How to Buy a Walk-In Tub
If you or a loved one find it difficult or are unable to get into and out of conventional bathtubs, it may be time to consider a walk-in tub. They are specifically designed with safety, convenience, and comfort in mind, sporting features such as internal grab bars, anti-slip floors, handheld showerheads, seating (cushioned or otherwise), hydrotherapy and/or whirlpool features. Some are even designed to keep the water from becoming too hot, as well as offering filling and drain systems that work much faster than standard bathtubs.
There is a key feature that most manufacturers don't specifically mention: walk-in tubs allow their owner to regain a measure of independence and take a bath without the assistance of another person. In the event that you have an in-home caregiver, this will benefit them as well. Walk-in tubs with seating will greatly reduce the demand that is typically placed upon their bodies when assisting people into and out of standard bathtubs.
Typically, walk-in tubs have either inward or outward-opening doors (facing either right or left, usually a choice left up to you), with a lip of about 5” beneath them. The inward-opening doors are generally considered to be a disadvantage when an emergency situation arrives due to the fact that water pressure holds the door closed. On the other hand, these are also thought to be more advantageous due to the fact that the same pressure helps to make this sort of model “self-sealing”. Outward opening doors require a special seal to insure that water cannot push it open or leak out.
Because walk-in tubs are deeper than standard ones, we recommend that even if you're planning on making your purchase online, consider going to a store to “try on” a few models to make sure they are comfortable and will suit your needs. Don't forget to keep in mind how much volume your water heater is capable of when looking them over so you can choose accordingly!
Installation & Sizes
Most walk-in tubs will install just as a regular one, with three sides touching the walls and one finished side exposed to the room. There are models available that are meant for corner installation, as well as freestanding models – the latter offering the convenience of movement when/if the walk-in tub is no longer necessary or you would like to place it in a different location. Your local plumber should be able to install one easily within a day and a half, possibly even less.
Many manufacturers will offer more than one size, so you needn't worry that you will be forced to choose from a limited selection. Nearly all walk-in tubs will fit where a standard (typically 30” to 32” wide) one would, so if you are planning to make the switch it should be relatively easy.
One of the largest tubs available on the market is 60” long by 32” deep, an excellent choice for a combination walk-in tub and shower for larger bathers. Smaller tubs start around 36” long by 33” deep, making them an ideal option for tight bathrooms or petite bathers. Mid-range sizes fall between these two extremes, and while they do not have the largest water capacity, they will still give the bather a highly immersive experience. If you find a tub that you like but it doesn't quite fit into your space at home, you can ask to see if it has an optional extender kit to fill in the extra space between your bath and the wall, as well as offer more surface to put your bathing accessories on.
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Walk-in tubs come with a variety of different bathing options so you can do everything from soak to enjoying an invigorating whirlpool's bath!
- Air Bath: If what you're looking for is a more gentle, invigorating massage without all the force of a whirlpool, the air bath would be your best bet. These are a more subtle, gentle, bubbly experience and use a blower to push heated air through many small holes in the bottom and/or sides. This will not result in forces stronger than soft tissue massage.
- Combination Whirlpool/Air: This is a great choice if you want the best of both hydrotherapy worlds, the ultimate control over your bath!
- Soaker: This is the no-frills version of walk-in tubs. Get in, fill it up with water, and enjoy!
- Whirlpool: This is the ideal choice for those wanting to massage sore joints and muscles. Using a pump to force water through jets, the whirlpool bath produces concentrated, vigorous deep tissue massage. When choosing a whirlpool walk-in tub, make sure that you can adjust the direction of the jets to get the best personal bathing experience.
Generally speaking, walk-in tubs are crafted from two materials:
- Fiberglass: Perhaps the most economical choice, fiberglass is lightweight and easy to install. There are downsides to going this route, however – the gel coat finish found on these tubs is not as durable as acrylic and they tend to scratch more readily. Since they are porous, you will have to be particularly mindful of mold and mildew. The average fiberglass tub will last anywhere from 1 to 8 years and they have a matte finish.
- Acrylic: A bit more pricey than fiberglass, acrylic tubs are not coated with color, but rather infused with it – this is especially nice if the finish does chip or scratch as it can be buffed away with no ill effects. They insulate better than fiberglass which means that your water will stay hot longer. It's even easier to clean! Acrylic tubs can last 30 or more years, are strong in terms of durability, and have a high gloss finish.