When I bought Flip 5, it had the original 1951 bathtub. The quality of vintage tubs is unmatched with today’s products- it was cast iron, solid, and perfectly fit the space. But the only problem was that it looked awful. It had been neglected over the years and tragically people had butchered its finish with some DIY projects. Most people would probably assume it needed to be ripped out, but I always prefer keeping what’s there and making it work. I chose the option of restoring a vintage bathtub rather than gutting because I wanted to keep the original character.
Restoring a vintage bathtub really shouldn’t be a DIY project. I know that there are products that advertise that they can help in the process, but if you’re looking to actually restore rather than a quick fix, then you need to hire out this project. For this project, there were various professionals & different projects that needed attention before it was fully restored, but I’m in love with the end product!
Restoring A Vintage Bathtub
Repairing Leaking Plumbing
This type of shower/tub combo consisted of 4 handles with two separate valves. One valve for each pair of handles (one pair for the shower & one pair for the tub). The shower valve began leaking and caused quite a bit of discoloration on the tile. So my first project in getting this shower restored was replacing the valve. Typically, this isn’t a monumental project because most homes leave a plumbing access so if things like this occur, a homeowner can easily access the plumbing. Unfortunately, the builder did not create a plumbing access in this house.
Since the plumbing had no access, it meant I had to create one. This was definitely not part of my original plan. Unfortunately, to access the plumbing, some of the original vintage tile had to be busted out. I typically keep as much of the original as possible, but this was a necessary evil in the restoration process. Once I had created an access big enough, I decided I was not going to cover it back up after the valve was replaced. Instead, I opted to create a removable plumbing cover for future homeowners.
Since the original fixtures were Kohler, the new valve needed to also be Kohler. I was able to track one down on Amazon. Tip: Valves come in various sizes. Measure the middle of the handle to the middle of the next handle for the “spread width.” Replacing the valve instantly fixed the leaking problem, so this was a very necessary step in the process!
Replacing Vintage Plumbing Fixtures
The original Kohler handles were in pretty good shape, but they didn’t fit the new Kohler valve. The bottom pair of handles for the bathtub were fine, as was that valve. It was the shower valve that needed replaced. I was hoping to replace all four of the handles so they’d match, but in order to do that, I would’ve had to replace the bathtub valve that wasn’t broken. With parts and labor, that was another $1,000, so I decided to leave the bathtub valve & handles alone. I contacted Kohler to find new handles that were similar in vintage design. While they aren’t an exact match, they’re pretty dang close!
Cleaning Vintage Tile
After the plumbing fixtures & valve were replaced, I could finally get started cleaning up the tub. The tile had seen a lot of wear & tear, and for most of it, I used my tried & true method of cleaning it up. But the tile beneath the leaking valve was discolored with rust stains. That took a little more elbow grease & cleaning products to finally get it restored!
To clean the grout lines & rust residue, I started by spraying the area with quite a bit of Tilex. I let it sit for a minute or so, and then I used a toothbrush on the grout lines. Then I used watered down CLR and scrubbed it on the grout & rust. Then I rinsed it off & repeated the process. I did learn that it’s important to water down the CLR more than you think you need to. It can eat at finishes on metal if you don’t get it rinsed off quickly. The Tilex & CLR combo did the trick and cleaned up the tile beautifully!
Refinishing Vintage Bathtubs
This isn’t the first bathtub I’ve had restored. But this one was in the worst shape. Over the years, someone had painted it with a DIY tub refinish kit. Public service announcement: do NOT ever use these kits. They’re a quick fix & don’t hold up to time. This bathtub was proof of this- after time, the paint flakes off. Every time the shower was used, more flakes would peel off. The tub was cast iron, so it still had life left in it- it just needed professional intervention!
Prepping The Tub
The first step to refinishing a bathtub is prepping it properly. While this is a step you can do yourself, it’s pretty tedious and can be time consuming, so I hired it out. The prep process cost me $150…worth every penny! You begin by using a razor blade to scrape off as much of the DIY paint. Since mine was already flaking, a lot of it came off pretty easily. The company I use also applies a chemical to help in this process to (I’m not sure which chemical though).
After the tub has been totally scraped, it won’t be pretty! In fact, it’ll kind of look like a scene out of Dexter. The dark discoloration is from dirt getting trapped under the flakes and part of it is from chemicals used when cleaning the tub years before the DIY paint job.
Clean The Surface
After the surface is completely & totally smoothed, it’s important it gets a very good cleaning. Again, this was part of the prep process I hired out, but if you do it yourself, it will take a lot of elbow grease and cleaning!
Painting The Vintage Tub
Once the tub was prepped & cleaned, it was time to apply the glaze. This process can take a couple hours or more, and it will need ample ventilation. It will quickly smell like a nail salon because of the chemicals. Again, don’t do this yourself! Find an experienced professional! The guy I use has been doing this for over two decades!
Unlike the DIY kits that are rolled on, a professional will spray the new glaze on the tub. Just like when painting most things, a spray finish will always give a smoother, more professional finish
I’m always amazed by the work my guy does. He’s done incredible work for me several times before, but because this tub was in such terrible condition, I was a little nervous about how good the end product would look. But it looks brand new!
The End Result
After they were finished glazing the bathtub, it had to sit for several hours to cure. After about 12 hours, I removed the tape and paper. However, the tub isn’t usable for at least 24 hours. The most important part in this process is taking your time in removing the tape. My guy suggested I use a box cutter to cut a line above the tub so there wouldn’t be any tears in the finish. Before the tub was used, I applied a fresh line of white caulk to give it a polished look.
How To Care For A Glazed Bathtub
Once a tub has been reglazed, how to care for it is very important. If it’s not cared for properly, you can damage the finish. If cared for properly, the finish can last for many years!
- For the first 30 days after it has been glazed, only use a mild dishwashing detergent to clean the tub. Don’t use coarse brushes to clean. Use nylon net to clean.
- You can never use a bleach or chlorine based product on the finish. This includes on the tile surround above as it may drip down and damage the tub.
- Objects should not be stored on the tub including soap, bottles, or metal shaving cans.
- To remove any stains, use polishing compound such as Turtle Wax
- You can’t use bath oils or bath beads for at least 30 days after it has been glazed
- Do not use a rubber mat in the tub
- Products such as hair dye, adhesives, or permanent solutions will cause wrinkling and peeling of the surface or permanent stains.
Things To Know About Professional Glazing
Before you give up hope on your ugly or old bathtub in your home or investment property, consider the option of restoring it! This process can save you thousands and offer an extended life to a quality product.
- A cast iron or fiberglass tub can be refinished
- Reglazing isn’t just for tubs. I had a fiberglass shower insert refinished at Flip 2.
- Including the prep work, I spent $500 to have this tub reglazed.
- Typically the process can be started & finished in one day. However, the prep work took longer, so this took 2 days.
- If you have a tub or shower refinished in a rental property, make sure your lease states the penalty for damage and how to care for it.
- Re-glazing should always be the very last step- after swapping out plumbing, painting walls, re-tiling, etc.
- You can use this method to restore clawfoot tubs
- If you’re wanting to change the color of your old tub, this can be done to change vintage colored tubs