DIY Step-by-Step Guide to Remove Shower Doors From a Bathtub
Save the Old Bathrooms!
The very first time we looked at the house we bought, I was delighted to find that all four of the bathrooms retained some of the original 1952 components, and all their vintage charm. All the bathrooms were in reasonably good condition, although each one also presented its own set of restoration challenges. Nevertheless, the backbone of everyone was intact: the gorgeous vintage tile work and fabulous colors that make these mid-century modern baths so much fun to bring back to their authentic glory.
The yellow and gray full bath that is the centerpiece of the second floor impressed me the most. The color palette is so very 50’s, and it still had both the original tub and toilet; they are Crane Oxford components, in a luscious, creamy yellow called, appropriately, Buttercup. Regrettably, the original sink was discarded in the 1970s and replaced with one of the ugliest formica and plastic vanity sinks imaginable, but at least I had two out of three. Proving that not everyone shares my passion for vintage, our house inspector dedicated a terse paragraph to that old Crane toilet in his report:
“The toilet in this bath is the original one and you must (his emphasis) budget to replace it ASAP since it is 60 years old,” he wrote.
“Does it work?” I asked him.
“Yes,” he replied, “but of course (his sarcasm) no one would want a toilet that old.”
I knew better than to try to explain, that—yes—someone did, in fact, many someone’s do, and there is a rapidly growing movement to restore and treasure our wonderful domestic architectural heritage, which does in fact include 60-year-old (and older!) toilets.
My Yellow and Gray Bathroom When We First Looked at the House
Before: Dirty, Calcium-encrusted Old Shower Door Rails
"Shower Doors Gross'" Says It All
Anyway, my notes from the day we first looked at this great old house include this about that bathroom: “Old sink gone, sigh! Shower doors maybe original but gross. Tub needs scrub to remove bad caulk job, redo. Toilet looks like new. Tile is wonderful just the usual floor cracks to fix. Replace yucky ‘70’s light fixture, outlets, switches, blind. Paint white with yellow trim. Could be a wow!”
We bought the house, and I have completed nearly all the items on that list, and by far the most satisfying project has been the removal of the shower doors and replacing them with a shower rod and curtain. Although I adore old stuff, there is a limit of how far I am willing to go to restore an item. In this case, the doors were so badly caked with mineral deposits and black soap scum gunk that even I wanted them gone. I also knew the room would appear bigger and brighter with a shower curtain instead of doors. So they had to go, and here’s how I did it, step by step:
1. First, decide if you will be replacing the doors with new ones or with a rod and curtain. Also, if you will be installing a rod, decide if you want to do that previous to or after removing the doors. Putting the rod and curtain in place first may be a bit more difficult, but it will allow the shower to be used throughout the process and take the pressure off to get it done right away. It is the path I chose. So, for me, the first part of this project was to prep and paint the areas of the wall where the shower rod ends would be installed and put up the rod (this was super easy, requiring only three small wall anchors and screws on each side).
This Is the Shower Rod I Installed
How NOT to Hold a Razor Blade Knife
Removing the Side RailsClick thumbnail to view full-size
This Is All Going to Be Easier Than You Fear, Trust Me, I Did It, and It Worked Out Great!
2. Remove the top rail from the shower doors. (In some door types, you can lift the doors up and out of the frame with the top rail still in place. Check to see if your doors fall into that category and if so remove the doors and proceed to step 4, below.) This rail will be caulked to the wall or the tile and most likely not be otherwise anchored. You will need a second person to help with this part. Use caulk softener to prepare for removal. There are several manufactures of this product, but all need to be sprayed or wiped on (a small old paintbrush or Q-Tip works well for this) and allowed to work for half an hour or so before you begin removing the old caulk. To do so, use a razor blade holder and push the blade under the edge of the caulk always working parallel to the tile. I cannot emphasize this enough: never hold the blade so that it scrapes down into the tile! Keep working at the caulk while attempting to lift the rail. Be patient; eventually, it will simply lift up and off, and it will be heavy. Have your helper hold the doors in place while you lift off the rail.
3. Lift up and remove the doors from the bottom rails; they will be very heavy. Put the top rail and doors aside—all portions removed during this project qualify as recyclable, so please do not put them out with the trash. In fact, mine were grabbed within minutes of going out at the curb by a guy passing by—he may have wanted them for the scrap metal, he may have wanted to reuse them, I will never know, but at least they did not go into a landfill. (I meant to take a photo of the old doors at the curb for recycling, but they were picked up before I got a chance to do so!)
4. Apply caulk softener to the side rails of the door and remove the screws that hold it to the tile (there are usually three screws on each side). After the softener has worked for half an hour, begin removing the caulk using a caulk removal tool and a razor blade holder. Working at the top of the side rail, wedge a putty knife between the rail and the wall and begin prying the rail off. Be careful and patient and keep trying. It may take several applications of the caulk softener until the caulk is loosened enough to start prying the rails off. You do not need to remove all the caulk in order to get the rails off, so try to pry them away periodically as you work on getting rid of the caulk. Once you get one started, keep pulling and prying it away from the tile, working downward, until you can lift it away. Repeat with the other rail.
5. Now remove the remaining caulk, which will be much easier to do once the rails are gone. Use the razor blade holder and caulk softener and be patient. Removing old caulk is a process and takes time and elbow grease to accomplish, but if you keep working at it you will get it done! For now, don’t worry about the screw holes; in a subsequent article in this series, I will show you how to fill and repair those, matching the color of your tile. There may also be old adhesive under the side rail; it will be brittle and easy to scrape away.
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Use a Shop Vac to Suck Up the Remnants of Caulk Removal & Steel Wool Polishing
You're Going to Need a Good Caulk Softener
6. Removing the bottom rail is purely a matter of caulk softener, your razor blade holder and patience. But be extra careful with that razor blade; it is much easier to scratch a tub than it is to damage tile. Do not be alarmed if the area under the rail appears discolored—most often it will look lighter than the rest of the tub, and probably a bit rough, as well. We’ll get to how to fix that next.
Cleaning Your Tub After Removing the Bottom Rail
Don't Worry About the Screw Holes, We'll Repair Those Later
XXX Means 'Good & Clean' When It Comes to Steel Wool
7. Use XXX fine steel wool and Zud or a similar soft, non-abrasive cleaner to polish away any residue from the rail. This is a process, as is such much when it comes to restoration work. I have found it easier to walk away from this kind of cleaning project, let it go for a day, then come back and do some more. However, you may be lucky, and your tub will need only a slight bit of cleaning to get it looking like new.
The last step is the easiest: Enjoy your finished project, with the knowledge that you have saved a valuable part of our architectural heritage, and saved a lot of money at the same time. Congratulations, you’re a very smart do-it-yourselfer!
After: Wow! Doesn't It Look Great?
I think that vintage bathrooms:
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2012 DIYmyOmy