There are few incomplete projects in our home renovation history that have been talked about more than our salvaged clawfoot bathtub.

It's really no surprise given that we purchased the bathtub over 10 years ago for a cool $150 from an ebay seller. Not to mention it came out of a Del Ray Alexandria bungalow. But this tub, that we thought we'd be using in no time at all, has sat in our basement for over a decade.

Whether it was a catch all for random stuff we were throwing in the basement disaster zone, or a constant source of shin smashing, this tub of solid cast iron which was cast in 1924, has lived over 10% of its life not as a functional bathroom fixture, but rather as our basement boondoggle.

Over the years we've had friends and neighbors casually mention the tub and inquire as to its status. We've had family members ask more bluntly, "What's the deal with the tub, and what's the holdup?" And we've had many a curious observer question, "Just how are you going to get that beast from the basement to the second floor bathroom?" Which, might I add, is an excellent question.

This faithful bathtub has even been the punchline of many jokes when we're gathered with our inner circle around a dinner table and I go off the rails on a concept for a new project that will take way longer than it should. This usually ends with, "Alex, can Wendy take a bath in your house yet? You know, not in the basement?"

These situations inject a moment of clarity and common sense into my often ridiculous ranting notions. And a true friend can openly joke with you about the bathtub you've stowed in your basement for 10 years.

Not to rob the world of the comedic levity this porcelain and cast iron beauty provides from our basement, we've reached that stage of our project where it's time to get this show on the road and get the tub out of the basement.

The truly critical aspect to our problem dealt primarily with the manner in which we'd somehow move the roughly 350 pounds of cast iron and porcelain from the basement to its desired location in a single and undamaged piece.

While we had hauled it into the house without tremendous difficulty, there was a rather tricky aspect that caused considerable strife. Two people lifting either end under the roll top is actually quite easy, but all of our doorways are too narrow to allow the upright tub to pass. Instead, we had to get it down into the basement on its side. This wrinkle in the plan throws the center of gravity of the tub out of whack, and gives the person on the rear of the tub nothing substantial to grab onto. Besides, getting it down into the basement was far easier. We had gravity on our side.

To get it up to the second floor we've discussed the rigging of a pulley system, some sort of custom built sled the tub could sit in to provide better handholds, the lifting of the tub through a window via an outdoor crane, a strapping system secured around burly carriers, and even developing a Harry Potter-like skill set and casting a charm to levitate the tub from its location into the permanent resting space, "Wingardium Leviosa!"

There is also the complication of our stairs. Our beautiful and worn 125 year old stairs with original pine treads. Would you be shocked if I told you they are not supported by a center stair stringer? And the back of the stair treads are secured to risers with a single cut nail, many of which have begun to work themselves out? Surely you wouldn't be surprised. My main concern with the tub is the added weight on the stairs from the tub and carriers, and if a foot is placed too far back, the carrier could end up putting their foot right through the stair tread. Disaster in every which way I can imagine.

Knowing that if left to my own devices I'd likely attempt this foolish endeavor on my own, possibly ending in damage to our house or injury to myself and others, or both, Wendy began contacting local moving companies to have them out to take a look at our project.

She contacted several recommended groups who each felt they could tackle the big lift without issue. After the dust has settled and all bids were received, we opted to use a group called "My Truck Buddy." They seemed to have a good approach, solid understanding of our goals, comprehension of the fact that the stairs would have to be walked in a certain way to prevent collapse, and a reasonable price to boot.

Wendy set the date for the move for two weeks from the interview and told me the clock was running, we'd need to get the tub prepared before their arrival in two Fridays.

With the heat turned up we got to work on the tub prep, we first unloaded the tub of its various crap and got to work cleaning the inside.

This tub is in very good shape for an antique tub. It was in use in a house until we acquired it, and it's sat in our basement since. While we had initial plans of getting it "re-glazed" by a pro, it wasn't until we learned that the concept of "re-glazing" was more of a "spray painting" with special epoxy paint. To add to our skepticism, this approach can sometimes fail within 10 years leaving you with a chipped, pitted, peeling, or yellowed tub. The more we looked into the various options, the less confident we felt about having the tub refinished, and the more we leaned towards just giving it a good cleaning.

After doing quite a bit of research, it seems a good old fashioned elbow grease inspired scrubbing with vinegar, water, and a little BonAmi cleaner seems to be the consensus prescription. This approach uses no harmful chemicals, no significant abrasives, and nothing so harsh it might further dull the tub's finish. While there was a a little yellowing in the bottom of the tub when I started the process, we soon had ourselves a tub more indicative of the white we expected it to be.

There were also a handful of paint specks all over the tub's interior. We were able to remove these primarily with our fingernails or through the use of a razor blade and some gentle pressure.

There are a few other avenues we're exploring to rejuvenate the gloss of the tub a bit, but we're happy with it in its gently worn state if that's how it needs to be.

Once we had ourselves a clean interior, we flipped the tub upside down in our hoarder hell hole of a basement. Most importantly we flipped it onto a few waiting pieces of wood that kept the tub from laying directly on the concrete floor. Had we flipped it right into the floor, we risked chipping or cracking the fragile porcelain.

At this point the full glory of the tub's technicolor underside was on display. You could see each lovely color, from green to yellow to pink to dingy original primer white. But coolest of all, you can see the tub's manufacture stamp.

It reads, "RICHMOND" for the brand of the tub, along with the casting date of June 23, 1924. Fitting that we're putting the tub back into use around its 90th birthday.

You could also see all of the markings that allow us to match up the tub's cast feet along with the appropriate brackets.

I'll cover how to actually attach the feet on our particular tub in a future post.

Long ago we had thoughts of stripping the whole thing down to bare iron and painting, but when we realized that the paint was in decent shape, save for a few places of chipping, and the largely unpainted side would ultimately be our visible side (got lucky there), we decided to just so some sanding prep and paint the bottom. Hooray for not being a completely obsessive and anal perfectionist!

We started by giving the tub a once over with some water, TSP, and a scrub brush to get off any dirt or residue that had long been allowed to accumulate on the exterior.

It was seriously amazing how much crap came off just from scrubbing the outside of the tub.

Once everything was dry from the wipe down, we hit it with some sand paper to just knock down anything that might have been standing up. Chips, bumps, pretty much anything that would possibly cause a problem with the next coats of paint. 

To be sure we were being safe, we made sure to wear our masks and some old clothes. Here's a look at Wendy, wide eyed in disbelief that the tub may one day soon be ready for bathing. What a novel concept.

A few of the areas had to be scraped smooth, and a few other spots ended up with bare metal. Once the whole tub was looking pretty good (in a horrible sort of way) we took a step back to admire. 

We spot primed the bare metal spots of the tub with an oil based rust blocking primer and allowed it to dry.

Next, using a 4" sponge roller, we applied several coats of latex primer to give the next layers of paint a good surface to grab onto.

I did a ton of research into the type of primer and paint to use. On one hand, we wanted a super glossy and smooth finish that you can typically only get with an oil based enamel.

But the problem here is that the tub is cast iron, and it will slightly expand and contract as the water for baths heats the tub during the fill or cools the tub when drained. Oil based paint with develop cracks over time and will ultimately end up alligatored. We also realized that this is a very old tub, and the exterior is irregular and bumpy, so any super smooth and super glossy finish (like the black of our front door), would ultimately draw attention to the drips, scratches, and chips that have always been a part of this tub. That kind of patina is both something you want to maintain, but also something you don't want to draw attention to.

Given all of this information, we opted to paint the exterior of the tub with some Benjamin Moore bright white high gloss latex enamel. To achieve a smooth finish without the orange peel look we also thinned the paint with about 1/3 Floetrol to every 2/3 paint. This meant a little lower gloss and that we'd need more coats to achieve coverage, but the finished product should be much smoother.

Applying the paint was, well, like applying paint. Using the foam roller you can get a really nice and smooth application as long as you don't load too much paint, and you lay off any tiny bubbles by laying it off with very light pressure on the roller.

I didn't worry too much about getting paint right up under the roll of the tub, since you will only be able to see it when you're essentially on the ground. We also made sure we weren't getting any paint or primer in the cast bracket areas for the feet. If we had slopped paint in there, it would be difficult to fit the very tight feet back into their brackets once we were ready to reinstall them.

We applied the final coat of paint the night before the movers were set to arrive and went to bed with visions of levitating bathtubs dancing in our heads. Most of the little bumps you see throughout the paint are all imperfections in the cast iron from when the tub was born. 

With only hours remaining until the moment of truth, we hoped for the best while simultaneously fearing the worst. Stay tuned for our next adventure where Wendy freaks out, I have a near panic attack, and our bathtub rapidly evolves by growing legs and walking up the stairs on its own.

We'll share the rest of the tub's saga with you in the next post. After such a buildup it sort of needs to stand on its own. But even before the tub ventured out of the basement, it had already undergone a rather massive transformation. 

Comments 20


Kelly Anne
11/20/2014 at 2:55 PM
but no really, how did you get that upstairs? Inquiring minds want to know.

We'll be sharing all the details (and photos) in our next post. Stay tuned.Alt smile

11/20/2014 at 2:57 PM


11/20/2014 at 4:15 PM

You're trying my "instant gratification" nature. Looking good so far!


LOL. Tell me about it! ;)

11/20/2014 at 4:24 PM

Can't wait to see!! Here is how we got our crazy heavy resin tub up our old, narrow, victorian stairs Alt smile


Oh my gosh -- looks familiar. Congrats on your beautiful bathroom...and your staircase is gorgeous.Alt smile

11/20/2014 at 8:07 PM

You robbed me of my crowning achievement

Melissa @ HOUSEography
11/20/2014 at 9:20 PM

so close!!!!

11/21/2014 at 9:40 AM

Lovely! I remember the claw foot tub (in the house that is now my son's) very fondly. We think they built that bathroom around the tub, because we can't figure out how to get it out of there in order to tile. Current plan is disconnect tub, move tub over, tile half of bath and grout, move tub back, tile other half of bath, pray the grout matches LOL. The only other option is removing a wall........ Hauling up from the basement seems minor by comparison!

11/21/2014 at 10:09 AM

Hooray for cast iron tub progress! And "hoarder hell hole of a basement" is my new favorite phrase. Mainly because it describes my basement, too. Alt smile

11/21/2014 at 2:10 PM

Looks familiar!

Kudos for keeping the original porcelain finish. We spent hours getting all of the grime buildup off of our porcelain with Bar Keeper's Friend and a non-stick Blue Scotch Brite. I had wanted to use Bon-Ami, but for some reason it's hard to find in the Baltimore area and nearly everyone stocks BKF. It has a couple of small chips and flea bites as well, but after doing a little research, we learned these finishes were never 100% perfect even when they were new. So some of the imperfections may have been there from the very beginning. Each tub sort of has it's own "personality".

It must feel good to have that up the steps! Not to mention, some freed up space in the basement...

11/21/2014 at 2:39 PM

You all may have waited 10 years for a result, but I'm nowhere near that patient. No fair leaving us hanging! I need to know how the Bath Tub Dilemma was resolved!

11/21/2014 at 5:16 PM

Intriguing !!! Can't wait to read the next chapter !!

Ps: do you have a link to the great diamond-pattern in your hallway??? LOVE LOVE LOVE and want to know how you did that.

11/21/2014 at 5:24 PM

Yeah, the basement: between using the boxes of tile, moving the tub, and the water heater replacement, can you see a difference!? Any before and after pics coming up?

Franki Parde
11/22/2014 at 2:48 PM

That was a lot of rub on that tub!!! franki

11/23/2014 at 9:37 PM

We just refinished an old claw foot! It is a saga but will be beautiful. Don't forget to test for lead! Lots of the old tubs leach. Thanks for sharing your story on your great blog!

3/18/2017 at 8:56 PM

I know this is an older post now, but I just wanted to say I'm really happy I came across your tub series! My husband and I are trying to figure out what to do with an old cast iron tub on a family property and your posts have given us some ideas/hope!

5/7/2017 at 2:46 PM

What did you do to rejuvenate the enamel?

10/4/2017 at 11:33 AM

Isn't it amazing what we will go through to keep a piece of history alive? Years ago, we refinished a clawfoot tub but we sold it along with our house. I would love to see photos of the finished tub in your bathroom!

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