Even those seniors who aren’t prone to falls and who prefer showers may eventually find that the benefits of soaking in a tub cannot be denied. The Arthritis Association strongly recommends the use of warm water as a therapeutic remedy for certain conditions.
There are four types of walk-in tubs: A soaker, a hydro-jet, an air massage, or a combination of these. A good soak can relieve joint and muscle pain, as well as relax one for a better night’s sleep. Additionally, immersing one’s self in a tub with colloidal (very finely ground) oatmeal is a proven method for relieving the itch of dry skin, a common condition for as people age.
In fact, the addition of senior-friendly bathroom features like a walk-in tub not only results in a safer home setting for older adults, providing an alternative to a costly assisted living facility but may also serve to increase the value of the home.
A walk-in tub can be purchased at a local big-box retailer, such as Lowe’s or Home Depot or, if you prefer to work directly with the factory, there are many options, including American Standard, Kohler, Safe Step, Premier, and Jacuzzi.
Manufacturers of walk-in bathtubs continue to develop features to entice seniors. The introduction of various forms of therapy – aroma, audio, and light/color therapy – can make taking a bath not only more pleasant and even therapeutic, but downright spa-like.
When it comes to walk-in tubs, there are variations in style including a standard-size bathtub with a door and low threshold for easy in and out or a full-size walk-in bathtub (as tall as 47”) with a seat and a wide array of optional features. There is a smaller, movable version of the latter, a practical choice when space is at a premium or a walk-in tub is not needed on a regular basis. This article will focus on the qualities of the full-size walk-in tub.
Walk-In Tub Features
Fitting a walk-in tub into the desired space (usually as a replacement of a standing tub) comes with some consideration. Walk-in tub dimensions can measure anywhere from as small as 36.5″ long x 33.5″ wide x 29.5″ high to as large as 60″ x 32″ x 47″. Where needed, most manufacturers can adapt a smaller unit for a larger space by adding the framework to fill in the otherwise empty space.
The following are features to look for when shopping for a walk-in tub.
- A sufficiently wide and low threshold for a safe entrance and exit. (A standard bathtub is about 30” high. There are walk-in tubs that are as low as 3”, though most are more like 6”.)
- An easy-to-work door (whether positioned at the front of the tub or on the side, as suits the bathroom space).
- A door sufficiently wide that provides a seal tight enough to keep water from leaking out and that closes with at least a double-latching system.
- If needed, there are models that allow an easy transfer from a wheelchair to a bath seat.
- Non-skid floor and surfaces.
- Solidly attached grab bars to install where useful.
- A tub rim that allows the bather a firm grip should they want to shift position.
- A seat sitting 17” above the floor, sufficiently wide enough for the bather.
- A control panel positioned appropriately for the bather and is both easy to read and use.
- Faucets that fit well in the hand and are clearly marked.
- Anti-scald water temperature control.
- Handheld push-button controls that are easy to use, even if the bather has arthritis.
- Adjustable air and/or water jets are typically included.
Ideally, the material used for the body of the tub (a hard acrylic, most commonly) is easily cleanable, will not stain, and is highly chip- or crack-resistant.
Some manufacturers may offer a more comprehensive warranty, but a buyer should expect at least a lifetime limited warranty on all the tub’s factory-installed components.
Additional Features and Options of Walk-In Tubs
A basic walk-in bathtub might be enough for some users, but there are many added features to choose from. Depending on what one’s doctor recommends and one’s own tastes, the bathing experience can be made as relaxing or therapeutic as one wants.
Here are some of the more popular options currently offered by manufacturers:
- A self-cleaning walk-in tub: This type of tub incorporates one or more of these following technologies: (1) Automatically clean the air jets of mold; (2) an ozone sanitation system to remove bacteria, viruses, harmful minerals and hydrogen sulfide (smells like rotten eggs); or (3) medical grade Ultraviolet (UV) light to eradicate yeast, bacteria, viruses, mold, and algae.
- An extra-wide door.
- An extra-wide seat.
- A powered seat that helps to raise or lower the bather, making the entrance and exit safer.
- A quick-release drain: The bather can’t exit the tub until the water has drained; the quicker it drains, the more comfortable the bather will be. A quick-release drain might drain the tub in as little as two to three minutes. A fast-fill option is also available.
- Hydrotherapy: This approach incorporates an air or water jet system to massage the bather. The jets can be angled to provide a maximum effect in treating the bather’s aches, pains, and tension.
- Dual Hydrotherapy Walk-in Bathtubs (aka dual massage walk-in bathtubs): This term refers to a tub that utilizes both air and water jets to generate the most thorough massage possible in this scenario.
- Aromatherapy: Many studies have proven that exposure to certain scents can result in reduced anxiety and depression while stimulating creativity and helping to ensure a good night’s sleep.
- Chromotherapy: Though it lacks scientific backing, light and color therapy has long been thought to have a positive effect. E.g., some believe that red enhances circulation while green purportedly has a calming result. A series of LED lights are placed around the sides and floor of the bathtub. Depending on the effect the bather is looking for, at the push of a button they can select the color(s) they want.
- Audio Therapy: Whether it’s the songs of whales, Vivaldi, or rocking out to Jerry Lee Lewis, the right background sound can take the bather to a better state of mind.
- An adjustable heating element to warm the seat and surrounding area, keeping the bather warm while the tub is filling or emptying. This feature may use as little electricity as a lightbulb while making the bathing experience infinitely more comfortable.
- A Multifunction Handheld Shower: This type of showerhead can be held in the hand, the spray directed as the bather chooses. Handheld showerheads can be simple devices, with one setting, or have multiple settings that vary the water flow from a gentle mist on through a range of intensities, serving as a handheld water jet/massager.
- A Shower Enclosure: For those who want to stand for at least part of their bathing experience, an enclosure can be added to the bathtub. The result is a combo walk-in tub and shower which can be used by anyone, disabled or not.
- For those who want to share a tub with a companion, there are tubs-for-two.
Other Considerations for Walk-In Tubs
There’s no arguing that walk-in bathtubs have made life easier, safer, and better for many seniors. That said, there are a couple of potential negatives, though – as the word “potential” implies – they can be resolved.
One involves the water heater. The full-size walk-in requires more water than a traditional tub. Be sure your current water heater is up to the task of providing enough hot water. If a new one is needed, also factor in the cost of installation.
Another issue is the time it takes the bath to fill and drain. The bather, after all, must enter the tub when it’s empty and wait for it to drain before leaving. Is there a guarantee of a fast-fill and fast-drain? (Be sure your pipes are wide enough to assist the manufacturer’s system). Even if the answer is yes to both, does the tub automatically come with a heating system to warm the bench and other surfaces to ward of a chill for the bather, both at the beginning and end of the bath? If not, seriously consider adding these options to your purchase.
The third concern is a bathtub that is poorly designed for the bather. If the door isn’t positioned correctly or the tub is in a very small space, it may render the tub useless. Or, perhaps the door opens out instead of in or the faucets and other controls are not shaped or positioned in such a way as to make them easy for the user to manipulate. Such problems can be avoided by recognizing the limitations of both the space and the needs of the person who will be using the tub.
How Much Does a Walk-In Bathtub Cost?
|Low End||High End|
|Safe Step Tub||$9,000||$25,000|
*Prices are averages and may not accurately reflect current prices that may fluctuate with seasonality, stock availability, new models or manufacturer rebates. Prices do not include installation. Be sure to ask for any discounts, rebates, or specials that may be offered. Since official prices aren’t published by manufacturers, this information was compiled from a variety of sources.
The average cost of a full-size walk-in tub will depend on the brand, how you customize it, the size, where you buy it, and the complexity of the installation. If hiring a professional to install it, the prices can range from $1,500 to $25,000.
There are two primary sources for a new walk-in tub: Big Box stores or direct from the manufacturer. It’s reasonable to visit a store to assess the virtues of what is available. Working directly with a manufacturer who also installs tubs may offer discounts as well as free shipping. Before talking prices, expect the manufacturer to require an in-home visit by one of their installers who will analyze your specific physical situation. The installer will also help you envision the perfect tub to help you arrive at the most desirable choice for your home and your budget.
Considering only tubs designed for one bather, we’ll look at the key elements of that store’s least expensive, most expensive, and a popular, moderate-priced tub.
Walk-In Tubs from Big Box Stores
Least expensive: The Pinnacle by Signature Bath – $1,688.59. Specs: (Exterior) 47” long, rectangular, left-side drain and door, durable high-luster acrylic finish, large inward opening door, safety door drain, adjustable leveling feet. Non-whirlpool cannot add heating option.
Most expensive: The Ella Lounger – $7,668. Specs: (Exterior) 59” l x 26.75” w x 43” h, 3-latch door, heated seat and backrest, fast-fill-and-drain system, 5.5” threshold, 14 therapeutic air massage jets with variable speeds, infusion microbubble therapy to moisturize and exfoliate skin, pull-out handheld shower, and more.
Moderately priced: Universal Tubs HD Series – $4,649.99. Specs: (Exterior) 52.8” l x 29.5 w x 37.5 h, soaking depth of 30”, Hand shower, Heater, Tub filler, Fiberglass, adjustable jet direction and flow, chromotherapy.
Least expensive: Ariel 51 – $1,979.01. Specs: Available in left- or right-hand model, rectangular, 51” l x 26” w x 38” h, heavy-duty reinforced door system, handheld showerhead and Roman faucet included, built-in safety grab bar in tub. No jets or air injectors.
Most expensive: Jacuzzi Finestra – $10,353. Specs: (Exterior) 60” l x 36” w x 38.5” h, soaking depth of 31.5”, whirlpool and air bath, acrylic tub, water capacity 127 gallons, pillow, remote control, 16 air injectors, 10 jets, adjustable jet direction and flow,
Moderately priced: American Standard Model Gelcote Value Series – $4,609.20. Specs: (Exterior) 51.5” l x 29.75” w x 42” h, soaking depth 36.75” combination air spa and whirlpool massage, heater included, 8 jets, 1 jet setting.
Walk-In Tubs Direct from the Manufacturer
American Standard was founded more than 140 years ago. American Standard may offer discounts for the purchase of particular tubs. They may also offer a $1,000 discount plus a high-rise toilet (a $500 value).
American Standard claims to have the “most therapeutic jets of any walk-in tub.” They also claim the fastest-draining tubs as well as the best lifetime warranty of anyone in the industry.
American Standard offers its own therapeutic RevitaJet Hydrotherapy System. Their walk-in tubs offer a convenient one-touch panel to control jets, air, lights, and drain.
The American Standard Liberation Series Walk-In Tubs have been awarded the Ease of Use Commendation from the Arthritis Foundation. This series includes 44 air and water jets placed to target specifically those portions of the bather’s body where blood flow (circulation) is an issue.
Kohler was founded in 1873. They provide a 35-point in-home inspection assessment. Kohler does offer a monthly payment plan and periodically offers money-saving promotions on its walk-in tubs.
Kohler offers a lifetime limited warranty on the walk-in tub for as long as the customer owns the home the tub was installed in and if that tub is installed by a Kohler-certified installation specialist. If a manufacturing defect does occur, there will be no charge for either repair or replacement. This warranty is unusual in that it covers the pumps, motors, jets, bath door seal and the hand shower.
Kohler also offers the lowest threshold in the industry: 3”. Their tubs feature two handrails – one inside the tub, the other outside – help ensure safe entrance and exit. Additional features of Kohler tubs are a choice of 11 color and pattern combinations plus two choices for the faucets.
Safe Step Tub
Safe Step Tub offers tubs in various sizes, able to satisfy any client’s needs. Safe Step guarantees the lowest price available for both tub and installation. If within 30 days of purchase, a customer finds a similar tub, Safe Step will refund the difference plus $30. To lower costs further, the company offers several possible discounts not limited to senior discounts veteran discounts, and a Helping Hands Rebate of $750 per person (up to $1,500 per household. This rebate applies to those who have arthritis, diabetes, or some other qualifying disabling condition.
All Safe Step Tub products carry a lifetime warranty. Each walk-in tub is made in the USA (Tennessee, specifically). There are more than 50 people involved in the making of each tub. Safe Step Tub has a 14-point Quality Control Inspection to ensure that each tub meets Safe Step’s superior standards.
Safe Step’s own innovation, the MicroSoothe Air Therapy System, generates millions of tiny muscle- and ache-soothing bubbles. Additional features of Safe Step Tubs are contoured seat and backrests that can be heated for further comfort. There’s also a towel rack attached to the door; no more padding across a cold floor or reaching awkwardly before drying off.
Included safety features: non-scald technology; non-slip surfaces; well-placed and secure grab bars; a wide door with a low threshold; and a hygienic gel coat.
Jacuzzi offers the lowest step-in threshold in the market: 3″ (Note: Not wheelchair accessible.) The in-line water heater keeps water temperature constant throughout the bath.
Jacuzzi has its own patented hydromassage jet system to maximize the benefits of water movement. The company offers walk-in tubs both for brand new housing as well as to replace an existing tub.
Though their tubs are more expensive than the competition, Jacuzzi justifies this based on their including as standard features (for those with mobility issues or other debilitating conditions) that other manufacturers offer as add-ons.
The Finestra package (including installation) ranges from $7,000 to $10,000. The four models in this series (from least to most expensive) include a basic soaker (an easy-entry bath), the Whirlpool (with six adjustable jets), the Pure Air (creating a warm and effervescent experience, with aromatherapy, that also focuses heat on the lower back), and the top-of-the-line Salon Spa which combines all the features of the first three models and adds chromotherapy.
*This company appears to be out of business. This article will be updated once confirmed.*
Premier Care was founded in 1985 to make bathing safer for those with disabilities. All Premier Care walk-in tubs are made in the USA.
Premier Care offers a variety of tubs including specifically designed tubs for larger bathers as well as for those with more severe disabilities. Premier Care offers four classifications of walk-in tubs: Compact walk-in tubs, oversize soaking tubs, powered walk-in tubs, and tub/shower combinations.
Premier Care offers two models in their “empowered” series, each of which uses the Simple-Lift Power system, ideal for those with conditions that severely limit their mobility. The Simple-Lift Power system involves a chair that actually lifts the bather into and out of the bathtub. Premier Care also offers patented “Hydrovescent Therapy” to soothe away aches, pains, and tension.
Does Medicare Pay for Walk-In Tubs?
Walk-in bathtubs are not considered a medical necessity by Medicare, so this federal government agency will not supply any of the funding for purchase and installation. Financial support may be available though. Among possible sources are the following:
- The Medicare Advantage Plan (specifically Part C) and Medicaid may provide financial assistance. Both agencies are monitored at the state level rather than at the federal level, and each state has its own interpretation of what constitutes Durable Medical Equipment (DME). Veterans may be eligible for VA grants or other financial aid.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a program that benefits elderly residents who live in rural areas with a reduced income. These programs offer grants for modifications within the home, which includes installing a walk-in tub.
- Single Family Housing Repair Loans & Grants (aka Section 504 Home Repair program) is designed for homeowners who occupy their homes, who don’t qualify for affordable credit, and whose income is less than 50% of the area median. Those 62+ may qualify for an outright grant if they would be unable to repay a loan.
- A walk-in bathtub may be at least partially tax deductible. Chief among the several qualifications is that the tub is prescribed by a health care professional. In these circumstances, the bathtub is being viewed as a treatment for a specific condition or conditions, not merely as an item to enhance one’s general health.
- If purchasing a walk-in tub directly from the manufacturer, be sure to ask for any discounts for which you may be eligible.
Bathing is something we should all be able to do with ease. Not only does it promote hygiene but also self-esteem and, ideally, an overall sense of wellbeing. The proper tub will also prolong that sense of privacy and independence we all crave.
Expensive as this home improvement may be, the resulting improved quality of life could make it a wise investment. If it further enhances the value of the residence, even better. There are resources for those facing financial issues, an ever-increasing number of manufacturers, as well as a wealth of information about the options available.