Should You Refinish or Replace Your Bathtub?

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Should You Refinish or Replace Your Bathtub?

When performing a bathroom remodel in Mission Viejo, Irvine, Lake Forest, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente, and other South Orange County California communities, clients sometimes ask about bathtub refinishing.  Specifically “Should You Refinish or Replace Your Bathtub?”.  There are basically 3 ways to refinish a bathtub:

  1. Refinishing
  2. Liner
  3. New Bathtub

Bathtub Refinishing:

Should You Refinish or Replace Your Bathtub
Refinished bathtub after 2 years

Sometimes called resurfacing, recoating, or reglazing, this process gives your tub a fresh new look.  The process is straightforward. Nothing is removed.  The old tub and surround walls stay in place.  The old tub is  sanded, chips and cracks are repaired (typically with Bondo®), several coats of primer are applied, then an epoxy, urethane, polyurethane, or polymer paint is applied.  When dry, a final buffing.  There are lots of colors to choose from.

Very important:  This is a temporary fix since bathtub reglazing is a purely cosmetic update.  It’s like putting nail polish on your nails.  It looks great for a while, then chips off.  Reglazing can only be performed once.  There are no repeats!

Fiberglass and acrylic tubs are better suited for refinishing.  Cast iron, steel, and other porcelain enamel tubs are non-porous.  This means they are smooth, and the refinishing material does not adhere well.

Bathtub Refinishing
Before and After: Refinished tub and tile walls – All refinished with a gloss white spray-on refinishing material. Notice that the fixtures were masked. Even the soap dish was sprayed!

The weather also plays a big part in the refinishing process.  Humidity is bad for refinishing and can easily significantly shorten the life of the finish.  Hot, dry days are best for refinishing.

Bathtub Refinishing Cost

The cost for refinishing typically averages between $200-$650.  It usually takes about a day to complete.

Careful!  Refinishing is something folks usually do when they are selling a house (especially if it was a rental).  You may not be getting a new bathtub as advertised.  You may see a new tub, even new tile – but what you actually have is a resurfaced bathtub that will not last more than a few years.  I’ve also seen plenty of jobs where the tile walls surrounding the tub (and showers) was refinished along with the tub.  If this is not disclosed, you’re likely paying too much for the house.  What else are they hiding or covering up?

How can you tell the difference when a bathtub is refinished?

  1. Unless you’re buying a new home, the tub will look like it’s been used.
  2. The tub can be refinished in white along with the walls. The walls can also be refinished in another color, giving the appearance of a new tub and tile.
  3. Look for these signs:
    1. Peeling anywhere. Look especially around the drain.  Typically, the refinisher does not remove the drain prior to refinishing or reinstalls the drain before the material is completely dry.  This area is usually the first place it will crack and peel.
    2. Excessive or new caulking where the tub meets the tile, walls, and floor. This can be a sign the material is either peeling or an attempt to coverup the transition from the tub to other surfaces.  You can always see where the refinishing material ends because of the masking that’s involved (unless it’s caulked over).
    3. You don’t see any grout. If the tub is not a 1-piece fiberglass unit (the tub is part of a single, molded system with walls), there will be 2 parts:  the bathtub and the tiled walls.  If you don’t see a distinction where the tub meets the tile, that’s likely a spray on refinishing.

Bathtub Liners

Is bathtub refinishing worth it
Bath Liner being installed

Bath liners are basically an acrylic replica of your existing bathtub.  These are available in lots of colors.  Bath liners are installed on top of the existing bathtub using a combination of two-sided tape and acrylic silicone.  The surrounding walls can also have a liner installed over the existing material.

Although installation typical takes a day, the process can easily take several months.  Why?  After careful pictures and measurements, the liner must be made into an exact mold (replica) of your tub.

Should You Refinish or Replace Your Bathtub DAD's Construction
Bath Liner being removed – notice all the mold!

Who does this?  Remember our conversation above on resurfacing?  Recall that resurfacing can only be performed once.  Here too, folks will install a liner when they are selling the house and the tub has already been resurfaced.  This is especially true if the house was a rental.

Does it work?  Honestly, no.  Why do I say this?  Because a liner typically is covering up an existing problem that a resurfacing can’t (See the picture of the liner being removed).  The problem is going to return – it’s not going away and it will usually be worse and cost more money to fix.  A tub liner does not change the look – remember, it’s a replica of the existing tub.  In fact, because the liner fits inside the existing tub, it actually makes the tub smaller.  So, if you didn’t like how small your tub was before the liner, you’re going to like it even less after the liner is installed.

The cost for a bath liner averages $1,500 – $4,000.

New Bathtub when asking yourself “Should You Refinish or Replace Your Bathtub?”

Should You Refinish or Replace Your BathtubThis process removes the entire existing bathtub and installing a new bathtub.  Typically, this includes the surrounding walls.  These walls can be fiberglass, tile, drywall, or synthetic panels.

When the tub is replaced, the fixtures (shower/tub valve, spout, shower head, overflow, and drain) are replaced.  This includes the drain overflow plumbing pipe and overflow gasket.

No preexisting conditions remain as everything is replaced.  Blocking for hand/grab bars is installed and shampoo recesses or niches are added.  For more information on a bathtub replacement, see What Is the Best Kind of Bathtub to Get?

Installation is more involved and building permits are required.  Although never recommended, the tub itself can be removed separately, leaving the tile surround walls in place.  This alone averages about $1,500 – $4,000. 

Bathroom Remodel DAD's ConstructionRemoving and replacing the tub and installing tile surround walls with all new fixtures averages $8,000 – $12,000.  Considering replacing the tub alone can be 50% or more of the cost to replace everything, including the tile walls and fixtures, it makes good financial sense to do the job properly and replace the tile walls and fixtures when the tub is replaced.  Moreover, if only the old tub is replaced (leaving the tile walls), water will get behind the new tub where the tile was cut to remove the old tub – regardless of how much caulk you use.

What is a Bathtub?

Think of a bathtub as a swimming pool.  The walls are part of that waterproof swimming pool (one big seamless system).  If you cut out the tub, leaving the walls, you’ve now cut a hole into the system where water will get in and cause expensive and unhealthful mold, rot, and fungus damage.

DAD’s construction will not simply replace the tub, leaving the old walls.  It’s a very expensive future disaster!

A typical full bathtub and wall replacement can take up to several weeks or months depending on the work performed.

Should You Refinish or Replace Your Bathtub?

When considering “should you refinish or replace your bathtub”, remember that tub refinishing and relining are cosmetic repairs.  A tub replacement is a more permanent solution.  As with anything cosmetic, it’s not designed to last – it’s designed to look nice . . . for a while.

I hope this information helps to answer the question “Should You Refinish or Replace Your Bathtub?”.

Always Hire a Reliable and Dependable Contractor to Remodel your Bathroom

Design Build Bathroom Remodel | Best Local Contractor DAD's ConstructionAlways work with a trustworthy contractor like DAD’s Construction.  We are experts in bathroom remodeling who can manage projects in an efficient manner.  DAD’s Construction will do everything to minimize the possibility of change orders.  Our team will make sure we have all the necessary information to prepare a proposal that meets your requirements.  Rest assured that we will provide you with a detailed, by line-item contract.  We will make sure that the contents of this agreement are properly and clearly communicated to you.  If you have questions or need updates regarding your project, we will always answer your inquiries.

How Can I Receive More Information?

If you would like more information on “Should You Refinish or Replace Your Bathtub”, or on enjoying the best bathroom, kitchen, or interior remodeling experience, call Dan at (949) 380-0177 or at dan@dadsconstruction.com for a free in home consultation.  DAD’s serves all of South Orange County California including Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Foothill Ranch, Portola Hills, Ladera Ranch, Irvine, San Clemente, Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano, Rancho Santa Margarita, Coto de Caza, Dove Canyon, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Hills, Newport Beach, and Aliso Viejo.

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Daniel A. Derkum is the owner of DAD’s Construction, a leading South Orange County, California design-and-build remodeling and renovation contractor, https://www.dadsconstruction.com.  © DAD’s Home Services & Construction, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.