Call them spas, whirlpools, or jetted tubs; but what you’re describing is a bath tub that offers hydrotherapy – everything from just a good warm soak to the caress of air and the massage of circulating water. Although tubs that fit this description have been around for a couple of decades, the best of today’s hydrotherapy tubs are much more precise in targeting areas of the body that need relaxing, they eliminate hygiene concerns, and they offer the added bonus of chromatherapy (colored lights), aromatherapy (fragrances), and even sound therapy.
Although you can fit one in the same space as a standard-size bath tub (60 inches long and 30 to 36 inches wide) as we did in the smaller bathroom in Today’s Bath, many of the hydrotherapy tubs being sold are for master baths and run another foot larger in each direction. There are also a variety of shapes -round, square, rectangular, oval, and angled to fit into a corner -so accommodating one in a bath remodel is relatively easy whether it’s tucked into an alcove or featured on a raised platform at the center of the room. Most hydrotherapy tubs are made of vacuum-formed sheet acrylic, which offers a smooth finish, durability, and an almost endless range of colors. The other quality option for manufactured tubs is solid surfacing. Like a regular bathtub, they must be bedded in plaster or grout if they don’t have a built-in base. Plumbing is fairly typical for a tub: drain either right or left and the need for ½-in. hot and cold supply lines. (You may want to consider 3/4″ lines for tubs bigger than 80 gallons so they fill more quickly.) Electrical has to be run for the motors and pumps (120V or 240V depending on the tub), and an access hatch of at least 3 ft. by 2 ft. has to be created unless the tub comes with a removable skirt.
Choosing a Hydrotherapy Tub
One of the most important considerations in purchasing a hydrotherapy tub is getting one that is comfortable for your body. Some showrooms will let you remove shoes and belt buckles and actually lay down in the tub to try out the fit. In general, look for arm rests, lumbar support, and a head rest. Although many manufacturers brag about the number of jets in the tub, placement is more important. Look for recessed jets concentrated on the neck and back, as well as jets that focus on the soles of your feet. The controls for tubs range from a simple on/off air switch to a floating electronic remote that shows water temperature and allows you to precisely dial in the exact force of air, water or both that you want. But you also need to look beyond the bells and whistles to design that will maintain completely hygienic conditions. Although you will drain your hydrotherapy tub after every use (unlike a hot tub), any moisture that remains in the circulation pipes that surround the tub can harbor mold and disease. That’s why tubs are now designed with a slope to all circulating pipes, draining them completely. As a precaution, better tubs also have a bacteria-killing ozone sanitation system that the circulating water runs through. Finally, some tubs automatically purge the air system after use to make sure this tubing is also put to bed bone dry.