For many of us who have a penchant for neat old stuff, claw-foot bathtubs are a great find. Hearkening back to a time when things were built to last, these cast-iron beauties serve as both an attractive and functional element of almost any bathroom design.
Because we often find them through secondhand means—at garage sales, antique stores, or through friends or family who may be remodeling an older home—these tubs often find their way to us in less-than-desirable shape. But with just a little bit of hard work, you can restore its original beauty.
Analyze the Condition
First, give the tub a quick once-over to establish what degree of restoration it's going to require. Keep in mind, it was and continues to be common for old claw-foot tubs to find their way into farmer's barns and fields for use as feed and water troughs. They may require a great deal of work before they're ready for human use, and the extent of the damage may be such that you will be forced to hire a professional to complete the restoration on your behalf. Ideally, the structure of the tub will be sound, and all four legs will either still be attached or will come with the tub to be attached later.
Clean it Up
Hose down the tub to remove resilient dirt and grime. Follow up with a dose of baking soda past (roughly three parts baking soda to one part water), and get scrubbing.
Spruce Up the Exterior
If there is rust buildup on the outside of the tub or on the feet, you may be forced to either rent a sandblaster or have someone sandblast it for you to take it down to the bare metal. For less severe cases, you may be able to get by with the use of an orbital disc sander. But beware, these tubs are old enough that most were painted with lead-based paint. Wear a mask and sand in a well-ventilated area! With the outside prepared, you can paint it however you choose. Just be sure to apply a sealant afterwards to avoid water stains and—you guessed it—more rust.
Repair the Interior
If the inside of your claw-foot tub is tarnished or chipped, it may require a new coat of porcelain. While there are liquid porcelain products available for you to use, a professional will inevitably do a better job, and will return the tub to looking like new again.
Until next time,
The Home Know-It-All