Plastic bathtubs are a common fixture in many homes. Over time, they can become dingy, scratched up, and just plain ugly. Replacing a tub can be expensive and require remodeling. An easier solution is to paint the existing tub.
Painting a plastic bathtub can give it a fresh new look for a fraction of the cost of replacing it. But is it possible to paint a plastic tub and get durable, long-lasting results?
The Short Answer
Yes, you can paint a plastic bathtub! With proper preparation and the right type of paint, a plastic or fiberglass tub can be painted to look like new again. The key is using a paint formulated to bond well to slick surfaces like glossy plastic and fiberglass.
Benefits of Painting a Plastic Tub
There are several advantages to painting a plastic bathtub rather than replacing it:
- Cost savings – Painting can renew a tub for less than $100. Replacement costs $200-$1000.
- Quick update – Painting takes 1-2 days. Replacing a tub can take days or weeks.
- Customization – Paint opens up lots of color options. Replacements come in limited colors.
- Cover up damage – Paint hides scratches, stains, discoloration that replacement won’t fix.
- Maintain existing tub – Keep a perfectly functional tub; just update the appearance.
- Avoid remodeling – Painting avoids the cost and mess of ripping out and replacing tub surrounds.
For a relatively small investment of time and money, you can make a dingy plastic tub look fresh, clean, and updated. Taking on a tub painting project is an accessible way even for DIYers to spruce up a bathroom.
How to Prepare a Plastic Tub for Painting
Proper prep work is crucial for getting paint to adhere well on slick plastic and achieve long-lasting results. Follow these steps to prepare a plastic tub for painting:
Clean and Degloss the Surface
The tub should be thoroughly cleaned before sanding to remove any residue like soap scum or body oils. A degreasing cleaner helps eliminate any lingering grease or grime.
After cleaning, use a chemical deglosser to etch the glossy plastic surface so the paint can grip better. Products like Krud Kutter Gloss-Off work well.
Lightly Sand the Tub
The tub should then be lightly sanded to further help the paint adhere. Use 120-150 grit sandpaper and sand just enough to rough up and dull the glossy plastic finish.
Be sure to sand all areas that will be painted – sides, bottom, and ends. Vacuum up all sanding dust when finished.
Applying primer after sanding provides another layer that helps the paint bond tightly to the plastic. Use an etching or bonding primer made for plastics and fiberglass, like Rust-Oleum Advanced Paint Plastic Primer.
Allow the primer to dry per the manufacturer’s directions before painting fully. The tub is now prepped and ready for the paint!
Choosing the Right Paint for Plastic Tubs
Not just any paint will adhere well and last on a plastic bathtub. Specialty tub and tile paints are formulated to bond tightly to glossy surfaces like fiberglass and plastic. When researching paint options, look for:
Enamel paint, especially bathroom and tub & tile enamel, are excellent choices for painting plastic tubs. The hard, glossy enamel finish is both durable and scrubbable, making it perfect for a tub.
Rust-Oleum Tub & Tile Refinishing Enamel and Valspar Tub & Tile Enamel are top enamel paint kits purpose-made for tubs.
For the ultimate durable finish, consider a two-part epoxy coating. Epoxy paint bonds incredibly well to plastic for scratch and chemical resistance.
Brands like Eclectic Products make tub refinishing epoxy kits with everything needed to recoat plastic and fiberglass tubs and surrounds.
Acrylic Enamel Spray Paint
Spray paint formulated specifically for plastics works very well on plastic and fiberglass tubs. Acrylic enamel spray paint in semigloss or gloss sheens provide excellent coverage and durability.
Krylon Fusion for Plastic and Rust-Oleum Specialty Tub & Tile offer all-in-one convenience for tub painting projects.
Tub Refinishing Paint Kits
Popular tub paint brands like Rust-Oleum, Homax, and Valspar offer all-in-one paint kits designed to refinish worn-out tubs. These contain bonding primers, enamels, or epoxies formulated to make DIY tub and tile painting achievable.
How to Paint a Plastic Bathtub
Once you have prepped the tub and selected the right paint, follow these steps to paint a plastic bathtub:
Mask Surrounding Areas
Lay down drop cloths and use painters tape and plastic sheeting to mask off nearby walls, floors, the tub rim and fixtures. This protects surfaces from drips, overspray, and splatters when painting.
If you didn’t already prime the tub during prep, apply a thorough even coat of plastic primer now according to the manufacturer’s directions. Let dry completely.
Paint the First Coat
Using a high quality brush, mini paint roller, or sprayer, apply the first coat of your selected tub paint according to directions. Apply in long, even strokes and get full coverage on all tub surfaces.
Allow Proper Dry Time
Let the first coat fully dry for the time specified on the paint can before adding another coat. This may take 1-2 hours or longer depending on humidity. Drying between coats ensures proper adhesion.
Apply Second Coat of Paint
Once the first coat has dried, apply the second coat of tub paint. For the smoothest, most even finish, consider lightly sanding between coats with 220 grit sandpaper. Always vacuum after sanding.
Consider a Third Coat
For optimal protection and durability, apply a third coat of paint. Three coats give better coverage and longevity than just one or two coats. Again, sanding between the last coats helps level the finish.
Remove Masking and Reinstall Fixtures
After the final coat has dried for the recommended time, carefully remove all masking materials. Reinstall the tub drain cover and any other removed fixtures. The tub can be used again in 1-2 days.
Tips for Successfully Painting a Plastic Tub
Follow these tips to get the best painted finish on your plastic or fiberglass bathtub:
- Only use paints formulated for bathrooms and tubs. Other paints won’t adhere as well to slick plastic.
- Thoroughly sand, clean, and degloss the tub first so paint will bond tightly.
- Apply 2-3 coats of tub paint for maximum durability and color consistency.
- Use spray paint for the easiest, most even paint application.
- Maintain paint under tub rim and on tub bottom for a complete look.
- Give paint several days to fully cure before using shower or tub.
- Consider re-caulking tub edges after painting for a finished look.
- Use high quality brushes and mini-rollers to avoid brush marks and drips.
- Ventilate the room well and wear a respirator when spray painting.
Common Questions About Painting Plastic Tubs
Can you use regular paint on a plastic tub?
Not with good results. Standard wall paints and enamels don’t adhere well to slick plastic surfaces. Specialty tub paints are uniquely formulated to bond tightly.
How long does painted tub paint last?
With proper prep and application of 2-3 coats, tub paints can last 3-5 years or longer before needing touch up. Epoxy coatings can last even longer – up to 10 years.
What kind of paint will stick to acrylic/fiberglass tubs?
Enamel, epoxy, and marine paints all adhere well to plastic and fiberglass tubs. Spray paint works great too. Any paint labeled for tubs or formulated for plastic is ideal.
Can you use spray paint on bathtubs?
Yes! Acrylic enamel and epoxy spray paints specifically made for painting plastic work great on tubs. Spraying provides smooth, even coverage. Just be sure to use appropriate ventilation.
How long does it take to paint a bathtub?
Plan on 1-3 days total to prep, prime, paint, and let the tub paint cure. Each coat of paint takes 1-3 hours to dry before recoating. The total project can be done over a weekend.
Transform Your Tub on a Budget
Painting a plastic or fiberglass bathtub can give a worn-out tub a fresh, updated look in just a weekend. With proper prep and the right tub paint, even DIYers can achieve professional-looking results. The best paints for adhering to slick surfaces are tub and tile enamels, epoxies, and spray paints formulated specifically for plastic.
While painting a tub takes some work, it’s far easier and more affordable than replacing the entire tub. The project can usually be completed over 1-3 days. Allowing for proper dry times between coats ensures maximum paint adhesion and durability.
The result is a tub that looks brand new with a glossy, scrubbable finish. Painting allows you to refresh a dingy tub on a budget and avoid expensive replacement costs.
With the right materials and preparation, even fiberglass and acrylic tubs can be given new life with a fresh coat of paint. Consider masking and painting the old tub surround at the same time for a complete bathroom update.
Here is a quick recap of the key steps for how to paint a plastic bathtub:
- Clean tub thoroughly
- Sand surface with 120 grit sandpaper
- Wipe tub with deglosser
- Apply bonding primer
- Mask surrounding areas
- Apply 2-3 coats of tub paint
- Allow proper drying time between coats
- Spray paint for easiest application
- Remove masking
- Reinstall tub fixtures
- Let paint cure 1-2 days before use
- Recaulk tub edges for a finished look
So don’t despair if your plastic or fiberglass tub looks worn out and dated. With some simple paints and supplies, you can give it an amazing facelift. Painting provides a weekend update at a fraction of replacement cost.
In just a few days, you can have a tub that looks fresh, updated, and great as new. Enjoy the satisfaction of revitalizing your tub yourself and saving money in the process!