Category: Home Improvement

How to Remove a Cast Iron Tub

How to Remove a Cast Iron Tub

If you own an older home, you’re likely considering remodeling one or more of the bathrooms within it. Maybe you’re not sure that you want to remove a cast iron tub located in a bathroom you’d like to remodel. Is it terribly ugly? Does it feature avocado, rose pink, or some other color that is hopelessly dated or out of sync with the rest of the home? Has it been refinished with “tub paint” (more on this below) that actually shows brush marks and/or chips and scratches? If the existing tub is white or another neutral color that will look just fine if you replace the existing tile, paint, or other fixtures – you may want to keep it. We’re not trying to discourage you from replacing the tub, but – doing so is one of the biggest challenges you may face as a do-it-yourselfer. Be prepared. This is not a job for the easily discouraged, and it can’t always be completed quickly.

Upgrading a bathroom can be costly, so you need to consider how involved the remodel will be. For those planning on selling their home in the near future, some minor bathroom improvements may be all that is necessary. You may or may not recoup your bath remodel outlays, so plan wisely. Perhaps you plan on staying in your home for years to come, or you have a bathroom that features decor from the ’80s….as in 1880’s. In either case, a full bath remodel; including removal of all the existing fixtures, may be necessary.

Refinishing a Tub With Specialized Paint

When we purchased our home, we knew immediately that the master bathroom had a tub which would need, at the very least, a new look. We opted to purchase specialized paint, made just for repainting bathtubs, at one of the big-box home improvement retailers. You can buy this paint for about $30 or so in either brush-on or spray-on versions. Both versions have pros and cons:

Spray-ons:

  • Cost a little more
  • Require a respirator
  • May leave visible drips or overflows which are tough to correct as these paints dry quickly
  • Are preferred by pros due to speed

Brush-ons:

  • Take more time to apply
  • Respirator not required (but still recommended)
  • Mistakes, like obvious brush marks and drips, are a little easier to correct
  • Multiple coats necessary

Specialized bathtub paint produces fumes that are extremely hazardous. You must use these in a bathroom that is well-ventilated – there must be at least one window that opens up to let outside air in. Not only are these paints dangerous, and inhalation can be fatal, but they are extremely flammable as well. All heat sources, including pilot lights in surrounding rooms, should be extinguished. Indeed, the hazard factors involved with painting may be all you need to consider a full tub removal.

Very important: before you repaint a tub on your own, you’ll need to remove as much of the top layer of old paint as possible, or at least sand it down so that the new paint has a good rough surface to adhere to. This step is very time consuming! We found that it took about the same amount of time to remove our old cast iron tub as it did just to sand it down before painting it.

While you can hire a pro to refinish your old tub, we haven’t run across anyone that we know personally who has done so. So, unfortunately, we can’t comment here on just how good a tub refinish (also called “reglazing”) will appear. When all is said and done, a refinished tub is still an old tub. If you’re ok with this, it’s probably worth considering. Check “before and after” photos and references from any contractor that you consider who claims to specialize in refinishing bathtubs. Some homeowners prefer the feel and permanence of a cast iron tub compared to modern fiberglass or acrylic bathtubs. Again, if your existing cast iron tub looks fine, keep it!

On the other hand, our own experience convinced us that merely refinishing a tub, at least using DIY products, is a “band-aid” approach and won’t come close to actually replacing the tub. However, replacing a tub will require replacing at least some if not all of the tile work in the bathroom. If you’re going to replace the tile anyway, consider replacing the tub. A new and beautiful tile job will be offset by an older tub that has been refinished; you’ll likely be disappointed! (Sorry).

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Our old cast iron tub during the prep phase before repainting. Isn’t that a lovely shade of avocado green? Ugh. Unfortunately, the top layer of white paint was fading and peeling when we bought our home, it had to go.

Before you Remove a Cast Iron Tub, Remove the Tile

You thought this would be one of those “it’s so easy, anyone can do it” DIY articles, didn’t you? Nope. None of that here. We believe in honesty, and we don’t want you tackling something that you aren’t psyched up to handle. If you’re going to remove a tub, you’re probably (highly recommended) going to have to remove the tile in your bathroom as well. So, this article is for those that are doing a complete remodel down to the bare walls (actually down to the studs behind the walls). If this is you, read on. If this isn’t you…hire a pro!

Once the old tile and the cement backerboards behind it have been removed, it’s time to remove the cast iron tub.

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Remove all tile, backerboard, caulking, nails, screws, flooring, etc. that are holding the tub in place. All edges of the tub should be exposed. As you can see in the photo above, a great deal of debris from the tile demolition ended up in the old tub. This is on purpose: you want most of the debris to land in the tub to make removing it slightly less of a pain. We used a shovel and a plastic pail to haul out the debris a little at a time. This way, we avoided damaging the carpet in the areas leading from the bathroom to the entrance of our house when carrying debris to the trash bin.

Purchase a Reciprocating Saw

Some folks recommend using other types of specialized saws, like hand-held circular saws, to cut up a cast iron tub. Nothing wrong with this. However, we opted to purchase a reciprocating saw to cut up and remove our cast iron tub for the following reasons:

  • We didn’t have a reciprocating saw already, and
  • If you’re a homeowner, you’re going to use a reciprocating saw again and again. You just don’t know it yet!
  • You can rent these types of saws; but doing so will set you back about $40 per day. Instead, just go buy one. Good ones can be had for under $100. It’ll pay for itself in two days.
  • These saws are great for all kinds of jobs: cutting small branches off of shrubs and trees, rough cutting lumber (with a vise), cutting metal pipe, etc.

Always, always, always wear safety gear when using a reciprocating saw. Eye goggles are about five bucks, ear plugs are a couple of dollars for several pairs, and you probably already have work gloves. When cutting up a cast iron tub, or just about any type of metal or material that might kick up dust or debris, wearing a dust mask is a good idea, too.

We recommend purchasing a reciprocating saw that plugs into a wall outlet. Leave the battery charger operated saws to the professional contractors out there. These tend to be a bit more expensive, especially when the battery pack costs are added, and don’t always have quite the power you’re going to need for big cutting projects – like sawing up an old cast iron tub. The brand that we selected offers saws in two “flavors”: 10 amp and 12 amp. The 12 amp model has a little more power but costs a little more. We purchased the less expensive 10 amp saw, which had plenty of power for cutting up our tub.

Once you have the saw, you have two options for blades. You can purchase metal-cutting blades in packages of about a half dozen. Or, you can purchase diamond-studded blades designed specifically for cast iron cutting. Either type of saw will be ok, but you’ll go through one package of metal cutting blades before you wear out a single diamond-studded blade. It’s six or a half-dozen one way or the other, however. A half-dozen metal cutting blades will be similar in cost to a single diamond studded blade: about $14. In our experience, we went through seven metal cutting blades and a single diamond-studded blade to make two complete cuts around the entire tub; that is, separating the tub into three pieces.

Start Your First Cut

Before you can get started with actually cutting up your old cast iron tub, you’ll need to disconnect all of its plumbing. Unscrew the drain using either a specialized drain tool or using a pair of pliers that you should be able to turn with a heavy-duty screwdriver. You’ll then have to disconnect the overflow assembly which is located just underneath the faucet.

As mentioned, we recommend that you make two full cuts around the tub. Cast iron tubs can weigh as much as 400 pounds, so cutting one up into three separate pieces will allow a person in reasonably good shape to remove each piece, one at a time, using a handheld two-wheel dolly from the bathroom. If the bathroom is on an upper floor, plan accordingly! You will need two people to carry each piece down the stairs. By the way, unlike our recommendation to purchase a reciprocating saw, you can simply rent a handheld dolly from your local U-Haul dealer. Dollies rent for less than ten bucks per day. You’ll need to rent one twice: once to remove the cut up old tub and once to move the new tub in.

Almost all tubs are a standard length of 60 inches. Since all tubs are also wedged into bathrooms with very little “wiggle room”, it’s best to make the first cut on a cast iron tub in a way that gives the ability to work it away from the walls easily. Make the first cut about 1/4 of the way from the end of the tub, like in the photo below, where the curve at the bottom of the tub is slightly raised off the floor of the bathroom. This allows for the blade of the reciprocating saw to avoid contacting the floor of the bathroom as you cut across the tub. In addition, the first piece will be big enough so that you’ll be able to have lots of room to slide the tub from the walls in order to make the second cut.

Begin the first cut at the top of the side “rail” of the tub, at one of the corners. This will take a couple of minutes; starting that first penetration of thick cast iron is not a fast process. You did put on your goggles and insert ear plugs, right? You are doing this in the middle of the day and not at 2:00 a.m., aren’t you? Your neighbors will appreciate you! Use some pressure against the tub, and make sure you have work gloves and long pants (yes, we’ve seen examples of people using power saws while wearing shorts. Not a good idea).

remove a cast iron tub 03

Below: the cut along the outside wall of the tub is complete, now the cut along the inside of the tub has been started. We curved the cut to the raised section of the back of the tub to avoid contacting the floor.

remove a cast iron tub 04

Once the cut has been started, you can cut across the top rail and then down the side of the tub, almost to the floor as in the at left. Then you can start cutting in the other direction using your first entry point. This is when cutting across the tub at the point that is raised off the floor will be an advantage, since you still can’t move the tub yet and can’t see the underside of it as you are cutting. As you cut across the back end of the tub, you’ll need to stop every couple of minutes and take quick breaks. We recommend that you unplug your saw when you pause so that it isn’t accidentally triggered.

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Once you have about a quarter of the tub sawed off, you can use some elbow grease and slide the tub away from the wall where the faucet and drain are located. At right, you see the completed first cut. There was ample space below the tub along the raised portion to avoid contacting the floor. We cut along both the outer and inner sides of the tub at a point farther from the end to avoid contacting the studs. The second cut you’ll want to make should be in the center of what remains of the tub, so that you’ll end up with three pieces of cast iron. The last two pieces will be larger than the first piece that you cut away, but each piece will still be movable with a handheld dolly.

Assuming the existing plumbing is not hindering any part of the tub, you should be able to raise it from the floor using a pry bar. If you can raise the remainder of the tub high enough, you might have enough room to start your second cut near the tub bottom. If not, you’ll have to start the cut at the top rail like you did for the first cut. Another option is to try to flip the tub on its side, then have it lean against the far wall, as we did in the photo below. At that point you might be able to maneuver it away from the far wall so that it drops on its top rails. Doing this will allow access to the sides and bottom of the tub where all of your cutting will be done.

At the top of this photo you can see how our old cast iron tub actually has two outside walls that you’ll have to cut through

Finishing Up

As mentioned above, we wore out exactly eight recriprocating saw blades to cut our old tub into three separate pieces. Seven of these were designed for all-purpose metal cutting, and one was a diamond-studded blade designed specifically for cutting cast iron. Once you’ve completed the cutting, however, the noisiest and dirtiest part of your bathroom remodel will be finished. Placing the new tub should be a little less of a hassle, as it’s assumed you’ll be installing an acrylic or fiberglass tub which will be far lighter and a little easier to move around.

After you remove a cast iron tub, how do you dispose of it? If you live in the Southwest like we do, your neighborhood probably has salvage collectors that drive up and down your street either the day before or the day of your regular local trash pickup. They’re looking for cast-off metal objects and appliances that they can haul to a local recycling yard for cash. So, wheel your old tub remains out to your curb. If they aren’t gone within a couple of days, you may have to haul them to a scrap yard yourself or get a buddy with a pickup truck to help you. Or call a hauling service; there are usually a couple of these advertising on Craigslist. If you’re lucky, they won’t charge you to pick up your scrap cast iron. Otherwise, you shouldn’t have to pay a hauling service more than $20 to haul the old tub away once it’s already out near the street and can be easily moved onto a truck. (Note: don’t call the 1-800-You-Know-Who people…they charge too much). If you want to try to get some cash yourself for bringing in your old tub to a scrap yard, good luck…cast iron scrap isn’t worth much (usually only a couple pennies per pound). It’s also not worth the hassle or cost of renting a pickup if you don’t already have one.

Ready for the new tub! (The worst part of this bathroom remodel is finished)

Remember: use safety equipment, run your saw during the day so that you don’t wake up the neighborhood, and plan on having a bathroom that’s out of service during the remodel project. When the new tub has been installed and the tile and flooring complete – you’ll end up saving thousands of dollars by updating your bathroom yourself! In addition, if you can cut up and remove a cast iron bathtub, you can tackle probably 90% of the other home improvement projects that your older home requires, and save tons of cash while doing so.

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