Bathtub surfaces usually last 10 to 15 years before deteriorating enough to require action. Bathtub linings let you avoid the cost of replacing the tub and at the same time protect the remaining original surface. A bathtub lining is installed to fit over the surface and is usually made from acrylic or modern plastics. Costs vary depending on the type of tub, the fit, accessories and whether extra plumbing is needed, and there are cheaper alternatives.
Bathtub liners improve the appearance and functioning of an older tub that has suffered from the use of abrasive cleaners, which can wear away porcelain and expose the metal underneath to rust. They protect the original surface underneath from further damage and additionally cover up discoloration, dents and dings.
Bathtub liners are very durable, and will usually last from 12 to 20 years, depending on use. The plastic surface is easy to clean and disinfect, easier than the original porcelain in most cases.
The surface, usually PVC or acrylic, holds heat better than porcelain tubs.
The liners are usually a solid piece, meaning there are few or no creases where grout must be applied. That saves cleaning and replacing the grout.
Manufacturers make the liners in a variety of styles and colors, allowing the home owner to match existing decor or to redesign the bathroom.
The liners are usually no more than 1/4 inch thick, resulting in only a minor change in the internal size of the tub.
Liners come in both single and multiple-piece sets. Single liners have the advantage of preventing leaks, but will not fit some tubs. Multiple-piece sets can cover walls and other surfaces, allowing more flexibility, but increasing the risk of leaks.
Standardized tub liners can be bought in home improvement stores for $700 to $1,000, but installation is a tricky process. Improper installation can lead not only to leaks and cracking, but also to unsafe mold and bacteria buildup between the old surface and the liner.
The least expensive liners advertised nationally start at about $2,100 with installation, which must usually be done by a licensed plumber.
Average installations run around $4,000 depending on accessories, whether walls are also covered, and the difficulty of matching the size and shape of the tub.
More expensive versions can run up to $5,000 or more, depending on customization.
It may take up to six weeks from the time the contract is signed, to when the bathtub liner is measured and ordered, to installation. The installation typically takes a day, but the tub cannot be used until the following day.
Bathtub liners are difficult to repair if they chip or crack, and may have to be replaced.
If the liner does not fit tightly, the bather may feel it bend when entering the tub, and that in turn can lead to cracking.
Some tubs may need additional plumbing if the liner interferes with the existing facilities.
An alternative to a liner is refinishing the existing bathtub. Some manufacturers sell kits for as little as $65, or will perform the refinishing for $350 to $500. The process usually takes less time and refinishers say it will last as long as a tub liner. The odor is strong, however, and can last several days before dissipating.