How to re-enamel a bath and bring it back to its former glory
Turn your tatty tub into a bathing beauty in no time with our expert re-enamelling advice
Bathtub re-enamelling or refinishing is a great alternative to buying and fitting a brand new tub or having an insert placed over an existing bath. A new bath may be cost prohibitive, and a liner may not be possible if you have a stand-alone clawfoot-type freestanding bath. Consider re-enamelling your tub using the services of a professional bath renovation company or, if you’re a dedicated DIY-er, restore it yourself with a bath refinishing kit.
What is enamel and why is it used for baths?
Enamel is an ultra-tough material made from fired glass and often used as a protective coating. Enamelled bathtubs are usually made of cast iron or steel which is then covered in enamel, creating a smooth, hard finish which is both visually attractive and highly resistant to scratching or chipping.
Cast iron enamel bathtubs can be extremely heavy, which means installation may be quite tricky and the floor beneath the bath may need to be reinforced to withstand the weight before the tub can be installed. Steel bathtubs tend to be lighter, but they are not as durable and can rust if the enamel chips away.
What are the advantages of re-enamelling a bath?
Over the years, most period enamelled baths suffer from not only cracks and chips, but chemical damage from cleaners and limescale build-up. One of the advantages of re-enamelling the bath is that the surface is no longer prone to the chemical damage that can occur with the original enamel bath. Their surface was applied before many of the chemical cleaners available today existed. A newly re-enamelled surface is resistant to many modern chemical cleaners. It is also very easy to clean, using simple washing-up liquid. Another advantage of re-enamelling is durability, as it’s more flexible and therefore harder to chip than a period enamel finish.
Sometimes a bath has been badly etched by chemical cleaners or even water draining over a long period of time. The etching can be seen as lines running down the bath or along the bottom of the bath. In this instance even though the bath can be re-enamelled, the original cast iron bath has been damaged and this etching will be noticeable. This problem can be remedied, but not as part of a one-day in-situ repair, so it might take longer to fix and incur a greater cost.
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Can I re-enamel a bath myself?
It is possible to re-enamel your bath using enamel paint, but it’s a job you should only tackle if you’re a confident DIY-er. When re-enamelling your bath, make sure the room is well ventilated and wear safety gloves, glasses and a face mask or ventilator.
How to re-enamel a bath
If you decide to get the professionals in, there are two methods they might use to re-enamel your bath. The first method involves stripping the enamel from the tub using heavy-duty, corrosive chemicals. After grinding the bathtub to provide an etched, paint-ready surface, a water-resistant enamel primer coating is applied. The final step involves a sprayed-on coating of enamel paint. This is normally done without removing the bath. The taps, overflow and the waste are left on the bath, the surrounded tiles are untouched, and the job is generally completed in a day.
The second method involves removing the bath and taking it to the restorer’s workshop, where it will be sandblasted to take off existing enamel, and then new vitreous enamel melted over it. This requires a very high temperature – sometimes in excess of 800C – which is why the it cannot be done in-situ.
Is it best to patch or re-enamel completely?
To ensure a smooth, cohesive, colour-matched finish, it’s preferable to re-enamel the whole bath. If you only repair a patch at a time you will have to keep on repairing as more damaged areas appear over time. If you treat the whole bath at once, you should get a more durable, longer-lasting finish.
Residues of rust, grease and cleaning products reduce the adhesion of re-enamelling products, so you need to clean the bath thoroughly before applying the enamel paint.
Thoroughly abrade the surface with a suitable P600 abrasive sandpaper. Remove loose paint and rust with a wire brush. Next, clean the bath thoroughly to remove any traces of dust and debris. To ensure a neat finish around the edges and the fittings, apply masking tape to areas that don’t require renovating.
Different bath restoration products have different formulations and application methods so always follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. But most come as two-part formulations and follow the same basic principles. Thoroughly mix both components with a powered mixing paddle. Use thinner if necessary but not more than 10% of the volume. Once mixed, you will usually have a maximum two to three hour window to apply the paint. The volume of the mixture depends on the area of the coating and the speed of painting.
To apply the product, brush in one direction only for a smooth surface and feather the edges as you paint to avoid a hard line between painted areas. Try to avoid excessive brushing to ensure an even coat and a smooth, seamless finish.
Carefully brush around the edges of the bath and the fittings. When complete, apply the surface coat with a good quality 4” foam roller.
Allowing the paint to dry thoroughly is vital. Most manufacturers recommend applying two layers of enamel paint to get a uniform, durable coating. However, before attempting to apply the second coat, make sure that the first coat is completely dry. Allow five to seven days for your bath to cure completely
How to avoid ommon re-enamelling mistakes
- Avoid water dripping into the tub during the re-enamelling process or you’ll ruin the finish. Turn off the water leading to the bath tap and shower head and attach plastic bags to both to catch any moisture that may remain in the water pipes.
- Remainders of surface grease can ruin the finish of your bath. Surface grease is best removed using a clean, white cloth infused with mineral spirits.
- Don’t be tempted to use your bath too soon or you may spoil the surface finish. Adhere to the manufacturer’s recommended drying time before using your resurfaced tub for the first time.
- Apply enamel paint at temperatures between 10-25ºC to ensure it cures properly.
- To ensure a smooth, even finish use a fine-quality well-made bristle brush or superfine-quality high-density foam roller when applying enamel paint.
- Do not use an enamel bath repair kit for surfaces of flexible plastic or galvanised steel.