Bathtub Refinishing 101

Bathtub ResurfacingBelieve it or not, I’m no newbie when it comes to bathtub refinishing. The first time I experienced the miracle of tub resurfacing was for a historic show home. Since then, I’ve been recommending it to family, friends, and clients. Resurfacing is a great way to save money, extend your budget, and still get a high-end look in a bathroom. I will say this… it’s not something I would ever try to DIY. If you want it to last and look the best, hire a professional. It’s well worth it! Click through for details on the process, as well as before and after images.

Bathtub Refinishing 101Before I jump into the process, a lot of people wonder if their tub is a good fit for refinishing. There are a few things I always ask prior to making the decision to resurface or replace…

  1. Is the bathtub original to the home? Odds are, if the tub is original it’s probably made of really great material and is super heavy (think cast iron). They really don’t make them like they used to. Resurfacing is great for odd (ahem, baby blue) or discolored, original tubs. Even if your bathtub isn’t original, it can still be resurfaced.
  2. What is the shape of the bathtub? This one is super important! Depending on the year your home was built, your original tub might have a funky, dated shape. If that’s the case- just replace it. I prefer a minimal, basic shape (roundup below)… no weird shell decorations or crazy indentations.
  3. Has your bathtub been resurfaced in the past? If you’re not certain, have a resurfacing consult come take a look. They can immediately tell you if it’s been refinished. If it has- a little extra prep work is necessary and the cost will be about double. They have to sand and strip the previous coating. It certainly factors into the budget and a replacement might be less expensive. Just do your research!
  4. Is your bathtub an odd or standard size? Like many original plumbing fixtures, things have progressed over the years. A standard size in the 1930s obviously isn’t the norm today. If your tub is an odd size or original to the space, it may be very difficult and expensive to replace! Be sure to measure and do the math beforehand. This is where resurfacing is an especially great, cost effective option.
  5. Is a traction / non slip bottom important to you? Resurfacing has the look and feel of porcelain… which is super smooth and glossy. That basically means unlike new bathtubs, you won’t have traction technology underfoot. I actually prefer tubs without traction strips because I feel like they get dirty easily and look weird, but if you have kids- it might be a good idea.

Our bathtub was in good shape, made of cast iron, it had not previously be refinished, and fit the space perfectly. In fact, it was in great shape upon moving in (surprisingly). Our plan was actually to leave it as is. If you read the ‘Real Life‘ post, you already know Emmett sort of messed that up… so it had to be resurfaced. This is the exact process and cost, so you know just what to expect when resurfacing in your own bathroom! The entire process takes two days.

D A Y   O N E

First the contractor will cut out and remove any caulking around your tub. Luckily, we retiled and knew the bathtub had to be resurfaced, so we didn’t caulk beforehand. It saved our contractor a step, which he was definitely stoked about. Next he prepped the bathtub by cleaning it really well. It was a two-step washing process that removes any debris, soap scum, dirt, and grime.

How to Repair a BathtubFrom there he had to repair the ugly hammer dents / scuffs that Emmett caused (shown above). He added a filling material to the scuffs. It started as a dark green color and while he waited for it to cure, he began masking off the bathroom.

Bathtub RepairsOf course I was nosey and asked ‘why’ every step of the way. Ha! The masking at this point in the process was to prevent dust because once the dark green color had turned to pale green, he sanded the material down smooth with the rest of the bathtub.

Refinished BathtubAfter further masking everything off (drain, overflow, our entire bathroom, etc), he applied a bonding agent. Once the bonding agent had set, he sprayed on a couple layers of primer. After the primer, he applied the topcoat. The work on day one took a few hours. He started the process in the morning and left around lunch time.

How to Resurface a Bathtub

Bathtub Resurfacing 101Something I didn’t expect…. the smell / fumes. During the spraying process, a fan was vented out a duct to the nearest window (which happened to be the guest room).


Resurfacing ProcessIn hindsight, I would not have picked a cold day to do this. It was 30 degrees outside and I didn’t realize the window would need to stay open. I also think it would be beneficial to open the windows throughout the house to air out the smell… but with it being so cold, that wasn’t really an option.

Bathtub Refinishing ProcessEven closing the bathroom door all day, the strong smell lingered. As soon as you opened the door to our home, you could instantly smell it. I suppose the best way to describe the smell would be comparable to a super strong enamel or paint smell. It was definitely tolerable, but wayyy worse than I expected. I know it comes with the territory and couldn’t really be avoided. I suffered through a headache for the day and moved on.

D A Y   T W O

Day two was a much shorter process. After allowing the bathtub to dry for 24 hours, the contractor came back to wet sand the tub, as well as to buff and polish it. The masking materials were removed and we were able to use the bathtub five to six hours after he left.

Bathtub Resurfacing Process

Refinishing a BathtubWatching the buffing and polishing process was pretty cool. It completely smoothed the finish, leaving a high shine. Once that was done, the contractor typically caulks everything around the bathtub, but Emmett is super weird about caulk and he’s great at it, so we asked the resurfacer to leave it as is.

Resurfacing a BathtubBy the second day the smell had dissipated… or maybe I was just growing used to it. Ha! Either way, we were left with a perfectly smooth, bright white bath tub. It was 100% worth it, and slightly less expensive than replacing the tub altogether. We also have a 5 year warranty, so if anything is scratched or scuffed in the future, they’ll come take care of it free of charge. Our total cost was just shy of $500. I do know the price varies depending on the company, but we read tons of reviews and opted for a high-end company (Choice Resurfacing, for my local friends) who uses premium, longer lasting materials.

Our bathtub really wasn’t that bad to begin with, especially since we weren’t even going to address it… but you can definitely tell a significant difference in the bottom scuffing and true white color.

bathtub before and afterGoing into the process for the first time, there were a few things I wasn’t aware of that I thought might be helpful for you guys!

  • You can have your bathtub resurfaced in different colors! Obviously white and ivory are the most common, but there are lots of custom possibilities.
  • The texture is completely smooth (not grainy or weird).
  • It looks exactly like glossy porcelain.
  • You don’t have to remove anything or uninstall plumbing fixtures in your bathroom. They literally mask off every single thing.
  • You can pretty much resurface anything (vintage sinks, countertops, tubs, etc).

As far as maintenance goes, there are some dos and don’t when it comes to cleaning. I was advised not to use super harsh cleaners (containing bleach or chlorine) or abrasive tools (steel wool, wire brushes, etc). They recommended using any liquid organic / green cleanser, or the following: 409, scrubbing bubbles, or fantastic. If you take appropriate care of the bathtub, it’s super durable and will last up to 15 years!

If your bathtub falls into the category of needing to be replaced… you can find my favorite alcove bathtubs below.

Minimal Bathtubs01: delano soaking tub // 02: advantage soaking bathtub // 03: bellwether soaking bathtub // 04: soaking bathtub // 05: integral soaking bath // 06: archer soaking bathtub // 07: fitted soaking bathtub // 08: eden soaking bathtub

I prefer a simple, minimal shape for a timeless look that fits with any style. We had the Kohler Archer bathtub in our previous bathroom and I absolutely loved it. It had a reclining backrest, tons of leg room, and a beautiful, odd-shaped overflow drain. I’d highly recommend! I suppose that’s one downside to resurfacing… original old-school tubs weren’t made for soaking and relaxing. They’re just not as comfortable and obviously don’t have all the bells and whistles.

What do you guys think? Have you had a bathtub resurfaced before or is it something you’d try? I thought a peek into the process would be helpful.

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  1. Thanks for this, dealing with this decision right now and it was super helpful!

    1. Happy to shed some light on the process! xo

  2. I needed so needed this post!! I’ve been ti king of reusrfscing our 1950s hall tub but i had doubts on the quality and longevity. But after resfing your recommendation and the fact that I totally trust your taste and quality control I can not wait to do this!! Thank you!!

  3. Hi Sarah, and thank you for posting this informative article. Both of the bathtubs in our 1979 house are in need of some help (I’m willing to bet they are original). Up to this point we’ve managed to live in denial about their condition for almost three years–aka they are difficult to clean/can’t tell if they were refinished at some point (if so, it was done poorly). So getting to take advantage of your experience and knowledge is greatly appreciated.

    Frankly, I’d love to remodel and have shower stalls instead, but that is so not going to happen. If we can refinish the tubs, that would be just fine. Thank you again, Ardith

    1. So happy to help, Ardith! Refinishing really works wonders… you can transform a space on a pretty tight budget. My sister used to have a blue bathtub and you wouldn’t believe the difference! xo

  4. Oksana | says:

    We bought a vintage claw foot tub for our master bath and it wasn’t until we had 8 men carry the thing inside (it’s heavy!) that I realized it was an off-white color. Needless to say, I’ve been on a search for a refinishing professional – but the lowest quote I’ve received so far is $2,000. How is the price difference so insanely different?! Obviously I’m not going to pay 2 grand to refinish an $800 tub, but I’m just blown away that you only paid $500 for yours! If nothing else, it gives me hope, haha!

    1. You can definitely find it cheaper! $500 was one of the more expensive quotes… I’ve had clients find contractors for under $300. With a clawfoot tub, it might be double if they’re doing the exterior surface as well? Maybe that’s the reason for the increase. Either way, I’d keep looking! Good luck lady. xo

  5. Finley Moreira says:

    I didn’t know that whether or not your tub has been resurfaced in the past can play a part as to the price it would cost to have it reglazed. My wife really wants to have the bathtub in our master bedroom reglazed, but I have no clue if it’s been done already in the past. I’ll definitely take your advice and have a professional come out and look at it first.

  6. katrina blackley says:

    I had my tub resurfaced , but is is not sooth I feel texture to it,and to me it doesn’t look white white. I will need to have it redone in the future

    1. Interesting… ours is super smooth and I actually brought out my paint swatches to compare whites, and it’s a nice bright, neutral color. I wonder if it varies depending on the product / contractor?

  7. Do you mind telling me what paint color you used? I love this and we’re getting ready to redo a similar space! :)

    1. The paint color for the bathroom? Or the bathtub? If you’re wondering about the bathtub resurfacing… that was just their standard white. I don’t think it has a color name. You can basically choose between white, almond, black, etc.

  8. Had my bathtub resurfaced and it looks great but about 6 weeks afterwards, I started to get a chemical type of smell in the bathroom. At first I thought it was the toilet tank but after several attempts I cleaned the tank with
    white vinegar it was spotless but the smell continued and got stronger. I finally got into the tub and smelled
    the drain….the smell was coming from there!! I closed the drain and have left it closed except after I bathe
    or shower. There is no longer a smell but wonder if it is good to leave the tub drained closed when not in
    use. Any suggestions of what has caused this and how to get rid of the smell? It is not a sewage type of smell.

    1. That’s bizarre, Donna! I’m honestly not sure. I’d definitely contact the business you hired to refinish the tub. They would know best as to what is going on- or maybe they could come back out to take a look. Good luck!