Before you replace your old, tired, cast iron bathtub, give some thought to refinishing it instead. It's cheaper and easier than tearing it out, installing a new one and adjusting all the plumbing and flooring to make a new tub fit. And cast iron bathtub refinishing can actually make a "junk" tub look like a million bucks - or at least as new as the day it was first installed, even if that day was decades ago.
Plus, when you refinish a cast iron bathtub, you can choose a different color than the original paint, which is exceptionally handy if you're one of the "lucky" ones stuck with a fad color from the 60s or 70s. Or, if you're a contemporary designer wanting a unique bathroom look, you can take that plain white tub and give it a bold new color. Until you've seen a vibrant blue cast iron clawfoot tub, you don't know what you're missing.
How Does Cast Iron Bathtub Refinishing Work?
There are two ways to refinish an old tub, but they're both based on the same principle: A special acrylic resin is sprayed onto the surface of the tub, sealing any cracks and hiding any "scratch and dent" blemishes. When done correctly, the resin creates a smooth, flawless surface that's free of imperfections, and is virtually indistinguishable from the look and feel of a brand new tub.
What About Color?
This is where the two styles differ. One method calls for a "base coat" of the spray acrylic, and then another coat of specialized paint. The other mixes the paint in with the acrylic and sprays the combination as one "product."
Which One Is Better?
Honestly, I've seen plenty of refinished cast iron bath tubs, and I can't tell the difference between either of the two styles. Professionals who work in the cast iron bathtub refinishing business often prefer one method over the other, but when you get down to it, it's usually a matter of personal preference (of course they'll spend all day telling you why "their" was is the best one, but the next one will tell you the exact opposite).
What I do know is that the skill of the tradesman makes all the difference in the world. Just as I've seen beautiful, immaculate refinished tubs done in both styles, I've also seen some really bad work from both schools, too. So I'd spend less time worrying about the method and put that effort into finding a good cast iron bathtub refinishing service that is backed up by positive customer testimonials and a rock solid warranty. (If you're ever unsure, contact your local Better Business Bureau).
How Much Does It Cost To Refinish A Cast Iron Tub
A lot less than replacing one, that's for sure. Generally speaking, it will set you back a couple hundred bucks, but that's also dependent on the type of tub you have. A simple cast iron bathtub that came standard in most houses built a generation or two ago won't cost as much, because they're less surface are (the upper side of the tub is exposed, but the underside is usually framed in, so you don't see it). The more surface area, the more materials and time you'll need, thus you'll probably end up paying more.
For example, let's consider a clawfoot tub. Almost every inch of the tub itself is visible (even the back, because they rarely sit tight against a wall). Plus, these are usually deeper, wider or longer - or all three - than a standard bathtub. So as you can see, the total surface area that you'll need refinished can easily double, triple and sometimes even quadruple!
But before you get too nervous, consider the alternative. Even if it costs $500 to refinish a cast iron clawfoot tub, how much will you spend to replace it? These costs thousands of dollars new; and while you can save some money by buying used, will you find one cheaper than $500? And how will you know it won't need refinished, too? And that's not considering the cost of materials and labor to tear out your old one and install the new one.
Can You Refinish One Yourself?
Yes. But I wouldn't recommend it. While there are a handful of bathtub refinishing kits on the market, I've never been impressed with the results. For a great looking, professional look, you'll need the type of chemicals that only professionals have access to, and you won't find them in one of these DIY kits.
Furthermore, the spray tools that come with these kits aren't sufficient. You simply can't get great results from anything other than a purpose-built sprayer system, and those are pretty expensive, far out of the reach of the average homeowner's realistic budget. Heck, the cost of buying the right tools would supercede the cost of a brand new tub PLUS installation.
And let's not forget about experience. There is no substitute for than hand of an experienced tradesman when it comes to cast iron bath tub refinishing. These folks have been trained and, hopefully, amassed hundreds or thousands of hours of experience. You simply can't replicate that on your first try, or even your second. Even the pros weren't pros when they started.
Cast Iron Bathtub Refinishing Services In Your Area
You shouldn't have trouble finding a bathtub refinishing company in your area. This technique has become explosively popular in the last few years, and continues growing at a record pace, meaning the abundance of skilled craftsmen throughout the country (and the world, for that matter) is growing by the day.
I'd look in your phone book (people still use those, right?) or search online. But don't simply look up people willing to do the job, start by at the places that can recommend a great business, like a well-respected interior design firm or general contractor. Those kind of folks work with enough tub refinishers to know which ones are best, and they'll usually be glad to recommend their favorites. In the building and construction industries, the cream rises to the top, and the respected guys look out for one another.
But you'll still need to do you homework. Try to get a list of several reputable cast iron bathtub refinishing services and call them all for a bid. Have them come out, take some measurements, talk with you about your questions and concerns, and then quote you a price. Never settle for the first company you speak with until you've gotten at least a few more bids (it's okay to choose the first bidder, but only after you've gotten several others).
Done right, you can save time, money and make your bathroom look as good (or better) than new, but done wrong and you'll regret it.
Also, did you know that you can also refinish sinks, toilets, showers, countertops and more? You can even refinish other materials, too. Fiberglass, steel, porcelain and ceramic bathroom parts can be repaired and/or altered to fit your design style. Just something to think about while you're researching cast iron bathtub refinishing.