I have a bathtub that needs re-enameling. Is there a nontoxic way to do this?

Asked by Barbara

If not, is there something that can be used to cover the chips and bare swatches?


Mick Dalrymple

Answered by Mick Dalrymple

Scottsdale, AZ

Eco-Friendly Building Center

January 31, 2008

Congratulations on looking into re-enameling instead of just going the toss-and-replace route.

  • In remodeling projects, the knee-jerk decision is frequently to just replace the tub. Since everything else is usually being replaced, why not? Right? 
  • But think of the incredible difference between refinishing a tub and replacing it in terms of materials consumption and embodied energy!

As you point out, the downside is the toxicity of the chemicals used in the refinishing process. I had a tub refinished in a historic home a decade ago and the fumes were incredible. Unfortunately, the refinisher seemed to have been affected considerably by long-term exposure to those chemicals. There was a noticeable lengthy delay in his responses to questions. He also mentioned that he no longer smelled any of the chemicals he used, which was incredible considering their strength.

There currently is no “green” method of refinishing tubs on the market.

  • However, a company named Integrity Coatings out of Texas has a chemical process that is isocyanate-free.
  • The materials still contain plenty of toxic chemicals, but getting rid of the isocyanate is a step in the right direction as isocyanate is suspected of being a respiratory, reproductive, immuno-, and skin and organ toxicant.

If the tub damage is fairly minor, you can get a porcelain touch-up kit from your local home improvement store and follow the directions. I used one last year to rejuvenate a great cast-iron tub … and avoid a lot of work and waste.

If the project is larger, you should call a tub refinishing company. For your family’s health and that of the refinisher, I would recommend the following precautions:

  1. The refinisher should wear a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-approved cartridge respirator at all times while completing the project.
  2. Use painter’s tape and plastic sheeting to cover any HVAC vents in the bathroom before starting.
  3. Turn on the bathroom exhaust vent or open the bathroom window and turn on a fan pointing outward.
  4. Close the bathroom door.
  5. Keep these steps in place until the refinishing materials are cured and the odors have dissipated.

By taking these steps, you will put the bathroom under negative air pressure relative to the house, sucking in make-up air underneath the door and sending the fumes outside rather than into the rest of the home. The most important factor is having the refinisher wear a proper respirator, as his or her long-term exposure to the chemicals is going to have more impact on his or her health than the temporary exposure that you and your family will experience.

The results can be pretty impressive. While not all tubs can be refinished, when it is feasible, it will be easy on the eyes, the pocketbook and the planet.

Good luck!

Tagged In: reuse

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