One of my bathtubs is 15 years old. It’s made of porous fiberglass, so it has yellowed on the bottom and doesn’t look too good. In considering options to fix it, I looked into tub liners.
A bathtub liner is a sheet of thin acrylic molded to fit over an existing bathtub. If a tub liner, also called a tub wrap, is perfectly fitted to an existing tub and installed correctly, it can last as long as a new tub. However, if there’s a problem with the mold or installation, it can crack.
I was excited when I found out that a tub liner can last as long as a new tub and won’t require destroying the floor and wall tile, as installing a new tub would. But my hopes of using a bath liner were later dashed when I uncovered which types of tubs are good candidates for this solution.
Problems a Bathtub Liner Can Fix
Theoretically, a new bathtub can last for up to 20 years, but typically a bathtub will not be in pristine condition after a decade of use. What can go wrong with a tub will depend on the bathtub material. (And if you’re in the market for a new tub, you’ll definitely want to check out this post on the pros and cons of various bathtub materials).
Fading Finish and Spider Cracks
A fiberglass tub is subject to fading and spider cracks. The material is thin plastic, so it’s both brittle and porous.
An acrylic tub is made from petrochemicals and resin. If it’s cleaned with an abrasive solution it can crack.
Chips and Rust
Porcelain-enameled steel bathtubs are prone to both chipping and rusting over time. The same can be said about a porcelain-enameled cast iron bathtub.
If chipping, rusting, cracking or scratching is very small and confined to a specific area of the tub, then it may be possible to spot-fix the area with a home DIY product. However, if the problem is widespread, you’re going to want to consider a tub liner or another option. If you do nothing at all, the problems will only escalate.
In the case of my bathtub, the fading and yellowing spots are covering the bottom, so that’s why I’m investigating the possibility of getting a bathtub liner.
The Benefits of a Bathtub Liner
There are many things that appeal to me about getting a tub liner:
1. A Tub Liner is a Mid-Range Cost Solution
At first glance, it seemed like a bathtub liner would cost about as much as getting a new tub. But that was before I considered installation.
A basic bathtub liner will cost somewhere around $850-$1,000. There are two types of materials used to make tub liners: PolyVinylChloride (PVC) plastic and composite made of 85% Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) and 15% acrylic. The ABS acrylic costs more.
Expect that paying for the installation of a bath liner will cost about the same as the bath liner itself. And if you want a tub surround as well, that will add a lot to the overall cost.
According to HomeGuide.com, the average price for the liner plus installation is $1,700-$2,500. Adding a tub surround could raise the price to $5,348. The lower end of the range is just for a tub liner, while the upper end of the range includes a tub surround as well. Prices will vary by where you live.
New Tubs vs. Bathtub Liners
The cost of a new tub is about the same as the cost of a bath liner. When I heard this, I thought, “Might as well get a new tub.”
But then I realized that if I got a brand new bathtub, I’d have to tear up the tub surround as well as part of the bathroom floor. Depending on the tub I chose, I might need to purchase new fixtures, like a faucet and drain.
Plus, I thought that as long as I was getting a new bathtub, I would move its location in the bathroom. But then I realized that moving a tub more than three feet could require new plumbing. (If you’re considering moving a bathtub, for sure read Can a Bathtub Be Moved? It’s Complicated!)
After I considered everything involved with buying a brand new tub, I realized that getting a tub liner would be considerably cheaper once I factored in the installation.
Bathtub Refinishing is Cheaper Than a Tub Liner
Next, I took a look at tub refinishing (also called bathtub restoration). This is a process of repairing any damage and then spraying a thin coat of acrylic over the surface of the tub. This can be done by a professional starting at around $500. There are also DIY bathtub refinishing kits available for under $100. Read all about how to refinish your tub yourself in about 4-6 hours using a nontoxic bathtub refinishing kit.
Even if I got my bathtub refinished by a professional—which everyone says is going to give me a much better result than if I DIY—it will still cost less than getting a bath liner.
So overall, a tub liner will probably cost a lot less than a new bathtub plus installation, but likely a lot more than professionally refinishing my bathtub.
2. Some Bathtub Liners Are Durable
Bath liners are built to last, especially those made of composite ABS acrylic. Acrylic bath liners are more durable and thicker than those made of PVC plastic. Since bath liner materials are nonporous, they shouldn’t yellow and fade. Plus, liners made of ABS acrylic are very scratch-resistant.
|PVC Tub Liner||ABS Acrylic Tub Liner|
|Shine||Lower Gloss||Higher Gloss|
|Durability||More Prone to Cracks||Less Prone to Cracks|
|Use||DIY Installation||Professional Installation|
|Maintenance||Easy to Clean||Easy to Clean|
In theory, a bath liner can last as long as a new bathtub—decades!
Bathtub liners definitely last longer than refinishing, which is usually a short-term solution; you can only expect to keep the surface of the tub shiny and new looking only for a year or two. (That said there is a refinishing company called Miracle Method that claims its refinishing process will last 10-15 years.)
Jennifer Fusco is the marketing manager at Bath Fitter in St. Meyers, Florida. She told me:
“The best reason to get a tub liner is that it’s more cost-effective. In my own house, I had my tub refinished and even though I used what they recommended I clean it with, it only lasted 5 years. A tub liner is a more permanent solution.”
Her company, Bath Fitter, offers a lifetime warranty with its product.
3. Installation is Quick and Simple
What really appealed to me about getting a bathtub liner was that I wouldn’t need to think too much! I don’t like having too many choices, because then I take forever to make up my mind.
So let’s say I decide to replace my fiberglass tub with a new tub, I’ll have to decide which tub type I want. While my fiberglass is an alcove tub, maybe it’s time for a contemporary soaking tub instead. Or what about a vintage clawfoot? (If you like examining all the options of possible tub types, this is definitely the post for you!)
Not only will I have to choose the type of tub, but also if I get a tub with a different footprint, I may need a new bathtub faucet and drain, not to mention adding some new plumbing. And if I get a much heavier tub material like cast iron or stone, I’ll probably need to add floor supports.
Putting in a tub liner would be soooo much quicker and easier on my brain. Here’s all I would need to do:
- I would call a national tub liner chain like Bath Fitter or NuBath. Then I’d answer a few questions and then get referred to my local dealer.
- The local dealer would send a specialist to my house to measure my tub.
- The specialist would return a month or two later with a bath liner molded to fit my tub exactly.
- The liner will be installed in one day.
As you can see, most of the work would be done out of my house and wouldn’t involve me. Isn’t that awesome?!
Another great advantage is that relative to refinishing my tub, there would be a lot fewer toxic chemicals and fumes released during the installation of the bath liner.
Drawbacks of Bathtub Liners
So there are a couple drawbacks of tub liners including the fact that water can seep through the bathtub liner. But don’t despair—there’s a way to mitigate the risk. Here are the drawbacks:
1. Risk of an Improper Fitting Liner or Poor Installation
Choose a highly-reputable local tub liner franchise. While a national company will manufacture the bath liner, the local franchise will measure the existing tub and then install the liner.
Why? Because you need to make sure that all tasks—measuring, manufacturing and installing—are done flawlessly.
Once the tub is measured and sometimes photographed, the data is sent to the national office. If your existing bathtub is a common and relatively new model, the company may already have a bath liner that will fit perfectly in stock.
However, what if your tub is a less common model or very old? In that case, the company will make a custom-mold. It can take up to 8 weeks for your local dealer to receive it.
Next, a specialist from your area will come to your home for the installation. If the mold or the installation job is not absolutely perfect, the bathtub can feel springy and unstable.
But this wouldn’t be the worst of it. A liner that doesn’t fit exactly right or is improperly installed can crack.
2. If the Liner Cracks, You Can Get Mold and Mildew
Although not common, if the bathtub liner does crack, the first indication could be either a spongy feel when you get into the tub, or a bad smell. Even a hairline crack can allow water to seep between the liner and the bathtub.
Because the problem can go undetected for long periods of time, mildew and mold can grow. Not only is this a problem for your bathroom in general, but also it’s bad for air quality. As you probably know, some forms of mold are truly toxic. So you don’t want to be bathing in the vicinity. (If you suspect you might already have a bathroom mold problem and want to figure out if you do for sure, read Bathroom Mold: A Battle Plan to Destroy It.)
Poorly Fitting Drains and Overflow Drain
Poorly fitting bathtub drains and overflow drains can also allow water to seep between the liner and the tub. This is why it’s critical that you check references for the local distributor. You need to be as sure as possible that the people who measure and install your tub liner are likely to do perfect work.
3. You Can’t Go Back to Your Original Tub
A tub liner won’t fix the rusting, scratching or cracking in your original bathtub. Instead, the bathtub liner covers problems up. If you don’t like the tub liner, you can’t get your old bathtub back. The reason is that the adhesive used to affix the liner to your bathtub is so strong that when a tub liner is removed, it destroys the surface of the old tub.
If a liner has a problem and you are under warranty, the company will come out and either patch the problem or replace your liner with a new one.
Types of Tubs That Can Get a Bathtub Liner
Even though there are some significant drawbacks to a tub liner, I thought that I could do the research to find a really well-respected local franchise. I’d also get a warranty to minimize the risk. I just assumed that any kind of bathtub could have a tub liner put on top of it.
So I was a bit heartbroken when Jennifer Fusco of Bath Fitter told me this:
“We can work with most bathtubs. But we can’t put a tub liner on a fiberglass, cultured marble and some acrylic tubs.”
Arrgh! My dream of simplicity shattered right there. I later read that you can’t put a tub liner on a freestanding tub either.
New Tub vs Refinish?
If you have a fiberglass tub like I do, and just learned your tub is ineligible for a tub liner, you may feel dejected. Once you perk up a bit, you’ll start to debate getting a new tub or refinishing the fiberglass one.
Keep in mind that adding a new tub requires a ton of installation work. The reason is that your tub was most likely installed when the house was built. If you have a tile tub surround that tile was probably put in at the same time as the tub was installed.
Unless you’re planning to remodel the bathroom anyway, a new tub is likely to be a big huge deal, while refinishing is something you could take care of in a day. That said, if you do hire a refinishing company, try to get some kind of guarantee on the longevity of the work.
How to Fix a Cracked Tub Liner
Here’s a video of a guy who noticed that water was seeping up around the drain, which apparently was not properly sealed.
If you’re not super handy yourself (like the guy in the video), I’d say your best bet is to call up the dealer where you got the liner in the first place. Hopefully, you got a good warranty with your original purchase.
Similarly, you may be tempted to save money by doing a DIY installation of your tub liner.
Even if you’re a plumber by trade, unless you’ve actually fitted bath liners, just forget it. The reason is precision. And practice makes perfect. And in this case, perfect is what you need.
Almost perfect won’t cut it.
That said, there are some daredevils out who will give it a try despite my warning. The tub liners you can get at Lowe’s and Home Depot are likely to be made of PVC, so make sure you know the limitations of the material as outlined in the table earlier in this post.
A Tub Surround Is a Liner for Your Walls
If you do opt for a tub liner, you might consider getting a tub surround at the same time.
A tub surround is like a liner for your shower enclosure. It can fit over the tiling on your bathtub walls. Bathtub surrounds are also made of PVC plastic or ABS acrylic. They come in one-piece or up to five-pieces. Often they have built-in soap dishes and shelving constructed from the same sheet of material.
There’s one important thing to think about: The fewer pieces that make up your surround, the less chance of springing a leak. For this reason, a 1-piece tub surround is recommended. Then you won’t worry about the caulking or water leaking into the walls through the seams.
So Are Bathtub Liners Any Good?
Bathtub liners are a great choice if you’re not remodeling your bathroom and don’t have the money for a new tub plus installation. The only caveat is to be sure you buy from a reputable local dealer and try to get a warranty. This way, you’ll minimize the risk and make a solid investment.