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Page Reviewed / Updated – May 13, 2020

Walk-in tubs are popular for their multiple safety, health and economic benefits. However, buyers should be aware of costs and issues that advertisements don’t normally disclose. This guide covers several advantages and downsides of having a walk-in tub to help seniors make a more fully informed decision about this substantial investment.

Safety

Slips and falls in bathtubs are a common source of injury among older people. Walk-in tubs are popular for their potential to reduce such risks with a variety of safety designs and features.

Pros

  • Low threshold: Walk-in tubs come with swing-in or swing-out doors to let a bather enter over a low threshold, instead of having to climb over the high side of a conventional tub.
  • Full immersion: Built-in seats allow bathers to become submerged in the water without having to bend to sit all the way down on the floor of a tub.
  • Less risk of slips: Slip-resistant tub floors lower the risk of slipping and falling when entering and exiting.
  • Stability: Most tubs feature integrated handrails that support the bather while sitting and standing, unlike sliding shower doors that aren’t designed to hold a person’s weight.
  • Temperature control: Some tubs come with anti-scald valves to help prevent burns.
  • Emergency call system: Accessible call buttons enable bathers to call for medical assistance.
  • Accessibility: Many models facilitate easy transfer from wheelchairs to the tub seat.
  • Easy cleaning: Most walk-in tubs are constructed of fiberglass with acrylic or gel coatings, so they only require a nonabrasive cleaner. Some models are equipped with self-sanitizing systems to inhibit microbial growth.

Cons

  • Inconvenient for helpers: The design of many walk-in tubs can make it difficult for someone to assist a person with bathing.
  • Delayed first aid: Unless a tub has a built-in call button and/or rapid-drain feature, a bather has to wait for water to drain before exiting to call 911 in the event of a medical emergency.
  • Risk of flooding: The doors are water-sealed, but there’s a possibility of a seal failure resulting in leaks or flooding. Also, if the door isn’t latched properly, the weight of the water in the tub could force it open and let the water spill out.

Pain Relief

Soaking in warm water can help the body relax and alleviate muscle tension and pain. This is often helpful for managing arthritis, fibromyalgia and general joint and muscle pain and stiffness.

Pros

  • Deep relief: Walk-in tubs allow bathers to soak in deeper water than most traditional tubs, which can enhance circulation and mobility while relieving pain.
  • Hydrotherapy: Water jets similar to those in outdoor hot tubs are also available to massage tense muscles and joints.
  • Hot tub benefits: Bathers can enter and fill their walk-in tubs anytime in complete privacy, unlike outdoor hot tubs. Some walk-in tubs also come with heaters that keep the water warm throughout the bath.

Cons

  • Long wait: Bathers have to enter the tub before filling it and can’t exit until it’s fully drained.
  • Risk of chills: Some walk-in tubs fill and drain slowly, which may leave a bather at risk of becoming chilled. Higher-end models offer heated seats and rapid draining to avert these issues.

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Economy

Walk-in tubs are a significant investment, and there may be extra expenses beyond the tub itself, such as various household modifications. These tubs aren’t classified as durable medical equipment, so Medicare doesn’t cover the cost, although some state Medicaid programs may offer financial assistance. Overall, many buyers find that the benefits of owning a walk-in tub make the expense worthwhile.

Pros

  • Payment plans: Walk-in tub vendors often offer payment options as an alternative to single, large outlays.
  • Reduced health care costs: The security and health advantages that these tubs offer may lead to lower medical expenses, and help people avoid emergencies from slips and falls.
  • Potential increase in property value: A walk-in tub may increase the value of a home, especially one located in a retirement community.
  • Combined savings: Some walk-in tub models offer several beneficial features as package deals.

Cons

  • Surprising hidden figures: Advertisements often don’t mention hidden expenses for quick fill and drain fixtures, water jets, adjustable showerheads, built-in seating and temperature controls.
  • Expensive to install: Walk-in tubs require professional installation, and depending on the bathroom layout and particular tub model chosen, structural modifications may be necessary.
  • Unexpected upgrades: Some homeowners may have to upgrade their plumbing and electrical systems before installing a walk-in tub.
  • Bigger heater: Walk-in tubs hold between 40 – 100 gallons of water. It may be necessary to increase the size of a home’s water heater to ensure an adequate supply. Consequently, buyers may have to add the expense of a new water heater and its installation to the overall cost of their tub.

Even with added costs and minor inconveniences, seniors who invest in walk-in tubs tend to enjoy a higher level of comfort and independence with their bathing experience. Manufacturers have myriad configurations available to suit the preferences and needs of virtually every customer and residence. For those who can fit a walk-in tub into their budget, the benefits may make it well worth taking the plunge.

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