Everything You Need to Know About Getting a Walk-in Tub for Chronic Pain
Starting with cons to get those out of the way, so you can know right away if a walk-in bathtub is not for you.
Con: No getting in and out
With a walk-in tub you have to get in the tub, close the door, and then fill it up with water. This means that you can’t quickly slip out to get something your forgot or get in and out with any ease. You are sort of stuck in there until the water is finished going down. For me that is a bit of an issue since I have memory issues and can forget a bath bomb/Epsom salts/candle etc.
If you get a walk-in tub, remember to set everything out ahead of time or if you are able installing a shelf beside the tub is a good idea. They can install a shelf connected to the tub as my tub has where you can keep soap, Epsom salts, razor, or what have you. I also like to keep dry washcloths and my shower chair beside the tub for ease of access.
It is great to be able to have a walk-in tub, but it requires room to be installed. We had a regular full shower/tub connected piece that the workers were able to take out and replace with the large tub, but it also required them to reinforce the floor so the heavy tub wouldn’t fall through. This is a factor that should be considered as it means a higher price to pay.
Another thing I am not completely a fan of is that once in the walk-in tub it isn’t like a hot tub or large bathtub where you can easily move all around. It has a place to sit and place for your feet, but no large side room, so it can feel a little bit like a small capsule or cocoon. This can be good or bad depending on your needs. I can get claustrophobic, so it is not all ease.
The tub is also pretty tall in order for the water to come up to shoulder level, so stepping into the tub does take effort and being careful (one of my diagnoses means I have joints pop out easily, so if I am not careful, stepping in and out of the tub means joints moving around). A cane is a good idea for helping getting in and out.
For mine to be installed the price was around $18,000. They obviously have payment plans because their customer base is the retired who don’t always have a lot of money available. When you set an appointment with the company to talk about installation, they will give you these options so you can pay in increments. It is a lot of money, but at the least I can actually say it was worth it with how much soaking in a tub helps my pain stay somewhat controlled.
Con: Construction and installation
The construction is the part that sucks the most because it can take a month or so for the parts to come in, but it only took a few days for the installation so that is one pro mixed in. You do get to choose what tile or look you want as well as if you want a showerhead available or not and/or shelves put into the wall or not.
The problem for us was that we were told the parts were in so they prepared the bathroom for it and it didn’t come in when promised, so we had to wait another week. That part was very loud and long and made life so much harder for me since they had to remove the bathroom door and widen it to fit the tub. So I didn’t have a door for my bathroom or a working tub/shower. Not fun. Be sure to carefully plan installation and make a list of questions beforehand about timing etc. The removal and widening of our doorway was also factored into the price and we didn’t get the discount promised from the screw up on their part. Also our door they replaced with a cheap Home Depot door had to be sanded down and painted by my dad as well as the horrible door frame fixed. The door handle had to be taken off and put on/tightened by my brother since the door wouldn’t even actually close! And they were no help. Unfortunately we also discovered months later that there was a leak in the pipes they installed, so we now have to take care of mold and mildew underneath our house.
Con: Hot versus cold
A big factor for putting in a walk-in tub is if your water heater is strong enough to take the water needed. They told us our water heater was OK for the tub, but what they didn’t tell us was how finicky it would be. I can get the perfect temperature and then half of the way full, the hot water or any warm water stops coming! They definitely didn’t warn about that, although they said our water heater is supposed to be fine for the job (it isn’t though).
After a lot of trial and error (and very very cold “baths” with wasted Epsom salts), I have discovered that to get the perfect temperature I have to do super super hot water (while doing my best to curl up on the small seat) for ¼ of the way through and then switch on the cold with the super hot a little bit until it is 1/3 full of water. Then I have to turn off all the hot water and switch to just cold—which is always a very small stream of water—and wait until the water is still very hot but won’t burn my skin at the tub half full. Once I get to there I can fully dip into the water, though it is not enough to work the jets or bubbles.
Color therapy: This is basically just a light in the tub that you can change to alternate or stay on one color out of at least eight. It is not a simple thing, but can be quite fun and adds a nice touch.
Aromatherapy: This is so cool! They sell various smelling beads that are lavender, honey mango, jasmine, and pina colada! This works in tandem with the “thousand bubbles” option (explained further below) and releases the amazing scent with the bubble frothing. I use one of those silk pouches and inserted it into the aromatherapy space. You want to keep it in a silk bag so the smell can be used and easy clean up, as well as ease of changing smells if you so desire. Definitely one of my favorite walk-in tub perks!
Massage/jets: These are jets that are like the kind in a hot tub. Two in the middle back, three or more in the leg areas. You can adjust the levels from minimum to maximum pressure. It absolutely works!
A thousand bubbles: Working in tandem with the aromatherapy, this is exactly as the name says. A thousand bubbles are released (with the bead scent if you choose to), though the bubbles are an option no matter if you use the aromatherapy. The bubbles are my favorite thing as it is not as harsh as the jets but still helps massage my whole body with help from the hot water and Epsom salts or bath bombs. Oils can also be used. (Thank goodness! The hot water can dry out skin easier than colder water)
If you are looking for a walk-in tub, you are having trouble getting in a regular tub. I can say that being able to open a door and get in is so much easier than a normal tub and saves an unexpectedly large amount of energy as well as helps my joints not pop out as easily as they would in another tub. After a hot bath my body is more prone to being clumsy, so this tub is perfect! They also include a grip bar for help sitting down and getting up and arthritis-aware closure so that it is easy to lock and seal the door or open it.
I was worried that like regular tubs there would be a drain that would stop me filling the tub as full as I wanted, but I am very happy to say that that is not a problem and you can keep on filling the tub all the way to the very top — though if you use the jets you want to make sure it won’t overflow. The maximum (according to me) is an inch below my shoulder or a bit more. You have to have a minimum amount of water mid-waist for the jets to work.
One of the things I do if I am in a hurry and don’t want to wait for the tub to fill up since it takes me 30 or 40 minutes is I fill up just the leg space with my preferred temperature of water and slide in that space and soak, versus filling the whole tub. There is the concern of being able to get out again so I can’t do it each time. Plus it is more fun to fill the whole tub and relax with ease.
I was worried about needing a stool for my legs so they could stay elevated but that actually isn’t a problem since your legs can easily float better than a stool (not to mention the stool wants to float so that is a problem all on its own).
All in all I would say a walk-in tub is absolutely worth it! Being able to pick out just how you want it with shelves or without, to tile or not to, redoing the bathroom floor or not as well as all the amenities absolutely make it worth it—if you use baths often enough that is. For me I use them consistently and it truly is a godsend and beautifully makes my disability a little less miserable with a little less pain. What a blessing!
Getty image by Lotus Carroll / EyeEm