing? 

Best Advice Doesn't Match Reality

Being the owner of both a DIY-finished and pro-finished tub, I've heard the same advice as you: use only soft cleaners such as Formula 409 or Fantastik.

Most bathtub refinishing is not the dip type of glazing, where the tub is removed, taken to a shop, and dipped. Unless you paid thousands for that type of reglazing, your bathtub was left in place, sanded down, cleaned, spot-repaired, masked off, and sprayed with a paint gun. Since this is basically a paint job, the advice to stick to non-abrasives is well founded.

Yet on every tub and shower that I've owned in my life, I've never found nonabrasive cleaners to be up to the task. Why would things suddenly change with your refinished tub? It doesn't. And that's the reality gap.

Below are 5 methods of cleaning refinished tubs, each with varying degrees of success. Starting with the worst:

5. Cleaning With Steam

Summary: Promising but ultimately a failure.

A household steam cleaner seems like it would get rid of all that dirt and soap gunk. When I tried cleaning the tub along with the tile surround I first thought that a steam jet alone might do it. Nope: it did nothing. So I switched to the brush attachment and scrubbed the tub surface while blasting it with steam. While this worked a little better, I still had to put in a lot of effort for unsatisfactory results.

4. Power-Washing

Summary: Too powerful to attempt on painted surfaces.

Power washing your bathtub sounds attractive because it's the only method listed here where you don't have to be kneeling down. You just stand upright, pull the trigger, and watch layers of mess peel away under the 14,000 psi force of your low-pressure power washer. Too bad that your refinish paint is also peeling away. While I have been crazy enough to clean my tub's tile with a power washer, even I won't attempt to direct a power washer's spray on the tub surface. 

3. Non-Abrasives

Summary: Perfect...if you like cleaning your tub every couple of days.

When refinishing companies and manufacturers of DIY finishing products urge you to use non-abrasives, they're usually leaving out one important detail. The detail is that you must clean every few days. Basically, you must clean it before it gets dirty. When the thing is dirty, it's too late. Scrub all you want with Formula 409; it won't do a thing. So as long as you keep on top of it, this method works. 

2. Dish Soap

Summary: A cheap and non-abrasive method that cleans refinished tubs and showers. But it does have its limits.

Another non-abrasive, common dishwashing detergent is amazingly effective, even for hard-to-clean tub and shower pan dirt. Dish soap was first recommended to me by the PR person at Miracle Method, a franchised refinishing company. I thought it was a crazy idea, but I was willing to try it. 

As it turns out, hand dish soap (not dishwasher detergent), cuts through layers of that dirt and black gunk. If you get to it early enough, you can use the sponge-only side of the scrubber. If the junk is old, flip to the abrasive side of the scrubber. Be very careful to wash away all of the dish soap after cleaning, as it makes the surface extremely slippery and unsafe.

When the surface is too embedded with dirt, this method no longer works. It's time for the abrasives...

1. Abrasive Cleaners

Summary: Abrasive cleaners are still the ultimate way to clean your tub.

At one point, I gave up and decided to start using abrasive cleaners such as Comet on my refinished tub. I had no idea how long I could do this before I would lose my tub's refinished surface. I figured I had one year, two at the most.

Two years later, the finish is still holding firm. The bottom part where you stand is no longer glossy, but it was not glossy when I began. I clean it once every two weeks. On the glossier parts that don't get caked with impossible gunk, I lightly use abrasives or dish soap.

If anything is going to damage your surface, it may not be abrasive cleaners. The thing that has twice ripped away the surface is when a large shampoo bottle fell, striking the backrest wall of the tub. In one case, it opened up a pin-prick size hole that quickly developed into a 3" diameter gash. When the gash develops, it's going to keep spreading until you can repair it.