When looking for an antique clawfoot tub, do not get turned off by the many stains, scratches, and rust that you see. Instead, think of it as a challenge. Restoring an old tub will get your creative juices coming. Also, when you run out of solutions, you can always turn to a tub refinishing professional for more advice on issues that are too tough to handle.
So now that you are more confident about restoration (and availability of outside help,) begin the journey with buying these tips in mind.
Tips When Buying an Old Clawfoot Bathtub
Consider Virtual and Traditional Sellers
Craiglist is one of the top choices among clawfoot tub searchers. Facebook marketplace is another. Beyond virtual places, you may find good deals among yard sales, auctions, and building reuse stores, among others.
Know How They Price It
The price of a regular-sized clawfoot tub may cost up to US$500 to US$1,500. But some will cost as high as US$2,000 depending on the condition of the cast iron and fittings. A cast iron tub that is too rusted will dampen its price. Meanwhile, copper fittings drive prices high.
But aside from preparing money to purchase the tub, bring along people who can help with moving it. Many old clawfeet tubs are cast iron, and some weigh by as much as 300 pounds. You need people to carry a load this heavy. Better yet, if you have made up your mind on buying one, hire professional movers who will do the loading and unloading for you.
Buying any second-hand item requires scrutiny. While you don’t expect much from an old, stained, and rusty tub, you will still have to check it extensively before you buy. Since you already know how heavy it is, returning the item if you are not satisfied will cost a lot.
Check the tub if all four feet are intact or if they are securely attached. If there is a missing foot, ask yourself if you can replicate without much difficulty. If not, you must think twice before buying it. While there is prefab clawfoot available in the market, fitting may be difficult with the antique tubs. You may find it hard to bolt the pre-fabs if the support brackets do not match. However, if you think the price itself makes it a good buy, a wooden cradle might just do the trick for a tub with a missing clawfoot.
Check for the extent of rust on both the tub and the feet. Examine cracks and dents. Evaluate if restoration at the present condition is still feasible.
Beware of Lead
In older tubs, there is a possibility that they will test positive for lead content. You can buy a led testing stick to find out if this is so. You can also inquire from the seller about the condition of the tub. Still, you want to be 100% sure about it, so unless you are buying from a friend, personally test it for the presence of lead. Good, if the test presents zero lead content, otherwise, be prepared to do additional works for safety purposes. Those who do a lot of restoring will advise the use of lead encapsulating paint. It works by sealing in the lead paint. It is generally safe to use and does not pose a downtime.
Now that you have bought your treasure, it is time to enhance it. Here are simple steps to follow:
Cleaning the Tub
Use equal amounts of water and vinegar to spray visible stains off it. For more stubborn stains, use an ordinary scouring pad with a sparse amount of elbow grease. Rub it on the hard-to-remove stains. If you have a bathroom cleanser, you can use this too. After rubbing it with a cleansing agent, make sure to let it sit for a while before wiping it off.
If some stains remain, try another approach. You may use hard surface cleaners made for scrubbing away mineral deposits and rust. Let the cleaning agent stay on the stained surface for at least 20 minutes. Use a ball of fine steel wool to scrub the rust and deposits away.
Some old tubs will have deep burns. Use sandpaper and gently remove them. However, it is just a suggestion. It can unnecessarily scratch the surface of the bathtub. And instead of restoring it, you may be damaging it further. Sand only if it will not leave etch marks.
Once you have cleaned the tub using these cleansers and stain removers, you will already notice a big difference as the rust begins to dissipate. But cleaning is just the first step.
If there is no peeling or bubbling, restoration is going to be easy, and the refinishing phase faster. Sometimes, cleaning is all that is needed. So, after cleaning the interior, it is time to focus on the exterior of the tub. What good is a tub with a clean interior but a horrific exterior side, right?
Sanding helps remove old paint that is flaking. Sanding helps prep the exterior before applying a coat of paint. Here is a word of advice. Be sure to have the tub tested for the presence of lead. Lead exposure is a health hazard, and you will not want to expose anyone to it, including you, and prospective buyers in the future.
Even if the tub is lead-free, it will not hurt to use masks for extra protection while scrubbing the exterior. Sanding produces mega doses of dust that can be put yourself at risk when inhaled.
Use sanding blocks to remove old paint. If you have one at home, use a hand tool with a sanding attachment. It will help remove paint flakes faster. Sanding the exterior of the tub takes a lot of time. Hours and hours of sanding is needed to come up with a very smooth finish. You will want the primer to stick perfectly on the exterior (and the paint, of course). Sanding is important. Do not rush the process.
Use a fine clean rag to wipe the tub’s exterior. Now you are ready to apply primer. Oil-based primer helps stop the accumulation of rust. Always protect your floor by putting a cover on it before starting any priming. Also, protect yourself by retaining your mask, working in an area with enough ventilation, and opening fans.
With a foam roller, apply the primer to cover all areas that it can reach. For hard-to-reach parts of the tub (i.e., beneath the bathtub lip and near the clawfoot), you may use a chip brush instead.
You may be undecided yet which paint color to use. Going for all white is tempting. There is nothing wrong with going for this color because white looks clean and immaculate on any surface, including your tub. However, you might want to consider using paint with a darker shade to add drama to it. Painting it with a darker shade (deep blue or grayish-green, perhaps) will transform it into an accent (rather than a plain fixture) for a space that needs some impact. Get paint swatches from your local paint dealer. It is easier for you to create a mental image of how you want it done.
Rust is one of the most brutal enemies of a cast iron tub. If the surface gets exposed again because of poor quality paint, you might have to redo the priming and painting. Choose paint quality formulated to resist rust, stain, and moisture. These features will help hold up for a long time, even on your tub.
Again, protect yourself. This type of paint produces a strong odor. Always leave your mask on at all costs. Use small rollers to apply the paint. Have on hand a paintbrush made for oil-based paints. Use this to paint the claw foot and surrounding areas.
You may paint the clawfoot with a different color. Others want the clawfoot painted gold or silver for that extra bling. You might want to stick with a two-toned color scheme, one for the interior, and another for the exterior (including the clawfoot). If you do, you will have higher chances of selling a tub that goes well with typical bathrooms rather than one that is too fancy or ornate.
When All is Done
Now that you have finished with the restoration, you are ready to sell this unique and beautiful work of yours. A beautifully restored antique clawfoot tub is a sure hit among homeowners who are looking for unique bathtubs versus modern ones made of fiberglass and acrylic. These people know that these types of restored antique tubs retain heat better and match the durability of modern-day bathtubs in the market. Theater owners usually own props used to set the stage. Clawfoot tubs are popular set props along with tables, chairs, and other large items used for a particular scene. So they are another segment of the market.
If you have followed all the steps in restoring an old, rusty bathtub into a beautiful and ornate one, you will certainly have a ready market for it. And when you have done your best at refinishing any old piece such as a tub, you not only restored its beauty but enhanced its value as well.