Walk-in tubs are designed to help those who have mobility issues who may struggle to use a traditional bathtub. Most generally, this means senior citizens, whose mobility and flexibility may be impaired by age. In general, those with mobility issues are more susceptible to falls. In fact, a senior citizen is admitted to the ER for a fall every 11 seconds in the United States, meaning over 800,000 Americans are hospitalized every year. For more home safety tips, see our page on making a home for people with disabilities.
A walk-in bathtub, therefore, gives the ability for someone with reduced mobility or balance issues to continue using their bath, allowing them the freedom and dignity of a private space to stay clean and relax. This guide will walk through all of the different options when it comes to walk-in tubs, so that if you are considering making the transition you can be as well-informed as possible.
WHAT IS A WALK-IN BATHTUB?
A walk-in tub is a bathtub that is equipped with a door and a seat. They are designed to allow users with reduced mobility to use a bathtub in their own home. The door allows users to enter and exit the tub from the side, without the need to climb over a traditional bath side. The entry to clear in a walk-in bathtub is usually only a few inches high.
In addition to the door feature, a key difference between a walk-in tub and a traditional tub is the use of a seat. This means the user doesn’t have to lie down in the tub, reducing the danger that comes from slips and falls, and generally ensures that they remain safe.
Users in the tub are vertical, in a seated position, not horizontal in a lying position, thus allowing them to get into the right position more easily. For those with limited mobility, lying down and getting up from that position is often too difficult.
The walk-in tub is designed, therefore, to allow those with mobility issues to still get the hygienic and therapeutic benefits of a bathtub, without the dangerous risks of a traditional bathtub.
WHAT MAKES A WALK-IN BATHTUB SAFER?
There are several safety features that come with a walk-in bathtub. The primary function of their design is to keep the user safer in the tub that they would have otherwise been, and this means that there is constant innovation when it comes to safety features.
Some of these include the following:
Unlike a traditional bathtub, which has slick, polished surfaces, walk-in tubs have non-slip material on their surface. This helps to maintain grip, even when the tub is full of water. The floor and the seat are covered with this material to help ensure the user doesn’t slip.
Handrails are usually a feature of the walk-in tub. They provide additional leverage for the user to get in and out of the tub, helping those with balance and mobility limitations.
Because those with mobility issues aren’t always able to exit a tub quickly, they are more susceptible to burns if the water is too hot. Many walk-in tubs have sensors that prevent the water from becoming too hot to avoid scalding.
People with mobility issues aren’t always able to get down and clean the crevices of a bathtub, especially one with as many different parts as a walk-in tub, so many come equipped with self-cleaning features. In particular, the water lines are self-cleaning to prevent bacteria from building up.
PROS AND CONS OF A WALK-IN BATHTUB
Given that installing a walk-in tub can be an expensive process, it is worth considering the pros and cons in advance so that you are not left with a bathtub that isn’t right for you. Below is an outline of the advantages and disadvantages of walk-in tubs:
Some of the advantages of a walk-in tub are fairly self-explanatory. Others, you may not have considered. It’s important in all instances to think closely about exactly what you need in advance and be sure to research specific models from multiple sellers, so you can find the perfect option for you. Overall, however, some of the advantages are as follows:
- Safety. This is the prime advantage that a walk-in tub has over a regular tub. Because of the ability to enter without climbing over a tall wall, a walk-in tub reduces the chances of falls or slips and makes it possible for those with reduced mobility to enter (and exit) a bathtub safely.
- Additional features. Because walk-in tubs are designed for those with mobility issues, it is possible to add extra safety features, such as tub seats, handrails, anti-scald valves, and non-slip flooring. It’s far easier to attach this to a walk-in tub than a regular one.
- Hydrotherapy. Allowing those with reduced mobility to access warm water has additional health benefits other than hygiene. Warm water not only reduces joint pain, but also helps with the healing of some skin conditions, such as burns or ulcers.
- Comfort. Walk-in showers are designed more like hot tubs, allowing the user to sit rather than lie down. This is more comfortable for many with mobility challenges (aside from any of the safety factors).
Although the benefits of a walk-in tub are fairly pronounced, it doesn’t mean that they are perfect, nor that they are the right fit for every user. Instead, you need to consider the following disadvantages and whether another option might be preferable:
- Time to fill and drain. A walk-in bathtub needs to be filled while the door is closed. This means the user has to enter the tub, close the door, and then turn on the taps. To exit, the user has to wait for the tub to fully drain before opening the door. Both of these mean that there is a lot of time spent sitting in an almost-empty tub, which can reduce the convenience of the entire experience.
- Temperature. Because you are sitting in the water as the tub is filling, it is not possible to get the right temperature before exposing your body to the water. If turning on and off taps is not something you are able to do quickly, you can risk a burn from this. Similarly, because you have to wait for the tub to fill and drain, you can become chilly. This is particularly true as the water drains, leaving you wet and exposed as it does.
- Cost. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the cost of installing a walk-in tub can be prohibitively high. They are currently not covered under Medicare as Durable Medical Equipment, meaning you will have to pay in full, out of pocket. For more cost information, see our guide on the cost of walk-in tubs.
- Flooding and leakage. The way these types of tubs are designed, there is always the potential for leaking and flooding. It is very hard to make a perfect seal on a door that can open, meaning that there is always the chance of water escaping. If the lining perishes, you can end up with a fully flooded bathroom, ironically making a much less safe environment when it comes to slips and falls.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF WALK-IN TUBS?
If you have decided that a walk-in tub is the right option for you, you need to also consider what type is the best option. There are four main types of walk-in tub:
A soaker tub is the most standard walk-in bathtub. It doesn’t have the additional features of the other tubs, although it is the cheapest option. It functions like a traditional bathtub, albeit with a different entry and bathing position.
Hydrotherapy tubs are designed to provide therapeutic benefits to the user, often with jets to aid with circulation. These are a pricier option than a soaker tub, although provide specific benefits to those with conditions such as arthritis or joint pain.
A bariatric tub is designed for larger individuals. The features are all designed to improve the ability of larger people to move in and about within a tub. These come in all versions, from a simple soaker tub to a more advanced hydrotherapy tub.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE TUB
These tubs are designed to be accessible for those in a wheelchair; this means that they often have an outward-opening door, as well as handrails and guards to allow for a wheelchair user to transfer easily between the wheelchair and the bathtub.
If you, or someone you love, are suffering from reduced mobility issues, then a walk-in bathtub is one of the best purchases you can make. Not only does it allow someone to use a bathtub with dignity and independence, but it also increases the safety of their home.
Bathtubs can be dangerous for those with mobility challenges – the combination of hot water, slick surfaces, and a high wall means that there is lots of space for things to go wrong. However, a walk-in tub helps to avoid most of these potential dangers. Although the prices can be high for installation, it’s well worth it for the independence, dignity, and safety that a walk-in tub brings.