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Bath Fixture Materials & Finish Information

Due to numerous requests for information about materials and finishes used on all types of bath fixtures, we have added this informational page to help the buying public and (hopefully!) cut down on the amount of email we must repeatedly answer on the same topics.

Cast Iron Fixtures. (Clawfoot tubs, built-in tubs, bath and kitchen sinks.)

Cast iron plumbing fixtures are coated with  porcelain enamel. Porcelain enamel is a silica-based glaze that is applied to the fixture while it is still hot from casting and baked on at temperatures of up to 1700 degrees F for several days. The resulting surface is a glass-like bonded finish that ranks among the hardest materials on the planet.  Properly cared for, porcelain enamel can last 50 years or more.  Harsh water or acid-based cleaners (like many “miracle cleaners” advertised on TV informercials), can “etch” the surface of the porcelain and open pores in the material. Once the hard surface glaze is etched or worn away, the underlying porcelain will become dirty faster requiring frequent cleaning. Products like Invisible Shield can temporarily fill these pores making fixtures easier to keep clean.

( NOTE: Porcelain enamel is also used on steel fixtures. Thinner and more flexible than cast iron, porcelain/steel fixtures chip easily. Porcelain-on-steel fixtures are typically inexpensive builder’s-grade fixtures made after 1950. Steel fixtures are generally not worth refinishing as replacement cost is so low. Since we deal primarily with pre-1950 fixtures, steel fixtures rarely enter our universe and for the purposes of this website will not be discussed further!)

Refinishing Cast Iron Fixtures: When a fixture becomes so worn and etched that it is unsightly or difficult to clean, refinishing can add decades of life. Refinishing is often referred to incorrectly as “re-porcelanizing”.  Though it is possible to remove all of the old porcelain and fire a new glaze onto a fixture, labor and energy costs usually make this unfeasible. Instead, one of two lower temperature refinishing processes are used:

Polyester/Epoxy: Is a 2-part compound that is applied with an airless sprayer. Poly/epoxy is a very common refinishing method used by “Miracle Method” and many others. Poly/epoxy can last anywhere from 5 to 25 years with proper care. The longevity of the finish is largely determined by surface preparation, temperature and humidity control  during application and the skill of the person applying the finish.  Poly/epoxy is considerably softer than porcelain and may be prone to cuts (especially from knives in kitchen sinks), but it is very flexible and resists impact damage well. When Bathroom Machineries has vitreous china fixtures refinished, we recommend this method.
Powdercoating: Is a relatively new process for plumbing fixtures, though it has been around for decades as a  protective finish on heavy equipment and machine tools.  Powdercoating is the closest thing to porcelain for luster, cut resistance, and durability.
   Powdercoating is electrostatically applied at high temperatures to form a bonded coating. The actual life span of powdercoating on plumbing fixtures is yet to be determined as we haven’t managed to wear any powdercoat refinished fixtures out yet!  All Bathroom Machineries refinished cast iron fixtures are powdercoated, something yet to be offered by any other company selling refinished antique plumbing fixtures. Fixtures that have been powdercoat refinished are difficult to tell apart from new porcelain glazed fixtures. At present time, powdercoating represents the state of the art in cast fixture refinishing technology.

Vitreous China Fixtures:  “Vitreous China” means a fixture is made from solid porcelain (like a coffee mug or toilet for example.) The glaze on china fixtures is fused onto the surface as part of the firing process in the kiln. Generally speaking, the finish on china fixtures is more durable than the glaze on cast iron fixtures as the finish is an integral part of the surface. China fixtures also have the advantage of being free of rust problems that can shorten the life of cast iron fixtures.
Refinishing Vitreous China Fixtures: Since it is an electrostatic process, powdercoating can only be applied on electrically conductive items. China fixtures are not conductive and must be refinished with poly/epoxy coatings. With its excellent impact resistance, poly/epoxy coatings are perfect for lavatory fixtures.  Usually, bathroom sinks are not subject to heavy wear and a blow hard enough to chip the finish would probably break the fixture anyway.

At this time, Bathroom Machineries is is not taking in fixtures from our clients to have them refinished.  While powdercoating is an effective method of refinishing cast iron plumbing fixtures,the time lag in getting them back from the powdercoaters is grown to be over a year, and we no longer want to be held responsible when 16 months go by before we receive parts back.

If we are aware of a powdercoater in your area that’s familiar with this process (it’s a bit of a trick, not all can do it) we’ll be happy to let you know.

Click Here For Information on Brass Finishes.

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