Refinishing shell sinks with a Tough as Tile kit

One of the things we absolutely positively agreed on when we saw this house was that the original 80s shell sinks were ugly and would eventually have to go. But the bathrooms quickly took a backseat to the easier (and cheaper!) home fixes. Then one day I decided I just couldn’t handle how gross and dirty the shell sinks looked in our master bath. So a couple weekends ago I picked up an at-home refinishing kit and on a wild hare I went to town.

First, let’s take a look at the befores.

Counter and shell sinks from doorway
Not too bad… from far away!
Pre-refinishing shell sink detail
But up we had stains and discoloration.

One good thing about the engineered marble finish is that surface messes blended in very well. It was difficult to see when the counters were dirty, but to me, knowing that just made it worse!

I intend to replace the counter tops entirely when we re-do the bathrooms, but for the time being I just wanted something more palatable. I had heard good things on the internet about tub and tile refinishing products so I thought I’d give it a try.

The product we ended up with was Homax Tough as Tile from Home Depot. I chose the spray on version since I was worried about getting an even coat on all the shell edges. While it did work very nicely in that regard, it also kinda messed up my hands for a few days. That much spraying puts a lot of strain on your fingers and wrists, just FYI!

The instructions in the package are very good, so I won’t bother reiterating all the steps. However, if you intend to take on this project I have a couple of tips at the end of this post to help you get the best possible outcome, a few clarifying pointers that I didn’t feel were adequately addressed in the instructions.

First step is to remove all old caulking. We had a lot of gloopy, poorly applied caulking on the sidesplashes and I was happy to get rid of it.

Next is a lot of good deglossing, degreasing, and cleaning. I used a lot of heavy cleaning chemicals and both of the steel wool pads that came with the kit. Prep is key! So to prep my counters:

  • Cleaned with my regular scrubbing bubbles to get the typical gross off.
  • Followed up with a good rubdown with the steel wool.
  • Then gave it a good dose of liquid sandpaper to really degloss. The instructions recommend real sandpaper, but after thirty years I didn’t have much glossy protective layer left. There was plenty for the refinisher to grab on to already.
  • Cleaned it up with a good dose of TSP cleaner.
  • Then repeated with the steel wool and TSP a second time. Just in case.
  • Gave the counters a good rubdown with isopropyl alcohol. The instructions said 90% alcohol, but with coronivirus this is impossible to find. I had 50% in my cupboard so I used that. I’m still waiting for the fallout of this decision…

Now we tape up and mask off!

And spray. I ended up using three coats, but I chalk that up to inexperience. I think it could be done in two if it was done right.

Then all it took was 48 hours to cure and new caulk. The end result is so bright and clean! It certainly pops against the dingy off-white of everything else in the bathroom. But other than that I think the results are pretty impressive.

It even comes out slick and shiny like a pro refinish job.

While I certainly think there are some caveats to this product, I’m overall very pleased with the results. Little in-between upgrades like this make it so much nicer to live in a remodel.

Plus, for only $40, I figure you can’t go wrong!

Last, if you’re thinking of taking on a refinish job yourself using this product, there are a few things you should know to make your job easier.

  • Carefully inspect your surface for chips, dings, and scratches. My main concern was just getting rid of the color, but also because of the color I couldn’t see all the scratches and chips in the countertop surface. So if you’re planning to make this your end result do a careful inspection of your surface for chips and scratches and fill them in beforehand. Homax recommends their own porcelain filler, I bet something like Bondo would also do the job.
  • Cover all your surfaces and especially your floor! If you’re using the paint on product I don’t think this will be a problem but the spray product goes EVERYWHERE. It lingers in the air and then settles over all your horizontal surfaces. Be warned.
  • Spray in long continuous sprays. Light coats in short bursts are unnecessary with this product and it will cause the nozzle to drip and sputter, which will create imperfections in your coat. Use nice long pulls and then wipe off the nozzle at each break.
  • Use heavy coats. Your end result is not supposed to look like spray paint or rolled paint (you know, like with a bit of orange peel to it) but should be smooth and glassy. Your first coat may not get that way, but your second (or third if your surface is originally very dark) should. Don’t be afraid to lay down a nice heavy coat until it looks wet and shiny. That’s what you want. It won’t bubble at that point like spray paint does, instead it needs to be that heavy so that the self leveling agent can work.
  • Give it a lot of time to cure. I waited a bit longer than the recommended 48 hours (48 hours and a night, so maybe 56?) and I still have a couple flaws from things set on the surface. I say give it as long as you can, if I did it again I would give it double the time suggested.

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