Traditional bathtubs present a safety challenge for some elderly and disabled users. Taking that first giant step, especially without assistance, can lead to slips, falls, and fractures — the most common types of injuries among the elderly.
A walk-in bathtub, with its low threshold and ADA-compliant seating, addresses this safety concern. In many cases, it’s a gift to users and caretakers alike.
However, there are some drawbacks when it comes to ordering, installing, and using a walk-in bathtub. These tubs can be expensive to buy, challenging to install, and difficult to use.
In this review, we will examine both the positive and negative aspects of walk-in bathtub ownership. We believe that consumers considering such a substantial investment should have an honest evaluation of the end product.
That’s what BestReviews is all about: providing consumers with the information they need to make smart purchasing decisions. So if you’re in the market for a walk-in bathtub — or even just thinking about buying a walk-in bathtub in the future — you’ve come to the right place.
A traditional bathtub stands two or more feet from the ground. The tub bather must be able to lift one leg over the edge while balancing on the other leg for support. She must also be able to lower her body into the tub at the start of the bath and pull herself out when she’s finished.
A walk-in tub is a vertical version of a traditional bathtub. A door on the side or front of the walk-in tub allows the bather to step over a very small threshold, often just a few inches in height. Once inside the tub, the bather can sit down in a pre-formed chair set at an approved ADA height. The bather shuts the door and activates the water faucets to fill the tub.
A manufacturer may offer a heated chair for improved comfort or a power seat for maneuvering bathers into and out of the water. The cost of these features varies widely, and additional plumbing or electrical work may be required.
Some walk-in tubs offer additional features, including the following:
Fast filling/draining option
Walk-in tubs with the above features generally cost more than “bare bones” walk-in tubs that only have the basics.
Walk-in tubs require more water than traditional tubs, so a larger water heater may be necessary.
Installing a walk-in bathtub is no small feat. It requires time, planning, and a significant financial investment. However, the benefits of having a walk-in bathtub could be worth it to you. Here are the pros and cons of having a walk-in bathtub in your home.
Walk-in tubs provide more stability during bathing than traditional bathtubs. People with mobility issues needn’t negotiate the large step over the lip of a traditional bathtub.
People who cannot pull themselves out of a traditional tub can easily exit a walk-in tub.
People who cannot shower due to stability issues enjoy an easy-access bath.
Wheelchair-bound patients can make an easier transition from chair to tub.
Caretakers have an easier time helping patients in and out of the tub.
Walk-in tubs take time to fill and drain. The process of filling the tub cannot even begin until the user steps in.
It can take 10 minutes or longer for the water in a walk-in tub to drain. Because the water is holding the door shut, the bather must wait for the water to drain completely before stepping out.
Walk-in tubs often aren’t as spacious as traditional tubs.
A caretaker may have difficulty assisting a bathing patient bathing due to limited or awkward access.
A walk-in bathtub is a permanent household fixture.
Everyone in the home must be comfortable with this new form of bathing — or at least have access to another bathtub or shower stall.
Walk-in tubs can become a hazard during a medical emergency or other event. For example, if the user were to suffer a medical emergency while bathing, he or she would be trapped until help arrived. Many emergency call buttons are not waterproof.
A walk-in tub’s low threshold reduces the chances of a trip or fall while entering or exiting.
There is no shortage of walk-in bathtub dealers, both online and in the real world, who are ready, willing, and able to pitch their products to interested parties. Walk-in bathtubs have grown in popularity in recent years. This is due, in large part, to aggressive television advertising and endorsements from leading “aging in place” organizations.
Most walk-in bathtub vendors get their products from reputable manufacturers with strong brand recognition. But some less-scrupulous walk-in bath sellers offer poorly designed models from unknown manufacturers. It pays to do research on a supplier before committing to the purchase of a walk-in bathtub.
A walk-in bathtub is indeed a costly addition to any home, but for those who have mobility issues, the possibility of independence while bathing is very appealing.
Once the decision to buy a walk-in bathtub has been made, the next step is to contact a supplier and negotiate the purchase. This could be a matter of driving to the nearest home improvement store and speaking with a knowledgeable sales associate. At the store, there may be several floor models on display, from a no-frills model that costs $1,000 or $2,000 to a deluxe model with whirlpool jets, a bubble jet, and a water heater that costs more than $5,000.
Another purchasing scenario involves visiting a specialty store. A specialty store will likely have a higher number of floor models than a home improvement store, along with details on each unit’s accessories and specifications. Because the sales associates at specialty stores often work on commission, they tend to lead customers toward high-ticket options.
Shoppers should keep in mind that while whirlpools and bubblers may sound relaxing, they may be far too complicated for the intended user to operate. What’s more, these deluxe features will jack up the price considerably.
Some risk-taking consumers may want to consider doing business with an online or telephone-based company. The main advantage these outlets offer is selection. Instead of deciding between a handful of floor models, you can search through pages of offerings from a variety of manufacturers. However, because the walk-in bathtub industry has experienced a boom in recent years, there are a large number of manufacturers and middlemen offering substandard models at artificially low price points. It can be difficult to gauge the actual quality of a walk-in tub from a glowing written review or flattering photo. Shipping costs can also be substantial for a product of this size, and professional installation should be factored into the final price.
With a molded seat at the ADA-recommended height of a toilet seat, a walk-in bathtub makes it much easier for users to support themselves during and after a bath.
Perhaps you know, without a doubt, that you want to install a walk-in bathtub. Or perhaps you’re still debating whether to make the investment. As you prepare to shop around for a new walk-in bathtub, keep these alternatives in mind.
A roll-in shower is similar to a walk-in shower, but there are no barriers to it; the floor simply slopes down a bit to drain the water. A roll-in shower addresses many of the same safety and mobility issues that a walk-in bathtub addresses, often at a much lower cost to the customer. If desired, the user could add a special ventilated bath chair for additional support while showering.
Bathing can become a very complicated ritual between a caretaker and a loved one. The patient may seek a sense of independence and privacy before, during, and after a bath, yet the caretaker has to be hyper-vigilant about safety and security. A walk-in bathtub can provide a bit of relief for both parties.
A well-stocked home health store should have a number of options for bathing assistance.
A bath bench, for example, will extend over the edge of a traditional bathtub, allowing the bather to slide in and out of the tub.
A shower chair keeps bathers in a seated position while bathing. And of course, safety rails are a helpful safeguard in any bathroom.
In many areas of the country, bathing assistance is available as a home health care service. A trained nurse or a team of professionals will visit a client’s home and assist her with basic personal hygiene tasks, including bathing.
Some people may find the cost of such a service more affordable than the cost of installing a walk-in tub or roll-in shower.
Walk-in tubs often feature stability bars and textured surfaces to help prevent slipping.
If using a traditional bathtub has become problematic, there are other ways to maintain personal hygiene between formal bathing sessions.
For example, there are dry shampoos available for routine haircare and disposable cleansing cloths for personal cleansing.
If you only need a short-term solution for bathing while sitting, there are inexpensive bathtub chairs that are not permanent fixtures.
A walk-in bathtub’s inward-opening door has a rubber gasket to prevent leaks. The pressure of the incoming water holds it in place during bathing.
Many of the ADA-compliant seats found in walk-in bathtubs are the same height as ADA-compliant toilet seats.
For those who are elderly, disabled, or injured, getting in and out of a traditional bathtub calls for a very challenging series of maneuvers.
A basic walk-in tub uses the home’s existing water line and drainage system. Some models have outward-swinging doors and flexible door orientation (left- or right-opening).
When a walk-in bathtub become filled with water, the door is under a considerable amount of pressure. A completely healthy person would not be able to open the door, and the water would flood the entire room if she actually did it. As such, bathers must wait for the entire tub to drain before they can get out.
Because a walk-in tub is a costly investment, you may wish to ask about in-store financing options. The cost of installation and delivery may not be included in the retail price, so be prepared to take out a substantial loan or pay for installation out-of-pocket.
Traditional bathtubs require users to fully immerse themselves and sit or lie on the bottom. This may be a relaxing position for healthy users, but it can feel like a trap for a disabled or elderly person.
Q. My elderly mother could benefit from a walk-in bathtub. Will Medicare or another insurance plan help with the expense?
A. Unfortunately, the short answer is no. Medicare does not currently consider walk-in tubs to be “durable medical equipment” (DME) and will not reimburse the cost of purchase or installation. Some Medicaid plans will consider a partial compensation for walk-in tubs, but in general, the user would have to demonstrate a bona fide medical need.
However, it is possible for qualified walk-in tub owners to deduct certain expenses (including a therapeutic walk-in tub) if they have dependents living in the home. Check with your healthcare provider and tax advisor for more information.
Q. I want to put a new walk-in tub in my existing bathroom. Are the installers going to have to tear out and replace all of my pipes and drains?
A. Under most circumstances, the installers will be able to attach the existing water supply lines and drain to the new walk-in bathtub. Some manufacturers claim to include faster fill valves or drain openings, but they are still limited by the capacity of the existing plumbing. If you have opted for accessories such as whirlpool jets or a heated seat, however, then the installers will have to perform some additional plumbing and electrical upgrades.
Q. Can I get other design options on a walk-in tub? I don’t like the location of the door, and I have trouble getting in and out of the chair.
A. A number of modifications are possible with a typical walk-in tub, but you need to be aware of the positives and negatives of such changes. For example, an inwardly opening door works well for most users, but some doors swing outward for easier access or emergency drainage. The door could be placed on the side or front of the tank, and this placement might affect the way the bather enters and exits the tub.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.