Bathtubs: Refinish, Replace, or Ignore?

Kenneth Wilson

If you are like most people, you likely don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about your bathtub. However, if you are embarking upon a bathroom remodel, the bathtub is something that will certainly command a bit of your attention. In many ways, the bathtub is often the elephant in the room regarding a bathroom remodel.

When you remodel your bathroom, there are many different options in terms of what to do with your bathroom; however, the three major options tend to be refinishing it, replacing it, or ignoring it. Let’s take a look at these options and determine what works best for your needs.

Why Would You Ignore Your Bathtub?

This is likely the easiest option to discuss. Take stock of your current bathtub. Does it still look new? Does it fit with the aesthetic you are planning for your remodel? If so, congratulations! You may have just saved a bit of money on your remodel. Bathtubs can actually last for a long time particularly if you are someone who is very diligent about cleaning.

However, if your bathtub has gotten dirty, dingy, or damaged, you’ll likely want to do something about it as part of your remodel. Additionally, if your bathtub is in good shape but is also quite old, you may want to do something about it too as it may seem outdated compared to the other projects you have planned.

Replacing a Bathtub

The first option that many people think about is replacing a bathtub. This involves removing the old tub and replacing it with a new one. If you have a freestanding bathtub, this is often as simple as removing some plumbing, swapping out the tub for another, and reconnecting plumbing. It can even be something many people can tackle as a DIY project.

Meanwhile, if your bathtub – like most – is built into the wall, it will take a bit more work. While some people can tackle it as a DIY project. This replacement is something you should opt to have professionals do unless you are fully confident in your ability to do it right.

This type of replacement is going to cost you, on average, between $400 and $1,500 depending upon whether you opt for a basic model or a more high-end bathtub. This does not include labor costs, which averages around $1,500. Thus, it can be a considerable part of your remodel budget. (Related: How Much Does It Cost To Replace A Bathtub? We Break It Down)

Refinishing a Bathtub

For homeowners that want to revitalize their bathtub without replacing it, refinishing the tub can be a great option. This can be a bit more time intensive but can save money in the long run. When thinking about refinishing a bathtub, there are two typical ways to go: traditional refinishing and purchasing a bathtub liner.

Traditional Refinishing. This involves using industrial chemicals, typically hydrofluoric acid, to dissolve the remainder of your tub’s current glaze. Next, the surface is etched so that the new glaze will stick to the tub. After this is complete, the chemicals are washed away, the tub is caulked, and everything is dried.

After this is done, two coats of quick drying epoxy are sprayed on to further increase likelihood that the refinishing sticks. Next, the surface is covered with four coats of a polyurethane finish, with the surface being sanded in between applications.

This process takes roughly five hours in total and requires the tub to sit for a full day before water is used. However, it will be easy on the budget, costing about $100 in materials and $300 in labor, ultimately giving you a new-looking bathtub for a very low price.

Bathtub Liner. This is another option when it comes to “refinishing” your bathtub. However, instead of actually refinishing it, you are simply covering the existing bathtub with a custom-produced liner. Let’s take a look at how this works.

First, a local installer will carefully document your existing tub including taking measurements and photos. A manufacturer will then identify the specific model and use another tub of the same model to craft a quarter inch liner.

These liners are made out of ABS acrylic, which is the same material that football helmets are made from. This is a very strong yet fairly lightweight material, perfect for a bathtub liner. Once this is received, your local installer will clean your tub, remove the drain and overflow, and make any needed trimming to the liner.

The liner then slips over your existing bathtub like a glove. The drain and overflow are reinstalled, and the bathtub is caulked. This process takes about six hours and you are able to use your tub immediately afterwards. This is a more expensive process, costing $2,100 on average for the product and installation. Thus, it is more expensive than a traditional refinishing but still likely cheaper than purchasing a new bathtub unless you are opting for a low-end model.

Which is Better?

The answer to this question likely depends on a number of factors including what you are doing with your remodel and your budget. A good metric to look at is return on investment. In general, bathroom remodels have extensive returns on investment, often above 100%, particularly in larger markets.

Replacing a bathtub does not typically provide a great return on investment unless you are significantly upgrading the quality of your tub. Additionally, this impact can vary highly by market. Markets without buyers looking for high-end or luxury bathrooms may not yield a good ROI for a new tub.

However, refinishing your bathtub does yield a very strong return on investment as the cost is much lower and the outcome – assuming you have a good tub to begin with – is similar. Thus, for many homeowner’s, refinishing the bathtub is a great way to enhance your return on investment during a bathroom remodel. Traditional refinishing, as the cheapest option, yields the highest ROI.

Your decision may ultimately be impacted by factors other than financial ones. For example, you may want to remodel your bathroom to increase the space or layout of your bath. You may also simply want a much larger tub. However, if you are approaching this decision from strictly a financial sense, refinishing your bathtub is often a better decision than replacing it.

Kenneth Wilson
April 5, 2021
Bathroom Remodeling

Kenneth Wilson

Retired contractor. Currently residing in Southwest Florida. Now in semi-retirement, I write and manage this blog focused on helping home owners make savvy decisions when it comes to finding contractors and getting their projects done. I also operate remodeling design service for homeowners.

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