Bathtub Refinishing vs. Liner: What’s Right for Your Home?

Angela Brown
Written by Angela Brown
Updated August 5, 2021
Refinished clawfoot bath tub
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Changing up your tub is a great way to give your bathroom a makeover on a budget

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Is it time to give your bathtub a makeover? You can help your bathroom look much more inviting on a budget with a new bathtub liner or by refinishing your tub. But which one is the best option for you? Learn what the costs are for each, as well as pros and cons.

Bath Fitter vs. Rebath: What’s the Difference?

While both a bathtub liner and refinishing will make your tub look more updated, some differences could affect your decision. 

What Is a Bathtub Liner?

A bathtub liner is just that, a liner for your tub. A bathtub liner is usually made from acrylic or a sheet of PVC (the same type of material used to make pipes or window frames). Many customers opt for a liner because they want to update their bathtub without spending a lot of money. Over time, constant exposure to water and dirt will wear down the surface of the tub. A liner can help your tub look brand new.

When you hire a professional to install a bathtub liner, they will take measurements of your bathtub and then create an exact mold. Alternatively, you could install the liner yourself. You’ll need to identify the make and model of your tub to order the right one. The liner slips over your bathtub like a tight glove.

Bath fitter cost: It costs between $1,100 and $1,400 to put a new liner on your bathtub. 

What Is Bathtub Refinishing?

When you refinish your bathtub, the surface of your tub is essentially reglazed. Refinishing the bathtub is a quick way to update the look of a bathroom without the hassle of removing the old tub and reinstalling a new one. Refinishing a bathtub includes several layers of epoxy and sealant to create a hard, smooth surface. Refinishing your tub will help it last a long time since each layer of sealant and epoxy is dried to prevent the collection of moisture.

Since refinishing a bathtub requires the use of a respirator and protective suit, you should hire a local bathtub refinisher to complete the process. There are some DIY options available, but the finished look may not be as smooth.

Rebath cost: It costs around $450 to refinish your tub. 

Bath Fitter vs. Rebath Installation Process

One of the biggest differences between a bathtub liner and refinishing a tub is what it takes to get the job done. While both take several hours to complete, refinishing a bathtub takes longer and is more difficult to complete.

Installing a Bathtub Liner

The installation process for a bathtub liner is time-consuming but straightforward.

  • The tub must be inspected and measured to ensure the mold for your liner is a perfect fit.

  • All drains, handles, and knobs must be removed before the liner is attached.

  • Any cracks or chipped sections should be repaired prior to installation.

  • The surface of your tub is wiped down with denatured alcohol.

  • A combination of butyl tape and silicone adhesive covers the surface of your tub.

  • The liner is attached and pressed to fit snugly against the tub and seams.

  • The seams are caulked and handles, drains, and knobs are replaced.

  • Installation can take up to six hours, but you can use your tub the same night.

Refinishing Your Bathtub

If you choose to refinish your bathtub, expect a more complicated process. The installation expert will use high-grade chemicals and need to wear protective gear. It’s important to note that there are some health risks associated with some of the chemicals used, so the help of a professional is essential.

  • During installation, areas not being refinished are covered with plastic sheeting to protect surfaces. The drain and knobs are covered as well. 

  • Caulking is removed from around the tub.

  • Hydrofluoric acid is applied and dissolves any porcelain on the tub. This process also adds texture to the tub surface to help the refinishing solution stick better.

  • The acid is washed away and new caulking is added around the edges of the tub. The tub is dried completely.

  • Two coats of epoxy are applied to the surface of the tub. 

  • Once the epoxy is dry, the expert will use a microfiber cloth to remove any dust or dirt particles from the surface.

  • The refinisher will apply a coat of polyurethane finish, sand the surface, and then add another layer of polyurethane. There are a total of four coats and sandings before the refinisher polishes the tub.

  • Set aside about six hours for this process, and don’t plan on using your tub for at least 24 hours.

How Long Does a Bathtub Liner Last vs. Bathtub Refinishing?

Renovated bathroom with white tile, green walls
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If you’re not a fan of having to redo your bathtub in a few years, it can be helpful to know which option will last longer. While both have benefits, the longevity of a refinishing definitely outshines the liner.

Bathtub Liner

On average, you can expect your bathtub liner to last between three and five years. The exact amount of time varies depending on the tub and the type of liner you choose. Water can get between the liner and the tub, resulting in mold and mildew, so keep a nose out for any funky smells.

Bathtub Refinishing

The refinish on your bathtub can last between 10 to 15 years if you properly take care of the tub. Since the coating completely covers the tub, you won’t have to worry about water seeping underneath and allowing mildew to build up.

Bath Fitter vs. Rebath: What’s Easier to Clean?

You can clean both bathtubs normally. However, you should avoid power washing, steam cleaning, or abrasives on your refinished bathtub to avoid scratching the surface and removing some of the material. To maximize longevity with a refinished tub, you should wash the tub at least weekly to remove mold and mildew from the surface. Regular cleaning will help the glaze last longer.

A liner can handle abrasive cleaners, so you’ll have more options for cleaning your tub if you go with this method.

Pros and Cons of a Bathtub Liner vs. Bathtub Refinishing

The final verdict? It depends on your preference. Here are a few pros and cons that could help make your decision a bit easier.

Bathtub Liner Pros and Cons

  • Pro: The process is less intensive than refinishing a tub

  • Pro: It can be cheaper than replacing a tub

  • Pro: Liners are very easy to clean

  • Con: More expensive than refinishing the tub

  • Con: Only lasts 3–5 years

  • Con: Potential for mold and mildew to form on the tub beneath the liner

Bathtub Refinish Pros and Cons

  • Pro: It’s cheaper than a liner or replacing the tub

  • Pro: It can last up to 15 years

  • Pro: You can choose from different colors and sheens

  • Con: You may have to wait several days to use your tub

  • Con: The process could be hazardous, so a DIY is much more difficult

  • Con: You can’t use abrasive cleaners, and you may need to clean the tub more often

Liner and Refinishing Alternatives

In addition to refinishing or applying a liner to your bathtub, you can purchase a new tub. The cost of buying a new tub ranges from $1,400 to $7,000.

Are you feeling crafty? You can repaint your tub with a special epoxy-based paint. If you’re on a tight budget, consider adding a shelf, replacing the tile, or using some serious elbow grease to brighten up what you already have.

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