Refinishing vs. All Alternatives

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Professional Bathtub Refinishers Association


Bathtub Refinishing:  A Look at the Process

Refinishing or Reglazing a worn-out bathtub is a labor intensive process.  Here we will highlight the Two most common methods other companies utilize and then how OUR process is superior.

Their Two Methods:

Method One

If you research bathtub refinishing procedures, you most commonly will find the following procedures:

1)  Caulk Removal:  Every quality refinisher will remove all caulk surrounding the fixtures being refinished.  This includes razor scraping along with sanding the surface to completely remove all residue.  Silicone will NOT allow coatings to stick and therefore must be removed completely.

2)  Hydrofluoric ‘Acid Etching’:  The purpose behind this application is to completely eat off the glaze, or shine, on the fixture to expose the ceramic underneath.  The exposed ceramic enables a mechanical bond between itself and the epoxy primer applied in following steps.  This is a highly corrosive industrial acid solution applied directly to the surface of the ceramic fixture being refinished.  This hydrofluoric solution is typically concentrated from 5 -14% and is strong enough to instantly burn the person applying it.  The fumes alone, not properly ventilated, are corrosive enough to cause permanent damage to mirrors, as well as metal fixtures and faucets around the bathroom.  Warnings to this effect are found on every bottle.  This acid is washed down the drain and into your sewage or septic systems.

3)  Area Protection:  After completely rinsing the acid down your drain, the refinisher will then use his turbine air compressor to blow out all the edges of the tub and the drain to remove and dry any water and acid that may be left in the cracks.  ANY water on the surface will completely nullify the bond between the surface and primer to be applied.  At this point, the refinisher will cover the immediate area surrounding the fixture with paper and tape.

4)  Primer Application:  An epoxy primer is used with this method.  Most of these primer systems create an effective mechanical bond when applied to a clean, dry, porous surface.  They are NOT however, even when fully cured, designed to be repeatedly exposed to water.  Prolonged exposure to water will deteriorate and cause failure in the bond between this primer and the surface of the fixture.  Between 1 and 3 coats are applied with a professional HVLP system covering the surface of the fixture completely.

5)  Top-Coat Application:  Most professional refinishers will apply between 2 and 4 coats of a high-gloss aliphatic acrylic urethane provided by one of a few companies.  The largest suppliers of these coatings are Hawk Research Labs, Napco, Midwest Chemicals, and a few others.  Every one of these companies do NOT manufacture their own materials.  They are known in the refinishing world as ‘Repackagers’.  These companies purchase large quantities of material from various manufacturers, bring it to their own warehouses, and repackage it in their own bottles to be sold to refinishers.  Many of these products have been diluted with solvents or various other chemicals to multiply the repackaging company’s profits.  What this means for the customer is that these products have reduced effectiveness and will not cure as glossy,hard or durable as they could.

6)  Clean-Up:  The Refinisher will now pull the tape and paper away from the surrounding area and clean up the area surrounding as well as possible.

Method Two

This method is less common then the first and has the following procedures:

1)  Caulk Removal:  Every quality refinisher will remove all caulk surrounding the fixtures being refinished.  This includes razor scraping along with sanding the surface to completely remove all residue.  Silicone will NOT allow coatings to stick and therefore must be removed completely.

2)  Surface Cleaning:  Various cleaners can be used to properly clean the surface of the fixture being refinished.  Most of these cleaners are designed to dissolve and remove soap-scum and other typical residues found in a kitchen or bathroom environment.  They do NOT however, etch the surface to any degree.

3)  Area Protection:  After thoroughly scrubbing the surface with the cleaner and rinsing it down the drain, the refinisher will then use his turbine air compressor to blow out all the edges of the tub and the drain to remove and dry any water and acid that may be left in the cracks.  ANY water on the surface will completely nullify the bond between the surface and primer to be applied.  At this point, the refinisher will cover the immediate area surrounding the fixture with paper and tape.

4) Bonding Agent/Primer Application:  A silane based primer is used with this method.  Most of these primer systems create an effective chemical bond when applied to a clean, dry surface.  There is virtually NO MECHANICAL BOND as the surface of the fixture is still a very nonporous glazed ceramic.  They are NOT, even when fully cured, designed to be repeatedly exposed to water.  Prolonged exposure to water will deteriorate and cause failure in the bond between this primer and the surface of the fixture.  1 or 2 coats are applied either with a professional HVLP spray system or wiped on, covering the surface of the fixture completely.

5)  Top-Coat Application:  Most professional refinishers will apply between 2 and 4 coats of a high-gloss aliphatic acrylic urethane provided by one of a few companies.  The largest suppliers of these coatings are Hawk Research Labs, Napco, Midwest Chemicals, and a few others.  Every one of these companies do NOT manufacture their own materials.  They are known in the refinishing world as ‘Repackagers’.  These companies purchase large quantities of material from various manufacturers, bring it to their own warehouses, and repackage it in their own bottles to be sold to refinishers.  Many of these products have been diluted with solvents or various other chemicals to multiply the repackaging company’s profits.  What this means for the customer is that these products have reduced effectiveness and will not cure as glossy,hard or durable as they could.

6)  Clean-Up:  The Refinisher will now pull the tape and paper away from the surrounding area and clean up the area surrounding as well as possible.

These have been accurate and fair representations of the two methods most commonly used by NON-PBRA members.  The Painted Otter Refinishers utilize products developed by the PBRA (developed by refinishers, FOR refinishers).  Now we’ll highlight OUR procedures and show The Painted Otter Difference:

Our Method

1)  Caulk Removal:  We remove all caulk surrounding the fixtures being refinished.  This includes razor scraping along with sanding the surface to completely remove all residue.  Silicone will NOT allow coatings to stick and therefore must be removed completely.

2)  Surface Cleaning:  Our proprietary cleaning solution, available only to members of the PBRA, was designed by us to attack and remove ALL residues found on your fixtures.  These include soap-scum, stains, surface rust, etc.  In addition, there is a mild ‘etching’ property that rather than completely remove the glaze on your fixture, it merely opens the pores in the glaze to allow a mechanical bond.

3)  Area Protection:  After thoroughly scrubbing the surface with the cleaner and rinsing it down the drain, The Painted Otter Refinisher will then use his turbine air compressor to blow out all the edges of the tub and the drain to remove and dry any water and acid that may be left in the cracks.  Miniscule amounts of moisture will NOT prevent the bond as our Power Bond Primer was developed specifically with components that are ‘water activated’.  Nevertheless, we thoroughly remove ALL water from the fixture.  At this point, we will cover the immediate area surrounding the fixture with paper and tape.  Additionally, we cover every fixture not being refinished, along with the entire floor, with drop cloths.

4) Bonding Agent/Primer Application:  Our Power Bond Primer system was again specifically developed by the PBRA to create an unbreakable bond between the surface of the fixture and the material to be applied over it.  Thanks to the PBRA Cleaning system, the pores are open in the glaze and Both a Mechanical bond AND a Chemical bond are created.  As mentioned above, our Power Bond Primer system was developed with components that are ‘water activated’.  What this means for you, the customer, is that should you manage to damage and penetrate the Top-Coat material we will be applying, and that chip is repeatedly exposed to water, the water hitting our Power Bond Primer will activate that component and keep the damage localized, never to spread and easily repaired.  2 Coats are applied to the surface using a lint-free wiping cloth.

5)  Top-Coat Application:  Unlike all NON-PBRA refinishing companies, The Painted Otter Refinishers uses an aliphatic urethane enamel which is purchased DIRECTLY from a multi-billion dollar manufacturer.  This material will be applied, UNCUT and UNDILUTED, directly to your fixture over our Power Bond Primer.  We apply 3 to 4 coats, giving your fixture a gloss that it never knew, even when brand new.  How good is this material really??  This SAME material is applied to bridges, water towers, and is even used by Budweiser on their outdoor cooling towers.  In other words, it’s applied to structures which are exposed to the elements 365 days and year and are painted once every 25 years!

6)  Clean-Up:  The Painted Otter Refinisher will now pull the tape and paper away from the surrounding area and clean up the surrounding area as well as possible.

For any method of refinishing, the whole process takes a single technician about four to six hours, depending on how extensive the repairs that may be needed, but the tub needs to cure for a minimum of 10 hours before the water is turned on. A refinished bathtub will mimic the original surface in every way except durability.  A properly refinished and maintained bathtub will last up to 20 years or more.

Professional Refinishing vs. DIY Kits.

Ask yourself this question Before using a Do It Yourself (DIY) bathtub refinishing kit.

If you are already saving 70 – 90 % by purchasing a professional bathtub refinishing, is the Do It Yourself really worth the hassle?

Here’s a few more questions:

1. Does your DIY KIT COME equipped?  (Air Turbine, Exhaust Unit, Masking Machines, and Hazardous Material Protective Gear?)

2. How many bathtubs have you prepared and sprayed?

3. What kind of warranty does your kit come with?

4. Will it look like a brand new tub when your finished?

5. What are the real costs if it does not come out right?

Is DIY Bathtub Refinishing a Practical choice?

The answer in most cases is no.  I am a professional refinisher, and through the PBRA have hundreds of years of experience to draw from, and have never seen a single DIY bathtub refinishing kit that lasted a year.  The do it yourself kits sold on the internet, local hardware stores, or your favorite home improvement stores are not designed to stand the test of time nor do they have chemical resistance a professional refinishing company can offer you.  Most products available to the general public, through hardware stores and on the Internet, fail within the first year.

The problems with DIY kits are many but lets concentrate on the the most important ones which cause most failures.  We have spoken to hundreds of consumers who have used various Do It Yourself refinishing products over the past 10 years and not one was happy with the results they achieved.  The complaints were centered around poor appearance, poor maintenance characteristics, or the product peeling, sometimes within one week of the application.

The two biggest problems are with both the bonding and application processes. Proper bonding of these products, to a porcelain sink or bathtub, requires a professional strength bonding primer, preceded by a delaminating solution. These are typically only made available to professional refinishers.  Some kits may include what they call bonding agents but these bonders and delaminating pastes are very hazardous chemicals.  This is why most companies do not include them in the DIY kit you purchased from the hardware store or off the internet.  If they do offer a so called bonding agent they are usually just acetone or alcohol (Not a real silane based adhesion promoter).  There is not one single product that can be used on all surfaces.  Every different refinishing requires many different products to be assessed and applied by a professional.

Some companies may ask you to wipe your fixture with muriatic acid, alcohol, or TSP (trisodiumphosphate).  None of these products will help properly bond their coating to your fixture.  In fact if they are not neutralized properly they will interfere with the whatever small amount of mechanical bonding they offer.  None of these products are strong enough to delaminate porcelain to the degree needed to form a proper mechanical bond.  Which is why most kits are formulated to bond chemically, not mechanically.

Keep in mind muriatic acid is very hazardous, this is a chemical used, in minute amounts, in swimming pools to balance PH levels.  Bonding agents in DIY kits are rare as well.  They must be formulated correctly as there are literally thousands of different silane bonding agents each designed for a different coating or process.  Most are not interchangeable.

You must also be able to perform flawless body work and chip repair for the surface to be smooth as glass.  Take a flash light and lay it in the bottom of the tub.  Let the beam travel along the entire surface.  This will reveal every imperfection.  You must be able to repair and contour these imperfections or a high gloss coating will only amplify their existence much like a new car hood where a hail damage storm has hit.  Nice and shinny but many dings and dents pronounced.  If you use regular BONDO or some cheap polyester product they probably will not stand the test of time due to thermal shock which is caused by extreme temperature changes from pouring steaming hot water in a cold bathtub.

As for appearance, ask yourself this; “How much experience do you have refinishing sinks and bathtubs?”.  Refinishing is an art unto itself, and requires years of experience to perfect.  You cannot expect to just brush or roll on one of these products and have your sink, bathtub or tile looking new again.

To be smooth as glass the tub must be sprayed. How much experience do you have spraying?  Refinishers with many years experience still require total concentration on every job to get professional results.

DIY KITS are self defeating.  For a DIY kit to be even semi-smooth it must be ” SELF LEVELING”.  Therefore it will be very slow drying.  A DIY kit must use a slow drying epoxy to minimize the brush or roller marks left behind.  IT NEVER WORKS!  Brush marks will always be present.  And those that are self-leveling enough to avoid the brush marks inevitably run and leave ‘drip marks’ down the sides of the tub.  Another con to a slow drying coating to consider is the maintenance.  Remember the purpose of your refinishing is to make the surface easy to maintain and clean.  (All Epoxy Paints will Chalk and Fade)

A slow drying coating will then be at the mercy of the environment for surface contaminates from the A.C. sanding dust, or just minor air particulates that will land on the surface.  I don’t care how clean the environment is after 4 days, the usual required dry time, the surface will be full of these foreign objects.  Even a Diy Spray Kit Will be slow drying.

This brings us to another hazard.  Have you ever sprayed in a confined area?  A regular dust mask does nothing for toxic fumes.  Now you have dust and other particles embedded in the surface, brush marks, or for the spray variation toxic material and fumes contaminating your home.  Only a professional using specifically designed equipment and materials knows how to prevent all this.

When the product fails, and it is only a matter of time until it does, you can not reasonably expect a refund from the company you purchased it from.  Their position will be that you did not properly follow the application directions.  But even if you do manage to get a refund, you still have to contend with a tub that requires stripping.  Stripping a bathtub is a dangerous chore.  Using an industrial strength stripper is a heinous job which is hated by every professional refinisher, and therefore you will be charged accordingly.

You must use an aircraft stripper grade or a car stripper which contains fumes which can burn and kill quickly.  This is why most refinishers charge $100 to strip an improperly refinished bathtub.  Even at $100 to strip a bathtub most refinishers dread this chore and some will not even take the risk.  They must wear special fresh air systems when stripping a bathtub chemically to protect from fumes and gloves which protect them from the napalm like burns if it comes in contact with skin.  The fumes are highly toxic and death can occur even with professionals taking precautions.  Are you willing to risk that yourself?

I offer you the following test:  Contact your DIY provider to request a sample and paint a black tile with the coating.  Or simply buy the kit and paint a 12×12 tile.  Let it cure in a normal environment.  Remember a bathtub bottom and rails are mostly horizontal surfaces.  By the time it dries you will realize by looking at and feeling the surface that a ‘smooth’ finish is all but impossible with all the granules present.

When you consider all this it is truly your best option to have a professional refinish your bathtub.