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Pros and cons of walk-in tubs

Walk-in baths can be good for anyone with mobility issues

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Written by Jessica Render
Edited by Justin Martino
Ella's Bubbles and Kohler Walk-In Bath
walk-in tub benefits and considerations
Walk-in tubs can make bathing easier and safer, but you should weigh some of the key benefits and considerations to decide if one is right for you. Here are the benefits. Number one is safety. A low step-in threshold, grab bars, or textured flooring reduces the risk of slipping and falling. Anti-scald valves help prevent burns from hot water, and self-cleaning systems reduce mold and bacteria. Number two is comfort. You don't have to lift your feet as high to enter, and you can sit while you bathe. Some tubs include heated seats or sound systems. Number three is health. Features such as chromotherapy, hydrotherapy, whirlpool massage, and air jets can treat joint pain, improve circulation, or help you relax to sleep. Here are the considerations. To enter or exit a walk-in tub, you would first need to fill or drain your tub. Filling a tub takes about seven minutes, while draining a tub takes about three to five minutes. While it is an add-on feature for most tubs, heated seats can help keep you warm while your tub fills or drains. And while deep but narrow tubs use less water than traditional bathtubs, larger models often use significantly more water. A walk-in tub is a big investment in your safety and long-term independence, and it can be much more affordable than moving to a nursing home or hiring a home health assistance service. Basic models can cost between $2,000 to $5,000 before installation. Extra features and professional installation can push that cost between $10,000 and $20,000. While you can pay for your tub in cash, there are also financing options through many walk-in tub suppliers to make the tubs more affordable. In addition, you can take out a low-interest personal loan, which helps to keep your savings intact. A tub's purchase cost may not include installation, particularly if you need to adjust walls or prepare wiring for extra features. Most walk-in tub companies require you to use their installation teams so the warranty on the tub will be valid, and they will handle all the home modifications needed to install your tub. Other walk-in tub companies, however, will allow you to purchase the product from them, but you will be responsible for obtaining contractors for installation. Walk-in tubs can bring safety and excellent quality of life, long-term independence, and comfort as long as you know what questions to ask to see if one is right for you. For more information, go to ConsumerAffairs.com to view our walk-in tubs buyers guide and find additional resources about making your home and bathroom safer.

A walk-in tub is a good option for people with limited mobility who are looking to make bathing safer, more comfortable and more therapeutic.

However, there are some downsides too. Weigh the pros and cons of buying a walk-in tub to help determine if it’s right for you.

Pros

  • Safer than traditional bathtubs
  • Therapy options help you relax
  • Provides symptom relief and improves circulation
  • Deeper water
  • Possible to maintain independence

Cons

  • More expensive than traditional bathtubs
  • Installation may require electrical and plumbing work
  • Could require a water heater upgrade
  • Longer fill and drain times
  • Usually not covered by Medicare

Benefits of walk-in tubs

elderly woman in walk-in bathtub

A walk-in tub makes bathing easier. Getting in or out of a traditional shower or tub can be uncomfortable and unsafe, especially for older adults and people with disabilities.

Safety is just one of the beneficial features. Some of the top walk-in tub models have customizable jets to massage your neck, legs, feet and back.

Depending on where you live, a walk-in tub could add value to your home, but there are also more potential advantages to having a this kind of tub.

Walk-in tub safety benefits

A walk-in tub is safer than a traditional tub because of its design; you can walk in over a low threshold and sit in the tub, so there's less chance of slipping and falling than with a traditional bathtub.

Walk-in tubs come with additional safety features, such as grab bars, anti-scald valves, slip-resistant flooring and built-in seating. Most of the top models follow ADA accessibility standards.

Walk-in tub comfort benefits

A walk-in tub can make bathing much more comfortable, especially if you have trouble standing in the shower or getting in and out of a standard tub.

The best walk-in tubs have heated seats and spa-like jets.

Walk-in tubs have lower entryways and are often deeper than traditional tubs, making it easier to clean your upper body. Since the water capacity is up to 80 gallons, it’s possible to get a full-body immersion soak.

Some manufacturers also offer a number of luxury features, including heated seats, LED lights for chromotherapy and sound systems.

Walk-in tub health benefits

Walk-in tubs make bathing safe and convenient, and they can also improve your overall health in several ways:

  • Symptom relief: Those suffering from conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, rheumatism, fibromyalgia or general muscle or joint pain and stiffness can benefit from the soothing effects of a walk-in tub.
  • Better circulation: A walk-in tub can also help improve overall circulation, leading to increased mobility and less pain.
  • Relaxation and stress relief: A walk-in tub can give you a relaxing and stress-relieving experience. It can also improve your quality of sleep with soothing chromotherapy, hydrotherapy, massage and air bath features.

You can also find tubs with self-cleaning systems, which resist mold and bacterial growth. Otherwise, cleaning the tub is similar to cleaning a standard bath.

Disadvantages of walk-in tubs

There are some disadvantages to having a walk-in tub. Anecdotally, some of the complaints ConsumerAffairs receives during phone surveys relate to complicated installations. You probably won’t get to “try it before you buy it,” and sometimes the tubs can get loud when they run.

Walk-in tub fill and drain times

Two downsides are that you have to get in the tub before you fill it and you can’t exit until it’s drained.

Standard walk-in tubs take six to eight minutes to fill up and up to 15 minutes to drain. Some newer models, like those from Kohler and Ella’s Bubbles, have quick drain technology that empties the tub in as few as two minutes.

Features like heated seats and advanced drains can help you stay warm throughout your bath, and a scald prevention valve is critical to preventing dangerously hot water from burning you.

Walk-in tub water usage

Some walk-in tubs hold much more water than traditional tubs, and supplying this much warm water can be taxing for many water heaters. If you’re buying a large walk-in tub, consult the manufacturer to see if your water heater is up to the task.

Not all walk-in tubs hold enough water to create this problem, though. An average tub holds about 50 gallons of water, while some walk-in tubs can hold up to 80 gallons.

While a walk-in tub is generally deeper than a traditional tub, this depth does not always equate to more volume. In some cases, a walk-in tub may be narrower than a standard tub, and the seat in a walk-in tub takes up much of its potential volume.

Walk-in tub cost

Walk-in tubs can cost significantly more than traditional bathtubs, especially if you include installation costs. Most soaker walk-in tubs cost between $2,000 and $5,000 before installation. Prices increase if you choose any extra features or optional upgrades.

Most soaker walk-in tubs cost between $2,000 and $5,000.

If the upfront cost of a walk-in tub seems daunting, ask about financing options to help spread out the expense over time. Medicare doesn't cover walk-in tubs, but some states offer assistance through Medicaid to help cover the initial cost of a walk-in tub or shower. Check within your state or city to see if an assistance program is available.

Also, consider the potential costs of alternatives to a walk-in tub. The costs of in-home care or moving to an assisted living facility can quickly exceed what you would spend upgrading your home.

Walk-in tub installation

Many walk-in tubs require professional installation, and companies don’t always include this in their cost estimates. Some homes, particularly older ones, may also need to have their electrical and plumbing systems updated before you can install a walk-in tub.

Another thing to keep in mind is that walk-in tubs are quite large — you need a relatively big bathroom for it to work. You might have to temporarily remove your door to fit the new tub inside.

Some walk-in tubs are more affordable to install than others. Gelcoat tubs are typically easier to lift and move and thus easier to get installed, while durable acrylic tubs are heavier and may take longer to install.

Your walk-in tub company should work with you to determine what needs to be done before installation.

Find a Walk-in Tub partner near you.

    Bottom line: Is a walk-in tub worth it?

    Overall, a walk-in tub might help anyone looking for a safer, more comfortable bathing experience. The most common reason older adults purchase walk-in bathtubs is to prevent falls while entering or exiting the tub. With high walls, a nonslip floor, a built-in seat and grab bars, it’s safer than a standard bathtub.

    A walk-in tub can be an excellent choice for anyone with limited mobility, including people with disabilities and those who don’t want to lose their independence. A walk-in bath is also a worthwhile investment for caregivers and family members of people with limited mobility.

    On the downside, walk-in tubs can be expensive and difficult to install. It could cost you $10,000 or more to pay for a tub and professional installation services.

    The tub relaxes real good. But it was awful d*mn expensive. $15,808 is a h*ll of a lot of money to pay for a tub.”
    Jim of Trafalgar, IN

    The installation process should go a lot smoother if you work with a reputable company. If you’re considering buying a walk-in tub, here are the questions you should ask.

    If you’ve decided it’s not for you, check some cheaper alternatives, like shower chairs and grab bars. You might also consider getting a medical alert system if you live alone.

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