Should I Learn Bathtub Refinishing?

By Alan Knight
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For over 20 years now, bathtub refinishing has been an option for restoring and beautifying ugly bathtubs.  I recently read an article that raised the question, “Is bathtub refinishing a scam?”  The article concluded, “No, it is not a scam, it is simply an option.”  Those interested in the subject are concerned for one of a number of reasons:

1.    Their bathtub is an out-of-date color and they want to modernize it.  Old colors that date back to the 50s include: blue, pink, green, yellow, red, various earth tones, and black.
2.    The bathtub is missing porcelain, or is chipped, scratched or cracked.
3.    The bathtub is dull and has lost its shine.
4.    The tub is stained and simply looks dirty.

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Just a few years ago, most people had never heard of Bathtub Refinishing.  It was thought that the only answer to an ugly bathtub was to simply jerk it out of the bathroom and replace it with a new one.  That's certainly an option, but unfortunately an expensive one.  When you really do the research, you'll find that removal and replacement with a new tub involves several expensive steps.  

First, the old tub must be removed.  That means it will have to be detached from all plumbing and its connection with wall tile and floor tile.  Who is going to do this?  The homeowner is ill-equipped to undertake such a thing.  The tub may weigh upwards of 300 pounds if it is made of cast iron or steel.  If it is made of fiberglass, it will make a tremendous mess.  Greater yet, if it is a fiberglass shower surround model, it may require you cut it in pieces using a power saw, just to get it through the bathroom door and out of your house. A major undertaking, to say the least.

That's just the tub.  You also must consider repairing the floor and the tile wall.  Once all that is repaired and the bathroom cleaned up, you must go shopping for a new tub.  That's not an inexpensive choice either.  It will require delivery to your home.  It must fit in the existing space occupied by your previous tub.  All the plumbing hook ups must be made including the drain, which can be very temperamental.  The tile and the floor must be repaired and painting may be required in the bathroom.  Once you've done all this, the price tag is most likely much more than the cost of having the tub refinished, plus you have lost a lot of your own personal time persuing the project.

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Many do-it-yourselfers have had the misconception that refinishing a bathtub was a simple process that anyone can do.  Maybe they have visited Lowe's or Home Depot and seen a refinishing “do-it-yourself” kit in the paint department. Unfortunately, it rarely works.  First, the materials sold are not the quality needed to have pleasing, long-term results.  It requires a person to use a brush or roller to apply the coating products.  Again, the results are not going to please the average person.  There is a huge difference between spraying an application and rolling it on.  You might say, “I know how to use a sprayer.”  Maybe, but is it the right system?  The only system that works with the quality of a fine finish, similar to the original, is an HVLP rig.  That stands for High Volume, Low Pressure, and requires a professional to apply it.

If you really want to have your tub refinished, there are only two choices:

1.    Hire a professional from a reliable refinishing company to do it right. Make sure you check them out beforehand. Try to get references, and if you can, speak to someone who has used their services.  The customary charge to refinish a bathtub can range from $300 to $600,based upon the amount of work that must be done.  Believe me, the price is well worth it.  Don't try to do something that you are not trained to do.

2.    Learn from a professional training center how to refinish your tub.  You might be thinking this is too expensive, but really it's not.  For as little as $495, you can learn to refinish your own tub (as well as cabinets, counter tops, etc.), and turn it into a business.
One such school in Jacksonville, Florida, taught each month by Tub King, offers a convenient three-day seminar around a weekend format to train the layperson to refinish bathtubs and other items.  The reason you need professional training is because everything you need to properly refinish a tub is highly specialized. (See our previous blog, "Invest in Yourself for the New Year.") 

Among the equipment you'll need, as mentioned before, is an HVLP Spray Rig.  This means the low pressure ensures the coating material goes onto the tub surface and not into the air where the smell and over spray can enter the rest of the house.  

All of the coating and other materials that we teach you about (and use when we refinish a tub) are professional grade.

Let's start with the cleaning products.  Not just any cleaner can properly prepare the tub for refinishing.  It must be good at removing soap scum, oil, grease, as well as dirt.  The tub must also be properly etched.  That means a mild acid must be applied to the porcelain to rough up the surface and make it more receptive to the coating.  The exception would be that if the tub is made of fiberglass, then the process of etching would take place by sanding the surface.  The tub would then require another cleaning using a solvent or a high-grade isopropal alcohol solution. 
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The first phase of coating requires a high-grade spray-on primer that dries quickly.  Only then is the surface ready for the application of the professional top coat.  The very best topcoats are acrylics.  They will hold up much better than expoxies.  This is also applied using the HVLP Spray Rig.  The very best available can only be purchased from bathtub refinishing companies or specialized chemical companies.

During this entire process, many preparations must be made.  For example, the tub must not only be cleaned, but any repairs must be made before starting.  This is a science in itself and is something that comes only through proper training.

Furthermore, the entire area around the tub must be covered with masking paper and masking tape.  The floor must be covered and anything else that might come in contact with over spray.  The technician involved in the refinishing process must protect him or herself as well.  There should be proper ventilation in the bathroom.  A fume extractor with a sufficient length of hose should be used and the technician must wear the proper protective gear, such as a high-quality respirator.  Proper skin covering should also be considered.

Check out this video about making your own well-paying job.

You might say, “This is an extremely involved process.”  Yes, it is, and that's why you should either hire a professional or get professional training yourself.  You could actually go through the training process for about the same price as a bathtub refinishing.  

And there is one added bonus.  After receiving a Certificate of Completion from Tub King's course, you can start your own bathtub and kitchen refinishing business.  With the purchase of a professional spray rig, approximately $700 of coating materials, you're now a skilled contract laborer.  Not only would you now be trained to refinish tubs, but also counter tops, ceramic tile, appliances, sinks, and cabinets.  Whether part-time or full-time, this could expand your income far beyond just being able to refinish your own tub.

In this article, I discussed what’s involved in refinishing a bathtub and properly preparing the bathroom in advance of the project. I explained the factors and costs and show that for many, it’s worth taking a professional refinishing class to make sure the job is done right. Taking the class provides a special bonus: You're now prepared to do this for others and make money doing it.

If you’d like to receive a FREE Walk-In Tub Buyers’ Guide, click here.  Or, if you’d like to receive a FREE Clawfoot Tub Buyers’ Guide, click here.  >

If you have a comment, please type it in the Comment section below.  Of course, I encourage you to share this article with your family, friends, and colleagues. 

Have a question?  Feel free to contact me at the number or email listed below and I’ll personally get back to you.  Thanks for reading; it’s been my pleasure to share this information with you. 
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Alan Knight is the owner of Tub King, Inc., and  in Jacksonville, Florida. He has many years of experience in the antique and senior bathtub industries. His companies not only provide superior products, they are also award winners, receiving the “Best of Jacksonville Chamber Award” four years running. To contact Tub King directly, call (800)843-4231 or email
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