If your old porcelain bathtub has started looking dingy, it’s time to plan a makeover.
Refinishing and refreshing your old porcelain tub’s color is achievable using a specialty kit labeled for tubs and tiles. When done right, it can provide a high-gloss finish that looks and feels like new.
No matter which type of bathtub you have, it’s important to start with a clean surface, which means removing all soap scum, mildew, dirt, and grime build-up, along with any old paint or other surface treatments, before you plan to apply fresh paint.
Luckily, there are a few different ways that you can go about removing paint from your bathtub. But the cleaning product and supplies you use will generally depend on the type or material of the tub you have.
So, let’s look at different ways and cleaner products you can use for stripping paint from various bathtub materials…
1- Removing Paint from a Porcelain Tub
While porcelain cracks and chips more easily than other materials, it is significantly more durable and scratch-resistant.
This also means most household cleaners and solvents will not damage porcelain tubs if you use them cautiously for cleaning.
If the flaking paint is loose and easily removable, you do not need to use paint-stripping solvents. Instead, you can use a scraper or razor blade to remove flaking paint on a porcelain tub just by scraping.
However, if the old dull paint is not loose and is tightly adhered to the surface, you will need to use a solvent.
- Apply a commercial paint stripper, rubbing alcohol, or acetone on the bathtub area and leave it there for about ten minutes.
- As you see the paint bubbling and loosening from the porcelain tub’s surface, use a scraper to peel away the loosened paint.
- If the paint isn’t loosening or there is still some paint left to remove, apply another layer of solvent or paint stripper and repeat the process.
- When the paint is no longer visible, wash the tub with warm soapy water and rinse to clear away any leftover paint remover.
- Allow the tub to dry completely, and paint over the porcelain material if you need to give it a fresh color.
Caution: It’s recommended to use appropriate protective gear like a respirator mask, rubber gloves, and safety glasses whenever you’re handling chemicals or solvents.
2- Stripping Paint from an Acrylic Tub
Unlike porcelain, many cleaning chemicals and paint removers can dissolve acrylic material if not used correctly.
So, I recommend not using any abrasive cleaners, solvents, or scrapers on your old dirty and scratched acrylic bathtub.
Instead, you can wipe the paint with a paper towel or prepare a homemade vinegar-based bathtub cleaner for cleaning the tub before painting.
Here’s how to make a homemade cleaner/scrubber for your acrylic tub…
- Fill your bathtub with hot water in such a way that it covers the paint stains fully.
- Add three to four ounces of laundry soap and allow it to sit overnight, so the detergent loosens the paint.
- In the morning, scrub the paint stains on the acrylic tub with a soft sponge.
- Now spread baking soda over the stain and let it soak for ten minutes.
- Next, squirt vinegar onto the area to form the foaming between the two ingredients, which will help lift away the paint.
- To treat the tough stains that have remained, use a sponge soaked in vinegar and scrub while the reaction occurs.
- Once you notice all the old paint finish removed, rinse the tub with clean, fresh water and allow it to dry for a few hours.
TIP: During the entire process, keep the affected acrylic tub area wet with hot water, and do not let the paint dry.
Alternatively, if it’s fresh paint spills or stains on the acrylic bathtub, you can remove them using a non-abrasive shower cleaner like Ajax®, which comes with bleach.
Not only does Ajax® Ultra help clean the acrylic tub in the bathroom, but also your walls, floors, stainless steel appliances, patio furniture, and even stones like marble and granite.
3- Removing Paint from Cast Iron Bathtub
Although not many homeowners are familiar with the advantages of cast iron bathtubs, they offer a variety of benefits that make them well worth considering.
The most notable benefit is their resilience and durability. Cast iron is a heavy, sturdy material that resists chips, cracks, and dents. It can last for decades without needing to be replaced.
Cast iron bathtubs also have excellent heat retention, so your baths will stay warm and cozy. Additionally, they’re surprisingly easy to clean – simply use a soft cloth and mild soap or cleanser.
The only downside to these models is their enormous weight, which can be overwhelming for a bathroom to bear. Therefore, making it not the ideal option in many households.
To me, it’s well worth owning a piece if you have a vintage iron tub in your bathroom with a timeless look as long as you can take good care of it.
After all the years of good use, the paint might flake and chip, making your bathtub look ugly. The good news is that you can refinish it to make it look new after cleaning and removing the old protective layer of paint coating, enamel, or porcelain that protects the surface against rust.
- To remove any dirt or grime built up, start by cleaning the tub with dish soap and a mildly abrasive sponge.
- Then, use sandpaper or steel wool to get rid of paint and rust stains from cast iron tubs.
- If you hand-sand the paint off cast iron, use circular motions and frequently clean debris off the surface with a damp cloth.
- Alternatively, utilize an electric sander which will erase old paint quickly. This can be helpful if you have a significantly large bathtub or other cast iron accessories like faucets in your bathroom to refinish.
TIP: After removing the old paint layers, you must apply a new coat of spray paint, lacquer, or refinishing oil immediately.
Please do not leave the cast iron bathtub without a protective layer for an extended period, as it will start to rust.
4- Getting Rid of Paint from a Tub Made of Metal
Metal bathtubs – such as those made from copper or stainless steel – can add an element of luxury to any bathroom.
However, it’s important to note that these shiny clawfoot tubs are susceptible to scratching and other damage if you use abrasive cleaning products like steel wool and sandpaper.
While most people do not consider painting over them, if you already have old paint or want to redo the old piece, I recommend using olive oil for paint removal on your luxurious stainless steel or copper bathtub.
- Apply a generous amount of olive oil evenly on your steel bathtub surface with paper towels or rags and let it sit for about half an hour to loosen the paint.
- Remove as much paint as possible from the lubricated surface using a plastic paint scraper wrapped in a thin rag.
- Wrapping the rag on the scraper is important to avoid scratching the underlying metal surface of the tub.
- Wet another clean rag with mineral spirits and rub the leftover stains for one minute, then wipe away the loosened paint that has remained using a clean rag.
5- Removing Epoxy Paint from a Fiberglass Bathtub
Fiberglass tubs are typically coated with epoxy paint, and removing these paints from the surface is relatively easy.
The first step is always to clean the bathtub with dish soap and a mildly abrasive sponge to remove any dirt or grime build-up over time.
After that, you must use a mild paint removal paste (vinegar with baking soda) to remove the epoxy paint.
- Mix baking soda and vinegar to form a thick paste.
- Spread this paste over the area, and let it sit for about thirty minutes.
- Using a non-abrasive sponge, scrub the bubbling paint, repeat if necessary
- When the paint is gone, wash the area with warm soapy water and rinse to remove any leftover paste or paint residue.
- You can now paint the tub or apply a new epoxy coating if you want to change the look of your bathtub.
TIP: Solvents like acetone and paint thinners will tend to remove epoxy paint faster but will also damage the fiberglass tub. So, it’s better to avoid them.
The bottom line
Paints serve as a durable, long-lasting coating for bathtubs.
However, cleaning and removing the layer is crucial before refinishing if you have misapplied the paint or the old paint has started peeling or flaking.
The key is first to identify the type of paint used on the specific tub material. And then, go with the most effective method to remove the paint without damaging your bathtub.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.