Walk-in bathtubs can seem like complicated appliances to purchase if you’re new to them. Manufacturers offer a wide range of options, styles, and price points. But we’ve simplified the process by dividing the factors into categories and explaining each one.
The cost of walk-in tubs varies quite a bit depending on size and features. The models chosen by our Reviews Team are some of the most affordable walk-in bathtubs on the market, but installation will add to the cost of your new walk-in tub.
The cost of installation can vary as well and is affected by how much work, if any, needs to be done on the existing plumbing and electrical system, as well as any other construction needed for installation of the new tub.
Measure the space of your current tub or shower (or wherever you’re planning to install the new walk-in tub). When shopping, have these measurements handy so you can choose a walk-in bathtub that’s the same size. If it’s smaller, that’s usually fine too—many come with an extender kit to fill in any remaining gaps at the end or on one side.
Most walk-in tubs are about 40 inches high, compared to the standard 20-inch height of most standard bathtubs. This extra height accommodates the bench and allows the bather to be submerged in water.
It’s important to know what size of seat you will need to bathe safely and comfortably. A member of our Reviews Team (see figure 1 below) sat in a few different models with seats that measured 23 inches wide by 15 inches deep, which is standard for many walk-in tubs. While she found those seats to be adequately sized for her 5-foot 5-inch frame, someone taller and/or larger would likely have felt cramped.
Figure 1 A member of our Reviews Team tests the size of a walk-in tub
Walk-in tubs come in all different sizes, including those for couples and larger people. If you’re concerned about having enough room on the seat, look around to find a model that’s big enough for your comfort.
You also don’t want a seat that isn’t deep enough. This could be a matter not only of convenience but also safety; a shallow seat may cause you to slip off when turning around while bathing or reaching for something behind you, for instance.
In addition to the walk-in tub’s dimensions, check to see which side the drain is on. You’ll want to make sure it’s on the same side as your current tub’s drain to avoid extra plumbing costs during installation.
The hallmark of a walk-in tub is that it has a much lower threshold to step over than a standard bathtub. But not all walk-in thresholds are equal. Some are taller than others (typically between three and seven inches), which the models above demonstrate, and some are shorter to allow for easier access for wheelchair users to transfer.
Most walk-in tubs on the market come with the following standard safety features:
- Low threshold to step into tub, usually fewer than 7 inches tall
- Handles or grab bars inside the tub
- Built-in seat compliant with ADA wheelchair accessibility standards for height
- Textured, non-slip surfaces
- Leak-proof door
Some walk-in tubs also offer overheating protection (also known as anti-scald valves). As an added safety measure, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends setting the maximum temperature on your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent burns.
The design and safety features of walk-in tubs can also help caregivers who may need to bathe older adults or people with a disability. A walk-in tub makes it easier for caregivers to move around in the bathroom without getting wet, and reach all angles of the bathtub to help someone bathe.
In addition to the standard features above that help ensure your safety while bathing, many walk-in tub makers offer some or all of the following special features.
Some models offer a hand-held showerhead attachment. This can make it easier to rinse your back and other hard-to-reach areas.
Some models include a cushioned headrest, which can provide comfort and support while you relax in the bath.
Fast draining capabilities
Some tubs come with two drains and/or a pump that quickly empties the tub after your bath. This is especially nice for people who are not able to dry off while waiting for the tub to drain.
Certain brands such as American Standard and Ella’s Bubbles offer quick draining technology as a standard feature, but other brands consider it an upgrade.
Also called water massage, hydro massage, and whirlpool, some walk-in tubs include jets that force water from the side of the tub into the sitting area, providing relaxation for sore or tense muscles. Keep in mind water massage is stronger than air massage, and it may be too strong for some people’s enjoyment.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns whirlpools can carry a higher risk of bacteria in the water compared to standard tubs.
For this reason, it’s important to talk to your doctor before using a whirlpool or hot tub of any kind if you have an open wound, burn, infection, or a compromised immune system.
Air jet massage
Air jets work the same way as water jets, but instead of water coming through, air is forced through the jets into the tub. This gives more of a gentle, bubbling feeling to the bath rather than the strong massage of water jets.
Studies show that aromatherapy, or treatment with essential oils, can help boost mood, relieve anxiety, and lessen pain.
Certain walk-in bathtub brands, such as Ella’s Bubbles and American Standard, offer the option of infusing the water with essential oils, potentially making your bath even more relaxing.
Also known as chromotherapy, color therapy is a centuries-old method of treating the mind and body through colored lights. While studies vary in validity and reliability, research has shown that color therapy can be beneficial for a variety of illnesses, from high blood pressure to wound healing.
Some manufacturers offer walk-in tubs with an array of changing light colors. Whether they’re truly beneficial or not, many people enjoy relaxing in a colorful bath.
Ease of cleaning
This is an important factor, especially if you buy a large walk-in tub or have problems with mobility and balance. Walk-in tubs are harder to clean than standard tubs or showers due to their larger size and depth compared to standard tubs.
If you have a caregiver or housekeeper who can clean the tub, that is a definite plus. Certain tubs are also self-cleaning, which means the jets spray a cleaner into the tub after each use. In the case of Ella’s Bubbles walk-in tubs, the ozone created during use and automatic emptying of the jets after use also helps clean the inside of the tub.
For larger people or those in wheelchairs, it’s important to pay close attention to the size of the seat and the width of the door on any tub you’re interested in.
First, decide what size seat you will feel comfortable sitting on to bathe without bumping the sides of the tub. It’s often not possible to try a tub out before purchasing it, but you can use the seat measurements from a manufacturer’s website or brochure and compare them to a chair or recliner you often use at home.
Practice reaching behind your back and turning in the seat to make sure you can move around without losing your balance. If you’re concerned about having enough room in the tub, it’s worth the time and effort to make sure you’re happy with the size offered before ordering one. Ending up with a seat that’s too narrow or not deep enough to sit on safely will affect your experience (and possibly your safety) while using a walk-in tub.
Next, check out the door. Look at the width to make sure you can get in and out easily. For people in wheelchairs, walk-in tub manufacturers offer accessible tubs with wide doors that swing out to allow easy transfer onto the tub seat.
It’s a good idea to have an occupational or physical therapist, or a nurse experienced in older adult care conduct a home safety evaluation before purchasing a walk-in tub with an outward-swinging door. They can evaluate your bathroom space, spot any hazards that need to be addressed when installing the tub, and talk you through getting in and out of the tub. You can usually set up an evaluation by asking your doctor for a prescription, which will ensure that insurance or Medicare pays for it.
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to try out most walk-in tubs before ordering them. While some box stores do have a few models on their floor, most of the options are only available to look at online. Bath remodeling companies and walk-in tub manufacturers have even fewer choices to see in-person before buying.
Instead, they send a representative to your home to measure your bathroom space and look through models with you online. You make your choices on the model and features you want, and complete the ordering process with the representative. This can feel like a high-pressure sale for some people, although it does give you the chance to ask questions and speak to someone knowledgeable about that brand.
Buying a walk-in bathtub from a home improvement store can give you some of the best return options, as most of the large chains have store-wide return policies on all of their items. For instance, Home Depot offers standard 90-day returns on its walk-in tubs.
Manufacturers’ return policies vary, though. While some manufacturers such as Ariel provide a 90-day return policy similar to most home improvement stores, others, like AmeriGlide, do not accept any returns on their walk-in bathtubs.
American Standard and Ella’s Bubbles fall in the middle, both accepting returns within 30 days. Ella’s Bubbles charges a 25% restocking fee, though, which could be up to $2,000, depending on the cost of the tub.
One company the Reviews Team called (but didn’t include in this review) would not give a definite answer on returns, saying it would depend on the circumstances and how much the tub had been customized.
It’s important to see the return policy in writing before ordering, so you know what recourse you have if the tub arrives damaged or you simply don’t like it once you see it in person. For example, the seat may not be comfortable, or it may be hard to reach the faucet and controls while seated in the tub. One of our Reviews Team members was surprised at how much pressure it took to hold the door closed while latching the handle on several walk-in tub models.
Whatever the case, your new walk-in tub needs to be easy for you to use. After all, convenience is one of the major reasons many people buy a walk-in tub in the first place. If it’s not easy to use, it won’t be convenient for you to take a bath in.
Our Reviews Team recommends buying a walk-in bathtub from a company with a return window. This will give you the chance to sit in the tub, try out the door and controls, and make sure the grab bars are conveniently placed for you, all before installing it.
If it doesn’t seem like a good fit, you can exchange the tub for a different model. While returning an item this large is a hassle, it’s far better to get the right model than to spend thousands of dollars on a walk-in tub that doesn’t meet your needs.
Most manufacturers provide a lifetime warranty on the door seal. This is critical because without a secure, waterproof seal, you won’t be able to use your walk-in tub. On other parts such as the jets, controls, and tub shell, 5-10 years of warranty coverage is standard.