Future of my clawfoot tub
May 14, 2012 7:59 AM   Subscribe

Clawfoot Bathtub: keep it, sell it, or chunk it?

Current bathroom has a big, old cast iron clawfoot bathtub. It's a little worn, with noticeable rust and wear around the drain, but at this moment isn't leaking. Bathtub is believed to have been installed when the whole house was set up for water service in 1925. It does have "chicken feet" legs that get nice comments sometimes. There are no shutoffs between the wall and the faucet. Looking into scenarios for renovation, removal, replacement.

I'm also redoing wall tile and flooring soon, so options that make this task more manageable are good.

Do nothing for now is a potential scenario. I'm assuming that eventually the rust and wear around the drain would eat through?

How reliable are refinishing jobs? Is this a viable long-term solution?

Due to the size and configuration of the small bathroom, any option other than a standard clawfoot tub isn't really viable. I've been looking into acrylic clawfoot tubs, are these any good? I'm particularly interested in weight issues here: are acrylic tubs manageable for one person to move around?

If I were to have the current tub removed, how likely is it that someone would want it? Is it saleable, should I be careful about getting a decent price for it, or is it probably not worth all that much? Or should I just donate it? (Note: I'm aware of a couple of architectural recycling/resale places in my area.)

Do plumbing companies offer removal on monstrous, heavy items like this, or would I have to call actual movers to get it out? It would obviously be a multi-person job.

Worst-case scenario: do people really break these things up with sledgehammers? Or does that turn into the sort of task that you get started on, turns awful, you regret deciding on it, but you can't turn back?

Sorry for the multiple questions--they all are about the exact same tub, though, and what to do with it. Thanks for feedback!
posted by gimonca to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Refinishing jobs are pretty decent. My parents bought their house in 1993 and redid the bathroom the next year. The outside of their clawfoot tub, as far as I can tell, looks pretty much the same as it did when they put it in. The inside is cracked around the drain, but that's almost certainly because they have had a dripping faucet for, oh, 15 years. At any rate, it's the kind of thing which likely could be fixed relatively easily.

They also had a little bottle of... I don't know what you'd call it. Tub paint? Refinishing finish? -- that they kept in the freezer in case of cracks to the inner finish. I don't think they ever used it, or needed to.
posted by Madamina at 8:06 AM on May 14, 2012

My parents had a clawfoot tub that they installed when they built their house in the 1970s. The tub itself was an antique when they installed it. It was finally removed earlier this year (they had to put in a shower). They had it refinished maybe 10-15 years ago, and the refinishing held up well and is still in good condition.

They had people trying to buy the tub from them during the remodeling (they are actually storing it and it was not for sale), so I don't think you'd have any trouble selling it. If you do decide to go that route, I'd use Craigslist.

Personally, I hate my acrylic tub and loved the vintage one (see above -- this is why my parents' old tub is in storage!).
posted by pie ninja at 8:19 AM on May 14, 2012

I was pretty peeved that the previous owners of my 1923 Craftsman house put in a modern tub/shower in the main bathroom. So when I redid the house, I bought a refinished 1920's clawfoot tub for $600 off craigslist. I couldn't be happier with it.

A neighbor and myself managed to carry the badboy up the stairs ourselves. Once you get a handle on it, it isn't as heavy as you think. I can't imagine movers would be required.
posted by LeanGreen at 8:26 AM on May 14, 2012

I would do everything you can to hold on to it. They are actually surprisingly valuable - if you want to sell it, getting rid of it is not going to be a problem. Keeping it in place, though, not only adds value to your home (people love them) but it's by far the easiest solution: getting it out of the bathroom is going to be a beast. I don't know anything about refinishing them but if I were you, I would definitely look into fixing it rather than getting rid of it. I got rid of one in Baltimore - a half tub, at that; it's been a planter at my ex MILs in WV ever since, sigh - and I have regretted it ever since.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:34 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I worked in architectural salvage some years ago, clawfoot tubs were one of the most common items we sold. I am sure the salvage shops around you would buy it from you, but the rust on the interior will knock the price down a bit. I'd go and see what they are selling for near you before you contact them about selling it, just so you have an idea of what to ask.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:39 AM on May 14, 2012

Keep it! These are the only tubs below the level of super-expensive modern tubs deep enough to soak in comfortably. Plus, they're cool.
posted by slkinsey at 8:45 AM on May 14, 2012

Claw footed bathtubs are charming, and can be refinished quite easily and for relatively small expense.

Count yourself lucky that you have a nice tub in your small bathroom. When you re-do your tile, look for tiles that are similar to the period in which your tub was installed. Black and white, or subway tiles are nice, and depending upon the material, inexpensive.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:47 AM on May 14, 2012

You won't hear a lot of love for DIY bathtub refinishing, but I suspect a lot of that comes from people dealing with apartments where somebody painted the bathtub with...paint. Don't do that, of course, but I have a same-era tub that looked ratty and three-odd years ago I put several coats of white Klenk's Epoxy Enamel on it, and it worked wonderfully.

It was a big job; I did it while getting a new floor and had the tub in the hallway on a tarp, and over the course of five days (keep the stuff in the freezer as mentioned above) put on coat after coat, after first cleaning it with the associated prep kit. A bit of work, but the finish was great and is holding up nicely and it was the best $40 home improvement conceivable. I'd sand or naval-jelly off the rust and go with the Klenk (over junking the tub, I mean; alternatively, I would hire somebody to refinish). "Giant bathtub" was a not insubstantial selling feature of the house for me when I bought it, and -- yeah, looks great, wonderful to soak in; hard to go wrong keeping it.

(In re. Ruthless Bunny's; I went with black and white tile and it looks great with the tub)

The acrylic ones seem so tiny and cheap-looking in comparison; they make me think of my daughter's Playmobil tub. Imitations of the real thing are rarely durably popular; everybody knows an acrylic claw-foot is a cheap substitute, and you will have a disposable item instead of something that could probably be coaxed into lasting another century.
posted by kmennie at 8:54 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Keep it.

Here is why people love them: They are deep. You can sit in hot water up to your chest without bending your knees. They are ideal for long soaks, because the cast iron holds the heat from the water longer than other materials. Acrylic tubs don't do that. There is just no comparison to the quality of bath you can get in an old cast-iron clawfoot tub. They also look really cool. If I could make just one change to my current house, I would put one in. Well, that and a fireplace, but definitely a cast-iron clawfoot tub.

You will probably have to move it into the hall in order to tile around and under it, but then you can reinstall it with the proper shutoffs. They are awkward to move but not impossible.

Refinishing jobs, as noted above, are pretty reliable, especially if the tub is in overall good shape like yours is.
posted by caryatid at 8:59 AM on May 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

Pretty please with Mr. Bubble on top don't chunk it or *gasp* threaten it with a sledgehammer. At least call the architectural recycling/resale places. They will take it off your hands, and if they don't pick it up themselves they will offer good advice on getting it out of your house. I'm begging here. (But really you should keep it, refinish the enamel, paint the bottom, and then enjoy its splendor for decades to come.)
posted by Dano St at 8:59 AM on May 14, 2012

You'd have to be nuts to replace a real clawfoot tub with an acrylic simulacrum of a clawfoot tub. You'd be going to a tremendous amount of effort -- moving a cast iron tub ranges from PITA to impossible, depending on the configuration of the room and walls; that's why people sometimes resort to sledgehammers -- to wind up with worse-than-when-you-started. Refinishing would be much easier and far less expensive.

We have a freestanding acrylic tub (because our house couldn't handle the weight of the real thing.) It's nice enough, but it wobbles a bit if you sit on the edge for example.

are acrylic tubs manageable for one person to move around?

No. The weight is probably manageable, but the shape and size would make it impossibly unwieldy for one person to lift (two people can handle it easily however.)
posted by ook at 9:06 AM on May 14, 2012

keep it! i love my clawfoot tub—it makes the fact that i have the world's tiniest bathroom bearable. in fact, a clawfoot tub was one of the things at the top of my list when i was looking to buy a house. and yes, refinishing is relatively inexpensive and can make a tub look new.
posted by violetk at 9:33 AM on May 14, 2012

I got rid of a 1925 clawfoot tub about a year ago. I loved the look of the thing, but so many of the old tubs are either leaky around the openings or very tiny. Ours was both.

So I replaced the old tub with a big soaker tub that actually functions as a bathtub. I ended up calling the previous owner of the house and offering it back to him. He came over and picked it up that same day. You might want to try this if it's an option.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:17 AM on May 14, 2012

Oh I would so, so, so not get rid of a clawfoot tub. People love those things. They hold heat better than a modern tub and also are actually deep enough for an adult to bathe in. Plus they add character. It sounds like the damage is minor and fixable. If I were in your shoes I would absolutely refinish it.

I still dream about this clawfoot tub that I had in an otherwise totally crappy and rundown rented apartment. Claaawfooooot tuuuuuuuub . . .
posted by BlueJae at 10:55 AM on May 14, 2012

Response by poster: I think we have a consensus here. Thanks, everyone.
posted by gimonca at 11:34 AM on May 14, 2012

Experiment with a rust remover like CLR (but don't leave it on to soak for long). Ours looked much worse than it actually was. With a coat of white rust pant on the outside, it's now pretty nice. If you decide to remove it, take the feet off first so you won't bang up your baseboards.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:42 AM on May 15, 2012

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