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How to Refinish or “Reglaze” a Bathtub

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Nichols Hills Refinished TubNichols Hills Tub


What Goes Into Bathtub Refinishing or Reglazing a Tub?

How to Refinish a Bathtub- a quick article on what to expect when refinishing a bathtub. You can choose to do it yourself or have a professional refinish your tub for you. This article is just to give you a little more information regarding the process.

 Bathtub Refinishing Chemicals Are Dangerous

Home improvement is expensive. It seems to get more expensive everyday. Many older homes have porcelain tubs that, even though they are clean, always look dirty. This is from years of staining and mineral buildup which makes the tub harder to clean. Bathtub refinishing makes it possible to get the tub back to its shiny, near new appearance making it much easier to clean and care for. This is an economical option versus the cost of ripping it out and replacing it, which can be five times the cost of a professional refinish job. There are kits available in major home improvement stores that enable a homeowner to refinish their bathtub themselves.  The most important aspect of refinishing a tub is safety.  The chemicals used to clean and prep, repair, and refinish a tub are very hazardous. Gloves, protective clothing and eye-wear and respirators are required. It is impossible to not wear a respirator. Chances are you wouldn’t make it through the process. Not long ago there was an article I read about a person lost to breathing fumes from the stripping process on a previously finished tub…

Fire Damaged Tub Before Refinishing

Fire Damaged Tub Before Refinishing

Do-It-Yourself vs. Professional Bathtub Refinishing

Now I own an Oklahoma City bathtub refinishing  company, but I’m not here to tell you how you must  have your tub refinished by a professional. However, I have stripped many a tub that was refinished using a home improvement store kit and they usually strip fairly easy. But every once in a while I run into one that is tough to strip and why is this? Because the homeowner really took the time to prep the tub. In my business 90% of the job is getting the tub ready to accept the product. If all of the directions are followed that come with these kits, then chances are you will have a nice tub for a few years. Other than the safety instructions the absolute most important aspect of refinishing is making certain there are no dirt or oils left on that tub. You can scrub and scrub a tub until it looks as clean as it ever was and then take a razor blade and scrape the wall of the tub under the soap dish and soap film will come flaking off. This is what makes home and professionally refinished jobs fail, failure to fully clean and prep the tub.

A Typical Bathtub Refinisher’s Day

Perhaps the best way I can explain the refinishing process it to take you on a typical refinish job. Okay, ride shotgun. First I meet the customer and go over safety and other precautions (like my masking may pull wallpaper or fresh paint) and then I get the bathroom prepared. We remove anything in the way like decor or hampers and put plastic up over the toilet and vanity making sure to cover the mirror. Any wall decor or furniture is covered in plastic. Ventilation is then set up. I use a strong ventilation fan that usually vents out the bathroom window. If this is not possible I make a door out of plastic and vent out of another window or door of the house (my fan has a 25′ duct that can be attached).

Now I assess the tub. I remove the overflow on the tub but if the screws are frozen I just will have to mask it. My greatest enemy is silicone caulk. It permeates the surface of the tub and makes it really hard to remove. Using my utility knife I begin cutting at the old caulk around the tub. I slice it from the top and from the side to make it easier to remove with my putty knife and razor scraper. All of the old caulk must come off or this tub will fail. Even if the caulk is not silicone it gets removed. I use some silicone remover after I have scraped off the caulk and it helps some, but not much. Most of the work is done with the razor scraper.

After the caulk is removed, I rub down the area with lacquer thinner (not paint thinner) to remove any silicone remover left over. If there are hard water deposits now is the time to run my orbital sander with 120 grit paper over the areas until smooth. You have got to wear a respirator, some of these older tubs have quite a bit of lead in them. It is now time to start cleaning the tub…

Bathtub Cleaning and Prep

I will start with a handle scrubby and some abrasive Ajax® or another abrasive powder. This tub gets scrubbed for 20 minutes. Afterwards, I use an industry specific cleaner that can only be purchased with an account from the manufacturer. (sorry I know this isn’t helpful, I use the industry’s absolute best bathtub refinishing  products from Hawk Research Labs up in Illinois).  The next step is a de-filmer from this company.

After all of this, I do the razor blade scraper test all over the tub to see if I can find any leftover soap film. Now that the tub is clean, I use a mixture of hydroflouric and hydrophoric acids (purchased from the above distributors) to etch the surface of the tub. This is only for porcelain tubs. Fiberglass tubs get cleaned and then sanded with 120 grit sandpaper. You cannot breathe or get these acids on your skin. Any other tile in the bathroom that these acids touch will be etched as well so I am very careful with this stuff (this acid doesn’t affect chrome but will destroy the patina on oil rubbed bronze and brushed nickel fixtures).

Fire Damaged Tub After Refinishing

Fire Damaged Tub After Refinishing

The good news is that both of these acids are neutralized with normal tap water and are dissolved when large quantities of water are added (I once had a Department of Environmental Quality instructor tell us that “Dilution is the Solution to Pollution”). Okay, back on track. I neutralize the acids with copious amounts of water and then dry off the tub with Bounty® (seems to be the most lint free) paper towels. I then take my HVLP blower (more on this in a sec) and blow out all of the cracks where I removed the caulk and then all around the drain which holds water at and under its lip. Any water will wreck the finishing job.

It is now time to make any repairs needed to chips in the tub with polyester glazing putty/filler. If the tub is rough on the bottom I float it out with a very thin layer of filler using a plastic putty knife. After the filler sets up (just a few minutes), I sand the areas smooth with 120 and then 200 grit sandpaper. I wipe out all of the left over debris and then give the tub and the area where my masking tape will be applied a quick lacquer thinner wipe down (only on the tile and tub, this helps the tape stick to the tile). It is finally time to mask.

First I plug up the overflow hole and shove a paper towel into the faucet. The faucet and shower head then get a rubber glove applied and taped to them to help catch renegade water that is waiting to leap out while I am refinishing. I mask all of the walls but save the floor (in front of the tub) for the end. The drain gets masked by applying some two-inch tape and then cutting it out with a sharp razor blade. After everything but the floor is masked I take my HVLP blower and blow out the tub, where the tub meets the tile and the overflow again, trying to find straggling dirt or grout or caulk or water or anything that will wreck all the hard work I have put into this tub already. Now it’s time to mix primer.

I use a High Volume Low Pressure spray rig to apply my product. My primer and topcoat is purchased from the above mentioned company and is specifically designed for tubs and regulated for industry use only. The topcoat is a two-part resin and catalyst acrylic polymer. I go back into the bathroom, check my dropcloth, use a tack cloth to wipe down the tub, mask the floor in front of the tub, say a prayer and begin to spray. After the primer dries (20 minutes) the tub gets two coats of the top coat product. I let these flash (20-30 minutes) and then remove any masking carefully (except for the faucet, in case it has gathered water). If it is possible I will go ahead and re-caulk this tub right away. And that’s it for this tub. Are you still there? If your still reading you really should take a break from staring at your monitor. You have got to get out more, ya know?

Anyway, this tub should last 15 years if it is taken care of, wiped out after use and not cleaned harshly. I hope you left today knowing a little bit more about tub refinishing. As far as do-it-yourself kits are concerned? Read the manual. But get that tub clean first!

-Dwayne Eaton
Edmond Bathtub Refinishing

Bathtub Images property of EdmondBathtubRefinishing.com

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