Walk-In Baths Types and Features
||Inward-Swinging Door Tub
||Outward-Swinging Door Tub
||Rising Wall Bath Tub
| Does it allow you to be fully immersed?
| Can it be wheelchair accessible?
| Can it offer therapies like air or water massage?
What if I want more than just a bath?
Even the most basic models of walk-in tubs will offer most of the attributes listed above. But if walk-in tub features stopped there, walk-in tubs probably wouldn’t be as popular as they are. Most manufacturers also offer some additional options, most of which provide some sort of therapeutic benefit.
These therapeutic options are given different names by different manufacturers, and brands distinguish themselves in the details (the number of air or water massage jets they offer, for example). Still, despite the variations, each type of therapy is roughly the same across the various brands, so here’s a look at some common therapeutic options:
A tub with a spa function mirrors the effects of a sitz bath by infusing the water with tiny bubbles to generate a soothing effervescence. In addition to boosting the relaxing effects of a simple hot bath, this type of therapy can have other benefits, including exfoliating and stimulating the skin.
This type of therapy goes by several different names, including hydrotherapy, hydro massage, and whirlpool. Regardless of the name, water massage works by forcing water through jets in the side of the tub, producing a forceful massage-like effect that can help stimulate circulation, ease tension, and reduce inflammation. One nice bonus with some water massage systems is an in-line heater, which keeps the water warm while the bather enjoys a full-length treatment.
Air massage tends to be the most expensive therapy option, but it provides much the same effect as a water massage. Air jets do tend to be less forceful than their water massage equivalents, but some prefer the gentler sensation. Air jets can also create an effervescence similar to that of a bubble spa—and, if they come with a heated blower, can also help keep the bathwater warmer longer, prolonging the user’s ability to enjoy a hot, soaking bath.
While the jury’s out on the true therapeutic benefits of changing colors, many manufacturers do offer the option of buying a tub equipped with an LED light that tints the water in shifting shades. At any rate, many users find this feature highly relaxing, and it can make a bath more attractive and interesting as well.
Science is more definitive on the benefits of scent: some aromas do seem to improve mood and can also address health issues like nausea. That’s one reason why many manufacturers offer tubs that can infuse the water with essential oils or with prepackaged scents. Along with light therapy, aromatherapy is often included with full-featured tubs.
In short, walk-in tubs can make bathing safer and more accessible, and they can also come with some fantastic therapeutic options that can boost health and well-being.
What About Walk-In Showers?
Many manufacturers offer some kind of walk-in shower, but it’s understandable if you’re wondering if most showers can’t be walked into already. The truth is, however, that many showers are combined with bathtubs, and so have the same high threshold that makes bathing such a risk and a challenge, and walk-in showers are meant to take away that barrier.
In addition, most walk-in showers improve on ordinary showers by offering some of the safety amenities of a walk-in tub—things like grab bars, textured surfaces, easy-to-use faucets, handheld showerheads and built-in seats. And some walk-in showers are actually “roll-in” showers—showers with a floor flush with the surrounding floor (or accessible via a ramp) that allow someone in a wheelchair to roll themselves into the stall and take a shower.
What About Wheelchairs?
While the standard walk-in tub is far more accessible than a standard tub, not all walk-ins are going to be usable by someone in a wheelchair—or, for that matter, someone who’s using a walker. So here’s a quick look at the ways in which walk-in tubs are and are not usable by someone in a wheelchair.
Most walk-in tub models are far easier to get into than an ordinary tub, but wheelchair accessibility requires more than just a low threshold. That’s why many manufacturers offer models that are specifically wheelchair accessible, mostly by coming with an outward-swinging door that exposes the entire side of the tub seat in order to make the wheelchair-to-tub transfer easier. Another variety of tub, called a rising-wall bath, allows the same access to the seat by dropping a recessed or sliding wall.
Just like walk-in tubs, walk-in showers may have many features that make them more accessible than ordinary showers—grab bars, low thresholds, and easy-to-use fixtures—but still not be usable by someone in a wheelchair. The solution that some manufacturers offer is a shower that’s flush with the floor (often with a drain that runs along the edge of the stall) that allows the user to roll themselves directly into the shower.
What Else Should I Consider?
Whatever features you’re looking out for in your walk-in tub, keep these details in mind as you shop:
- Because a walk-in tub has a door in the side, a bather has to wait inside while the tub fills, and also while it empties. Some models of tub offer the option of fast-filling faucets and fast drain systems, but if you’d rather not pay the additional money, ask yourself if you don’t mind waiting in the tub. If you think that will be a problem, you might want to consider a walk-in shower instead.
- Tubs vary in the amount of water they can hold, and some tubs may hold more water than your household hot water heater can supply. As you shop, be sure to consider the possibility that you’ll need a larger hot water heater. Or consider models that come with in-line heaters so they can supplement your heater’s capacity.
- Size matters: if you’re hoping to replace a current tub or shower with a walk-in model, make sure that the replacement will fit in the current tub’s footprint—and in smaller models look for tubs that come with extenders that will cover any gaps that might be left.
- Most models come with a left- or right- hand orientation of the drain and doors. It’s essential to make sure that your new tub will match the drain configuration of your current tub. And if you’re getting an outward-swinging door, make sure you’ll have enough space in your bathroom to use it.
- Be sure to check out the warranty that comes with the tub you’re considering. A lifetime warranty on the door seal is essential, since a leaking door could render your tub unusable. For everything else, keep in mind that a 5-10 year warranty is standard in the industry.
How will my tub be installed?
In making our choices for the best walk-in tubs and showers, we looked at a lot of consumer reviews, and reviewers mentioned issues with installation more than any other problem. That’s understandable: installing a walk-in bath can be as involved as any other remodeling project, and it’s best to go into the process with some understanding of what installation entails. So here are some questions to ask about installation before you purchase a walk-in tub.
Who’s going to install the tub?
Who does the installation often depends on where you buy the tub. If you buy through a manufacturer or dealer, it’s likely that they will arrange installation through a preferred installer of theirs—or through their own in-house installation professionals. Home and bath stores may have their own staff for this as well. But big box DIY stores are likely to simply refer you to a recommended installer, and won’t object if you have a trusted contractor you’d prefer to use, or even if you’d like to install it yourself. And while online retailers are increasingly likely to be able to recommend a local professional, you’ll be even less beholden to their recommendations.
Can I trust the installers?
Whether you’re going with a manufacturer’s preferred installer, choosing one recommended by your retailer, or opting to find your own, it never hurts to do your research. Look for online reviews, ask for references, and ask them about their approach to work and the amount of responsibility they’ll take for fixing any problems or any mistakes on their part.
Who is responsible?
If there’s a problem with your tub, who do you talk to—the manufacturer or the retailer? And if a problem arises during installation, who do you talk to then? If you’ve chosen a third-party contractor, or one simply recommended by a retailer, then they’ll be the ones you’ll need to talk to about fixing any issues, but if you’re dealing with a preferred installer or an in-house professional, check your contract and make sure that they or the seller will take responsibility. And even before you purchase, check online reviews of the tub manufacturer to see how responsive they’ve been to consumer complaints.
How Much Will a Tub Cost?
As you’re probably aware, walk-in baths tend to cost more than ordinary bathtubs and showers, and can sometimes cost quite a bit more, depending on the features you’re after. At the same time, however, walk-in tubs also offer quite a bit of value. For some people, getting the type of therapy that comes with a hot tub or whirlpool can mean a dramatic improvement in their quality of life, and being able to access those therapies independently, without worrying about safety or accessibility, can be priceless.
Value is also an essential consideration when you’re deciding between models and brands of tub. There are less expensive tubs on the market, but many of the more expensive tubs offer some important bonuses, like more robust warranties and a better record of customer satisfaction.
In addition, installation costs will, most likely, add a significant amount to the cost of the bath, especially if you’re opting for features—like hydro massage or fast-fill faucets—that could make outsized demands on your household plumbing. As you price models and brands, keep that additional price tag in mind.
Still, though, the cost of the unit itself is going to be the biggest single expense involved in purchasing a walk-in bath. So here’s a look at the most popular brands on the market today along with a range of prices for their models and some information on where to buy them.