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Dangers of Bathtub Refinishing

Categories: Chemicals, Engineering Control, Exposure, Manufacturing

Nitrile-gloved hands refinishing a bathtubAt least 14 workers have died since 2000 as a result of using stripping agents containing methylene chloride during bathtub refinishing.  Many stripping products (including those that may also be available to consumers) contain high percentages of methylene chloride. Methylene chloride is extremely dangerous when not used properly.  Alternative products and processes exist for bathtub refinishing.  Products containing methylene chloride should be avoided when possible.  Earlier this week NIOSH and OSHA released a joint Hazard Alert titled Methylene Chloride Hazards for Bathtub Refinishers

Bathtub refinishing is the process of restoring the surface of an old bathtub to improve the bathtub’s appearance and repair surface damage.  It is a less costly alternative to replacing a bathtub; however, the process often involves the use of hazardous chemicals including methylene chloride, acids, and isocyanates. 

Methylene chloride, a chlorinated solvent, is a volatile, colorless liquid with a sweet-smelling odor. It is often referred to as dichloromethane and has many industrial uses, such as paint stripping, metal cleaning, and degreasing. Workers are exposed to methylene chloride by breathing it in and by absorbing it through their skin. Methylene chloride cannot be smelled until the level in the air is higher than OSHA’s permissible exposure limits (PELs).  So, once workers can smell methylene chloride they are already being overexposed.  However, the human body can quickly become desensitized to the smell and a worker may be overexposed even if he or she can no longer smell it. 

Using methylene chloride products in a bathroom is extremely dangerous as bathrooms are often small, enclosed spaces with little or no ventilation. Workers often spray or pour a bathtub stripping product into the basin of the bathtub and then brush the product onto the tub surface. Since methylene chloride is a volatile organic compound that will evaporate faster when sprayed, brushed, or poured, the chemical vapors can quickly build up in small spaces. Moreover, because methylene chloride evaporates quickly (it has a high vapor pressure), vapors can collect in the bottom of a bathtub and in the worker’s breathing zone when working in the bathtub. This situation creates dangerously high concentrations of methylene chloride and even replaces the breathable air. Exposure to as little as six ounces of methylene chloride-based material has been enough to cause death.  

In February 2012, a worker using a product containing methylene chloride to refinish a bathtub was found dead, slumped over a bathtub in an unventilated bathroom.
In September 2011, a worker using a product containing methylene chloride to strip the glaze from a bathtub collapsed in the bathtub and later died.

Health Effects

When methylene chloride enters the human body, it affects brain function, such as concentration. At high enough levels, it can stop breathing. Methylene chloride exposure may cause dizziness, fatigue, headaches, nausea, a “feeling of intoxication,” and eye, nose, and throat irritation.  Prolonged skin contact may cause irritation and even chemical burns.

The specific effects of methylene chloride exposure will vary depending on several factors, such as the amount of methylene chloride the worker is exposed to, how long the exposure lasts, and whether the worker has a higher susceptibility (for example, having a preexisting heart condition).  In workers with heart disease, an increase in carbon monoxide may lead to early onset heart attacks and arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). Heart attacks may occur even before any other symptoms of methylene chloride exposure occur.  As exposure increases so do the health effects, with a potential for suffocation, loss of consciousness, coma, and sudden death.  Long-term exposure may cause cancer in humans. Animal studies have shown that exposure to methylene chloride may lead to liver and lung cancer, as well as tumors in the breast and salivary glands. Lowering exposures, even below the PEL, is considered to be good industrial hygiene practice.  Like many cancer-causing agents, any level of exposure, even concentrations below applicable occupational exposure limits, may pose a residual cancer risk. 

Protecting Workers


  • Avoid use of methylene chloride or minimize the amount of methylene chloride used at each site. Keep in mind that alternative products and other stripping agents may pose additional risks.
  • Avoid or minimize spraying methylene chloride.
  • If methylene chloride is used, ensure that the room is adequately ventilated during the entire refinishing process.  Bathroom fans or open windows do NOT provide adequate ventilation.
  • Provide local exhaust ventilation (LEV) and fresh makeup air to exhaust vapors released from the stripping agents in the bathtub. Specifically, typical mobile LEV units have a fan, flexible ductwork, and a hood near the tub that exhausts hazardous vapors to the outdoors.
  • Follow all applicable OSHA standards, including the Methylene Chloride standard (29 CFR 1910.1052), as well as other applicable safety and health standards and codes during stripping.
  • Use a qualified occupational safety and health specialist to assist in the design and installation of local exhaust ventilation (LEV) to effectively control vapors to below applicable PELs.
  • Follow good housekeeping measures, including spill and leak control and appropriate personal hygiene practices (such as making skin washing areas available to workers).
  • Use long-handled tools (e.g., scrapers, brushes) to avoid leaning into the bathtub.
  • Leave the room immediately after applying the methylene chloride-based stripping agent to limit exposure to methylene chloride vapors. Use full-face air-supplied respirators, protective gloves, and other appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) that is resistant to methylene chloride during the entire refinishing process


Consult the OSHA/NIOSH Hazard Alert for specific information regarding engineering controls, exposure levels and air monitoring, personal protective equipment, worker training and medical surveillance.  

We would appreciate your assistance in circulating the information in this blog and the Hazard Alert to those involved in bathtub refinishing.  While NIOSH research and prevention efforts typically focus on workers, worker representatives and employers, the readers of this blog may be able to help us reach the ‘do-it-yourself’ community who can  face the same risks.  We also welcome your input on the prevention practices mentioned above.    

Ronald M. Hall, CDR, USPHS, MS, CIH, CSP

CDR Hall is the Deputy Branch Chief of the Engineering and Physical Hazards Branch in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology.

Public Comments

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

  1. February 5, 2013 at 1:15 am ET  -   Gary Goel

    I am Gary Goel owner of the Professional Bathtub Refinishers Association. Located at [] and I helped in two the studies before this report was finalized. I have been in hat business for 20 years. I would also like to issue one other caveat. I sure wish homeowners not use those diy Kits. All are members dread strip jobs.Frankly I don’t know why someone would choose them. They yellow like crazy, and they are solvent based, slow drying so they off gas, and they never hold up. This forces a refinisher to use a very strong stripper. I have actually replaced a dead refinisher who has lossed his life stripping a bathtub. Myown life was almost cut short stripping a bathtub and I was using the best Equipment money can buy but machinery or equipment can fail. I found out the hard way. Its like trying to paint a car yourself. I am all for saving money and don’t wish to come off like I don’t appreciate the effort but if your already saving $5000 why not let a pro do it. Simply not worth the risk. Please do not use a torch either The fumes will kill use.

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  2. February 8, 2013 at 10:13 am ET  -   Tub reglazing cost


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  3. February 13, 2013 at 12:56 pm ET  -   Vintage Homeowner

    This post was helpful to me too. I own a home built in 1940 and have been considering getting my cast iron bathtub refinished. There are a few scratches and black marks from a previously installed shower door that was installed on the tub. After reading this post I think I can live with those scratches until I can hire a professional. If I do decide to hire a professional, I will make sure they have the ventilation equipment described here.

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  4. February 15, 2013 at 5:42 am ET  -   Jabber

    I think this post was very helpful in knowing the bad effects of such dangerous products. I hope many people will now be thinking at least thrice before making use of such chemicals. Thanks for sharing such a helpful information.

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  5. March 5, 2013 at 10:51 am ET  -   Roger Grosjean

    In Europe, the use of paint strippers containing more than 0.1 % methylene chloride is allowed only in industrial installations with adequate controls to reduce exposure. Other uses, such as use by professionals outside industrial installations or household use by individuals is forbidden.
    The legal basis is Annex XVII of the REACH regulation.
    The restrictions on placing on the market and use is a consequence of many incidents with lethal outcome.

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  6. March 27, 2013 at 12:18 pm ET  -   Gary Goel PBRA

    Hello everyone it’s spring time and I know many of you are beginning those home improvement projects. Please be advised my thoughts on the subject are sincere. I have stripped over a 1000 Bathtubs and I have had to listen to 1000′s of Professional Bathtub Refinishers at our PBRA Home Page. Recently my Friend Ken Hintz of Surface Surgeon in New Jersey had his Son working with him stripping a DIY kit. His Son just graduated college and decided to Join Dad in the Business. During 2012 a few months back Ken called me from the Hospital and told he was there because his Son almost didn’t make it as even with the Best Filtered mask and Ventilation Strippers Eat those Cartridges up in minutes. Probably the only thing that saved him was his Dads quick actions and having Ventilation. What happens to most is the Methylene Chloride in the Paint Stripper is heavier then air and hangs low. When a Refinisher works he must kneel down and often his head is almost in the bathtub. Since the Methylene Chloride acts like either they pass out and drown in burning stripper and their lungs fill up. It’s a real issue. We have for years been trying to come up with a Stripper that will remove Epoxy DIY kits that do not have the Methylene Chloride but time is an issue. Some will work but they require 24 hours of wet saturation and even then they require a lot of hard work. If safety is not enough to discourage the DIY Kits then maybe aesthetics will. Many post pictures but up close you can’t see the brush strokes they leave behind. Even if they come in a spray can unless you really know how to spray a cross hatch overlap pattern then you will have dry edges. They hold soap scum, body oils, dirt, basically everything that comes off the human body will form a paste of scum. The surface must be like glass. It takes many years to learn to spray like that. Cars are much easier. So even if you have experience painting cars don’t think you can walk right up and spray a bathtub. It’s a real skill and trade. If you must do it yourself then please use the best ventilation and while I know you can transfer the paint to the surface do your best to make it look like one sheet of glass. This will keep the human soap scum putty down. For More Information:

    Laboratory Fact Sheet: Guidelines for Work with Methylene Chloride

    For questions or concerns, please contact:

    Environmental Health & Safety,

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  7. March 29, 2013 at 5:48 pm ET  -   Kris Estrada

    Hello my name is Kris I amthe owner at Tub Klass NJ. I have 15 years’ experience with bathtub refinishing and stripping.
    It’s in our best interest to devise a way to remove these coatings without harming ourselves or the environment. I myself am in the process of creating a technique that will eliminate the need for methylene chloride. But I keep on hitting dead ends. It’s either not portable or cost prohibitive. But if we get together as a group of experienced bathtub refinishers I am positive that we can come up with a simple solution that will keep us safe. Contact me via e-mail and send me your ideas. Together we can make the nightmare of stripping bathtubs a thing of the past!

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  8. April 5, 2013 at 3:31 am ET  -   Bathroom Remodeling

    We need to care when the baths are refinished. We need to know what all are used while doing refinishing.

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  9. April 24, 2013 at 7:58 am ET  -   fire doors gold coast

    If this could be dangerous, government should put strict in purchasing this kind of toxic to avoid casualties for workers and even consumers.

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  10. May 6, 2013 at 4:51 pm ET  -   fran

    I recently had our tub sresurfaced as well as kitchen counters done, and the smell was so strong I don’t know how these guys can do this every day. They were wearing some gas mask type stuff while they were doing it, but I have noticed even after spraying the fumes were strong; and I was outside when they did this. I guess this is one of those occupational hazard jobs when doing bathtub refinishing.

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  11. May 12, 2013 at 4:37 pm ET  -   Emmanuel

    Bathtub refinishing is very risky. Mostly problem is that it can broken. So we need extra care.

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  12. June 3, 2013 at 6:11 pm ET  -   Jay Mazzariello

    I have learned some incredible information in this report. I will stress this to home owners wanting to get bathtub resurfacing done. I certainly will be approaching this much differently. I do home remodeling in Dallas, and many homeowners want to try to salvage some tubs, which is cost effective for some, but certainly a chemical risk for the workers and I would think the homeowners need to be made aware of this type of chemical being used in their home.

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  13. October 21, 2013 at 9:38 am ET  -   joy

    Traditional Spray Paint Style Refinishing has certain inherent dangers that you should be aware of. There were “13 Fatal Exposures to Methylene Chloride Paint Strippers Among Bathtub Refinishers in the last decade.” (Centers for Disease Control) Not to mention those who experience “unexplained” symptoms that go undiagnosed that may also be caused from these dangerous bathtub refinishing and paint stripping chemicals.

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  14. October 21, 2013 at 9:49 pm ET  -   Brandie

    That is pretty serious stuff. I didn’t realize this was so deadly. I usually like to do things myself, but I think I will have to find someone to do my bathtub repair in concord ma. I just bought this old house that has this beautiful tub if only it can get restored back to new.

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  15. October 22, 2013 at 10:52 am ET  -   Thiago daLuz

    Good to see so much effort going into bringing awareness to bathtub refinishing in Waltham. I don’t know of incidents that may have occurred, buy you can never be too careful with peoples’ lives.

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  16. AUTHOR COMMENT October 22, 2013 at 2:37 pm ET  -   Carolyn Whitaker

    There are alternatives to using methylene chloride (MC) for bathtub stripping. The Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) program at the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries has profiled two businesses that successfully strip bathtubs without MC. The first method uses a benzyl alcohol-based stripper as an alternative to MC and N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP)-based chemical strippers. The second method uses no chemical stripper but relies instead on scraping and mechanical sanding to remove bathtub finishes. Changing one’s business practices and methods can certainly be a daunting task and a big decision, but in the case of methylene chloride and bathtubs it is an important, potentially lifesaving one. Anyone who is curious to try alternatives to MC-based strippers are encouraged to read these small business success stories. Find them at:
    “Successful bathtub stripping with benzyl alcohol as an alternative to methylene chloride-based paint strippers”
    Publication number 81-8b-2012

    “Successful bathtub stripping using sanding as an alternative to methylene chloride”
    Publication number 81-8c-2013

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  17. October 23, 2013 at 7:41 am ET  -   daddybathtub

    very useful post thanks for giving this bath tub repair information.

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  18. January 9, 2014 at 11:59 am ET  -   John

    I think this type of finish should be banned.

    I think regulators should be aware of these dangers.

    Sometimes workers are not educated, companies should invest in staff training to work with these materials.

    I hope something is done quickly.

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  19. March 3, 2014 at 4:19 pm ET  -   Pete

    My business is in the UK, safety of workers is as important over here. The Health and Safety Executive is our policing force that helps prevent the tragic consequences of injuries and even fatalities in the workplace

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  20. March 4, 2014 at 9:51 pm ET  -   nikita

    I live in a small one bedroom apartment and I just had my tub resurfaced. The fumes are strong in the bathroom so I have the bathroom door closed, vent on. Also my bedroom windows are both open, and that door is closed as well. I am sleeping in the living room under many blankets with the balcony door wide open…is it safe? Or should I leave? Please respond quickly. I have been home for about 3 hours now with every window and balcony open and these posts are freaking me out!

    Is it safe to stay???? I also have a 6 year old…should we leave? Or will we be ok??

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    • AUTHOR COMMENT March 5, 2014 at 2:42 pm ET  -   Ron Hall

      The blog is not designed to provide personal medical or emergency information. If you feel you are in danger, you should contact your local emergency services for assistance. It is definitely a good idea to ventilate the area as much as possible to remove the residual vapors. The vapors should subside after awhile and you should not be able to smell the strong odor. If the vapor smell continues and is persistent you should call a safety and health professional to evaluate the area. Your local health department may be able to provide assistance.

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  21. March 31, 2014 at 8:02 am ET  -   Billy Johnson

    That is a shocking statistic, “At least 14 workers have died since 2000 as a result of using stripping agents containing methylene chloride during bathtub refinishing”.
    It is really shocking that stripping agents contrain toxic elements in them. Surely the proper checks should be taken before the products leaves the factory. This is poor. More needs to be done to protect the workers!.

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  22. April 3, 2014 at 6:25 pm ET  -   Bill B

    Great information. Now what about substances that are used in bathtub refinishing as final ‘top-coats’ such as Aliphatic Acrylic Urethane, or, another, as one company advertises: “Porcelain Glaze-a new type of chemical finish.” What is porcelain glaze? And, are there any substances that are dangerous and can later leach into bath water and be absorbed by the skin?

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    • AUTHOR COMMENT May 6, 2014 at 6:46 am ET  -   Ron Hall

      Thank you for your comment. We are not familiar with the finishes you mention. If those working with these finishes have concerns about their health they can request a Health Hazard Evaluation from NIOSH at

      You can also use your favorite search engine and search using the following key words: “Bathtub Porcelain Glaze MSDS”
      And “Bathtub Aliphatic Acrylic Urethane MSDS.” Follow the links to the Material Data Safety Sheet (MSDS) that the search will find. There is a lot of toxicological information available on the Internet which can be found by joining the term “MSDS” with as specific a description of the product about which you are interested in knowing.

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  23. April 16, 2014 at 7:30 pm ET  -   Jassica mody

    I think this post was very helpful in knowing the bad effects Bathtub refinishing of such dangerous products. I hope many people will now be thinking at least thrice before making use of such chemicals. Thanks for sharing such a helpful information.

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  24. April 22, 2014 at 3:00 pm ET  -   Suzi Enders

    This is horrible… People please do not use these DIY kits. You get enough toxic chemicals in your daily life without adding additional products that harm you by breathing its toxic fumes or being absorbed into your skin.

    Price changing out your bathtubs before ever considering a refinishing product that is known to be toxic! This Northern California real estate agent is living the green “Dream”.

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  25. April 23, 2014 at 1:05 am ET  -   Christopher Smith

    I’m a Painting Contractor in Anchorage, Alaska and this is a really good post for me to see!

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told others in the field that are doing this to make sure they have more ventilation and to remove or re-coat the tube out of the bathroom and to at least not to do it without the proper breathing apparatus.

    “Methylene chloride is extremely dangerous when not used properly”, this is an understatement, but I’m glad it’s finally being brought to peoples attention.

    Sad to hear, but at least proves to me that I was right!

    Thanks for the post.

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  26. April 29, 2014 at 1:01 am ET  -   Dwayne Eaton

    I have an article on my site entitled Are Bathtub Refinishing Fumes Dangerous. It is amazing that I get over 100 hits per month on the article from homeowners who are fumed out during and after refinishing. Extraction during the process is everything. A fresh air system is critical.
    I refer to this CDC article a few times a month when answering questions from customers.
    Keep up the good work!

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  27. May 22, 2014 at 7:41 pm ET  -   Mike Dowell

    We use MC (methylene chloride) in my furniture shop. It’s used to strip paint and varnish from furniture which will be refinished. I use it in good ventilation and, if I’m going to be doing much work, I use a respirator. I think there are actually regulations on workers on how long they may be subjected to this chemical during a work day.

    It’s also useful to mention that there are different types of chemicals which use MC as an active ingredient. If the chemical you are using is marked as “flammable” then you can be sure that it is not 100% MC. MC is not flammable on it’s own.

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    • AUTHOR COMMENT June 10, 2014 at 7:12 pm ET  -   Ron Hall

      Thanks for your comment. There are exposure limits, but they are not based solely on how long a worker may be exposed to the chemical. The concentration of the exposure is important too. OSHA has regulations that sets a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 25 parts per million (ppm) as a time-weighted average (TWA) exposure over an 8-hour work shift. So, if the concentration were over the PEL, for example at 50 ppm, the workers would exceed the 25 ppm average limit in 4 hours. There is also a short-term exposure limit (STEL) for which the average exposure cannot exceed 125 ppm over any 15-minute period. The standard also sets a 12.5 ppm action level (AL) which triggers periodic monitoring and medical surveillance provisions.

      In our blog we state that “methylene chloride cannot be smelled until the level in the air is higher than OSHA’s permissible exposure limits (PELs). So, once workers can smell methylene chloride they are already being overexposed.”

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  28. June 4, 2014 at 3:45 am ET  -   industrial-epoxy-flooring-contractor

    Thanks for the great post. Methylene chloride, a new chlorinated solvent, is usually a risky, without color liquid having a sweet-smelling smell.

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  29. June 24, 2014 at 12:35 am ET  -   AJ Wats

    Wow, great article on the dangers and Health Effects when methylene chloride is used. Especially if chosen to be done in small places like a bathroom. We work a lot with paints and try to stay abreast of the dangers when working with chemicals, solvents and paint compounds.

    A lot of times when a solvent stinks, you realize you need the right protective equipment and ventilation. However, products are more dangerous when they are sweet smelling, and as your article states your are already exposed once you smell it. What a great reminder to always plan for and wear personal protective equipment. Thanks for sharing

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  30. July 13, 2014 at 2:22 pm ET  -   Cherie Landwehr

    Wow this is kinda hard to believe that even a thing such as messing with a bathtub can be so dangerous. This is great information to share to hopefully make us more aware and careful.

    Link to this comment

  31. July 15, 2014 at 6:32 am ET  -   Jace Stolfo

    We have for years been trying to come up with a Stripper that will remove Epoxy DIY kits that do not have the Methylene Chloride but time is an issue. Some will work but they require 24 hours of wet saturation and even then they require a lot of hard work. If safety is not enough to discourage the DIY Kits then maybe aesthetics will. Many post pictures but up close you can’t see the brush strokes they leave behind. Even if they come in a spray can unless you really know how to spray a cross hatch overlap pattern then you will have dry edges. They hold soap scum, body oils, dirt, basically everything that comes off the human body will form a paste of scum.

    Link to this comment

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