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Question DetailsAsked on 8/25/2013

Bathtub reliner or refinishing pros & cons

My wife and I considering which route to go between bathtub reliner or refinishing the existing the existing tub. The major considerations are quality (looks), how long will it last, and cost.

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If you google these two search phrases, you can find lots of opinions on that -

bathtub reline versus refinish

bathtub reline cost

Basically speaking, relining eliminates the risk of a sloppy or poorly done repaint job, but leaves you with a plastic or fiberglass lining that many people think looks like a low-budget motel or campground product. Also, unless the reliner fits exactly correctly, it can hang from the lip of the tub without proper bottom support, making the bottom springy and sometimes even make it crackle and pop as you move, and eventually crack and leak. Even if it fits perfectly,if the glue fails (as it commonly does over the years) then the liner can flex and crack - commonly at the corners or bottom center. Relining leaves a void between the tub and the liner, so ANY water that gets in there from tile or perimeter caulk failure, leakage through a crack in the liner, or from a bad seal at the drain hole gets in between the two layers and will cause mold smell and eventually go stagnant and septic-smelling if the water stands there, and nothing can be done about it other than tearing it out and relining it. Also, most relining jobs do not seal both the old tub and new liner at the drain (though it can be done, like with a shower and shower pan), so any leakage into the area between the two ends up just dripping down from the tub drain into the floor and to the level below. Relining can be done for, typically, about 1/4-1/3 the cost of a total tub replacement, or about $1200-2000 WITHOUT surround replacement, so there is a significant cost savings, but a large percentage of people lie to regret it. Life is indeterminant - a lot crack within 2-3 years, but some last a decade or more.

Refinishing, theoretically and properly done, can give you a finish that looks as good as factory enamel or porcelin, at typically on the order of half or so that of relining (or about $400-700). The primary disadvantages are that it is sprayed or brushed enamel or epoxy, not baked-on porcelin or heat-cured enamel (though a lot of new tubs are enamel or epoxy too) so it is normally not as impact and chip resistant as the original finish. Prep is essential to it working right - any touch of oil, soap, grease, or rust left on the underlying tub will promote early failure of the finish, so peeling and bubbles are not uncommon. Also, partly because of the confined work area and bad work angles, and partly because the "technicians" doing the work typically have zero training in proper painting techniques, the average job has ripples, swirls, uneven coverage and thin spots, or may even be done by brush and leave brush marks and roughness which retains dirt easier, so the typical time before paint touchup is necessary is typically measured in years rather than decades, and if rust once gets started under it, it requires a lot of work and paint removal to root it all out and stop and treat it. A typical refinish job can last about 10-15 years (with some touchup along the way) before it gets so bad it needs to be redone or scrapped.

As you can tell, I am not enamored of either relining or refinishing, but I understand the desire to do something about a tub gone old and at an affordable cost. Just bear in mind most relining/refinish contractors, from what I hear, demand payment up front before they start the actual work. I can understand this somewhat from their standpoint because they don't want to get into the job and have the owner try to back out, but it also says something about thier product - that their expectation is that the customer has a significant probability of not liking the end result and will refuse to pay. I just try to discourage people from expecting a "new tub" look - I think the normal expectation should be something more like a very cheap tub or a cheap motel look, and I definitely recommend a new tub over a redo if the surround tile is being replaced at the same time. If a person is considering rehab versus replacement, my preference is refinish over relining - not because the initial product looks better necessarily, but because it can be touched up if problems occur, even if only temporarily with a bit of sandpaper or a powered wire brush and touchup enamel by the homeowner till a professional job can be done so the tub remains usable, whereas a liner failure causes major smell problems and possible leaks into the house, so the bathroom can become useless till the job is totally redone, at major cost. I see it as a matter of minimizing the cost of inevitable rework down the road.

Answered 6 years ago by LCD

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