A Cast Iron Tub Is Still One Of the Finest You Can Buy
Although the cast iron tub is no longer as popular as it was from 1920 to the 1980s it is still the go to material for a premium bathing experience. Along with copper and steel, cast iron tubs have been used for bathing vessels since the mid 1800s. However, with both cast iron and steel the surfaces oxidized producing rust, which at best is unsightly and at worst can discolor the bathing water and adds a metallic odor to it as well. Manufacturers tried to paint cast iron but even today’s cast iron tub refinishing kits you buy at the home centers don’t work very well.
Advancements in Enameled Cast Iron
Believe it or not David Dunbar Buick who founded the Buick Motor Company is credited in his early days with the method of applying a tough coating of enamel onto cast iron. At the time he worked for Alexander Manufacturing Company that made plumbing products. The company went under in 1882 and was taken over by Buick and William Sherwood who renamed it Buick and Sherwood Manufacturing. Including the process by which enamel adheres to cast iron Buick is credited with 13 patents. Another company with very early roots in the enameled cast iron tub business was J.L. Mott Iron Works but the process wasn’t perfected until the 1920s. In fact Mott was one of the first companies to manufacture the cast iron clawfoot tub. Unless you live under a rock you know that the cast iron clawfoot tub has made quite a comeback over the last decade and a half. It wasn’t until 1911 that the Kohler Company invented the cast iron tub with an apron that was “built-in” more commonly known today as the “alcove” bath. The alcove bath is still one of the most popular bath designs today.
Cast Iron Tub Refinishing
Because cast iron is so durable, and has natural sound deadening and heat retention properties it’s no wonder why cast iron tub refinishing has become so popular. After having thousands of tubs refinished over the years I can say without a doubt that not all refinishing products and or refinishing companies are created equal. One part of the tub refinishing equation remains constant; tub preparation. Regardless of whether you are a homeowner or a cast iron tub refinishing expert, getting the tub ready for application is the most important step. You will have some amount of success with a store bought kit if the surface of the tub is properly cleaned and prepped. In a home kit they give you some steel wool and you’ll probably have to purchase an acid wash yourself. After removing all the caulk and grout from around the tub you use the steel wool to rough up the surface and the acid etching solution to penetrate deep into the porcelain finish to lift the grime or stains. You repeat this process three times before taping off the tub to apply the epoxy spray paint.
The consumer version differs from the commercial product in several key areas. These differences are monumental when it comes to finish quality and longevity. A commercial refinisher will clean the tub with steel wool or scotch-brite and then apply a powerful acid based paste to rough up and penetrate the surface. After cleaning the paste away a primer is applied with a spray gun. The primer is usually a high contrast color to unsure an even and thorough application. After the primer has cured the epoxy finish applied. As stated in the above, high-end tub and tile refinishers have an even more complex refinishing system that involves thermal bonding. Just as a side note, a customer of ours gave us an 80-year-old enameled cast iron farm sink that was in pretty bad shape, I called in ARK Refinishing and in a week they brought it back looking like I just took it out of the ‘Standard’ box. If your cast iron tub is in disrepair refinishing is the way to go. If you’re dead set on replacing the tub read on, it’s super fun.
Here’s How To Remove a Cast Iron Tub
Let me preface this by saying since the advent of the enameled steel tub or the slightly more robust Americast Tub by American Standard having to remove an alcove bathtub has gotten significantly easier. A cast iron alcove bathtub Like a Kohler Villager weighs approximately 316lbs making it darned near impossible for one person to remove or to install for that matter. So the only way to remove a cast iron tub is in pieces. You can start the process by using a 2lb sledgehammer on the apron. After you break out a hole in the tub it should break off in bigger chunks. If you have enough room you can use a larger sledge but it isn’t necessary. Once the tub is broken down in small enough pieces removing it is fairly easy.
After removing a cast iron tub you have to make a decision. Do you reinstall with another cast iron tub or do you move on to a more modern and more manageable material like Americast, or enameled steel or fiberglass? As I mentioned previously cast iron still has some of the best inherent attributes you want in a bathing vessel, however you have to weigh them against installation costs. All of the major plumbing manufacturers make tubs in different materials like steel and fiberglass so chances are you can find an acceptable alternative to cast iron.