Prevention is the best form of cure – sanitary ware

Repairing damaged bath, shower tray, basin and toilet surfaces is a common aspect of our work. No one sets out to damage their sanitary ware deliberately, leading to potentially costly repairs. However, a little bit of knowledge and thought might be helpful in preventing damage being caused in the first place.

A typical repair is of a chip or scratch in bath enamel caused by a falling object. One of the most common reasons is the shower head being dropped into the bath. Especially if the shower head is of a heavy construction, it is highly likely that this will chip the bath enamel. Yes, it can be repaired, but in ideal world, it wouldn’t have been damaged in the first place. To prevent this happening, make sure that the shower is fixed in place and cannot fall. The same obviously applies to damage in shower trays.

Likewise, bathroom cabinets are often positioned directly above the sink. Logical positioning, but we receive a number of enquiries for repairing small chips and cracks when a bottle has fallen out and damages the sink.

Falling objects may cause some of the damage, but on other occasions it is lack of general housekeeping that leads to damage to enamel and acrylic baths that we are called on to mend.  While baths or showers clearly are meant to hold water, they should be kept dry when not in use. In particular, do not leave rubber mats with suckers on the surfaces for an elongated period of time. They will hold water against the surface and will lead to the build up of mineral deposits, which may take some effort to remove.

Finally using unsuitable cleaning materials can cause large amounts of damage to enamel, ceramic, or plastic sanitary ware. In particular, using bleach on enamel can cause serious discolouration. Far from making the bath white, bleach can react with the enamel making the bath go grey. Other chemicals can have a similar effect. While they are generally not used in the home, (more often used in hotels) heavy anti-mould sprays are sometimes sprayed onto tiles and tile grout. If this allowed to run onto the bath it can leave grey streak marks down the side.

The second type of cleaning damage is caused by abrasives. By cleaning your sanitary ware regularly it can avoid the build up of heavy deposits. If heavy duty abrasive products are used, they will start to remove the glaze on enamel, exposing the more porous layers underneath. Overtime, the bath’s surface will become duller and harder to keep clean. The best cure is to clean the bath regularly with mild detergents and keep the surface dry. Heavy chemical/abrasive cleaning agents won’t be necessary if the bath is cleaned regularly.


Prevention is the best form of cure – repairing granite

I receive phone calls from potential customers asking about the repair of damaged granite. People sometimes believe that a natural stone surface such as granite will take all kinds of mistreatment and not show any signs of the misuse. This is not the case. Granite and other stones such as marble, quartz and corian can be damaged.

Granite will chip and crack if heavy objects are dropped onto it. Edges and corners tend to be the most susceptible to being chipped if caught by a heavy object. Likewise, don’t use the granite worktop as a chopping board, especially if the knife is used near an edge, which could lead to chipping. It is sometimes easier said than done, but if you show due care and attention, your worktop is not going to be damaged. Most people understand this. However, even if the surface does get chipped or cracked, this type of damage can be repaired. A skilled technician can repair chips or cracks in granite, marble, quartz or corian. It does require specialist equipment and knowledge of how to match colour and re-create the depth of the granite appearance, but the end results when done well are excellent.

There are other types of damage, which are much harder to repair. For example, discolouration can be very difficult to remove. To understand why granite will stain, it is important to note that it is porous. New granite worktops are installed with a polished surface, which helps to provide a seal. However, granite is granular. Liquids can pass between the crystals within the stone. Consequently, once the seal has deteriorated liquids can penetrate into the granite self and lead to discolouration.

With staining, prevention is certainly the best part of cure. If liquids are spilt onto the surface they should be wiped up straight away. In particular, acidic products such as vinegar, lemon juice and red wine can leave stains. However, it is not just acids that can cause this problem. Liquid fats and oils will cause similar problems, as will solvent based products. We recently saw the effect of nail varnish being spilt onto a granite worktop.

All these are types of staining are difficult to repair, if they are large stains. While prevention is always better than cure, this is especially the case with large stains on granite worktops.


Repair of laminate surfaces

Laminate as well as wooden flooring can be repaired by a competent technician relatively easily, providing that they understand how to match colour and use the right materials. We have just completed mending a couple of laminate floors and a laminate worktop among other things for a letting agent on behalf of one of their landlords – we also repaired a cracked and discoloured large ceramic tile, which was no longer in print.

The flooring had a number of scratches and a gouge mark. The gouge mark was beside a comfy chair and looked as if could have been caused by a stiletto heel digging into the laminate. The laminate floor had a wood effect pattern.

The scratches were numerous but were not too deep. They were in an area where people would rarely walk, and therefore, the repair would not be subject to heavy wear. We used a wax system to fill the damage and firstly matched the base colour of the laminate surface. Once we had completed this step, we start to add the detail, by recreating the grain effect in the laminate. Finally, once we had managed to get the visual effect of the repair correct, we applied a lacquer. We have a wide range of sheen levels available, and made sure that the lacquer we selected had a comparable gloss level to the rest of the floor. The lacquer is applied to seal and protect the repair.

The gouge was more substantial, and was also in an area with high footfall. We “pre-coloured” the edge of the damage so that that would be no “halo” around the repair. This is often not done and can lead to lightish area surrounding the repair. We then used a hard wax, selecting a range of colours to create the base colour of the floor. These colours were melted and mixed in to the damaged area and allowed to harden before being sanded it down. We then re-created the grain pattern so that the whole damaged area blended into the main surface. Once more we sealed our repair using a lacquer.

The difficulty of repairing laminate (or wooden) floors does vary. If the damaged area is very large, it can be difficult to blend the repair into the main surface, and it can be quite time extensive. However, the end effects, when done properly, are excellent.

The techniques, which are used for the repair of laminate worktops, are very much the same as for that of laminate or wood flooring. We tend to find the main difference is that of pattern. While we find some wood effect worktops, increasingly we seem to be mending flecked finishes. However, the principles we employ in the repair are the same as for floors, furniture etc. Provided that the principles are followed, you will get a great repair of you damaged floor or worktop.


A bit of bath time history

We carried out a repair on an early twentieth century cast iron bathtub recently. Th bath was over 100 years old and it got me to thinking about how old could the bath tubs be that we get asked to repair.

Having a bath in a specialised constructed tub or pool (rather than just in a river) is a phenomenon stretching back over five thousands years. 2,000 years ago, the municipal baths were a major feature of life in Rome. Religious rites often feature water as part of the process of purification – for example, in Christianity there is baptism, in Hinduism bathing in the Ganges.

However, it is only since the nineteenth century that having a bath became a consistent feature of life in Britain. The baths made at the start of the Victorian era were highly rudimentary made of a cast shell, which was smooth on the inside. The baths were often painted, but with poor technology, they would keep peeling, and would need to be re-painted. It was only towards the end of the nineteenth century that vitreous enamel was baked onto the inside of the bath, providing a durable surface. The baking process resulted in a number of layers of enamel being built up on the inside of the bath. This created a solid surface, with a very long life. With a cast iron structure and a thick enamel coating, baths were now designed to last.

Baths from this era onwards are still in use today. While the enamel will chip and the glaze can be eroded, a bathtub repair can bring it back to its full glory. This basic structure for baths continued well into the second half of the twentieth century. However, both the material cost and the production costs of this traditional type of bath are high. Therefore, cast iron was replaced by pressed steel, and the thickness of enamel drastically reduced. Fibre glass backed acrylic baths also were introduced. While they damage more easily – chip, cracks, scratches and other damage – they can also be repaired. While a modern bathtub may be relatively cheap to buy (not necessarily install), people 100 years from now, won’t be repairing a 2012 vintage DIY store bath.


Adapting existing baths

A very common enquiry from potential customers is for a bath repair or for resurfacing. Mending a chip in a bath or sanitary ware is fairly standard fare, as is restoring the entire finish by resurfacing it completely. The installation of slip resistant surfaces in baths and shower trays is also a regular requirement especially from hotels, where their duty of care to guests necessitates that they take steps to minimise the risks of them slipping.

However, we have on occasion been asked to adapt the bath itself to accommodate changes to taps or other accessories. We have done this both for a large house builder as well as for domestic clients. Recently, we worked on three construction sites in London and Essex adapting baths to allow a shower head to be seated in one of the corners, with the retractable hose being housed out of sight behind the bath panel.

To do this we very carefully drilled a hole through the bath enamel and steel using a hole saw and a power drill. Safety equipment is essential (as it is on all jobs) with the technician wearing long sleeves, gloves and safety glasses to protect against any pieces of broken and chipped enamel that could be thrown into the air. To limit this risk as best we could, we covered the area to be drilled with masking tape. The drill was set at very low speed initially and the technician ensured that the saw blade was kept well lubricated. Once the hole was drilled, we repaired the chipped bath enamel around the edge, both to protect the metal and to reduce the risk of someone cutting themselves on the jagged surface. There was a metal collar that would cover the damage to the enamel, so colour matching in most cases was not essential. On one of the units, we weren’t sure if the collar would cover the damage, so we filled the damage, colour matched the repair, so no matter what, the bath would look in pristine condition. The customer then was able to install the shower heads as planned.

We have also been asked to the same thing by a domestic client within the past week (again a pressed steel and enamel bath). Irrespective of the material composition of the bath – metal/enamel or acrylic, a bath can be adapted to suit the different plumbing requirements a customer might have.


Type of surfaces that can be repaired outside

On previous posts I have focused on repair work around the home. We also get some interesting enquiries to mend features in the open air. The modern repair and resurfacing technology is versatile, and has a much wider application that people might imagine.

Recently we were requested to fix some marble and granite features outside. A large hotel contacted us to mend some cracks in marble tiles in the approach to its front entrance. Using the same techniques as we use to repair a cracked marble fireplace, we colour matched the marble tiles, filled the crack and then blended the new finish into the rest of the tile. We have also been asked to mend a crack in a granite memorial – again the principles in mending it were the same as for a granite worktop chip or crack repair.

It is not just natural stone that can be mended. A central London hotel had large acrylic flower pots underneath its entrance canopy. These pots were chipped and scratched following a major refurbishment. We repaired the chips by filling the damage and sanding the area back. Once the damaged area was smooth, we sprayed a new colour matched finish onto the surface. Once we had completed the chip repairs, we polished out the scratches, leaving the flower pots looking in pristine condition.

We also carried out the repair of cracked ceramic tiles beside a swimming pool. The owner was having trouble finding matching replacements. Again, as if in a bathroom or kitchen, we used a dremel to open the cracks sufficient so that they would accommodate the filler. Once the filler had cured, we sanded it back, bonded the surface so that the new finish would adhere, and then sprayed the tiles.

The list of features that can be repaired outside is extensive. Stone cills, damaged UPVC window frames, chipped or damaged hot tubs, chipped composite doors and fascia all can be mended. We have even repaired rusting chips an old cast iron roll top bath, which was being used as a feature in a garden. If you have an outside feature that is damaged, it may be worth checking whether it can be mended before you scrap it.


Type of surfaces that can be repaired – Kitchen and utility rooms

Kitchen surfaces are some of the most heavily used in the home. They are subject to heavy pans and kitchen implements being dropped onto them; water and other liquids spilt onto them; and sometimes very hot cups and pots being placed onto them. Depending upon their construction this can have a significant effect on their appearance. For example, laminate worktop surfaces can chip, will start to rot if water reaches the wooden core below the laminate, and are prone to burn marks in the worktop finish. Natural stone counter tops are more durable in many ways. However, both granite and marble worktops can crack or chip when heavy kitchen utensils are dropped onto them.

However, it is possible to mend both laminate and natural stone worktops very effectively, although the technology for each type of repair is very different. To fix damaged laminate worktops, traditional methods of using fillers and then detailed recreation of a colours and patterns works well. (Incidentally, this method of repair is equally effective in repairing cracked ceramic tiles.) To mend cracks or chips in granite, marble, corian or quartz worktops requires different skills. While colour matching is still important, managing to make sure that the colour has the right depth throughout the repair is critical to create an undetectable repair.

However, it isn’t just worktops that can be repaired. Chips and cracks in sinks can be mended. Damaged fascia of washing machines, dishwashers, tumble dryers, etc can be fixed with the repair colour matched to render the damaged area largely undetectable. Scratches and gouges in laminate and wooden floors and flooring can be fixed. To fix laminate or wooden furniture the same methods will be used as for the floor. A trained fine finisher will be able to mend holes and gouges by filling them and matching both colour and texture as part new long lasting finish. Window frames and doors can also be repaired as well as chips on enamel radiators. pair to be blended into the main body of the window. The same can be achieved with composite doors.

In short, there are very few fixtures and fittings in the kitchen that cannot be repaired by a skilled technician. If you have a damaged kitchen surface, it is worth checking whether a repair can be successfully carried before you entertain the cost and disruption of replacement.


Type of surfaces can be repaired – The living areas

As I have previously written, provided that the structure of a fixture or fitting is sound, then virtually any surface can be repaired. However, there is a balance to be struck, in that if a surface is so heavily damaged a repair may become uneconomic. Resurfacing to develop a new finish may be a highly cost effective way, or on a very cheap fixture replacement may be the best answer.

In the living areas, we have been called in to repair a whole series of damaged surfaces:-

UPVC window frames and composite doors– wooden window frames can be filled and repaired by DIY enthusiasts. However, it is more problematic for a DIY enthusiast to mend a UPVC window frame. A trained fine finisher will be able to mend holes and gouges by filling them and applying new long lasting finish. His knowledge of colour will enable the repair to be blended into the main body of the window. The same can be achieved with composite doors.

Many homeowners have opted for wooden or laminate flooring. Gouges caused by high heels can be repaired undetectably. Marks and damage to other wooden furniture can be removed. Blooming (the white mark caused by putting a hot cup or mug onto a table) can be repaired and the surface brought back to its original appearance.

It’s not just wood, laminate and UPVC that can repaired. Marble fireplaces that are cracked and chipped can be restored using the latest technology so that the repair is undetectable. We have repaired cracks in old tiles, which are out of print in Victorian fireplaces, as well as floor tiles.

Enamel radiators, which are chipped can also be repaired. Filling the damage is easy, but a skilled practitioner will be able to blend the colour of the repair into the rest of the radiator to create an undetectable finish.

In short, there are very few fixtures and fittings around the home, which cannot be repaired by a skilled fine finisher. If you have a damaged surface, it is well worth checking before going to the expense of replacement whether a repair can be successfully carried out.


Type of surfaces that can be repaired – Bathrooms

Provided that the structure of a fixture or fitting is sound, then virtually any surface can be repaired. If the surface is either heavily corroded or rotten, it may be virtually impossible to mend. The greater the level of damage, the more complex it might be to mend – at possibly a greater cost.

In the bathroom, the following surfaces are often damaged and can be repaired cost effectively:-

Sanitary ware can easily be mended. While new basins, toilets and baths are cheap, plumbers tend not to be, so repair versus replacement does stack up financially. Make sure that the person repairing the damage understands the need to bond the new finish to the old, and is capable of colour matching the repair to the rest of the surface.

Ceramic tiles are probably more cost effective to replace than repair. However, this is not always possible as the tile may no longer be in print. A skilled repair technician should be able stabilise the damaged area and recreate most patterns. If it is a question of a repair or total replacement, the repair will be very cost effective.

Vanity units, whether laminated or made from granite, marble or engineered stone, can also be repaired cost effectively. Again a capable technician will understand how to repair a chipped or laminate surface. For granite or marble, re-creating the depth and colour of the surface is a skilled operation. Done well, the repair will be difficult to detect.

Laminated and tiled floors are increasingly being installed in bathrooms. Scratches and dinks can be mended and the repairs blended in to make the damage undetectable.

Even damage to enamel radiators and UPVC window frames can be mended to a high standard. There are very few surfaces in the bathroom that cannot be repaired to an undetectable standard.


How long is the life of a surface and how can you maximise it?

Surfaces can last a lifetime or virtually no time. Some of its life span will be determined by how you maintain it, but some will be determined by the quality of fixture or fitting. Granite and other stone work tops will have a  very long life compared to a laminated work top. A modern cheap bath will inherently have a much shorter life than a cast iron enamel bath.

In the course of our work, we come across some fantastic features dating back to Victorian times. For example, we recently repaired and restored a beautiful cast iron bath dating back nearly 100 years. The thick  layers of enamel have allowed the bath to have a long life. Modern lightweight pressed steel baths with a thin enamel layer, or fibre glass gel set baths will inherently degrade more quickly. In one hundred years time, I doubt they will be a market for 2010 vintage DIY shop sanitary ware!

However, by treating the surface gently, the feature will have a longer life. Harsh chemicals such as bleach, or cleaners with abrasives incorporated into them, will degrade the surface. In the case of baths, we often hear the complaint that the bath has lost its glaze and the bath is harder to keep clean. This will have been caused by chemicals or abrasion. The householder’s natural reaction is to use even harsher cleaning agents making the underlying problem worse. This action makes the surface rougher and, therefore, more prone to attracting dirt, and the cycle continues.

So how do you prevent the deterioration of a surface?

1  When a surface is not in use, keep the finish dry. Permanently wet surfaces will deteriorate more quickly than ones that are kept dry when not in use. Particular damage can occur from suckers on bath mats and soap pads on enamel baths.

2  Clean a little a lot. If a bath is lightly cleaned after use, it will help to prevent the build up of harder to remove marks and stains

3  For enamel finishes we use washing up liquid. It lacks heavy chemicals and abrasives, and is excellent as a degreaser.