You’ll want to pick a tub based on your needs. Here are the main types of walk in bath tubs:
This the basic type of tub. Safety is the main feature here. Soakers will have ADA-compliant features such as hand rails, a built-in seat and slip-resistant textured floors. They’re deep, too. Most soaker bathtubs have fast-acting drains so you can exit quicker (because the water needs to drain before you can open the tub door).
This type is similar to a hot tub or spa. Water jets create tiny bubbles which surround the bather. Whirlpool tubs usually also include an in-line heater which keeps the water warm during a long bath.
Whirlpool tubs are great for hydrotherapy. Consistent use can help decrease joint and muscle pain. Many people with arthritis and similar conditions prefer this type of tub. Works great to help rehabilitate injuries, too. Of course, you don’t need pain to find a whirlpool relaxing!
Whirlpools have special maintenance needs. The jets must be kept clean in order to function properly. Cleaning and rinsing the pipes of a whirlpool tub will take about half an hour, and can’t really be done by someone with limited mobility.
Aerotherapy and Hydrotherapy
The environment created by the tub has aerotherapeutic benefits. The warm and humid air created by the bubbling tub can help treat a variety of respiratory issues. Regular use can help keep sinuses free and clear.
These tubs are deep enough to allow for full body immersion. More than just a good soak, the deep tubs provides hydrotherapeutic health benefits. Many people use a whirlpool tub to both prevent and treat joint pain, including pain from arthritis.
Water helps relieve joint and muscle pain by taking weight off the body. Hot water relaxes muscles. Immune and circulatory systems are stimulated and massaged by the air jets.
Specialized hydrotherapy features are also available. Tubs can be equipped with underwater treadmills, support bars and more. The deep water provides low-impact resistance to help strengthen muscles and joints.
Walk-ins bathtubs are deeper than traditional tubs, but usually aren’t wider. This poses a problem for anyone who is larger, generally over 300 pounds. Bariatric tubs are an effective solution here.
Bariatric tubs have a wide door opening and a large built-in seat. They can accommodate just about anyone of any size. Like other walk-ins, bariatric tubs have grab bars, a low step, a textured floor and other safety features. Generally, a bariatric is the sturdiest and widest type of walk-in bathtub. They can support upwards of 600 pounds and a width of 30 inches or more.
Even a small step-in threshold can pose a challenge for anyone in a wheelchair. Fortunately, wheelchair accessible tubs are an option. They have large doors with clear access to the built-in seat. Bathers can easily slide from wheelchair to bath chair.
With a wheelchair accessible tub, you want full ADA compliance. Tubs average a depth of about 65 gallons, a length of 60 inches and a width of 30 inches. Most will have a door which swings outward. Extra options include air jets, whirlpool jets and more.
Combination Walk-In Bathtub
Tubs with a shower are very popular. In most cases, the shower is a hand-held wand which can be placed into a fixed, stationary holder when desired. Other walk in bathtub and shower combinations have a permanent shower head which can’t be moved. If you like the option of either showering or taking a bath, walk in tub with shower options are available from all major brands.
Common Walk In Tub Features
In order the find the best tub, first determine why you want one. Different features will help you achieve different results. Here are three general reasons people buy tubs:
These tubs have a wide range of potential health benefits including reducing aches and pains, increasing mobility, and improving circulation. Some common features found in a therapeutic tub include:
- Aromatherapy – Natural oils which help promote physical and emotional well-being.
- Chromotherapy – Colored lights, including underwater lights, create a soothing effect.
- Water Temp Control – Gives you a steady supply of hot water without danger of scalding.
- Hydro-Jet Therapy – Massaging jets. Quality tubs average about 10 jets.
Seniors, overweight people and anyone else with an increased risk of falling want a tub which emphasizes safety. These tubs are often a valuable part of any “age at home” plan. Common safety features include:
- Anti-Slip Tub Floor – Secure texture provides sure footing even when wet.
- Built-In Chair – No-slip seat is both comfortable and safe. ADA compliant.
- Quick Release Drain – Exit the tub quickly after a bath. No waiting for slow draining.
- Wide, No-Step Door – Extra-wide, low door for the obese and wheelchair-bound.
- Built-in Grab Bars – Provide a dependable handhold when entering and exiting tub.
- “Safe Water” Cleaning System– Easy way to keep your tub in great working order.
- Anti-Scald Technology – Keeps water warm while preventing accidental burns.
- Low-Step – Perfect for those with limited mobility and balance issues.
- In-Front Access Panels – Allows for quicker repairs if necessary.
- Aluminum Frame – Sold structure provides long-lasting durability.
- Interior Gel-Coat – Keeps tub sanitary and mold-free.
Comfort and Convenience
Beyond safety and therapy, a walk-in tub turns your bathroom into a spa. A warm, relaxing bath is a great way to de-stress. While these tubs have great medical benefits, they’re also a welcome relief for everyday aches and pains. Here are some quality of life features you might want for your tub:
- Heated Seat – Because who wants to sit down on a cold chair?
- Anti-Slip Comfort Seat – Soft cushion stays comfy even during a long soak.
- No-Strength Locking Handle – Minimal arm strength required to open and close tub door.
- Hand-held Shower Wand – Easy and lightweight.
- Solid-Surface Finish – Stain and scratch resistant. Easy to clean.
- Lifetime Warranty – Most manufacturers offer a money-back guarantee.
Here’s a helpful video from American Standard on some common options:
Your bathroom is unique. Your tub can be unique, too. Fortunately, there are plenty of options available. Here are the most common:
Raised Hand-Held Shower System
Many people want the safety of a tub but the convenience of a shower. A hand-held shower system is an easy way to bathe without having to fill the entire tub. Shower wands have adjustable spray options.
You can add a fixed holder for the shower wand. This holds the shower head in a permanent spot, like a traditional shower. You can still easily remove the shower head for use while sitting.
You can enter the tub without having to lift your leg very high. Most tubs have a step-in threshold between three and five inches.
If that’s still too high, tubs with an even lower threshold are available. Combined with an adjustable built-in seat, even people with practically zero mobility can be helped in and out of the bath easily.
Neck rests and other seating options let you relax in comfort and style. If you enjoy spending a long time in the tub, there are special hot water regulators you can use, too. They provide a steady stream of warm water. They also automatically prevent scalds from sudden spikes of hot water.
Your new tub isn’t going to necessarily be the same size as your old one. In many cases, you’ll end up with a space between your tub and your wall. Extenders match your tub and existing décor. Aside from looking good, extenders also protect your bathroom from water and electrical damage.
Inward vs. Outward Doors
As the deep tub fills, the water presses against the (tightly sealed) door. If the door opens inward, the water actually helps the door stayed close. Inward opening doors are usually the cheaper option.
Outward-opening doors are made to resist the water weight of the full tub. They’re a bit more complex, so they’re a bit more expensive. But there are many good reason you might want an outward opening door. They provide easier access for both obese people and people in wheelchairs.
Fiberglass vs. Acrylic Shells
Walk in tub shower combos are made from either fiberglass or acrylic molds. Roughly 90% are made with fiberglass. Fiberglass is strong, rigid and usually coated with a triple gel epoxy. Fiberglass is usually the cheaper option.
Acrylic is long-lasting and strong. Acrylic is also considered to be easy to clean. You won’t have any problems with discoloration.
Both materials have similar strengths. Either will work fine for most people. Many tubs are made with an acrylic base but reinforce the tub mold with fiberglass.
Frame vs. Frameless
Framed tubs have aluminum or composite frames which surround partitions and anywhere else where water might escape. Seals, sweeps and magnets create a watertight fit.
Frames create a reliable barrier against leaks. They’re also cheaper than frameless. However, the biggest drawback to frames is they limit doors to only opening out.
Frameless enclosures use pivots and heavy-duty glass to block water. You have great design options with frameless. However, frameless options are somewhat limited due to the increased depth of the tub.
Accessories for Walk-in Bathtubs
There are a variety of options to enhance the bathing experience. Quick fill and drain features ensure you don’t have to sit for a long time before and after your bath. Padded seats and neck cushions create a comfortable experience. Outward opening doors provide easier access, including wheelchair access.
Here’s a great example of a “quick drain” feature from Jacuzzi:
Step-in tubs vary in size and shape but most are between 26 and 32 inches wide. They’ll normally fit into a 60-inch space, which is the length of a standard bathtub. If your new tub is shorter than 60 inches, a tub extension is a safe and stylish way to close the gap.
The height of the tub walls will vary. Average wall height is three feet. The step threshold averages between three and seven inches. More accessible doorways are available with bariatric tubs and outward opening doors.
Is Your Home Appropriate for a Walk-in Tub?
As a general rule, if you have a traditional bathtub in your home, you can probably safely install a walk-in. The two biggest considerations are going to be the size of your bathroom and the strength of your floor.
Walk-ins are usually a bit shorter than a traditional 60-inch tub. You can use a bathtub extender to bridge gaps. Extenders aren’t just for aesthetics. They also help protect your bathroom from potential water damage.
When filled, the tubs hold an average of 40 to 50 gallons of water. That’s roughly 375 pounds. While a house should be able to support that amount of weight, an apartment or condo might not. You’ll need to consult with qualified plumbers and builders before attempting any installation.
What Should I Expect to Pay?
Purchasing the tub and paying for installation are two separate price tags you’ll need to add together to estimate the total cost. Where you buy the tub, and who installs it, can have a significant impact on the final bill. Here’s a closer look:
Medicaid & Medicare
For the most part, you should be prepared to pay for your tub out-of-pocket. Medicare does not generally pay for walk-in tub purchase or installation. In the (very) rare cases a tub is covered, payment will be in the form of a reimbursement.
Medicaid is more likely to cover a therapeutic tub. Specifics will vary by state. Each state runs their own Medicaid programs, but many issues can be covered including chronic joint pain, arthritis and even pregnancy!
Showrooms & Local Distributors
While showrooms give you a chance to personally examine a variety of tubs, they also have a high overhead. Buying a tub from a showroom is generally about 25% to 30% more expensive than other methods. Some local distributors offer installation services while others do not.
- Average purchase price:Between $4,000 and $8,000
- Installation: Additional $1,500 to $3,000
Online shopping often offers low prices, but you need to be careful of anything which seems too good to be true. Some super low-cost tubs use imported, low-quality electrical components. When shopping online, stick to reputable brands. Feel free to ask for referrals.
Major manufacturers often employ installation and service crews. However, this can be limited to certain service areas. You might be responsible for hiring your own plumbing specialist.
- Average Purchase Price:Between $1,500 and $7,500
- Installation: Additional $1,500 to $3,000
In-Home Sales Consultation
Your bathroom is unique. An in-home consultation is a great way to find the perfect tub for your specific situation. A sales rep will come out to your home. They’ll measure your bathroom, listen to your concerns and present you with several custom-tailored solutions.
There are downsides to in-home consultations. Meeting with the sales rep can take upwards of an hour. Also, sales rep are obviously going to push their products, so you might feel pressured to buy more tub features than you really need.
If price isn’t your main concern, in-home sales presents an easy, all-in-one solution. The sales rep will help you navigate the entire process from start to finish.
- Average Purchase and Installation Combo Price: Between $5,000and $20,000
Unless you’re remodeling your entire bathroom, you probably shouldn’t spend more than $10,000 on both the tub and installation. If you’re ever quoted a price over $10,000, do some comparison shopping to make sure you’re not overpaying.
Big Box Retailers
Lowe’s, Home Depot and other large retailers offer tubs, too. Some have floor models you can inspect while others offer their products only through web listing and catalog.
The benefits here are price and warranty. Retailers offers deals in order to stay competitive. You can potentially find deep discounts on quality tubs. Also, most major retailers will also offer an additional warranty or return policy beyond the manufacturer’s guarantee.
Drawbacks to purchasing from a big box store include a lack of selection and personal attention. Due to size limitations, most stores will only have one or two display models. Their online selection can be larger, but even then inventory is often relatively sparse.
While a large online store will have reliable return policies and warranties, you probably won’t get much personal attention. The sales staff will probably know general plumbing, but not many specifics about walk-in shower and tub combos. Plus, big box retailers typically don’t offer installation.
- Average Purchase Price:Between $2,500 and $6,000
- Third-party Installation: $1,500to $3,000
Unless you’re a plumbing professional, installing your walk-in bathtub isn’t a project you can do on your own. Safe installation involves plumbing, electrical, framing, tiling and more. Hiring the right installation team is an important part of the process.
Some tub manufacturers offer installation services. Others simply ship the tub to your house, in which case you’ll need to hire installers.
Most professional plumbers will be able to install a walk-in tub/shower combo. If you already know of a trusted plumber in your area, that’s a good place to start. Otherwise, you’ll need to find someone qualified in your area.
If you purchase your tub from an in-home consultation, installation will often be included in the purchase price. Some local showrooms will also offer installation. If you order your tub online, most likely you’ll be responsible for installation.
There are advantages to using the manufacturer’s installation team. They’ll be very familiar with the product. This can help not just with installation but also if you ever need repairs in the future.
At the same time, they’ll also likely be more loyal to the company than you. An independent plumber is able to recommend features, add-ons and more from other companies. Plus, an independent plumber can be cheaper.
TheraTub put together a neat time-lapse video of a common installation. Take a look:
Walk In Tub Maintenance
Regular maintenance is necessary to keep your tub in top working order. Fortunately, maintenance is usually pretty simple. After each bath, rinse all surfaces with the hand-held shower head.
Once a week, you’ll want to use a mild cleanser to clean all surfaces. Make sure the cleanser is safe for use on a gel coat.
Once a month, you’ll want to clean the entire system. To do so, first you fill the tub up with warm water. The water level should be just about the highest jet. Then you add a spoonful of dish washing detergent and a cup of bleach. Run the whirlpool system for 15 minutes. This removes dirt and residue.
Drain the tub and then fill with warm water. Run the whirlpool system for another 15 minutes. This rinses out the pipes. After draining the tub, rinse it out with warm water.
If your tub starts to lose its finish, you can apply car polishing compound. This will help add shine and remove scratches. Wipe off and rinse away residue thoroughly when finished.
Walk in baths are large, heavy appliances which use both water and electricity. You want to take precautions to ensure your tub is safe! This includes verifying safety certifications.
If you’re in the U.S., you’ll want to verify the tub meets the standards set by the American Standards Association. The Canadian equivalent for this organization is the Canadians Standards Association Safety Certification. Here’s where to go for more information on each:
Buyers should verify that their new tub is certified. With most major manufacturers, your tub should be perfectly safe. But it’s better to double-check before installation! You don’t want to later find out your tub might be dangerous.
Aside from UL/CSA Certification, there are four additional certifications you’ll want to inspect:
- The International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials(plumbing safety)
- The Edison Testing Labs of North American Safety Certification for Electrical Equipment (electrical safety)
- The American National Standards Institute (product safety standards)
- The American with Disabilities Act(ensures ADA compliance)
Not every tub needs every certification. For instance, you might be mobile enough that ADA compliance isn’t a major concern for you. However, the more certifications, the better. If you find a tub with ZERO certifications, that’s probably a tub you want to avoid.
You’ll want to take a closer look at the warranties provided by the manufacturer. Most manufacturers will offer two separate warranties. One will be for the tub body and the other for the tub seal.
For the seal, you want a lifetime guarantee. After all, if the seal is defective or damaged beyond repair, the tub can’t be filled. Warranties for the tub body generally have a limit. You want coverage for at least ten years after purchase.
You’ll want a separate warranty to cover installation. If the manufacturer installs the tub, then all of your warranties will be with the same company. If you hire a third-party installer, you’ll want to carefully inspect their warranties and guarantees before installation begins.
Before installation, you’ll want to check with your homeowner’s insurance provider. Damage from a leaky tub can be extensive and costly.
When dealing with any manufacturer or plumbing professional, check with the Better Business Bureau. You’ll also want to check online for reviews, testimonials and so on. Manufacturers and plumbing professionals should be happy to provide you with testimonials from satisfied customers.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Walk-In Tub?
A therapeutic bathtub which uses a door to provide a low-step threshold. Walk-ins have a step between three and seven inches high, while a traditional tub can be 12 inches or higher.
They also have numerous safety features including a built-in chair, hand rails, secure floor grip and more.
What are the Benefits?
The safety features help prevent slips and falls. Plus, the combination of warm water and whirlpool jets helps relieve aches and pains.
How Much Do Walk In Tubs Cost?
You’re not just buying the tub. You’ll also need to pay for installation. Some manufacturers sell tubs and install them. Others just sell tubs.
Tubs average between $2,000 and $5,000. Installation averages around $2,000. As a general rule, you shouldn’t pay more than $10,000 total unless you’re completely remodeling your bathroom.
What Features are Available?
A basic tub has a doorway for low entry, handrails and a built-in chair. Expensive models have extra bells and whistles such as whirlpool jets, neck pillows, hot water regulators and much more.
Who Benefits from a Walk In Tub?
Seniors, people with mobility issues and anyone else with an increased risk of falling. The safety features allow for independent living.
Walk In Tub Terminology
- Walk-In Tub – Home bathtub with high sides, a built-in chair and a small door with a low step for entry.
- Whirlpool Jets – Built-in bubble generation system.
- Tub Threshold – Step height required to enter the tub. Average walk-in threshold is three inches.
- Extension – Material used to cover empty space between tub and wall.
- Hand-Held Shower Head – Moveable, flexible shower head. Can rest in a fixed position.
- Grab Bars – Sturdy bars used to support bathers as they enter and exit the tub.
- Drain and Overflow Kit – The system which keeps water from flowing out of the tub.
- Inward Door – A sealed door which opens into the tub. Usually the least expensive option.
- Outward Door – A sealed door which opens away from the tub. Wide but more expensive.
- Industrial Grade Acrylic – High-quality, durable plastic with fiberglass reinforcement. Coated with gel.
- Marine Grade Gel Coat – Covered the tub to protect against scratches and add finish.