The Great Tub Scrub

I sit here typing with sore arms, gouges on my index finger, and a lack of fingerprints – they’ve been scrubbed off. All in the name of Nicole Curtis – the famous DIY Network star (aka The Rehab Addict), well known for her love of old character-rich homes and especially vintage plumbing fixtures. Well Nicole, just wait until you see this before & after!

I used her recommendations to bring the homes original old tub (dated 1942 on the base) back into shiny white usefulness. Between rust stains, years of layered silicone adhesive, paint, and old stuck on duct tape, this tub had seen better days. But I knew a beautiful vintage white was hiding underneath.

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Not quite a luxury soaking tub, eh? Nicole recommends Mr Clean Magic Eraser for light staining and scuffing. For heavy stains and gunk, she claims her secret is Bar Keeper’s Friend.

Tub Scrub Nicole Curtis

I used almost an entire canister of Bar Keeper’s Friend (BKF), a nylon scratch pad, utility blade, and sponge. And believe me, it took way longer than the half hour she claims.

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The scrubbing takes a lot of elbow grease, and I continuously kept rinsing with hot water so I could see my progress. After about an hour, I had the results below.

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It really did clean up pretty good. I already have the over flow & drain assembly put together (it is easier to do this before moving the tub into place), this way as I rinsed each portion the water could just flow down the drain. Unfortunately, the drain area revealed my fears: more than just surface rust. The enameled finish is completely eaten away around the drain flange, showing the rusting cast iron underneath. The area just above the flange, where decades worth of falling water from the faucet hits, is also starting to show the gray metal through the white finish.

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These aren’t deal breakers for me. From what I’ve researched, Bondo auto body filler makes the best way to fill the pitted areas where the enamel finish is rusted through. Once dry, it can be sanded smooth with high-grit wetsand paper. Several companies make DIY tub & sink refinishing kits, either brush-on or in an aerosol can, that are supposed to be a durable solution for homeowners to refresh their tubs, just like painting. I’ve read varying reviews on these, but it sounds like if they are applied correctly (thorough scrubbing, etching, and then 2 thin coats) they can last 5-8 years looking just like new. I’m not interested in repainting the entire bathtub, but I’m thinking that is my solution for this small area around the drain.

Another 45 minutes or so of scrubbing tonight, and here is the renewed bathtub! There are a few chips, a few deep rust stains that won’t scrub out, and even a strange yellowy discolored area – but that gives it age and character. New plastic or fiberglass tubs have no place in an old home. They don’t look right, and their hollow sound doesn’t feel right. I want authenticity – the chips, the dings, the scratches and all.

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That much closer to a July 4th Holiday Tile Floor & Walls weekend spectacular. The cement board for the shower walls arrives Thursday after work, and then I turn tile pro!

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  1. #1 by Liz pique on April 19, 2015 - 7:04 PM

    Hi I have one of these tubs, I don’t want to get rid of it. Is there anything I can do to fix what looks like parts of the finish is wearing off. It’s still white but needs help. I am also trying to find out what tile might have been in my small bathroom to begin with any ideas? House was built in 1942 in a working class neighborhood.

  2. #2 by Adam A. Ries on May 28, 2015 - 1:21 PM

    Hi Liz! Whatever you do, make every effort to save the tub! Beyond the look, there is just something that feels wrong when you step into a plastic tub in a beautiful vintage home. It’s not cold and heavy to the touch, it bends and has a weakness that old bathrooms shouldn’t exhibit. (And although I’m sure there isn’t an actual noise, in my mind I imagine a new plastic squeakiness underfoot.) Your mind just knows it doesn’t belong. My tub had the finish wearing off only around the drain. In fact, I had to use bond-o auto body filler to fill the pitted area, then sand like crazy using wet sand paper designed for auto repairs. Then after cleaning, sanding, cleaning and sanding, I used one of the spray epoxy tub & tile kits to carefully spray paint the worn & discolored areas. Follow their instructions to a T. The one I purchased emphasized to keep the room at their recommended temperature the entire 3 day drying time, so I had a small heater running to keep the room above 70 degrees. Mine turn out almost flawless. You really have to get down close & look to see the area I patched & painted. As in any kind of painting, it was all in the prep work in my opinion. As far as tile? I would recommend internet searches of homes from that time period. Better yet, get to know your neighbors and ask if any of their homes have original bathrooms? That is probably the best source right there.

  3. #3 by Jennifer Essad on March 31, 2016 - 1:31 AM

    truly remarkable and no room for argument that it WORKS

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