Kendall "aka Renos"

Founder, Lead Instructor of Bathroom Update Guide &  Renos 4 Pros and Joes

I’m standing here in a bathroom with pink wall tile, pink and burgundy floor tile, a pink toilet, and a pink bathtub. Im here, meeting with a homeowner regarding remodeling their entire bathroom. As we talk and begin to finalize the general scope for this bath renovation project, the owner begins to ask questions about the feasibility of removing, refinished and reusing the cast iron tub at another property. 


I don’t run into this scenario often as a remodeling contractor, but it does happen. So the question is: How to remove a cast iron tub without destroying it? 


In order to successfully remove a cast iron tub without damaging it, you must take steps to protect it from the beginning. Start by placing a thick piece of plywood (¾  inch thick) over the top of the tub. You will have to buy it in a 4×8 sheet and trim it down to fit snugly into the alcove. Next, remove the front, side and rear walls of the tub surround in large sections to minimize small pieces that can fall and scratch the tub. Then remove the plywood and disconnect the overflow drain and the floor drain. At this time cleanout any debris that may have fallen into the tub during wall demolition. Inspect the flange of the tub and remove any nails that may be securing the tub to the wood studs. Now the tub is free and no longer attached to anything. Take a long prybar and position it on the backside of the tub between the tub and the studs, and use the leverage to slowly pull the tub out of the alcove and into the main floor area. Once the tub is accessible on all sides, it will likely take at least 3 strong people, to lift the tub up and carry it out of the bathroom to its desired location. However, there are some additional factors that must be kept in mind to ensure success with this task.  Keep reading below as we discuss the cast iron tub removal process in more detail. 


The ¾ plywood will serve as a platform for you to stand on while you remove the wall tile from the tub surround. The ¾ plywood is readily available at your local hardware store, and is heavy and stiff enough to provide a rigid and stable working surface for you to stand on. Only one worker needs to stand on the plywood at a time. And care must be taken to ensure that the board does not slide. 


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Be prepared for a bit of a workout because ¾ plywood is pretty heavy. You can use a circular saw to cut it down to the exact dimensions that you need. Now in most instances this piece of wood will provide you with enough protection. If you have concerns about damaging the tub n the front, then you can definitely secure another piece of material along the front side of the tub. ¾ plywood is not needed for this location, as no one will be standing on it. Its really there to serve as a protection from things bumping into it during demolition. A thin layer of plywood will do, and in some instances a very thick builders paper may also work.


Before placing your plywood over the top of the tub, you may want to cover the opening with plastic and tape the edges for extra security. This is giving you an extra layer of protection against small debris. For even more protection you can install foam weather stripping around the boarder of the plywood where it contacts the rim of the tub. This will help insure that the plywood itself does not scratch the tub, and also can decrease the chances that a small piece of debris trapped between the top of the tub and the plywood can rub between the two surfaces and potentially damage the finish. 


In order to remove a cast iron tub from a bathroom space, you may have to remove doors and doorjambs, and or studs to make the tub fit. This can be a huge inconvenience. Once you have the tub out of the bathroom, you still have the task of moving the tub to its final location. I would suggest trying to locate a dolly or something you can position the tub on arnd roll if you have a long straight away. If you have lots of stairs, i would suggest using even more people to move the tub, as this can be very dangerous. The tub doensnt’t have an easy place to hold it and if someone looses thier grip the tub can slip and fall and anyone involved or in the area can be seriously injured. You may have to negotiate narrow hallways, stairs, etc. These factors can greatly increase the level of complexity of moving the tub, and need to be considered on the front end. 


Another factor that must be considered is the overall weight of the tub. Cast iron tubs can easily weight in excess of 300lbs. And to make matters even more complicated, the weight is not evenly distributed because the front face of the tub is much heavier than the rear, and these tubs usually don’t have study places to grab them by.  As mentioned above you may need 3 strong and surefooted individuals to move the tub. If you plan to move the tub to another location, you will need to determine how to securely transport the tub, as well as who will help move it on the other end of the trip.


Will a cast iron tub break?


Yes, but not accidentally. The risk of you actually breaking or shattering a cast iron tub while moving it is extremely low. In order to break the tub you would have to drop it from a relatively high elevation onto a hard surface like concrete. As a point of reference, when cast iron tubs are demolished during bathroom renovations, it usually requires using a full-size sledgehammer and takes quite a few swings with substantial force in order to break the tub into pieces that are small enough and light enough to carry. 


The more likely scenario is scratching or knicking the porcelain finish on the tub. In most instances, when you initially hit a cast iron tub with a sledgehammer, the porcelain finish will begin to chip off well before the tub breaks. This type of damage would require a small repair. This would be of most concern on a new tub because it has a brand new factory finish. Most tubs that are being removed or reclaimed from an existing bathroom will more than likely have to be refinished and undergo minor cosmetic repairs anyway.  


Should I keep my cast iron tub?

Yes, if you have an alcove tub and are not planning to remodel, in many cases it makes sense to keep a cast iron tub and refinish it instead of replacing it. However, If you are doing an extensive remodel and you have a cast alcove tub you have some other factors to consider. If you cannot easily fit a new tub into the bathroom space, you may consider keeping the existing tub. However, if space is not an issue, then the cost to replace the tub and the cost to refinish it may be closer than you think. 


Refinishing a tub usually makes the most sense when you are planning to leave the tub drains in place, and the rest of the bathroom space is in good shape. Refinishing a bathtub makes less sense financially if you are remodeling a bathroom that requires extensive repairs, and or you will be replacing all plumbing fixtures, drains, etc. This is true because you are not really forgoing any work outside of demoing the old tub and bringing in the new one. And in some scenarios that may be enough to make it worth it for some owners. 


The factory finish on a new cast iron tub is superior in durability to a standard onsite refinishing. This means the finish should last longer. 


If you don’t have a preference on materials, then you can buy a new non-cast iron tub for well within the range of what it will cost to refinish the cast iron tub. 


If you have a freestanding cast iron tub, your decision is a little different because the no demolition is required to remove the tub.  Simply disconnect the floor drain and the tub is free to move. You will need to more closely evaluate your motivating factors because the cost to refinish the freestanding tub may be just as much as replacing it with a cast iron on or acrylic freestanding tub. 


Can I refinish my bathtub myself?


Yes, you can. But if you are doing a substantial bathroom remodel for yourself, you probably should leave it to the pros. They do sell DIY tub refinishing kits, but the reality is that many of these kits are lower-quality materials than what the pros use. The end goal is to achieve a durable smooth even and level finish with consistent color. This will be very hard to achieve using DIY kits that usually involve applying the coatings with a paintbrush and roller or spray can. 

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