Refinishing vs. Resurfacing vs. Reglazing a Tub: What’s the Difference?
Should you refinish, resurface, or reglaze your tub? While it can seem confusing, resurfacing and reglazing are all part of the refinishing process.
Refinishing a bathtub involves buffing out surface flaws, stripping the original finish, filling in any cracks or gaps, and applying a new finish (aka resurfacing) to improve the overall look of the tub. When someone refers to reglazing, they’re actually talking about the last step in the refinishing process. This involves applying a glazing substance that becomes the very top layer of your tub.
Bathtub Refinishing Cost Factors
Even though the actual process of refinishing your bathtub can sound quite simple, many factors play into the cost of the job. Since there are many bathtub materials, types, and even methods to refinish your bathtub, it’s important to take note of all the options available before making a final decision.
The material of your bathtub largely determines refinishing costs. Typically, bathtubs that are steel or cast iron and are coated with porcelain are the least expensive to refinish due to the straightforward nature of the project.
Older bathtubs that are fully porcelain require more expertise due to the fragility of the material. Fiberglass and acrylic tubs need a slightly different refinishing technique to avoid cracking the tub shell and take longer to get the desired smooth finish. Therefore, these are typically more expensive to refinish.
Your type of bathtub (yes, there’s more than one!) also plays a factor in the overall cost. A general rule of thumb is the more surface area a tub has, the higher your bathtub resurfacing costs will be.
Most standard bathtub sizes are 5 feet long and are inset. Since this type only needs to be refinished on one exterior side, it will be the least expensive to refinish.
Tubs with a shower are more expensive due to the wall surface area. Freestanding and claw-foot bathtubs are typically the most costly to refinish due to the deeper interior size and exterior surface area.
The nicer the overall condition of your tub, the less work it will take to fix any existing problems. If your tub only has minor things that need to be fixed—like a few small chips or scratches or just general wear and tear—you can expect to pay on the lower side of the average for your tub size and material. However, if you have major cracks, scratches, or even gouges, these will need to be filled, which can increase the overall price.
The method of bathtub refinishing that you choose will significantly impact the cost. Choose the best plan for your tub by considering the overall cost and the longevity of the repair.
Bathtub inlays are the most cost-effective option. This is because the inlay only covers the bottom of your bathtub to seal it against leaks from cracks. It does not refinish the walls or exterior of the tub.
This is a very practical and functional method if you’re looking to save money; however, because only the bottom is sealed, any imperfections elsewhere will still be visible. It permanently repairs the bottom of your bathtub, so expect this covering to last the rest of your bathtub's life span.
Reglazing your existing bathtub is generally the “middle of the road” option. Bathtub reglazing costs are more expensive than a bathtub inlay and less costly than purchasing a bathtub liner. This also provides more coverage than an inlay; however, you should be aware of the associated health risks with reglazing your bathtub. You can expect a reglazing to last between 10 and 15 years.
Installing a bathtub liner is the most expensive option for refinishing your bathtub. This is because a bathtub liner is custom fit to slip over your entire tub and seal in place. Because they are custom-made for your exact tub, they can take a while to come in—usually a month or two after ordering—but it looks brand new in the end. You can expect your bathtub liner to last three to five years as water can eventually seep in between the tub and liner.
The cost of materials will vary depending on the refinishing method you choose. If you decide to go with a liner or inlay, your cost of materials will depend on your tub's size and shape. If you decide to reglaze your tub, the necessary materials include chemicals and additional tools.
The good thing about refinishing your bathtub is that the job takes a relatively short amount of time. Inlays and liners do take some time to be measured and molded. These usually take one day to install. Reglazing your bathtub surfaces takes about a day or less, usually around three to five hours. It’s important to note that if the ventilation in your bathroom isn’t good (for example, if you don’t have a window), it might turn into a two-day project for your contractor's safety.
Bathtub Refinishing Costs by Material
The type of tub matters when budgeting for a refinishing job. Generally, there are four main types of tubs: fiberglass, porcelain, cast iron, and enamel.
A fiberglass tub is typically the most expensive to refinish, ranging from $300 to $1,000. Fiberglass is more finicky than other materials and may require extra care. It may also take longer to do this job due to the extra effort needed to get the desired smooth finish.
The range for a porcelain tub reglazing is $350 to $600. Usually, it's just a thin layer of porcelain over cast iron or steel. If it's an older tub that is entirely porcelain, you'll need to hire a professional to give it special care, especially if it’s an antique. Also, as beautiful as they are, antique porcelain claw-foot tubs come with a heftier price tag, ranging from $500 to $1,200 to refinish.
Like a porcelain tub, it costs about $350 to $600 to refinish a cast-iron tub. Before fiberglass tubs, cast iron was the standard tub material. A cast-iron tub can last 100 years or more with proper care and maintenance.
Unlike the above materials, enamel is not used to make bathtubs. It is a type of coating that is made from either porcelain or a hard glass coating. Typically, this coating is found on steel and cast-iron tubs. Refinishing costs for an enamel coating can run between $350 and $600.
Cost to Replace vs. Resurface a Bathtub
If you’re wondering whether you should refinish or just replace your bathtub, you can save a lot of money by resurfacing it since it’s less expensive than a replacement. However, you should consider replacing your existing tub if it’s cracked or severely damaged.
Installation costs for a bathtub liner range from $2,500 to $9,400. Factors like materials, labor, size, and plumbing repairs all affect the final price. Liners for custom bathtubs will cost more than those for standard ones.
Replacing a bathtub costs an average of $5,200 and could cost as much as $13,000. Replacing a soaking bathtub can range from $600 to $13,000. Potential costs include removing the existing tub, repairing the surface, new pipe fittings, plumbing work, and flooring reinforcement.
Signs You Should Refinish Your Bathtub
A few key signs indicate that refinishing your bathtub is a good idea. While some of these can be straightforward, you might not know some of the nonobvious reasons it’s time to get your tub refinished.
Rust stains: These unattractive stains are unappealing to the eye and signal that your tub's enamel or surface sealer is wearing down. Over time as these stains spread, they can chip and leave sharp edges.
Chipping: If you notice chips in your bathtub, it’s time to refinish it. Chips can happen when something heavy falls in the tub, like when your shampoo bottle slips out of your soapy hands. These chips, while small at first, can grow over time—and if you have a cast-iron tub, they can lead to rusting.
Discoloration: It’s normal for bathtubs to become discolored with age and use. While this inherently doesn’t cause any concern, it might be unsightly, especially if you plan to sell your home. Consider refinishing for a new, cleaner look.
Dirty surface: If you just can’t keep your tub as clean as you used to, it’s most likely due to the glaze breaking down. Over time, the glaze can allow dirt and contaminants to enter and seep below the coating.
Color change: You might not like the color of your bathtub, and that’s okay! Refinishing your tub can change it from a color that might have been there since you moved into your home to a color you’d prefer.
Benefits of Refinishing a Bathtub
Whether you’re looking to upgrade your bathroom or simply want to preserve the appearance and life of the bathtub, choosing to refinish your existing tub has its advantages.
Cost: If you want to make your bathtub look new, refinishing it is significantly more cost-effective than replacing it.
Lead protection: Older bathtubs can contain lead. Refinishing can put a new protective surface on your bathtub, making it safer for you and your family.
Preservation: Refinishing your bathtub is an easy way to extend its life by eliminating rust, cracks, and scratches.
Aesthetics: You can change the whole look of your tub just by refinishing it. This can make your entire bathroom look fresh and updated, and you can even change the tub's color.
Bathtub Refinishing Costs: DIY vs. Hiring a Pro
If you want to resurface your bathtub yourself, you'll have to pay $30 to $150 for a refinishing kit. Wear protective clothing and safety equipment, and keep the bathroom ventilated. Once you sand the tub down, you use the epoxy or resin in the kit to prepare the surface of the tub for a new glaze. As a result, even on the high end, you could save hundreds of dollars compared to hiring a pro to do it.
However, you could make some costly mistakes that could damage the tub or, at the very least, force you to hire a pro to take care of repairs. Depending on your comfort level and experience with this project, it might be better to let a local bathtub refinishing pro handle this one.
3 Ways to Save on Bathtub Refinishing Costs
So you’ve decided to refinish your bathtub, but you’d like to save a bit of money for this project. The good news is that you've already started the money-saving process when you decided to refinish your bathtub over buying a new one. To save even more on costs, consider the following:
Choose a standard color: Yes, refinishing a bathtub gives you the freedom to choose a new tub color, but specialty or custom colors will almost always increase the bottom line. Consider picking a color that's readily available to avoid spending extra money.
Take your time: While you might feel tempted to complete the project as soon as possible, carefully weigh your options. You might decide that one refinishing option is best, but upon looking at it in more detail, you don't love it. Taking the time upfront to decide can save you from redoing the project again.
Talk to your contractor: While refinishing a bathtub isn’t the most expensive renovation you can do, you might be able to save money in the long run by talking to your contractor about other services they provide. If you are in the position to upgrade your whole bathroom, they might be able to bundle other services like installing new vanities or a new backsplash.
D.P. Taylor contributed to this piece.