Answers to Questions About Bathtubs

An empty bathtub with a waiting rubber ducky.
Renovations - Showers - Ventilation - Bathtubs - Sinks

Q. How can I get an old bathtub of iron steel out of my bathroom? Everything looks pretty cramped and the walls are of some laminated plastic material.

A. Bath tubs can be a real pain to remove since they are often installed and walls framed around them. The basic process is:

1. Open the walls around the tub back to the wall studs.
2. Remove the plumbing fixtures, faucet, handles, shower diverter, drain lever, and water valves.
3. Get under the tub and remove the drain trap and tailpiece.
4. Remove any nails holding the attachment flanges to the studs.
5. Side the tub out and haul it away. Steel tubs are light and easy to move. If it is cast iron, you will need help.

Reverse the process to install a new tub.

Q. We moved into our new house three years ago, and since that time the Kohler whirlpool bath has never worked. If you push the start button, you simply hear a low buzzing noise coming from the motor, but no water coming from the jets. Is there something I can do to fix this or do I need to replace the motor?

A. Have an electrician inspect the pump motor to determine if it is a electrical problem with the pump, or a jammed impeller.

Q. There is a bathroom in my house that is pretty beaten up, and replacing the tub isn't really an option right now, given the labor and cost it would require. I did want to give it a spruce up at the least, and just color it navy blue instead of the beaten light green it is now. What would I need, and what steps would I need to take, to paint both the bathtub (including the inside of it, it's a one piece thing) and sink?

A. Painting of tubs and showers tends not to be a very durable option. Due to thermal shock and chemicals in cleaners, most paints and coatings tend not to last. Save some money until you have enough money to replace the unit. If the vanity is still in good shape, you can pick up a reasonably priced cultured marble top or a plastic laminate top with drop in bowl. If you have mineral deposits and rust in tub, you can remove them with a calcium, lime and rust remover. The sides of tub can be waxed with auto wax to provide sheen and sheeting action. Do not wax the bottom of tub because it will be slippery. Many sins in the bottom of the tub can be hidden with bath mat. The color scheme in bathroom can be worked around the green color. Many of the older colors are making a comeback, so those old bathroom colors may not be so dated after all. The tub can be hidden or disguised with a shower curtain, paint, paper, and accessories that complement the green.

Q. We have a whirlpool tub in the master bath. We seldom use it, maybe six times total in one year. The water is always a brownish color, while the rest of the taps in the house have clean water. Is this discoloration because we seldom use the tub or should one of the supply pipes be cleaned?

A. Whirlpool tubs have a problem with water retention in the interior plumbing lines. This is an industry wide problem. Clean your tub with bleach. Fill the tub, add 1 cup of bleach and run without the bubbles turned on for 15 minutes. After the tub has been cleaned, re-fill and check the water color. If the water is not colored when fresh water is used, it still could be the water and not your tub. Some municipalities that have a problem with iron in the water use a chemical additive that prevents the iron from building up on municipal water pipes. When used in regular baths and showers, the water appears clear. If the water is exposed to air for an extended period, the iron combines with oxygen to form rust. This may be what is happening to you. A call to your local Public Utility can determine if this type of treatment is used in your town. For future reference, air massage tubs provide both therapeutic massage and elimination of water retention problems. The biggest water retention problem in whirlpool tubs is the growth of bacteria in the water lines between uses.

Q. I want to use one indoor tub 2-3 times per month with maybe soap and/or bubble bath. Water jets cost $1,000 and air jets $2,000. Is there really that big of a difference? Which would you choose and why?

A. Whirlpool tubs are specifically recommended not to be used with anything but water. No soap, oils, etc. Whirlpool tubs retain water in the internal piping between uses. This means that the bath you take today will share some of the water used in the last bath. If the previous bath was a week ago, the water and soap in the internal piping have had that long to grow a lot of bacteria. Some manufacturers are incorporating fresh water flushes for the lines so a user may flush the lines after a bath. At least one manufacturer is using individual little pumps at each jet, all in an effort to overcome this bacteria problem. Air tubs do not retain water between uses and so do not have a bacteria problem. Whirlpool tubs have a concentrated force, the jets, in specific locations. Air tubs are a more overall massage. I favor air tubs but if you have an old football injury in a specific location that you can get a jet onto then maybe a whirlpool is for you.

Q. I'm remodeling a tub/shower and would like to put niche in the wall for shampoo, etc. What is the typical height/size for this? In addition, I assume that I install backer board here also for the tile. Should the bottom ledge be sloped for water runoff? For the back wall of the niche, do I need to provide some framing for the backer board, or can I just use liquid nails to attach it to the backside of the drywall from the next room?

A. Around elbow level if you predominantly shower, or you could do a two-level niche for bathers to reach soap, etc, more conveniently. There are no rules. If you measure it out so that it will be the size of the tiles, you will be able to frame the inside of the niche with bull nose tile without having any cut edges.

Q. We are remodeling our small bathroom by replacing the old tub and alcove with new ones. Does anyone have an opinion on which tub and alcove materials would be a better choice? I've seen tubs made of acrylic and fiberglass, and I recently saw a solid material called veritek (Swanstone). Do any surfaces clean easier than others?

A. If you are thinking solid surface, Swanstone is just one brand but you still need a tub. If however you like a good fiberglass/acrylic tub/shower unit, then consider a remodeled version, three or four piece units. As Joe mentioned, you need to get a new tub and/or tub/shower unit back into the bathroom. They do not leak, and do not sound like "you're inside a bucket." Lasco is just one brand whereby the overall cost is lower, and I suggest only using Soft Scrub occasionally as it is an abrasive. This is especially hard on gel coats. Over time, you'll regret it and you will see what I mean. Car wax used within a good sturdy three or four piece unit will surprise you by using it just once a month. It makes cleaning a breeze.

On the tub removal, if it's cast, you could break it up with a sledgehammer for removal. So, for cast iron tub removal, first cover the tub with an old tarp before you start. Remove anything in your way, including the toilet, if necessary. If the toilet is to remain, cover it up, as well as the vanity, mirror, and sink. Last but not least, if there is a window within the bathroom, protect this as well. Wear protective clothes including a long sleeved shirt, goggles, hat and leather gloves. A mask would also be a good idea. The porcelain will chip off and this can cut the skin very easily. A cast iron tub can be broken up with a maul/sledgehammer that is 5 to 10 pounds for removal. If you are wondering, cast iron tubs are very heavy (from 200-400 pounds), so breaking them up is the best option. If it is pressed steel, it will have to be removed in one piece or by the use of a saw — it can be cut with a metal blade. This takes time but it can be done. The best option, though, is one piece removal.

Most tubs are actually anchored directly to the wall studs with screws or nails. The problem with removal is that no matter which way you twist it (up or side to side), the area that the tub occupies will become longer than the five-foot opening. This is assuming that you have one finished side (what you see outside the tub). When you tilt the tub up on one end (say the right end is being lifted), the top left will hit the wall and the bottom right will hit the wall. With the wall covering removed down to the studs, you may be able to lift the tub and move it out of the room on end. You will have to slide it clear of the plumbing before you lift it. An easier option, if durable, is to move the tub through the wall of an adjacent room by sliding the tub out from one end.

The trick to removing tubs is to first remove the tile and plasterboard behind it (five-foot wall to top of tile), above both ends of the tub up to the tile line, and in front of both ends for four inches or more up to next stud. Unscrew drain assembly with a cross-shaped drain removal tool. Unscrew the overflow cover plate and pull out any cover and connected drain plug and rods. The top of the tub is usually nailed to two or more studs along the back 60-inch side.

Slide out the tub toward the door at least four inches. Now it is clear of the studs and can be raised at the shallow end (not at the water valve end) to vertical with two strong people. Steel tubs may weigh 60-100 pounds.

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Renovations - Showers - Ventilation - Bathtubs - Sinks