People often ask me about my opinion on walk-in tubs. Walk-in tubs look like tall bathtubs with a door that allows a person to step inside or sit on a seat to slide into the tub. After you close the door, you fill up the tub with water and bathe as usual.
Walk-in tubs seem ubiquitous! Every time I turn on the TV, I see a commercial showing a smiling older adult confidently stepping out of the walk-in tub. The announcer explains how easily walk-in tubs could replace your current tub shower and how this product improves your safety and independence.
“Imagine closing your eyes while soaking in a luxurious walk-in tub.”
Marketers harp the ability for people to enjoy showering or bathing for their lifetime with these great, quality walk-in tubs. However, I think it’s a good idea to take a step back and look at the overall picture of walk-in tubs. In my experience as an occupational therapist working with clients from all backgrounds, I am not convinced walk-in tubs are suitable for everyone. I present to you six reasons to reconsider buying a walk-in tub!
1) Safety Features:
If you are contemplating buying a walk-in tub, make sure you ask for safety features like grab bars and non slip flooring and seating. Paying a little more up front will save money in the long run compared to the cost of an emergency room visit and hospitalization! Of course, you could add non slip decals or coating to surfaces after purchase, but that may violate the manufacturer’s warranty. Although you are stepping or sliding into and out of the walk-in tub, surfaces feel slippery when wet. Remember, the number one cause of falls in the bathroom is slipping while stepping out of the shower!
2) Customize to the Client:
Contractors are great at installing and building things, but their job does not include considering the size and reach of the client. If you have a hand held shower head installed along with the walk-in tub, you want it to be within your reach while you’re sitting down, right? Well my friends, sometimes the hand held shower head is installed out of the reach of the person who would like to use it.
I worked with a woman who shared her story of installing a walk-in tub at home. She also requested to have a hand held shower head installed to rinse her hair while using the walk-in tub. My client felt dismayed when she discovered she could not reach the hand held shower head while sitting down. The shower head sprayed water all over her bathroom dousing the floor and walls! Talk about a fall risk! This particular client is very petite, which means standard measurements for hand held shower head placement do not work for her.
I encouraged her to contact the company who installed it and request to place the hand held shower head in a different location. My client’s experience also highlights the fact on why it is a good idea for occupational therapists to be involved with home modifications, like installing a walk-in tub, in order for projects to be customized for the use of the client.
3) Mr. Freeze:
This same client brought up another problem: she felt “frozen” while the walk-in tub filled up with water. Unfortunately, people need to sit inside the walk-in tub and close the door completely shut before you can turn on the water. Walk-in tubs do not come with any type of heating system, like radiant heating in the ceiling, and rely solely on hot water to warm the client.
Walk-in tub companies report their faucets and drains move water quickly to lessen the client’s experience of feeling cold. But that still means you are going to feel cold while waiting for the water to fill the tub and empty out! Do you really want to pay thousands of dollars to feel uncomfortable?
Installing a radiant heating system in the ceiling will increase the overall price of installing the walk-in tub. As people age, it is easier to feel cold, especially in your birthday suit! Many customers want a heating system for comfort. Make sure to look for a system that uses energy efficiently. Some heating systems can use a lot of electricity keeping you warm while you bathe in the walk-in tub.
I found that people who feel cold or unsafe with walk-in tubs shower less frequently or not at all! These type of people “sponge bathe” or bathe at the bathroom or kitchen sink. It does not make sense to install a walk-in tub that is seldom used!
5) Medical Conditions:
If you have a progressive medical condition, walk-in tubs will not be safe in years to come. Progressive medical conditions, such as Parkinson’s or dementia, cause people to lose the strength and ability to move as well as they used to. Walk-in tubs require people to have a certain amount of balance and strength to open/close the door, step or slide inside and out, lean, reach, and sit/stand upright. When you lose the ability to do those things, the walk-in tub becomes completely obsolete to you. In fact, walk-in tubs become dangerous to try and get in and out!
Dangerous to get in and out to take a bath? Inconceivable! Sad, but true!
There are instances where people with progressive medical conditions have slipped off the seat in the walk-in tub to the floor. They were unable to push and lift themselves off of the floor of the walk-in tub! It’s terrifying when you consider that you cannot open the door until you drain the tub! Not to mention, it’s hard for rescuers to help people stuck in the tub because of slippery skin and bathroom surfaces. It may take hours for rescuers to successfully help a person out of the walk-in tub. Can you imagine being in the position?
Walk-in tubs are not good for the caregiver (i.e. family, friends, or paid workers). From an ergonomic perspective, caregivers may feel more back pain from assisting a person in/out of the walk-in tub and the extra bending and reaching over to help with bathing. For instance, it takes more effort for a caregiver to reach over and help a client with lower body bathing. Don’t be surprised if a caregiver will object to you installing a walk-in tub in your house!
7) Bonus Reason!
Walk-in tubs are very pricey for a lot of people. They can cost up to $20,000 depending on the model and accessories. If installed and you don’t like it, it will cost thousands to remove and replace it.
Many people I know simply do not have the finances to install a walk-in tub. Perhaps that is for the best. I do not see walk-in tubs as a cost efficient option for the majority of the population because of the potential problems they cause. I really only condone them if a person has the finances and space in the house to install a walk-in tub in addition to a tub shower or barrier free shower.
Look, I am not here to bash or put down walk-in tubs. I just feel like they are marketed as the solution for people who cannot get in and out of the tub. That is not the case: walk-in tubs are not the solution for every person!
At the end of the day, I urge you to thoroughly consider all the factors when looking at a walk-in tub. List out your expectations and needs and then look at all of your options. Will walk-in tubs really meet your standard over the long term? Have you researched other options such as barrier free showers? If you find yourself in need of some extra guidance, look into consumer reviews of walk-in tubs and call up an occupational therapist! Ask your friends and family if they have installed a walk-in tub. What did they think about it?
For the cost and time to install a walk-in tub, I encourage you to be an informed consumer and make the best decision for you. I hate to see people completely dissatisfied with a product that affects their ability to bathe! I want to hear your thoughts or experience with walk-in tubs below in the comments. Tell me what you think!