How Much Does Bathtub Refinishing Cost?
Replacing a bathtub can be an expensive proposition that often requires serious demolition, construction, and disposal fees. Refinishing is a great alternative, and the typical bathtub refinishing cost of around $480 can be easier on the wallet.
- Typical Range: $330 to $630
- National Average: $480
Doing a face-lift on a full bathroom can be a reasonably inexpensive process with some careful shopping. A new sink, faucet, vanity, light fixture, and toilet can all be obtained and installed without breaking the bank. But what about the tub? Over years of daily use, hard water, and scrubbing, bathtubs can get scratched, scuffed, and lose their shine. Replacing a bathtub, especially if it’s an older cast-iron tub, requires extensive demolition of the floor and surrounding walls, and it sometimes means the tub needs to be broken up before being removed to a dumpster (hello, labor costs!). Often the demolition means the walls need to be rebuilt and retiled, the floor needs to be replaced, and sometimes even the supporting studs underneath the tub need repair or replacement. In other words, a quick bathroom face-lift can quickly turn into a full-scale remodel that wasn’t in the plan or the budget. The purchase, delivery, and installation of a new tub are expensive as well.
Older tubs, especially sturdy cast-iron ones, are refinishable items. Essentially, the tub is either lined or repaired, reglazed, and sealed to look like new. While a refinish won’t necessarily last as long as the factory finish on a brand-new bathtub, it’s considerably less expensive than a replacement. Bathtub refinishing generally costs between $330 and $630, with an average cost of $480. Refinishing can make the bathtub beautiful, sanitary, and safe until a full-scale rebuild of the bathroom is in the cards, so it’s an option worth checking out before committing to a bathtub replacement. There are a number of considerations that go into determining bathtub refinishing cost, so educating yourself on the options before making a decision can be helpful in controlling the budget.
Factors in Calculating Bathtub Refinishing Cost
There are more options than one might expect when making choices on a refinishing project, and each has pros and cons and a different associated cost. Before consulting a professional or trying to DIY a tub refinish, there are components you’ll want to consider that will help you establish a reasonable budget.
Many older homes feature cast-iron tubs glazed with porcelain. More recently installed tubs may also be steel coated with porcelain. Steel and cast-iron tubs coated with porcelain are quite straightforward to refinish; therefore, they are the least expensive tub material to recoat, ranging from $350 to $600 depending on other factors.
Very old bathtubs may be constructed completely from porcelain. All-porcelain tubs will require specially trained professionals to resurface them because the porcelain is thicker and more fragile. Resurfacing porcelain tubs costs between $350 and $600, with an average of $475.
Tubs made of fiberglass require a different process to avoid cracking the shell of the tub during the process, and the reglazing technique is also different than with other materials. Refinishing fiberglass takes more time and effort to achieve a smooth, durable finish. Expect fiberglass refinishes to cost between $300 and $1,000—it’s the most expensive material to refinish. Acrylic tubs feel similar to fiberglass (in fact, they’re usually acrylic over fiberglass) and will also need some special handling for the new surface to properly adhere.
The configuration and type of the bathtub will affect the cost. Larger surface areas cost more than smaller ones. For example, a basic inset bathtub that’s 5 or 6 feet long will be the least expensive type to refinish; this is because only one side of the exterior needs to be finished, and the interior is a reasonably small size. If the tub is part of a bath-shower combination in which the tiles will also be refinished, the cost increases considerably because of the addition of the wall surface area. Bath-shower combinations cost between $500 to $1,000 to refinish. Clawfoot and freestanding bathtubs are the most expensive type to refinish (ranging from $500 to $1,200) because their deeper walls provide a large surface area, and their exteriors often require refinishing as well.
If the existing bathtub is in reasonably good condition—perhaps it has a few small scratches, general wear, and a tiny chip or two—the cost should stay toward the lower range of the average for its size, type, and material. Conversely, a tub with significant cracks, gouges, or chips will need to be repaired before you can reglaze the tub, which will increase the cost of materials and labor and push the repair higher in the average cost range. It costs between $195 to $300 to repair three chips the size of a quarter or smaller, and each additional chip will cost an extra $25.
The most common and economical refinishing method involves sanding down the existing glaze, repairing any cracks or chips, painting or spraying on the new finish, and sealing it. Other refinishing options are bathtub inlays and bathtub liners. Inlays are inexpensive and quick to install, and they will seal the bottom of the bathtub completely so that any leaks that were present in the bottom of the tub are permanently fixed. Inlays only cover the bottom of the tub, however, so while they’re very functional, their cosmetic appeal is limited. A bathtub liner, on the other hand, is a custom item designed to the exact specifications of the existing tub. The liner slips over the entire bathtub and seals in place as if it was always there. There are no seams and no drips—just the appearance of a new bathtub. Liners aren’t a quick fix; they can take up to a month or two to be fabricated. They’re the most expensive refinishing option, but they create the appearance of a brand-new tub without the hassle of construction.
In general, the materials to refinish bathtub surfaces will make up approximately $150 of the total cost. Refinishers will need to use acrylic urethane spray, which is a waterproof medium—almost like a bathtub paint—that closely resembles the finish of porcelain when it dries. They’ll also need tools, primer and sandpaper, and putty for patching chips. Material costs for inlays or liners will vary based on the size and shape of the tub and surface.
Tub refinishing is a relatively quick job; the time needed to reglaze bathtub surfaces is often 1 day or less. There are some exceptions, such as bathrooms in which it’s very difficult to maneuver or there’s little ventilation, but on the whole, the labor required shouldn’t be for more than a day or two and will cost between $200 and $500. Inlays are similarly swift projects, and liners are a 1-day install, but they do require significant preparation, measuring, and molding ahead of time.
Additional Costs and Considerations
Beyond the basic elements of materials, labor, and specifics of the method of bathtub refinishing, there are a few other things to think about. While reading through these cost considerations, some people overwhelmed by the cost may be wondering, “Can’t I just buy a bucket of tub paint?” At the other end of the spectrum, some might think, “Maybe I should just replace the whole thing—I want a custom job.” Still others will be thinking, “Where can I find bathtub refinishing near me?” because refinishing sounds like the happy medium between the two. These are actually great questions. For some, the higher cost of replacement is acceptable because they want specific changes or need major repairs. And while a bucket of tub paint won’t help much without significant preparation, there are some DIY options for bathtub refinishing. The following factors are additional points to think about while making a decision about your tub.
Repair vs. Replacement
Why not just replace the tub? For some people, that is the best option, especially if they’re looking for a larger tub or a more modern shape. If the tub has significant damage, large leaks, or damaged plumbing, replacement may make more sense than refinishing. Tub replacement costs an average of $3,400, and the cost can run higher if the pipes in the walls need to be replaced or there are problems discovered during deconstruction. With an average cost of $480, repairing and refinishing the existing tub is a better choice financially if there’s no clear reason not to.
Interested in adding custom features to the bathtub? They’ll generally bump up the overall price. Choosing unusual colors may require custom mixing. Adding features to a tub liner that don’t exist on the original tub, such as shelves and niches, will add to the cost, as will modifying the edge shape of a liner. Some refinishers can even add custom stone texture or even the appearance of stone for an additional fee.
Types of Bathtub Refinishing
The three types of refinishing each offer different benefits and drawbacks. None is necessarily superior to the other, but there may be a best choice for each individual situation.
Reglazing refers to a process by which the original surface of the entire tub is first removed via sanding or acidic etching. Chips and small cracks are then repaired and smoothed, and the tub is sprayed or painted with a special urethane glaze that mimics the original porcelain finish. The tub can be reglazed in the original color or a different color, and the finish will last up to 15 years when well maintained. However, this lifespan is only applicable to the first refinish—subsequent refinishes will not hold as well to the base material and will peel or chip more easily.
One caution: The chemicals and acid used to deglaze the original finish are extremely caustic and can be dangerous for people, pets, and pipes if not properly vented and diluted. Make sure the contractor has a plan for ventilation and chemical disposal. Other than that, reglazing is an excellent option to preserve tubs with beautiful detailing and attractive shapes or any tub that is minimally damaged.
The least expensive option, bathtub inlays repair the bottoms of acrylic, fiberglass, or plastic tubs. Usually installed after a crack or a leak has occurred, inlays permanently repair leaks and can add a nonslip surface to an existing tub. Installation is fast—less than 30 minutes in most cases—and the inlay can be refinished along with the rest of the tub for uniformity. Inlays are functional repairs more than they are aesthetic changes, but they can significantly prolong the life of a fiberglass, acrylic, or plastic tub that has sustained damage to the bottom.
If the surface of the tub is badly damaged or leaking, a bathtub liner may be the answer. Individually designed to fit over the existing tub (and sometimes the walls as well), a liner can change the color of the tub and surround, add style and features such as built-in shelves or hangers, and doesn’t require heavy sanding or tub removal. Bathtub liners cost between $1,800 and $5,100. Lining the tub costs more than reglazing, but it’s still substantially less than the construction and dumping charges that come along with replacing the whole tub. There can be some complications, however. If the liner doesn’t fit tightly to the original tub, additional caulking and sealing may be necessary, and mold or mildew can grow between the original tub and the liner. Liners cannot be installed on freestanding tubs. But for homeowners trying to freshen or repair a badly damaged tub without major construction, a liner is a great choice.
Do I Need to Refinish My Bathtub?
Sometimes it’s clear that a tub needs replacement. Those who have recently moved into a home that has older fixtures or hasn’t been well maintained may encounter an old iron tub that’s so chipped and cracked that rust has bloomed, eating quickly through the cast iron and creating leaks. If the tub has sustained significant structural damage or the plumbing needs to be ripped out, a refinish might not be enough. But many aesthetic and small structural problems can be corrected with a good refinish, and these problems are indications that the tub should be refinished—soon.
Heavy mineral content in water can lead to pink or brown stains left on the tub, and splashed chemicals, hair dye, and other solutions can leave an older tub looking less than inviting. Having permeated the outer coating on the original finish, these stains can’t be cleaned off, but the etching and sanding that takes place before a reglaze can remove them and replace them with a shiny new coat, and a liner can simply cover them up.
Rust stains in a cast-iron tub may indicate that the original finish has been breached significantly enough that water has had time to create rust on the underlying iron. This is unattractive, of course, but as the rust spreads, it may cause the chipped spot in the finish to bubble and grow, creating sharp edges and leaks. Refinishing the tub before the rust spreads significantly will remove the rust and reseal the iron safely underneath a urethane finish. Rust stains can also appear in tubs as a result of older iron pipes in the water supply that carry iron deposits to the tub that then create unsightly stains on the tub walls and bottom. Although reglazing the tub itself won’t solve the problem of the mineral deposits, a newly sealed surface will make it harder for the deposits to stain.
Water marks—gray splotches and dull or pale spots on the tub—are also an indication that the original finish has worn down and water is able to leave spots or marks on the tub. While water marks aren’t attractive, they’re also an indication that water is seeping underneath the finish of the tub, and rust or a bubbling finish may soon follow.
Chipping and Scratches
The occasional chip or scratch is inevitable in a bathtub that is regularly used. Tools get dropped during plumbing work, a glass bottle can hit the tub edge at the wrong angle, and even grabbing the tub edge to stop a fall can leave a scratch if sharp jewelry catches the edge. Small chips and scratches probably aren’t a big deal structurally, but they don’t look nice, and they may harbor bacteria that’s difficult to clean.
Bubbling or Peeling Paint
When water gets underneath the finish of a tub, it creates space, so even after it evaporates, more water can take its place. Eventually air and water will press the space out to create bubbles that burst into peels. Once this happens, it’s a free-for-all: More water can get underneath the finish, causing more bubbles and more peeling. If the surface is exhibiting signs that this has happened, it’s time to consider refinishing the tub.
A solid tub surface should be shiny and uniform. This makes it easy to keep clean and hygienic. A dull surface means that the shiny top layer has worn off, which means that the remaining finish is vulnerable. The dull finish is also more prone to staining and chipping, and it may scratch when vigorously cleaned.
Benefits of Refinishing a Bathtub
There is a certain appeal to renovation that has to do with everything being fresh, clean, and new, but by refinishing a tub instead, the fresh and new feeling can be achieved in a way that benefits the customer, the tub, and the environment.
A refinished tub is pretty; chips, scratches, and stains are gone. The surface is uniform and attractive. The caulk is fresh and new. Refinishing a tub can make it essentially look new, brightening up a bathroom and updating the color for a modern or traditional aesthetic.
Refinishing a tub, whether via reglazing or lining, is substantially less expensive and less of a hassle than replacing it. There is no demolition, reconstruction, replumbing, or disposal fees. The tub can be reglazed or lined without removing the walls surrounding it. Refinishing provides a new-tub look at a fraction of the cost of a new tub.
Extended Tub Life
Trashing an old tub feels wasteful, as does the expense that goes along with it, especially when the primary problems are aesthetic. A refinish can extend the life of the tub by a solid 10 to 15 years, so homeowners can enjoy a new look and fresh finish without spending money on something they don’t really need.
Reduced Landfill Waste
What happens to old bathtubs when they’re removed? Usually they’re broken up on site and heaved into a dumpster, then carted to a landfill. Because of the combination of iron, steel, occasionally lead, and porcelain, tubs can’t be recycled or used for scrap, so they just…sit in the landfill forever. This is the unfortunate reality—and, at the moment, the only option if the tub is leaky or damaged beyond repair. But if the tub itself is sound and doesn’t need to be removed, the choice to refinish is an environmentally healthy option that still results in a like-new tub.
Bathtub Refinishing: DIY vs. Hiring a Professional
Can you paint a bathtub yourself? Well, technically, yes, but you can’t just go out and buy a gallon of paint and a good brush. The “paint” used to reglaze tub surfaces isn’t regular paint: In order to bond well enough with the tub surface and be durable enough to withstand regular use, tub paint is usually an epoxy- or enamel-based paint or a urethane. There are DIY kits available on the market that include the materials necessary to do a good job—etching material to break through the existing surface, tack rags and stir sticks, sandpaper, foam rollers and sandpaper, gloves, and either a spray-on coating or pour- or paint-on finish. The process requires extensive preparation, patience, and a steady hand to avoid streaks, marks, and drips. Then you’ll have to be patient while the tub fully cures before you use it, which may be 4 to 5 days.
Using one of the best tub refinishing kits can certainly save some money. Ranging between $50 and $150 for DIY kits that can complete two coats on a full tub, they’re several hundred dollars less than professional reglazing. But there are other considerations. First, this isn’t a quick job (even if the label says it is). The actual glazing may be quick, but taping off the rest of the bathroom, surface prep, sanding and etching, then glazing, cleanup, and curing take quite a while, and the bathroom will still be out of commission for a few days. Second, this isn’t an unskilled process. While a handy DIY homeowner can certainly achieve good results, the application requires some skill that there’s nowhere to practice other than on the tub, so the results may not be as smooth or as durable as anticipated. The chemicals you’ll be using are caustic and some have strong fumes that can be dangerous in a space that isn’t sufficiently vented. And finally, it’s important to be prepared for surprises. Peeling off old caulk and scrubbing and sanding down the edge of the tub can reveal unexpected problems, such as rotted walls, loose tiles (or worse, tiles that drop off the wall when not supported by the caulk and shatter), or mold and leaks. Professional installers will know what they’re looking for in these areas and can take care to note them and alert you to the proper course of action for repair before refinishing the tub.
Professional refinishers can mix custom colors to match existing tilework (there is an almost unimaginable number of shades of white!) and are practiced and smooth in their prep and application. They know how much deglazing needs to happen, and they know when the sanding is even enough, how much primer to apply, and how to apply the color evenly for a perfect shine. Because of their expertise and the superior products they use, professional reglazing lasts for between 10 and 15 years, while DIY kits are usually a 2- to 3-year stopgap. In addition, if a professional does make a mistake, they’re on the hook to correct it by either applying an additional coat or stripping it off and beginning again. Although it’s always tempting to save extra money by tackling a project yourself, this particular job has a number of components that may add up to more than you expect, so paying a little extra to get the smooth, professional results you want while saving yourself a lot of frustration may be worthwhile.
How to Save Money on Bathtub Refinishing Cost
Choosing to refinish a bathtub is already saving money over a replacement, but it never hurts to look for additional cost savings.
- Ask the contractor what other services they provide. If you’re considering refinishing the vanities, adding a backsplash, or installing other fixtures, having the work done by the same company may result in a discount on all the projects.
- Choose standard colors and finishes rather than custom.
- Ask for quotes from several companies before choosing one, and check references. Don’t choose the least expensive quote without making sure the company does excellent work.
- If you’re considering a bathtub liner, go to a showroom and step into a shower with a liner to make sure you like the way it looks and feels. Some people don’t care for the acrylic overlay, and you may find that reglazing is a better (and less expensive) option.
Questions to Ask About Bathtub Refinishing
When hiring a professional to refinish a bathtub, the customer is relying on their experience and professionalism to ensure a quality, long-lasting finish. Because there are so many steps to this job, and because there’s no way to check the durability of the finish right away, there are important questions to ask of contractors before hiring them.
- Is the business licensed and insured?
- What should be done in the bathroom before the technician arrives?
- Do you include grout/caulk removal and reapplication in the cost?
- Will you remove the drain cover to avoid a seam and ensure a good seal?
- What products do you use, and what training and experience do the technicians have with them?
- What problems do you anticipate in our project?
- Do you include repairs of chips? For how long?
- What kind of warranty do you offer, and for how long?
- What recourse do I have if I am dissatisfied with the quality of the surface?
- Can you provide references for customers whose tubs you have refinished?
A lot of terminology gets tossed around when reading about tub refinishing and replacement, and some of it isn’t entirely clear. For this reason, reading up on the options will help make you a careful, responsible customer when you begin talking to contractors. Plus, it will make it tougher for any shady “pros” to take advantage of you. These are some of the questions most often asked about the bathtub refinishing process to get you started.
Q. Is it worth it to refinish a bathtub?
As long as the owner is happy with the size and shape of the existing tub and the tub is in reasonably good condition, refinishing a tub can add 10 to 15 years to the life of the tub for a cost that won’t break the bank—so yes, it’s often worth it.
Q. Is it cheaper to refinish a bathtub or replace it?
The cost of refinishing a bathtub is significantly less than replacement. Shopping for a replacement tub can often be misleading—shoppers will see pricing in the $400 to $500 range for a new tub and think that’s all it costs, but the demolition, removal, and disposal of the old tub and likely the walls of the bathroom, the replacement materials, and the labor cause the actual price of a replacement to reach much higher numbers.
Q. What’s the difference between refinishing, reglazing, and resurfacing a bathtub?
Often these terms are used interchangeably to mean sanding and etching off the surface of a bathtub and replacing it with a new coat of resin or urethane coating to mimic the original porcelain or fiberglass surface. However, refinishing and resurfacing can also refer to adding an inlay to the bottom of a plastic, acrylic, or fiberglass tub, or to adding a liner to any tub that isn’t freestanding.
Q. How long does a bathtub reglazing last?
As long as it is cared for according to the instructions provided by the contractor, a professional reglazing lasts between 10 and 15 years. A DIY refinish lasts an average of 2 to 3 years.