Old Stone House

Refinishing The Clawfoot Tub

August 6, 2006

Filed under: Master Bathroom @ 11:59 pm

tub3b.jpgThe one item we knew we wanted for the bathroom was one of the antique clawfoot tubs – the hallmark of a Victorian bathroom. Originally, we contemplated purchasing an acrylic or cast iron reproduction from an online clawfoot tubs supplies dealer, but the cost of the tub (let alone the shipping cost) was more then we were willing to spend. Because our bathroom is small, we were limited to installing an undersized tub, 54 inches in length. This proved to be our greatest challenge, as we had no problems finding local salvage dealers who were selling old clawfoot tubs, but none carried the smaller sizes.

We spent several months scouring the paper, and calling salvage shops until we found a local fellow who just happened to know a guy who had one of these small tubs. Excited, we asked to come see it, and agreed on a price of $200. The tub was in great shape structurally, but was quite rusty and had some extensive scratching on the enamel, however, we were confident that we could refinish the tub. Satisfied with our find, we brought our 250lb baby home.

In our searches we gathered some decent criteria for judging the condition of these old tubs, and it helped us make a simple checklist.

The quick checklist


  • Ensure the legs are solid, and are securely fastened by their bolts – not the surrounding rust! Rust can act like glue, but not strong glue!
  • The feet should be intact and again free of heavy rust. Too much rust will weaken the feett and it may crumble when the tub is filled with water. As well, once a heavily rusted leg is cleaned, it may become smaller and cause the tub to wobble.
  • Four legs are better then three. A mint condition three-legged tub may be a great find, but sourcing the missing leg will be a hassle. The time spent finding that one leg is likely better spent looking for another tub.

Tub Exterior

  • Light rust is not bad, but heavy rust is. Surface rust can easily be cleaned off with a little elbow grease – extensive rust damage can require a great deal of work to remove, and may have compromised the structural stability of the tub. If it looks like you can kick a hole through the tub, you probably can…
  • Inspect the drains – if years of rust have left a crumbly weak edge around the drain, it may be very difficult to properly seat the waste pipe. If you can make the drain hole in the tub bigger by chipping rust away with your finger, the damage may be too extensive

Porcelain / Enamel

  • Scratches and chips can be repaired. There are many companies offering re-enameling services are very reasonable prices.
  • If you want to use the tub ‘as-is’, rust marks and miscellaneous stains can be removed with some household cleaners and a little work – chips can be filled with porcelain repair paint.

Holes for Faucets/Drain

  • The holes left for your faucets may have different widths, and will determine how your plumbing will be installed. Wide set faucets need offset adapters to fit in narrower faucet centres. So long as the holes are in decent shape, the decorative flanges that disguise the supply lines will hide any minor imperfections.


  • Consider which angle you’ll be viewing the tub from, and which side may be left against the wall. If in the end you have a solid, complete tub, with not too much rust, decent plumbing holes and an acceptable finish, you may have found your new tub!

Refinishing the Tub

At first we thought that we were out of our league when it came to the actually refinishing of our clawfoot tub. However, a few phone calls to local bathtub refinishers revealed that the restoration process is quite strait forward.

Cleaning off the rust.

The exterior of the tub was covered with bits of flaking paint, and lots of surface rust. According to the local refinisher, the key to restoring the tubs appearance was to simply remove any loose rust, and apply a rust inhibiting sealer. When I asked him how he would go about this, and what would he recommend for the sealer, he flatly said,

“sand the tub and give it a coat of Tremclad.”.

I purchased a wire wheel for my drill and angle grinder, and gave the tub a real thorough scrubbing – using a screwdriver to pry out any rust caught between the toes of the feet. In about an hour all of the loose rust had been completely removed and the tub that now had a smooth, yet ‘brown’ finish. We vacuumed the outside of the tub several times with a brush attachment, and then finally I soaked a rag in mineral spirits and wiped the entire thing clean. (A tack cloth would have been handy)

Cleaning the inside.

The tub had only a few major chips in the finish, but as they were going to be facing towards the wall so we didn’t bother repairing them. The top edge of the tub was fairly badly scratched – it looked as if this tub had be loaded and unloaded countless times from the back of a pickup truck. The area around the drain had a fairly deep rust stain, but no rust. The top had a dirty sludgy ring around the inside where water had been allowed to build up – a combination of green/black/brown moldy sludge.

We went to the local hardware story and purchase a number of supposedly ‘industrial’ cleaners and attempted to remove the stains. For the most part, the cleaners were toxic, smelly, and ineffective. Once acid based cleaner did improve the area around the drain, however it left the finish a little more pitted then when we had started.

Frustrated, my wife announced that she would get the tub clean! She emerged from the basement with a tin of Comet, a pair of gloves, and fine steel wool! Possessed, she attacked the tub with fervor and in 20 short minutes had removed every stain, and her fingertips… Aggressive to say the least, the Comet/steel wool combo worked very well. Granted, it did dull the overall finish of the tub, giving it a “satin” sheen, rather then the glossy finish we were accustomed to.


We next brought the tub inside to our kitchen (an unpopular, by necessary exercise) gave the tub one more wipe down and applied the first coat of paint. We did use Tremclad white paint, however any other brand would likely have sufficed – we simply chose it as it was on sale; $8.00 for 1L/Pint.

We applied the first coat of paint quite sparingly, dry brushing the coat on. The goal was to apply enough paint to seal the surface, to work the paint into every little hole and divot, but not to try to hide all the imperfections. The surface of the tub still had trace amounts of rust dust, and this light coat ensured that all traces of rust would adhere to the tub, and not streak through the white paint.

We let this coat of paint dry overnight, and the next day gave the entire tub a quick sanding with some 220 grit wet/dry sandpaper. This time we simply wiped of the dust with a damp rag, let the tub dry, then applied the second coat of paint. Again we only brushed on a very light coat, making sure that paint was stippled into every detail on the feet, as well as the fastening bolts.

The tub was allowed to once again dry for 24 hours, and the next day we applied the final coat of paint. This time we used a brush for the feet and a small foam roller for the smooth surfaces. This was the heaviest coat of paint, and the roller did a nice even job.

The overall result was stunning. In the course of 3 days, 5 hours of work, $8.00 in paint, and $20.00 in cleaners, we had completely transformed the tub. The tub didn’t look ‘brand new’, but ‘original’ – it looked as if it had always been here.

We’re excited to see it installed – now all we have to do is find a way to get it up the stairs…




  1. Just got back from the powder coaters in town. They will sandblast and powder coat the baroque clawfeet for $20 each, $10 if powder coating only. I have an advantage that my clawfeet slide onto the bottom of the tub with a simple rail (wish I could post pics!). No bolt removal required. Do I cheat and only powder coat the two feet that face outwards, and just prime and spray paint the two that face the wall? What are your thoughts on this?

    Comment by Cecilia — July 18, 2011 @ 11:49 am

  2. I decided plating is not an option, BTW. They have to get the finish super-smooth, then plate the iron with copper or nickel, then plate with chrome. They would probably charge upwards of $50 a foot for this. I think the powder-coated white would look nicer. The tub exterior is a spring green to match accent tiles.

    Comment by Cecilia — July 18, 2011 @ 11:51 am

  3. The outside of our clawfoot bathtub was painted a deep blue by previous owners. The interior white finish is in surprisingly great shape (except for the remains of about 14 anti-slip stickers); so the inside does not need refinishing.

    We are trying to figure out our options re the outside. There is no rust, so we are thinking of just repainting it. SO:
    1.) Can we just repaint the outside?
    2.) And, if so, what kind of paint should we use?

    Comment by Aviva — July 22, 2011 @ 1:07 pm

  4. I enjoyed reading this…we’re in the final stages of putting in our clawfoot tub. We chose to have the outside and the feet sandblasted. It was actually quite reasonable price wise and was fast. We primed it immediately, and then painted it with appliance paint.

    Our biggest headache has actually been hardware! The original faucet was in bad shape, so we ordered one online…only to discover that the holes were too large and weren’t covered by the new faucet. Many trips to the plumbing supply store later…we’re FINALLY up and running! Still have to scrub the inside, though…! 🙂

    Comment by Natalie — August 10, 2012 @ 10:18 pm

  5. I too have really enjoyed reading these comments. I have a 2 storey neo gothic victorian house with servants quarters in the attic. I found a clawfoot bath for the downstairs bathroom, very narrow but long which works in my very small space. Like one of the other comments above, the outside surface has no rust but is uniformly pitted on the outside. I would really like a smooth finish before painting but am not sure if I should leave it the way it is or try and find some way to smooth it. This is not old rust covered up by paint as unpainted and rustfree areas have the same dimpled effects. Any suggestions?

    Comment by Ann — January 8, 2013 @ 4:06 pm

Leave a comment