How to fix up my bathroom on the cheap?
July 11, 2017 7:19 AM   Subscribe

I bought a small, vintage (1940s) house last fall (yay!) and am looking for advice on how to fix some issues in my only bathroom by myself, within a budget. I'm fairly handy, but not experienced. Help!

I've already had a plumber replace the old faucets and toilet. The tile floor is in decent shape (replaced probably in the 1980s or 90s) The cabinet needs paint, but the sink/vanity countertop is newish (same vintage as floor).


* The walls are an ugly yellowish off-white. I want to paint them, and paint the cabinets a contrasting shade. Should I pay someone to do this, or attempt it myself? I hate painting, but I know I need to prioritize paying people to do stuff I really can't or won't do by myself.
* Grout is missing in some places and badly mildewed in others. Should I just clean and re-grout? Any product recommendations? [pic]
* Part of the tile around the newly replaced tub spigot has caved in. There's an eighth-inch gap in the tile. Should I just caulk it with tub & tile stuff and move on? See pictures here and here.
* Do I have to remove the old caulk first? If so, what's the best way?
* I'd love to have a shower door instead of a curtain... is installing one of those a feasible solo DIY job, or should I pay someone to do it?
* Previous renovators decided to paint over the border tile, which was black. Some has chipped off in several places - picture here. Do I just repaint with some (special?) paint? Other options?
* The tub - original from the 40s - is rusted and encrusted under the lip [pic]. Should I pumice that off? Caulk it? Get a pre-fab plastic thing installed? (kidding... mostly)
* The radiator is painted, with lots of craters and rusty places [pic]. What's the best course of action here - I have zero interest in doing a lot of sanding. Should I get some kind of paint remover? Again, is this a job for a pro instead?

Thanks in advance for your advice!
posted by acridrabbit to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I would recommend painting yourself if you're on a budget. It's not that hard and won't take too long for a small area like a bathroom. Make sure to get the right kind of paint to stand up to the humidity and moisture.

You can remove old caulk with a putty knife or utility knife and denatured alchohol. I've read that you should not use rubbing alcohol because it will leave a residue which will interfere with the new caulk bonding. Putting down masking tape will let you get a much cleaner caulk line around the edge of the tub.
posted by enn at 7:55 AM on July 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

I would worry about that caved-in tile. It's possible that water damage has caused the wall/tile to fail. Caulking it up won't solve the problem if there an ongoing leak in the wall.
posted by gnutron at 8:05 AM on July 11, 2017 [15 favorites]

Best answer: There's an eighth-inch gap in the tile. Should I just caulk it with tub & tile stuff and move on?

Unfortunately, the tile caving is probably not the problem, but a symptom. There is almost certainly water damage behind that tile causing it to cave in. Just caulking and moving on will not fix the underlying issue. It may temporarily prevent new water from getting behind the tile, but it will also trap in the existing moisture and mold.

The wall may need to be taken down to studs and redone. It's also possible that the studs and joists themselves have water damage and rot. There may be a way to look inside the wall via an access panel on the other side, or by using an inspection camera.

On the flip side, there is some good news: if you do need to re-do the wall, you can do it yourself. It will cost more than a tube of caulk, but you can do a lot to minimize costs. There are a lot of online resources for DIY folks. In my experience, the main ingredient required in DIY work is patience. Take your time, don't get in a rush, and be methodical.

It's a fact of life that sometimes we have to put off fixing things that need it. But when water is involved, try not to delay any longer than necessary, because it causes the issue and expense to keep growing.

Good luck!
posted by The Deej at 8:05 AM on July 11, 2017 [9 favorites]

When it comes to specific tasks, YouTube is amazing. When you want tips on re-caulking, you can find videos on removing caulk, applying, smoothing, all sorts of tips, just watch several and you'll see a few different experts sharing their "secrets of the trade" advice, you can try them all as you go and see what might work best for you. Specifically, you should watch some videos on shower door installs and see whether that's something you think you can do.
posted by aimedwander at 9:18 AM on July 11, 2017

Best answer: One of the shortcuts people make when building a bathroom (or fitting showers) is to just tile onto standard drywall. The drywall board material fails in the presence of moisture, leading to the sort of caving-in you can see in your photo. At the very least I'd remove those tiles and a few more around the shower mixer and check to see if you have some wet, crumbling drywall in there. If you do, you'll need to rip out the drywall and replace it everywhere in the bathroom that is likely to get wet (the shower/tub area). The correct thing to replace the drywall is waterproof cement-based boards (which look like drywall, but are water-resistant).
posted by pipeski at 9:19 AM on July 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Most of the issues you highlighted involve the walls. And others are right that the caved tile in the tub could be a symptom of problems behind the tile.
So you should remove the tile and inspect/repair the backer board- whatever your budget is, that's required. Take it as an opportunity to re-do all the tile; it isn't that hard if you are patient. It will also make it easier to install the shower door, since you can seal the frame better with new tile on the walls. If you can afford it, bifold door enclosures are great.
posted by TDIpod at 9:36 AM on July 11, 2017

On the plus side, installing a shower door is dead easy. I did mine in a few hours and I am not particularly handy at these things.
Do that piece yourself, for sure.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:55 AM on July 11, 2017

Best answer: How long are you going to have to live with the results of the facelift? The longer it will be, the more $$ you should put into it now.

Decent results painting are not that hard. Get an orbital sander and go over the old paint enough to even out the bumps at least a little. This will also get rid of surface dirt.

My only product recommendation is don't use grout products that are modern, east-to-use plastics in any place that have water on it routinely like a shower wall. It doesn't hold up.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:00 AM on July 11, 2017

Best answer: That tile under the spout has to come out and the wall inspected. It's likely that bad news is hiding in the wall and you'll end up taking some or all of that wall down to properly fix it.

Examine the fittings feeding your radiator, if they aren't all rusty (IE: if it looks like you will be able to disconnect it fairly easily) the best thing to do would be to take the radiator down to a place that does media blasting (aka sand blasting but much media cleaning is done with things like walnut shells and CO2 pellets now).

SemiSalt: "Get an orbital sander and go over the old paint enough to even out the bumps at least a little. "

Be careful sanding any pre 80s painted wall because the paint could contain lead.
posted by Mitheral at 11:24 AM on July 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Think twice about the shower door installation. Unless you spend the bucks for a high quality one, the rails will be a PITA to clean, it will be noisy and rattle, and the stupid plastic roller guides will eventually break. Splurge on a curved shower rod, which makes it seem so much more roomy in the shower, and then install these shower guards. There are also shower curtain clips that work well to hold the curtain against the side of the surround. The big thing with a shower curtain is that you need to make sure you keep it closed to completely air dry after the shower, or else you get the gunk growing. If you're an open curtain person, it doesn't take long to dry before you can push it back. Plus the curtain is easy to wash in the washing machine with a load of towels or rags if/when it gets slimy or spotted. Also, there are SO. MANY. cool curtains you can get fairly cheaply, so you can change up your bathroom on a whim.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:17 PM on July 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What BlueHorse just said. My house came with a shower door and I thought I loved it until I lived with it for a while. Not only was it a huge PITA to keep clean, it makes it impossible to sit on the side of the tub. That means that washing a dog or a small child or your feet is way more difficult. And then I broke my foot and had to put one of those old lady bath chairs in there and try to get myself in and out with one working leg. That was when the door came out for good and I don't miss it one bit. I just wish I could get the stupid rails off the tub edge but they are permanently epoxied on - another good reason not to put one in.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:18 PM on July 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: This has all been really helpful advice - thanks. Any comments on the painted border tile problem?
posted by acridrabbit at 8:17 AM on July 12, 2017

My bathroom had similar shady tiles that seemed to move more than a hard thing attached to a hard thing should. Turns out, they were attached to drywall and it was completely toast. I ended up ripping out all three walls encasing the tub/shower and replacing it with cement board. Put new tile on over that. It all turned out alright in the end and wasn't as expensive or difficult as I thought it would be. This was the first home improvement project I ever tackled and, even though I have done tons more since, I am still satisfied with the work I did. Which proves that you have it in you, too. But, seriously, that caved in tile is a red flag. Especially right there, that area gets soaked every time you shower and water is just wiggling in there. Get ready for sponge bath season because I think your shower may be out of commission for a while.
posted by Foam Pants at 10:41 PM on July 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

For the painted border tiles, I would remove the paint. It's never going to look like anything but painted tile, and it's always going to have issues. Plus, the contrast tile suits the age of your house. Try heating up some white vinegar and applying to the tiles. It should soften the paint to a scrape-able state, and be less toxic than paint remover.
posted by donnagirl at 11:50 AM on July 13, 2017

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