Page Reviewed / Updated – June 03, 2020

It’s no secret that activities of daily living become more challenging as people age. Fortunately for today’s seniors, there are many in-home modifications available that can ease those challenges and promote independence. One such innovation is walk-in bathtubs. These tubs have a number of advantages of traditional tubs that can make life easier for seniors and those with limited mobility.

First and foremost, walk-ins eliminate the large step required to enter regular bathtubs by using a watertight door. Unlike traditional tubs, walk-ins usually include a mix of safety features, including handrails and textured surfaces as standard options. These advanced tubs also offer greater depth and more natural seating positions than standard tubs, making them a great choice for therapeutic use.

In this article, we’ll break down some of the top features and add-ons available on custom walk-in tubs and offer a few tips on what to look for when shopping around.

What to Look for in a Walk-in Tub

Before covering the special features and add-ons found on some custom walk-in tubs, it’s important to cover a few nuts and bolts. Here are a few walk-in tub basics to consider before looking into extra safety features and luxury upgrades.

Standard Dimensions

Walk-in tubs are manufactured in a wide range of styles and sizes, so be sure to closely note the dimensions of a tub before purchasing. While standard bathtubs are long and low to the ground, most walk-ins tubs are between 26 and 36 inches long and at least 36 inches tall. It’s usually possible to install a walk-in tub where a traditional tub previously existed, but plan on reworking wall tiles to accommodate the new tub’s dimensions.

Convenient Door Styles

The doors on walk-in tubs typically open in toward the basin of the tub. This standard option can be a good choice for those with small bathrooms as the door requires no additional square footage to open and close. The downside is that users may need to move within the tub to create space for the door to open once a bath is complete. For larger users or those who have plenty of bathroom space, an outward-opening door may be a more comfortable option.

Fast Filling and Draining Systems

The door on a walk-in tub must be securely closed and sealed during use, so it’s mandatory that the user sits in the tub while it’s filling and draining. This can be an unpleasant experience for seniors who are sensitive to cold water. Many walk-in tub manufacturers have cut down this potentially chilly draining and filling time with high-flow faucets and pump-assisted drainage systems.

Solid Warranties

Most of the major walk-in tub manufacturers back their products with extended or even lifetime warranties. The entire tub may not be covered, but look for warranties on certain key components, including the water seal around the door, the filling and draining systems and any electrical components.

Key Safety Features

One of the best parts about walk-in tubs is that they can be significantly safer for seniors than regular tubs. To get the best value from a walk-in tub, it’s important to get as many high-end safety features as possible. Here are a few key safety features to look for in a walk-in tub.

Ergonomic Seating

The spa-style seating in walk-in tubs can be soothing and fun, but this elevated seating position also plays a vital safety function. Compared with sitting flat in a traditional tub, it’s far easier to get up and down from the contoured seating in a walk-in tub. This helps reduce the risk of falls when entering and exiting the tub and keeps the body in a water-safe position during baths. Seats in walk-in tubs also typically finished with a textured surface to further enhance stability.

Advanced Heating Systems

Many walk-in tubs are equipped with in-line heating elements that keep temperatures consistent when using jets and bubble systems. These dual-purpose systems keep the tub more comfortable and reduce the risk of burns if warm pockets develop. Some walk-in tubs also feature an anti-scald valve designed to eliminate sudden temperature fluctuations. This feature reduces the risk of burns and helps reduce falls that can occur when a user is startled by sudden temperature changes.

Handles and Bars

Grab bars and handles are one of the most visibly noticeable differences between walk-in tubs and traditional tubs. Though grab bars are a common feature in seniors’ bathrooms, the bars on walk-in tubs are specifically integrated to help reduce falls when bathing. Unlike self-installed, wall-mounted grab bars, the handles included with walk-in tubs are placed in natural locations to reduce awkward stretching and reaching.

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Top Upgrades and Add-Ons

While walk-in tubs can offer greater independence and safety for seniors, they can also enhance therapeutic treatments and add comfort. Spending a few extra dollars on upgrades might help seniors get the most benefit from a walk-in tub.

Seat Upgrades

A number of the upgrades and add-ons available for walk-in tubs are associated with the seating. The seats in walk-in tubs are already a vast improvement over traditional tubs, but many manufacturers offer further improvements such as neck rests and heated seats. Massaging jets and bubble ports may also be integrated into a seat to enhance the tub’s therapeutic capabilities.

Cleaning and Sanitation Options

Like all tubs, walk-ins require regular cleaning and maintenance to ensure safety and functionality. To make this process easier on seniors, many of these tubs are available with added features that reduce the workload. Self-cleaning functions, for example, allow users to fill the tub with cleaning products and engage an automatic setting that cycles clean, sterile water through the tub. Some manufacturers also offer wall surroundings and tile flanges made to help eliminate build-up, leaks and damages that may arise from routine tub use. These items can be purchased with the tub and added to surrounding walls and floors during the installation process.

Added Safety and Convenience Features

The standard built-in handles, textured surfaces and entry doors found on walk-in tubs make them safe and convenient, but upgrades like built-in towel bars can make walk-ins even better. Another option worth considering is a customized location for the hand-held showerhead. Faucets and showerheads are located in standardized locations on most tubs, but custom walk-ins may give the option of relocating features to meet a user’s unique needs and preferences.

Some additional safety options may also be available with custom walk-in tubs including lowered entry steps. Most walk-ins require a minimal step of around 3 to 4 inches for entry, but custom models may be available that reduce this step to as little as 2 inches. Tub extenders can also improve overall safety by creating an additional ledge between the tub and a wall. This ledge can provide space for an additional handle and allow users to keep emergency call systems and telephones close at hand during a bath.

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