Craig's Refinishing Tips

Refinishing Advice for Bathtubs, Counters, Cabinets & More!

26. December 2013 16:00
by CMunro

To Strip a Bathtub, or Not to Strip a Tub...?

26. December 2013 16:00 by CMunro | 0 Comments

Indeed, as the article title suggest, that is the proverbial question - to strip or not?  More and more professional refinishers, as well as our weekend warriors, are confronted with bathtubs & tiles refinished by some other company. Unfortunately, usually the reason Munro is called in is because there has been a failure of some kind. It’s the peeling, flaking, grout falling out, etc... that classifies it as poor workmanship.  In that case strip that finish off and start over, right? Maybe not. Not all old refinish jobs need to be stripped off.  It’s not to surprising that confusion sets in for the DIY’s, as well as the professionals, when confronted with the choice to strip or leave an old refinish job.   I wish the answer was as easy as yes or no, but it’s not and both answers need an explanation.

Sometimes the bathtub may be chipped, not peeling, and YES these can be just sanded not stripped.  Remember: any chipped area has to be sanded completely flush so you can not feel any lip or edge what-so-ever. With that being said, and to answer the question, I would suggest scrapping and sanding first. If you can sand and achieve a completely flush edge (where's it’s chipped) that's an indication that the old finish is holding. You can then give the bathtub a good sanding (paying special attention to the chipped areas) and refinish over that old finish.

Now if the chipped or peeling areas you are trying to sand keep growing larger, and you cannot sand to a flush edge, then this is indicating that it is not holding, and needs to be stripped completely off.  NOTE: In the case of an acrylic or gel coat unit (which is all one piece tub/shower units) stripper is not an option, scrapper and blades only chip, nick and gouge, so we’re left with sanding. If that’s the road we’re traveling my tip is to use 120 grit wet/dry sandpaper with water. There will be areas you may need a more coarse paper (80, 60grit), and that’s ok to use, but make sure you go back over with 120, 220 to remove the scratches that the coarse paper will leave behind. Be cautious of leaving scratch marks from the sandpaper of any grit! All tub/shower units are not the same, and some are softer than others. The same goes for plastic bathtubs and wall units, and sanding is your only option.

Striping Options:

My first choice to strip off an old finish is using Razor Blade(s) and Scrappers (use on cast iron & steel bathtubs).  Mind you, you'll use A LOT of blades - I often go through a box of 100 blades. As noted, the upshot is no fumes and zero smell, no burn, but a considerable amount of elbow grease and plenty of patience. Check out this link for my favorite tool to use:
My very last choice is a chemical stripper! In all seriousness, if you absolutely need to use a chemical stripper please follow all safety precautions 10 fold. This is a highly dangerous chemical that demands a lot of respect.  Have an adequate amount of positive air flow, and vent all the negative air out! Don’t do it alone!  A respirator with clean filters is absolutely necessary.

This is the respirator that I prefer:

Of course there are some who would say “just strip it off regardless” and hey they’re correct 100% of the time. No argument here! But, on the other hand it’s just not necessary for all situations. Time is money, and yes you can refinish over an old refinishing that was properly done. If you refinish over a previous improperly refinished surface, then you're asking for problems.

I see it like a roofer, two layers is fine! If I can save the customer a little bit of money on a stripping charge I will.  Sanding a sound base from an old refinish job is just as correct.

Happy Refinishing!
- CM

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