How to Refinish a Bathtub
Learn how to refinish a bathtub with Rustoleum’s Tub and Tile Refinishing Kit. Prep work is key in this project, and this detailed tutorial will ensure you do a thorough job!
When I first moved into my current home, I was legitimately scared of showering in my downstairs bathtub/shower. It had stains…
and a corroded drain.
A thorough cleaning job made me feel a bit better, better enough that I started showering in it, but it still looked disgusting.
Fast-forward two years. The bathtub is still stained, chipped, and corroded, but now I’m about to sell the house. While this bathtub apparently didn’t stop me from buying, it was scary enough that I’d believe it’d stop somebody. So I set out to make it better.
I decided to use Rustoleum’s Tub and Tile Refinishing Kit to paint the bathtub. Thing to know: painting is the fast part. You will spend the majority of the time prepping to paint your tub.
To give you an idea, I spent a full eight hours prepping the tub and tile for paining. That’s right. Eight hours. The actual painting part only took around 30 minutes a coat.
The general process goes like this:
- Repair chips and holes.
- Wash with a bleach and water mixture.
- Scrub with abrasive cleaner.
- Remove any caulk.
- Scrub with abrasive pad and lime away.
- Sand with 400-600 grit wet/dry sandpaper. Rinse to remove residue.
- Remove drain. Clean and sand area around/under drain.
- Mask with painter’s tape.
- Wipe with tack cloth.
- Paint (finally.)
- Wait a few days.
- Reapply caulk and reinstall drain.
The reviews on Amazon were incredibly informative, and my general takeaway was that this stuff will only work if the prep work is well done. Otherwise, it bubbles up instead of sticking to the tub. So as you might expect, I was super careful to make sure everything was done properly.
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Special Note: There are a ton of materials for this project! Be sure to grab our FREE Materials Checklist so that you know you have everything you need!
For Prep Work
- Abrasive Cleaner – I used The Barkeeper’s Friend since I already had it; Rustoleum recommends Comet.
- Scotchbrite pads – These are also super useful for stripping furniture, FYI.
- Microfiber Cloths
- Painter’s Tape
- 400-600 Grit Wet/Dry Sandpaper – True confession time: pretty sure my sandpaper was normal, not wet/dry sandpaper. I just made sure my tub was dry when I started.
- (Optional) WaterWeld – This is only required if you have chips in your bathtub that need to be repaired. I obviously did.
- Rustoleum Tub and Tile Refinishing Kit – I used two kits to apply three coats of paint on my bathtub and surrounding tile. If you’re unsure of how much you’ll need, buy your kits in-person at Home Depot or Lowes, and buy more than you think you need. Then you can return what you don’t use. (Amazon does not accept returns on chemical products like this.)
- 4″ Kitchen and Bath Roller
- Extra Roller Refills – This pack of 10 was more than enough for my three coats. People on Amazon mentioned that the paint caused their rollers to disintegrate. These didn’t disintegrate, but after awhile the pressure from the metal roller caused the foam to break in half.
- Foam Brushes – For small areas that can’t be reached by the rollers.
For Finishing Touches
- Orbital Sander – I woodwork sometimes, so I have a pretty nice orbital sander that I used on this project. If you don’t have a sander, and don’t plan to get into woodworking anytime soon, I’d still recommend picking up a cheapo one at Harbor Freight for this project. It made sanding go a lot faster, and frankly, did a better job than I could have done hand-sanding.
- Drill/Driver and Drill Brush – I used this in combo with my abrasive cleaner. Once again, I already had the drill brush, but it made me more confident that I was prepping thoroughly.
- Caulk Remover
- Respirator – This stuff is strong, and even with a fan going you will want to wear a respirator. I love the one I have, but it’s no longer available, so you’re on your own for this.
- Window Fan – I didn’t realize how well this was working until I turned it off at the end of the day, and was immediately assaulted with strong paint fumes.
- Latex Gloves – True Confession #2: I didn’t wear gloves. This was a mistake. I had paint on my hands for days.
How to Paint a Bathtub
Step 1: Repair Any Chips
I used WaterWeld, an epoxy putty, to fill the chips in the bathtub. It dries to an off-white, which was one of the main reasons I picked it. Some of the other options dried gray, which I was afraid wouldn’t be easily covered by the paint.
To use the putty, I kneaded it with my fingers, then pushed it into and around the chips. I tried to smooth it out as best I could, but it was still a little bumpy when I was done. This isn’t a big deal – once dry, the putty is sandable, and will be smoothed out when sanding the bathtub later.
Step 2: Wash With a Bleach and Water Solution
Nowhere in Rustoleum’s instructions does it tell you how much bleach should be in your solution, so I went with the formula on the bleach container: 1/2 cup bleach to 1 gallon water. In practice, this ended up being a little bit of bleach added to an almost full spray bottle.
I think the purpose of this step was to kill/remove any mildew. I didn’t really notice it doing anything, but I am a rule follower, so I washed everything (both the tile and bathtub) anyway.
At this point, my bathtub looks pretty much exactly the same.
Step 3: Scrub With Abrasive Cleaner
My general process was as follows: 1) Spray tile/tub with water, 2) Shake some Barkeeper’s friend onto the drill brush, 3) Scrub the tile/tub with drill brush.
This actually did something visible; all the discoloration on the tile scrubbed off! At the end of this step, I actually debated if I should paint the tile at all.
However – the drill brush/barkeepers friend combo is super abrasive, so it’s possible I damaged the finish of the tile with this step. I figured it was better to paint it than leave damaged tile behind.
Step 4: Remove Caulk
I was a little worried that this would be difficult, but the caulk remover tool I purchased was super sharp, and cut right through the caulk. Once it was started, it pulled right up.
I didn’t worry about the small bits the main piece of caulk had left behind; they were scrubbed and sanded off in the next two steps.
Step 5: Scrub With Lime-Away and Abrasive Pad
I went pretty slowly on this step, since I was doing it by hand I wanted to make sure I was thorough. One thing I noticed was that the lime-away appeared to leave a thin film on my tiles once it dried.
This sanded off in the next step anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal, but it was a frustrating at the time, since I was trying to clean the tiles, not make them worse.
Step 6: Sand with 400-600 Grit Wet/Dry Sandpaper
This step is super important in that it ensures your tub is scratchy enough for the paint to stick to it. I went slowly even with the orbital sander in order to make sure every bit was completely sanded.
Earlier I mentioned that the lime-away formed a film on top of the tile. It was clogging up my sandpaper, so I switched to a lower grit so that my paper got clogged less often. I think I ultimately was sanding with 180 grit sandpaper. Nothing terrible seemed to happen.
I sanded the tub/tile until it was no longer clogging up my 400 grit paper. As you might expect, this took awhile. Once I was done, I rinsed the tile and tub to remove any dust.
Step 7: Remove Drain
To remove the drain, I used a pair of pliers to grip the cross in my tub drain. Then I used another set of pliers to gain leverage to turn and unscrew the drain.
I don’t have any pictures, but you can watch me do this in this Youtube video.
I was worried this was going to be super difficult, and that I wouldn’t be able to get enough leverage to turn the drain. Turns out, it wasn’t hard at all.
I’ll also mention that Rustoleum puts this step at the beginning of the process. I noted that there were a couple times I had to rinse the tub, and decided to wait to remove the drain until after I was done rinsing.
This turned out to be a good decision, because about 10 minutes after I removed the drain, the pipe underneath it sagged a few inches, disconnecting from the tub.
Step 8: Mask With Painter’s Tape
The paint is really difficult to remove once it’s on, so make sure anything you don’t want to paint gets covered. This includes the perimeter of the tub, as well as any fixtures inside the tub.
I also wrapped some plastic wrap around the faucet. It doesn’t really drip, but I could feel some water there, so I figured better safe than sorry!
Step 8: Wipe With Tack Cloth
So, I actually broke up this project into two days; the first for prep, and the second for painting. I left this step for painting day, because it needs to be done right before the paint is applied.
The goal with the tack cloth is to remove any last minute dust that settles on the tub. Also, I’m not really sure what a tack cloth is. I used a microfiber cloth. Nobody died.
Step 9: Prep the Fan
The fan was a major win. Don’t get me wrong, I could still smell the paint, but it was manageable. When I turned the fan off in the evening, I was assulted by epoxy paint smell immediately. I hadn’t realized what a difference it was making until I turned it off.
I’ll also mention that I did this project in February, and on the day I painted it was a high of 44 degrees (Fahrenheit) outside. Because the fan blew the air out of the bathroom, my bathroom remained around 70 degrees. This was particularly important, since the paint must be at least 65 degrees to work.
My heating bill for that day will be atrocious, I’m sure. But I have a painted bathtub, and that’s all that really matters.
Step 10: Mix the Paint
The paint comes in two cans – “Part B” is the primary paint, while “Part A” is the activator. There is enough space in Part B to mix the two cans together.
I slowly poured Part A into Part B a little at a time, and mixed until Part A was completely absorbed. This might take a little while, so mix more than you think you need to in order to ensure Part A is evenly distributed.
The paint seemed a little thin to me after I’d mixed the parts together. I assume this is normal. Don’t be alarmed if yours seems thin as well.
Step 11: Paint (Finally!)
I applied three coats to the bathtub and tile using foam rollers. Almost everything could be done with the foam rollers, with the exception of a couple parts around the faucets, which I used foam brushes for.
Once the first coat was applied, I waited one hour before applying the second coat. Note that this was one hour, and only one hour. According to the Amazon reviews, waiting longer actually decreases adhesion between the coats. People who waited too long found that the paint peeled up instead of sticking.
Moral of the story: apply your second coat an hour after your first coat.
As you can see above, the first coat was clearly blotchy. The second coat was better, but I really needed three coats to completely cover the beige tile.
I also waited an hour between the second and third coats.
Step 12: Finishing Touches
After the paint is fully dry (I waited three days,) reinstall the drain and caulk the edges. I show how I replaced the drain in this video, but if you’d like to watch an actual professional, this video is short and straightforward, and is what I watched before I replaced the drain.
I will mention that once I’d installed the drain, the overflow pipe no longer matched the hole in my bathtub. I freaked out for a few minutes, then loosened my drain. Loosening the drain a turn or two caused the overflow pipe to match up perfectly.
Caulk the bathtub with tub and tile caulk. My general technique is to apply the caulk with a caulk gun, then smooth out with my finger and a damp paper towel.
While tub and tile caulk isn’t water soluble like many caulks are, before it dries it still wipes off the tub/tile surface pretty easily.
After the caulk dries, the bathtub is ready for use! Check your caulk to see how long you need to wait before exposing to water – mine was 24 hours.
This was a pretty cheap project compared to replacing a bathtub. That said, there are a bunch of small things that need to be purchased to paint your bathtub, and those costs add up. I spent about $50 on two kits of paint, and another $40 on other supplies.
Most items I purchased from Amazon all at the same time to keep things simple, since there were so many small supplies that needed to be purchased. Of course, I did miss a couple items, which I ended up purchasing in town at my local hardware store.
If you’re overwhelmed by the supply list for this project, be sure to grab the Materials Checklist. It’s free, and will keep you organized as you shop for supplies.
I’ve read some people experience bubbling. Did you?
Short answer: yes.
Long answer: the bubbling was only in two very small spots that were difficult to prep correctly. The decorative tile in the center of the shower was bumpy and therefore more difficult to sand properly. That is where I had a little bit of bubbling.
It’s barely noticeable, and now that it’s dry it seems solid. I don’t expect it will cause any issues.
How long did this take?
I spent one full day prepping the bathtub for painting, then painted the tub the next morning. Three days later, I probably spent an hour or so reinstalling the drain and caulking the edges. You could probably consider it a weekend project.
How long until I can use my bathtub/shower again?
Rustoleum says to wait three days before exposing the bathtub/shower to water. I waited a week just to be safe.
I don’t need a full can of paint. Can I only mix part of the can?
Yes. Mix in a 4:1 ratio of paint (Part B) to epoxy (Part A). As an example, one cup of paint mixed with a 1/4 cup of epoxy would be the correct ratio.
Is the product self-leveling, and does it dry texture-free?
So, the product is described as self-leveling, and it is for the most part. I can’t see individual strokes from my roller, and flaws I noticed while painting disappeared during the drying process. That said, there is texture from the roller.
I don’t think it looks bad, and honestly, I wouldn’t have even noticed it if I wasn’t looking for it. It’s like if you paint a wall with a roller, there’s going to be a little texture. It’s inevitable.
This is a budget-friendly way to update an ugly bathtub. I doubt it’ll last forever, but it’s a great bargain while you save up for your future perfect bathroom remodel.
Painting my bathtub was the first step in my bathroom refresh project – I’ve since put down vinyl sheet flooring and painted my vanity! They completely change the look of the bathroom, so be sure to check them out!
And if you think you might paint your bathtub, be sure to grab our FREE Materials Checklist so that you have everything you need to do the project!
Finally, if you found this post helpful be sure to save this post to Pinterest so others can find it too!