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Best walk-in tubs 2020: Offering safety, independence and hydrotherapy

There are many reasons for purchasing a walk-in tub, be it safety, independence, or hydrotherapy. Walk-in tubs offer comfort and security for seniors or those with low mobility, or flashy features from heated seats to air jets for hydrotherapy purposes.

We’ve been reviewing walk-in tubs for six years and have done the thorough work so you don't have to. We've spoken to dealers and manufacturer representatives and based our research on some personal experience  purchasing walk-in tubs for family members. We’ve put all our knowledge and experience into this guide to help you figure out if you need a standard, reclined or bariatric soaker, the types of accessories you should include with your tub, how to tell the quality of the model you’re purchasing and what you need to know before having your walk-in tub installed.

Regardless of the features you need, we think Ella offers the best walk-in tubs. This comes down to the wide selection, the best value for what you get, quality customer service and high positive feedback from users who have purchased a walk-in tub over the last several years. Here is more on what to look for when buying a walk-in tub along with a few other highly recommended brands.

1. Ella's Bubbles: Best overall

Ella's Bubbles

(Image credit: Ella's Bubbles)

Ella's Bubbles

The best selection at the best price with extra value found in the available accessories

Large selection including companion tubs
Well-built acrylic designs
Hard, cold seats

Every walk-in tub sold by Ella is built with high-quality materials including stainless steel beams and acrylic coatings and comes with two-inch dual drains for quick emptying. Tubs come in a variety of sizes ranging from slim to bariatric models holding anywhere from 35 to 85 gallons of water, and with door styles including L-shaped for wheelchair accessibility.

The base tubs are soakers, but you can add water or air jets to any model to make it a good for hydrotherapy. Other accessories include heated seating, which several users recommend upgrading to, various styles of faucets and doors with multiple latches.

On top of traditional and wheelchair accessible tubs, Ella is the only manufacturer to offer companion tubs that hold more than one person at the same time. It also features combination walk-in and shower models that are helpful in households with both people who need a walk-in tub and those that don’t.

  • Read the review: Ella

2. Safe Step: Best value

Safe Step

(Image credit: Safe Step)

Safe Step

Lifetime warranty on each walk-in tub is just one reason Safe Step is an all-around good deal

Lifetime warranty included with every tub
Military discounts available
No wheelchair accessible tubs

Safe Step doesn’t have a lot of walk-in tub models to choose from - three exactly. But each one comes in a few different sizes so you’re likely to find one that fits your bathroom. You can choose a low, or no step-up option that makes is really easy to get in and out without having to step up too high and risk falls. The floors are textured to minimize trips and slips, and every tub is equipped with temperature sensors that will automatically shut off water and heaters if it gets too hot.

You can add either water or air jets to your tub, or a combination of both. All jet and faucet controls are located by your shoulder so it’s easier to reach than those that place them out of immediate reach. Tubs come with a single drain, but you can upgrade to include a second one. Safe Step works with dealers and installers in your area that come measure your bathroom space and install your chosen tub, including removing your old tub.

3. AmeriGlide: Best Wheelchair Accessible

AmeriGlide

(Image credit: AmeriGlide)

AmeriGlide

Wheelchair accessible walk-in tubs and conversion kits

Extensive selection of wheelchair accessible tubs
Transparent pricing
Installation isn’t included
Higher step up compared to other manufacturers

AmeriGlide has an extensive selection of wheelchair accessible tubs available in a variety of sizes to fits just about every bathroom. One model even has a longer door and is designed to allow users to recline further back, almost laying down like you would in a traditional bathtub. Every fiberglass walk-in tub is clearly priced on its website with additional pricing shown for add-ons like water or air jets, or extra safety bars. All tubs come with a textured, non-slip floor.

You purchase your AmeriGlide walk-in tubs directly from the manufacturer. AmeriGlide may help you locate a reputable installer near you, but there are no partnerships and most of the work of securing good help rests with you. You can find some tips and helpful hints on the AmeriGlide webpage if you choose to install the tubs yourself.

If you can’t afford to upgrade to a walk-in tub, you can purchase a conversion kit that will transform your existing shower or tub into a wheelchair accessible unit.

4. Universal Tubs: ADA Compliant

Universal Tubs

(Image credit: Universal Tubs)

Universal Tubs

Voluntarily meets ADA standards for walk-in tubs

ADA compliant
Wheelchair accessible tubs available
Installation not included
Not high quality

Universal Tubs are available only available to purchase from your local Home Depot, but you can see pictures and options for each model from the Universal Tubs website. Though these tubs aren’t as high quality at others we reviewed, they do follow the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) guidelines set by the Department of Justice (DOJ) including textured floors to reduce slipping and wider doors..

Each tub has options to add water or air jets and a few have heated seating. A handheld showerhead comes standard with each walk-in tub, but you do get to choose from a few styles of faucet sets. Universal Tubs doesn’t include installation of any of its tubs, but it does send along a 10-year warranty on the shell and a one-year guarantee on all other parts. 

5. Kohler: Premium Walk-in Tub

Kohler

(Image credit: Kohler)

Kohler

Top of the line finishes create an elegant, spa-like environment

Beautiful, custom finishes
Low step-in
No wheelchair accessible models
Showerheads don’t automatically retract

Kohler doesn’t stop at just installing a walk-in tub, but also includes its LuxStone marble bath walls to create a sophisticated look. You can add either water or air jets and heated seating to your tub that is professionally installed and includes a lifetime warranty.

This tub comes standard with slip resistant seating and floors, multiple handrails, wider doors and seating and a lower step-in for extra safety. The best safety feature of the Kohler tub is the outside rim grip, a feature not included with any other walk-in tub model.

What to look for when buying a walk-in tub

There are several types of walk-in tubs available, plus a lot of upgraded features and safety options to consider. Here’s a quick look at what is important to know before you buy.

Type of tubs

Standard soakers simply hold water and include a ledge for sitting. These seats are pretty firm and upright. Standard tubs hold up to 78 gallons of water and take, on average, between 10 and 25 minutes both to fill and drain. Adding two drains can help empty your tub faster.

Reclined come in the most wide range of designs. Some are simply soaker walk-in tubs with a more inclined seat. There are some models that are known as laydown tubs. These are more shallow and look more like a traditional bathtub but have the advantages of walk-in tubs including safety bars and non-skid floors.

Very large tubs, both standard soakers and laydown models, are known as bariatric tubs. These are made to accommodate bigger people that need more room to get in and out, and to be comfortable bathing while inside.

Wheelchair accessible bathtubs are any of the above-mentioned tub types, but with an L-shaped, outward swinging door and a higher seat to make it easier to slide from a wheelchair directly onto the tub seat.

Jets

Jets are essential for any therapeutic benefits beyond simply relaxing. You can choose to have jets point towards your feet, back, shoulders and neck, or legs. There are two types of jets available - water and air. 

Air jets use their pumps to push surrounding air into your tub to create bubbles that gently massage targeted areas of your body. Water jets draw water from the tub, heat it then push it back into the tub to create a firm jet stream. 

Most people can’t feel the difference between water and air jets and both are great for relieving stress and pain associated with arthritis, stiff joints, and other ailments. However, if you want to use any type of aromatherapy in your baths, such as bath bombs or oils, choose water jets. Using these products with air jets will cause build-up and the jets to stop working. However, water jets keep the residue from calcifying and extend the life of your jets.

Walk-in tub accessories

The most popular add-ons for walk-in tubs are heated seats, dual drains and extra safety bars. Some manufacturers, like Ella, include dual drains with all tub models, but most have this feature as an add-on. Adding a second drain will allow your tub to empty faster when you’re done, and heated seats make bathing just a little bit more comfortable.

Other accessories listed by manufacturers are faucet designs. Like traditional bathtubs, walk-in tub faucets come ins brass, silver and nickel finishes with various handle styles and showerheads.

Walk-in tub warranties

We chatted with a couple of dealers and regional sales representatives to learn a little bit about how to spot a quality tub. Everyone mentioned looking at the warranty included with your tub. Most of the bulk manufactured tubs sold in home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowes, come with a single year warranty. This is because these tubs typically aren’t built to last and therefore are cheaper to replace rather than fix if anything breaks down. But tubs that have a minimum five-year warranty typically, though more expensive, last a lot longer because they are built with better materials such as acrylic as opposed to fiber glass.

Walk-in tub installation

On top of purchasing a tub, you need to figure out how to get it into your bathroom. Some people like the idea of installing the tub themselves in order to save money. But because there is usually plumbing and electrical work involved, we recommended hiring a professional. If something goes wrong during install, professional installers have insurance that will pay for any rework or replacement of the tub. DIY installation tends to void any warranties.

If you go through a local dealer, they usually partner with a reputable installation company to help you. The easiest way to find a local dealer is to find one on the manufacturer's website.

ADA Compliant

The Americans with Disability Act of 1990 (ADA) require certain products, including bathtubs, to be accessible to individuals with physical limitations. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has published a list of ADA standards that should be followed by manufacturers, though generally, when it comes to walk-in tubs, following these standards is voluntary. All of the walk-in tub manufactures we reviewed are ADA compliant.

How much does a walk-in tub cost?

It is possible to find a walk-in tub for under $1,500, but these generally are built with low-grade materials and not designed to last very long. For a quality and feature-rich tub with a decent warranty, you can expect to pay between $5,000 and $10,000. Most manufacturers don't offer financing, but do offer rebates, discounts to veterans, and help finding grants to cover the cost. You should expect to pay an additional cost, up to $3,000, for the installation of your walk-in tub.

Will Medicare pay for a walk-in tub?

No. Medicare doesn’t recognize walk-in tubs as a medical necessity. This goes for hot tubs and swim spas, too, even when recommended or prescribed by a physician. However, it may be possible to deduct a portion of the cost of a walk-in tub from your income tax. The IRS allows some deductions for medical expenses, including the purchase of medical equipment, when prescribed by a physician. To be sure, though, we recommend checking out the requirements on the IRS website or speaking with a certified accountant before filing your taxes. It is important to keep your receipts for any tax deductions you claim.