Refinishing a bathtub is not a project for the casual do-it-yourselfer. For one, the bathtub must be thoroughly cleaned prior to refinishing. Moreover, the refinishing process itself involves the use of toxic chemicals that require proper ventilation and precise application in order to produce an even finish. Appropriate safety gear is a must for this project. But if you're careful, you can refinish a bathtub yourself, saving hundreds of dollars and improving the appearance of your bathroom for years to come.
What You'll Need to Refinish Your Bathtub
Though it's possible to get great results with a brush and roller, the best finish will come from using a paint sprayer. You can purchase one at any home center store or discount retailer for about $100; Wagner is one well-known brand. You will also need:
- A tub-refinishing kit, which usually includes a cleaner and surface prep, as well as waterproof sandpaper and two or more paint components
- Paint tray
- Paint brush, or paint roller(s) and roller handle
- Paint sprayer (optional)
- Masking tape
- Plastic bags for covering faucets and surfaces that won't be painted
- Safety glasses (full goggles if you'll be spraying)
- Respirator (half-face is sufficient)
- Plumber's putty
- Scraper or razor blade to remove old caulking
- Tack cloth
- Nonabrasive cleaning powder
- Paper towels
- Extra latex gloves (optional)
- Remove the drain cover and lever plate (the covering around the lever that opens and closes the drain).
- Remove old caulk and silicone from around the edges of the tub.
- If your kit didn't come with cleaning powder, use a nonabrasive cleaner such as Bon Ami or Zud and scour the tub. Don't skimp on this step; all soap scum, oils, dirt, rust and other residue must be thoroughly removed.
- Rinse the tub completely.
- If your kit instructions require it, sand the tub surface with the appropriate sandpaper. Vacuum the tub thoroughly and then wipe with tack cloth to remove all dust. Some kits will include a second solution that's applied with a specially textured pad to prepare the surface.
- Rinse thoroughly, then let dry.
- Your kit may include a solvent to be used next. It's called a primer reducer and will remove any trace of soap or the previous cleaners used. It also gives the surface some "tooth" for the primer to bond to. It's usually applied with paper towels, but check kit instructions first.
- When the tub is dry, begin taping off the areas that won't be painted. Cover surrounding areas and fixtures with plastic bags and secure with tape.
- With your safety gear on, prepare the primer from your kit, mixing according to directions. Apply the primer coat either with a roller and brush or with a paint sprayer. (The paint sprayer will give you a flawless finish, but today's self-leveling paint compounds look great even when applied with a brush and/or roller.) If your bathroom has a window, open it to increase ventilation.
- Leave the room and allow the primer coat to dry, making sure there's sufficient airflow. Be sure to keep children and pets as far from the bathroom as possible.
- When the primer is dry, apply the topcoat, again using either a spray gun or a roller and brush. Catch any drips as they happen. Use even pressure and strokes, working from the bottom up.
- Remove the masking tape from around the tub, but leave the plastic coverings on the fixtures until the topcoat is dry.
- Allow the last coat to dry as directed on the product you used; typical drying time is 48 hours.
- When you reinstall the drain cover and lever plate, set them with a bit of plumber's putty for a good seal.
- When the topcoat is dry, run a bead of silicone around the tub where it meets the wall and smooth it with your wet fingertip for a professional look.