Walk-in Bathtubs: What To Know Before You Buy

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If you or someone you love has limited mobility, balance issues or generalized weakness, the pain of arthritis or other issues that make movement difficult, you have probably already discovered that getting in and out of a traditional bathtub is a problem. A conventional bathtub requires the ability to lift your leg up and over a lip that is 14 to 17 inches high, balance on that leg inside the tub while lifting the second leg up and over the tub’s lip, then lower yourself to a seated position. Those maneuvers can be difficult or even impossible. They also present a high risk of dangerous slips or injuries, and the indignity of needing to ask for assistance to get in and out of the tub.

A walk-in bathtub eliminates the need for stepping over a high bathtub side, since they have a door that opens into the tub, allowing the bather to simply walk inside, then shut the door to use the bath. The threshold of a walk-in tub can be as low as 2 inches, though many models have a threshold that is between 4 and 6 inches high. 

Some of the larger manufacturers of walk-in bathtubs are:

Purchasing and installing a walk-in tub is not a decision to be made lightly. The tubs are expensive, with most costing between $2,000 and $9,000, and then the additional cost of installation. There are several questions to consider as you debate remodeling your bathroom.

What is the size of the tub?

Walk-in tubs are much deeper than standard tubs, and many are also quite a bit wider. A conventional bathtub is usually around 60 inches long, 30 inches wide, with a height of 16 inches. Before choosing a new tub, be certain not only that it will fit in the available space in your bathroom, but that it will fit through doorways into your home, and through the bathroom door. The height of the threshold to the tub is also of major concern. The lower the threshold, the better.

Do You Want the Door to Swing In or Out?

There are pros and cons to each.

Inward swinging door: A tub door that swings inward must be maneuvered around as the user enters the tub, and once the tub is full, water pressure prevents the door being opened in case of an emergency (keep in mind that opening a full tub will flood your bathroom). However, that same water pressure functions as an extra seal when the tub is full, preventing leaks. An inward-swinging door is also compliant with the American Disabilities Act (ADA).

Outward swinging door: Outward swinging doors are easier for the user while entering or exiting the tub, and allow the door to be opened in a true emergency. An outward-swinging door is also much easier if the bather is transferring from wheelchair to tub. However, your bathroom needs to be large enough for the swing path of the door, and the majority of walk-in tubs have doors that swing inwards.

Is Your Water Heater Big Enough?

Walk-in tubs are usually larger than conventional tubs, and hold considerably more water. Be sure your water heater is large enough to handle the demand of your tub. If it is not, options include a separate heated pump for the tub, or a second water heater.

How Long Does the Tub Take to Drain?

Because you must sit in the tub while it fills, and wait until it empties to exit, the speed of these functions is a major issue. You don’t want to be cold and wet for 15 minutes waiting for the water to drain. Many walk-in tubs have valves that greatly speed up the filling and emptying time.

What Options do You Want in Your Tub?

Typically, walk-in tubs have a built-in seat, safety bars and nonslip surfaces. Other common options are whirlpool jets, which use pressurized water to massage joints and muscles, or air bath, which provides streams of heated bubbles for a more gentle massage experience.

What’s the Warranty?

Walk-in tubs can have warranties ranging from six months to lifetime on parts. The longer the warranty the better, and most important of all is the warranty on the door seal. If your tub develops a leaky door, it is not usable, and the door has tremendous water pressure against it every time the tub is used. It is also safest to choose a tub made in the United States, as it might be difficult to find parts or repair people for a tub made in China.

Acrylic or Fiberglass?

Walk-in tubs are either fiberglass or acrylic.

Fiberglass is less expensive, strong, lightweight and easy to install. However, it is far more prone to mildew; it scratches, has a matte finish and does not generally last as long as acrylic.

Acrylic is more expensive and heavier, but has a shiny, easily cleaned surface, resists mildew and is easily repaired if scratched.

If bathing has become difficult due to impaired mobility, a walk-in tub can make life easier, and help maintain the independence of the bather. Before shopping for a walk-in bathtub, arm yourself with as much information as possible so you can make the right choice for your home.

Last Updated: March 21, 2013
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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