Bathtub Refinishing vs Bathtub Liners vs Replacement: Pros and Cons

What do you do with an old, chipped, scratched and/or discolored bathtub? You can decide to replace it with a new one, which is a long and pricey process. Bathtub refinishing or lining are 2 of the other viable options.

Bathtubs made of fiberglass or acrylic generally last for 10-15 years. Those made of stronger materials like cast-iron will definitely last longer. No tub lasts forever, unless you are thinking about pure and solid copper bathtubs.

Both bathtub refinishing and bathtub liners have their pros and cons especially for folks whom replacement is out of question. To determine the best option for you, keenly compare and contrast the benefits and short comings of each of then go with the most viable one.

Bathtub refinishing involves coating the surface of the bathtub with a new finish while tub liners are sheets made of PVC or acrylic that are molded to fit over your bathtub then glued and caulked into place.

Bathtub refinishing is cheaper, faster and can be DIYed but can only be done once. Tub liners on the other hand are expensive, must be done by a professional and often tend to fail leading to growth of mold and mildew, as water is trapped between the liner and the tub.

If you do not want to experiment with a bathtub liner, a replacement is often a better alternative. Some people however shy away from it due to the cost involved.

Bathtub Liners vs Refinishing vs Replacement

FactorRefinishingLinerReplacement
Cost$300-$600$850-$2000 $1300-$7000
ReliabilityHighLowVery high
DIYYesNoYes
DurabilityModerateIt dependsDurable
Time it takes4-5 hours<2 weeks1 day
Weather-dependentYesNoNo
Variety/OptionsNoYesYes
House valueNo changeNo changeIncreases

Pros and Cons of Bathtub Refinishing

Bathtub refinishing goes by several names. It is also referred to as bathtub reglazing, resurfacing or recoating. To refinish a bathtub, an expert will first sand the surface of the tub before filling any holes and cracks with a patching compound. A primer and several coats of paint are then applied before buffing the tub for a smooth finish.

Almost all types of bathtubs can be refinished. While categorizing bathtubs, we do it depending on the material they are made from as well as the installation type. Most homes in the United States have a 3-wall alcove bathtub made or acrylic or fiberglass.

Is Bathtub Refinishing Worth It?

Most homeowners are often not sure of whether to go with a bathtub refinishing job, use a tub liner or just replace it with a new one. So, when is a bathtub refinishing worth the money and time?

  • When the tub is in good shape. Most bathtubs will flex/warp after years of usage. They don’t look good at all. Refinishing a warped bathtub will not restore its old shape. In such circumstances a replacement is a good idea. If however the tub is good shape save for a few chippings/scratches or discoloration, refinishing it is totally worth it.
  • If you want to preserve a vintage bathtub. Old Victorian-era style clawfoot bathtubs were of superior quality than those on the market today. If you have such and which you absolutely adore but has seen better days, refinishing it is totally worth it.
  • Fewer problems. Is your bathtub always leaking, doesn’t hold water, clogs frequently or drains slowly? If your answer is in the affirmative, refinishing your tub will not fix this problems. Ultimately you will need to replace it.

If you decide that your bathtub is indeed worth refinishing, go ahead and do it. Before that, let us look at the pros of bathtub refinishing over bathtub lining and replacement.

1. Bathtub refinishing is cheaper

Between bathtub refinishing, tub liners and a complete bathtub replacement, bathtub refinishing is the cheapest option. Bathtub refinishing costs between $300 and $600 depending on your area and the size of the tub. It could also cost way less if you do the refinishing yourself.

The thing with bathtub refinishing compared with 2 of the other options is that you don’t need to buy lots of materials. A huge chunk of the cost goes towards paying the expert and hence its low cost. The supplies needed for this job costs under $100.

For folks who don’t have loads of cash to spend on a bathtub renovation then bathtub refinishing is the way to go.

2. Bathtub refinishing is fast

Again, bathtub refinishing is the fastest of the 3 bathtub renovation options. It will take an expert 4 to 5 hours to refinish a bathtub. A DIY job might take longer.

It is important to remember that it will take about 12 hours for the paint to cure, but I suggest you give it 24 hours before you start using the bathtub. Starting the vent fan as well as opening bathroom windows is a good way to ventilate the room, speed up process and take care of any smells.

If you are doing this on your own, it is especially important to have free flow of air in the room, have your protective gear on and use a high-quality bathtub refinishing kit.

3. Bathtub refinishing can be DIYed

If you are a handyman/woman or a DIY enthusiast then a bathtub refinishing is a job you can comfortably do on your own. There are lots of videos to guide you on the how to go about it on YouTube so it should not be a problem even if you have never done it before.

While you can refinish a bathtub on your own, a tub liner job will strictly need an expert. It is a more precision job than tub refinishing and so many things can go wrong.

4. Can be used for different types of bathtubs

The thing with a bathtub refinishing job is that you are not limited to an alcove-bathtub. You can do the same for freestanding bathtubs as well. Can you get a liner to tightly fit all around a freestanding tub? I don’t think so.

More people these days are buying freestanding bathtubs for their many benefits. It is reassuring to know that you can refinish it instead of replacing it after a few cracks or chips

Cons

What are the disadvantages of refinishing a bathtub as opposed to installing a tub liner or even a total bathtub replacement? Here are some of the main ones:

1. Bathtub refinishing is messy

A bathtub refinishing involves sanding off the old tub finish, filling holes, applying paints, buffing among other processes, Needless to say, the whole process is quite messy and you have to hope that other bathroom fixtures are not affected in the process especially for a DIY bathtub refinishing.

As is the case with most paints, there will be an unpleasant smell in your bathroom and sometimes you might be forced to spend the night out in a hotel. This is especially the case if you only have one bathroom in the house.

2. Can only be done once

You only have one chance to do a good bathtub refinishing job. If you get a lousy services from an expert or even a DIY job, you will notice that the finishing will start to peel off after a few months. If that happens you cannot redo the job afresh.

The only thing left to do in this case is to replace the tub or install a bathtub line. This is why I highly recommend that you get a professional to do it instead of trying it yourself. The fact of the matter is that even if you successfully do it on your own, the tub will look less aesthetically appealing than if it was done by an expert.

3. Needs care

A refinished bathtub is not the same as a factory refinished tub. In a factory, the tub is treated to make sure that it does not peel off, scratch or even fade easily. It is impossible to achieve the same results at home with a tub refinish job.

For this reason, you will need to carefully observe what you are using to clean the tub. Bleach, acidic cleaners and anything else that can scratch the tub should be avoided. Baking soda or a gentle dish soap with a sponge are what I would recommend.

4. Weather-dependent

The prevailing weather conditions plays a huge role in how a bathtub refinishing job turns out. This is especially a concern for people who live in humid areas. The higher the humidity the less the chance of the paint binding nicely on the tub.

It is therefore best to avoid refinishing a bathtub in humid days especially around summer. The less the humidity the better the finish is going to cure.

How to Refinish a Bathtub

If you decide to DIY a bathtub refinishing, this is the process to follow:

  • Fill any cracks and chips with a heavy-duty patching compound
  • Remove bathtub drain, drain stopper, overflow plate and any other metallic hardware on or around it.
  • Use a strong cleaning agent or bleach to thoroughly clean the tub.
  • Remove the caulk around the tub.
  • Sand the tub. This roughens it making the paint stick on it perfectly.
  • Dust off and rinse the tub. Wipe the tub dry with a cloth. Some people will opt vacuum it.
  • Use duct tape and a cloth or plastic/garbage bag to cover the bathtub surrounding.
  • Apply about 3 coats of primer and let it dry.
  • Now apply 3 layers of tub paint and give it time to cure.
  • Buff the tub for a smooth finish
  • Remove the garbage bags around the surrounding and reattach the bathtub hardware.
  • Wait 24 hours before using the bathtub.

Best Bathtub Refinishing Kit

To refinish your bathtub, it is important to work with a high quality kit to avoid frustrations. This is for DIYers. A Bathtub refinishing professional will come with all the materials needed to do the job and give you a quotation for the complete job.

If you are in the market for a decent bathtub refinishing kit, consider buying one of these from Amazon. You can as well quickly grab one from your nearest home improvement store.

Pros and Cons of Bathtub Liners

Bathtub liners are an exact replica of the original bathtub. They are made by bending and molding sheets of acrylic or PVC into the exact dimensions and shape of the tub and later glued in place.

The edges of the liner are then caulked around the bathroom wall to create a watertight seal. Installing a bathtub liner is a technical job and should only be done by a professional, and a good one for that matter. Take your time to research and ask a round for a good one. There is nothing gross as a badly installed bathtub liner.

Are Bathtub Liners any Good?

So, when is it worth installing a bathtub liner and are they any good? To be honest, a well installed tub liner can make your old tub to look as good as new all over again. The key word here is the job has to be done right and by a professional.

When is it a good idea to install a bathtub liner:

  • When a bathtub refinish won’t just do it. Sometimes a bathtub especially in old houses is in such a bad shape (cracks and chips) and refinishing it won’t just cut it. By installing a tub liner, you will give the bathtub a good-as-new look.
  • When replacing it is not an option. While a new tub is not necessarily expensive, installing one is definitely quite expensive. This leaves you with no option but to install a tub liner.
  • When the bathtub surrounding has seen better days too. If you notice that the bathtub surrounding is in a bad shape just like the tub, installing a complete liner in the tub and surrounding is the way to go. It wouldn’t look good if the tub is refinished but the surrounding is scratched and discolored.

Pros

So, what are the advantages of a bathtub liner as opposed to a bathtub refinishing or even a replacement?

1. Quick to install

Although it takes long to have the bathtub completely lined, most of the processes happens away from your house. Technically, the expert will come on the first day to take measurements and head over to their shop to make the mold.

When the mold is ready, all they will do is nicely fit it over the tub, glue it in place and caulk it to the wall. They will spend less time in your house than a refinishing expert would. It is therefore a less intrusive process

2. You don’t need to move

As I said about a refinished bathtub, you will most likely need to get a place to sleep for the night as the paint cures. This is however not the case with a bathtub liner.

There will be no smells in your bathroom and all you have to do is wait for the caulk to dry. If the bathtub surrounding is being caulked as well, the process can take about 2 days and folks with one bathroom might need to look for another place to stay for a night.

3. Lasts long

A well installed bathtub liner typically lasts longer than a refinished bathtub. This is why I would highly recommend that you go with an acrylic liner if you decide to travel down this path. Acrylic is a stronger and non-porous material hence mold/mildew will not thrive.

With a refinished tub, you have to be very careful as they can scratch, fade or peel off. If you manage to get a good bathtub lining expert then you will enjoy. It is even a good idea if you are relining the surrounding as well.

Another good thing about bathtub liners is that you can get a different liner color from the original color of the tub. This will definitely spruce up things in your bathroom.

Cons

There are several disadvantages of bathtub liners which will definitely make you think twice about going ahead with installing one. Let us have a look at them.

1. They often fail

This is the major disadvantage of having a bathtub liner. When the job is not done right, water finds way and is trapped between the liner and the actually tub and you are left with a floater. Every time you step in the bathtub you find that it is very sloshy and definitely not stable.

Apart from the disgusting feeling of using a sloshy bathtub, there is also a health risk. Due to the dark and humid environment between the liner and the tub, mold and mildew will start to grow. I have even seen a mushroom growing from the bathtub drain.

The thing about bathtub liners is that not few of them fail. Most fail and that is why most people just prefer to refinish the tub or ultimately replace it.

2. Bathtub liners are expensive

It costs between $850 and $2000 to install a bathtub liner depending on the process, area and size of the tub. Most of the cost goes towards paying the tub lining expert.

Compared to bathtub refinishing, bathtub liners are quite pricey and what is worse is that you are not guaranteed of getting good results. Even if you get a job warranty from the expert, the back and forth communications concerning a failed tub liner can be so mentally draining.

3. Cannot be DIYed

Unlike a bathtub refinishing job, you cannot install a bathtub liner on your own. There are so many processes involved that only an expert can do.

With a bathtub refinish DIY, you can save up so much money which unfortunately can’t be done with a bathtub liner. This is the reason most people prefer to just replace the bathtub if refinishing is out of question.

Pros and Cons of a Bathtub Replacement

A bathtub replacement is the best option if you have the money to do it. There are many and better bathtubs in the market today with more features than those found when your old tub was being installed.

When you have a super old, cracked, chipped, leaking bathtub that is also infected by mold or mildew, it is a good idea to replace it. You should also do it if you are looking for a new style or when you are not sure that a refinish or liner will serve you well.

Pros

The following are the advantages of installing a new bathtub instead of refinishing it or installing a bathtub liner:

1. Many options to choose from

There is definitely many options in the market today and it therefore goes without saying that you will be spoiled for choice. They include:

  • Freestanding bathtubs
  • Japanese soaking bathtubs
  • Wood bathtubs
  • Cultured stone tubs
  • Whirlpool/jetted bathtubs
  • Drop-in bathtubs
  • Corner bathtubs

4. Peace of mind

Unlike a bathtub refinishing job or a bathtub lining job, a new bathtub is something that you are sure will work as advertised. They also come with a warranty so if something happens you can always call the seller.

One thing to also remember is that while installing a new bathtub, you are also likely going to replace the surrounding as well as the floor and the drainage as well. This gives you the assurance that you will not have to mess with anything for the next 15 to 20 years

5. Increase house value

A house with a new and modern bathtub will definitely be valued higher than a house with an old moldy and discolored bathtub. And don’t think that potential house buyers won’t tell a new bathtub from one which has been relined or refinished. They will.

If you are therefore looking to flip your house then installing a new tub is the best option.

Cons

I can’t think of a disadvantage associated with installing a new bathtub apart from the cost. New bathtubs don’t cost that much but you have to remove the old tub, remodel the bathroom a bit and then install the new tub.

According to Home Advisor, it costs between $1300 and $7000 to install a new bathtub depending on area, type and size of bathtub. Fiberglass bathtubs are the cheapest in the market while those made of stone, copper or wood will cost about $8000 or more.

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