Tubs and showers made of fiberglass and acrylic—though attractive, durable and affordable, and easier to clean than their tiled and porcelain kin—can develop stress cracks and even structural cracks. Weight on the bottom may cause the fiberglass in an improperly installed unit to flex and develop fissures, for example. And abuse can cause holes. In turn, holes and cracks lead to water leakage that may damage the subflooring and enable the growth of mold and bacteria.
If your tub or shower has these types of defects, you don't have to replace it. Happily, holes and cracks in both acrylic and fiberglass can be fixed. The repairs aren't difficult to execute, and supplies needed for the task are readily available at hardware stores and home improvement centers. The same establishments also sell products to refinish fiberglass and acrylic tubs and showers, which start looking dingy and dull over time because tiny scratches in their surfaces allow a buildup of dirt to form.
Filling with Two-Part Epoxy
Think of this method as plugging the problem. It uses a clear two-part polyester filler. You can buy kits designed specifically for tub and shower repair, but it's not necessary—you can use any two-part epoxy. After minor prepping, such as sanding and removing the resulting dust, you mix the epoxy according to the instructions on the package. Completely fill the crack or hole with the product using a little applicator or craft stick, scraping off any epoxy overflowing from the hole or crack while it's still wet, because you'll have to remove any excess that hardens later.
After the epoxy cures for the time specified on the package, sand it flush with the tub surface using progressively finer grits of sandpaper. Afterward, it's a good idea to apply bathtub refinishing paint (see below), then buff with urethane compound for a harder finish. These additional steps help the repair blend in to make the tub look nice.
Patching with Fiberglass Cloth
This method uses fiberglass cloth, as well as fiberglass resin and liquid resin hardener. You can buy kits that contain everything you need, or buy the components separately. After prepping the area to be repaired, place a piece of fiberglass onto the flawed area. Mix up some fiberglass resin and its hardener as directed on the packaging, then pour it onto the fiberglass cloth and gently spread it. The resin saturates the cloth, but also extend out onto the surrounding areas of the tub or shower; the goal is to completely encase the fiberglass cloth in resin.
Depending on the product, the resin will harden after roughly 10 minutes, and it will have completely cured within 2 to 24 hours. After the curing, you'll need to sand the dry fiberglass patch flush to blend with the rest of the tub surface. Do this with 80-grit sandpaper, then feather the edges with 180-grit.
- Pros: Done right, this method strengthens the existing
fiberglass beneath it.
- Cons: The patch will be the color of maple syrup, so this
repair requires the additional step of refinishing with paint to look nice.
Inlays are a thin sheet of plastic veneer cemented down to cover the entire bottom of the tub or shower. Not only will this bottom look perfectly new, but the inlay repairs cracks by covering them completely. After prepping to make sure there's absolutely no dirt or soap scum to inhibit proper adherence, you use adhesive to stick the inlay to the bottom of the tub or shower.
- Pros: Quick and easy: kits include everything you need.
- Cons: The rest of the unit may not look as new as the inlay.
You can use a hull cleaner (available from marine supplies) that's safe for fiberglass to clean and buff your unit so it looks like new. Simply apply a small amount of the hull cleaner and polish it with a variable speed polisher. Buff with a rag, then repeat the process with automotive wax. Buff to a shine, then rinse with cold water to harden it.
- Pros: Repels water and soap scum afterward.
- Cons: Buffing can be tricky in curved areas; you risk burning
the fiberglass if your buffer is too powerful or if you stay in one area for
Tub refinishing kits renew the appearance of a fiberglass or acrylic tub using a two-part epoxy acrylic paint-on formula designed to withstand moisture and resist corrosion. These products comes in a few different shades to match your tub. Your tub or shower manufacturer may actually offer kits in the precise colors of their products.
Preparation is somewhat extensive, but it's the key to getting good results. Along with cleaning and sanding, you'll have to mask off the areas that need to remain unpainted, such as fixtures, then apply two coats of the product. You can use a small roller and a foam brush, but spraying it on will result in a much better appearance. The paint can't be exposed to water immediately; wait three days before using the tub or shower.
- Pros: Low cost.
- Cons: The tub or shower will be out of commission for three days; if you don't know what you're doing, this can turn out looking really bad.
Professional Repair and Refinishing
Finally, you can call the pros. They fix cracks, chips, and holes, rebuild the bottoms of tubs and showers, level low spots, and refinish so your unit looks brand new and updated. The process typically takes two to three days.
Professional results with zero effort.
The tub or shower will be out of commission for three days; much pricier than