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What are Walk-In Bathtubs?

Michael Pollick
By
Updated Feb 19, 2024
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Walk-in bathtubs, also called safety tubs, allow users to enter without climbing in. Watertight doors swing open when the tub is empty, creating an entryway rarely more than a few inches above the floor. Once the bather is properly seated, oversized faucet controls make water temperature adjustments much easier than in a traditional bathtub. Walk-in bathtubs may also contain hand-held shower nozzles, standard shower heads and/or jacuzzi-style therapeutic water jets.

Walk-in bathtubs are primarily marketed towards the elderly or handicapped population, although their compact design and added features have proven appealing to a wide range of customers. Walk-in bathtubs are often taller and narrower than traditional bathtubs, making them ideal for smaller spaces such as laundry rooms and converted closets. If a homeowner should become a caretaker for an elderly or infirmed relative, a walk-in bathtub may be a good option for a second bathroom.

Many of us take bathing for granted, but it can be a tremendous challenge for those in wheelchairs or otherwise restricted in movement. Walk-in bathtubs often feature raised seats for a safer transfer from wheelchair to bath and back. Elderly users can opt to take a seated bath or use the seat as leverage. For more independent living, some walk-in tubs include a transfer bar and side rails. Therapeutic jets can soothe aching muscles and restore some mobility.

One controversial aspect of walk-in bathtubs concerns the watertight doors. Some walk-in bathtubs utilize an inward-swinging door while others utilize an outward-swinging door. The debate over which system is preferable hinges on safety and economic concerns. An inward-swinging door allows the user to walk directly into the tub, but he or she must maneuver around it once inside. This may not be easy for a handicapped user. As the tub fills, the pressure of the water keeps the inward-swinging door closed tightly. Until the water is completely drained, the door will not open easily. This could be troublesome in an emergency. Most walk-in bathtubs sold today use an inward-swinging door because the design is cost effective and proven safe.

Some manufacturers believe that an outward-swinging door is preferable. As long as there is enough clearance for the door, the user can enter the bathtub and close the door without excessive maneuvering. Walk-in bathtubs with outward-swinging doors may use mechanical means to ensure a tighter seal. The main advantage of an outward-swinging door is a quicker escape during an emergency, as the door can still be opened quickly if the tub is full. The door can also be used as additional leverage for wheelchair-bound bathers. Walk-in bathtubs with outward-swinging doors may be more expensive, but for certain types of physical conditions they may be a better choice.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By Harshada — On May 28, 2013

I think a walk in bathtub is a must for senior citizens and those who face physical disability in case of their safety while having bath. It prevents slip and falls.

In spite of that, walk in baths offer a luxurious experience. Also it provides lot of health benefits like it soothes muscles and joints, improves circulation, reduces stress and improves sleep patterns.

By anon280714 — On Jul 19, 2012

While these baths can be beneficial, my parents have one and it's been nothing but problematic. First, they don't like sitting in while it fills, so they fill it and climb over the side to get in, which defeats the purpose of having the door.

Second is the door itself. It is an outward swinging door, so my Mom has flooded the house twice now because she starts the bath but forgets to close the door and walks away. We are now going to remove this bath and install a shower only stall for them.

By anon76875 — On Apr 12, 2010

My grandmother had problems getting her legs over the tub to take a shower. She had a product called a Safeway Step installed. Worked great and was a fraction of the cost of a remodel. Actually cost less than $800. Can't recommend it enough.

By anon47088 — On Oct 01, 2009

I hope this help people who are out there in a similar situation to mine. My father, who lives with me, has his own bathroom here. Unfortunately, it was a bathroom that contained a combination tub/shower with a glass door. Because my father has difficulty with his balance and also has some neuropathy, we knew we needed a different set-up for him. It was dangerous for him to step over the side of the tub and I also had visions of him falling through the glass door. Changing the tub into just a shower would require major plumbing changes, so we looked into and purchased one of the newly advertised walk-in bath tubs. I know that there are many senior citizens who would benefit from it. The hydrotherapy is an especially nice feature for relieving back/ legs pains and relieving osteoporosis discomfort. I did tons of shopping around and zeroed in on a acrylic quality tub with the hydrotherapy for the most affordable amount.

By anon41430 — On Aug 14, 2009

The most important factor to consider is who will install? Who will warranty? If it is any plumber, well, you may have issues as well as have warranty issues. Seek a company that delivers and installs and has a good BBB reputation.

By youngbest — On Jan 03, 2008

In our opinion Gel Coat Fiberglass is the more desirable material.

By anon6606 — On Jan 03, 2008

In our opinion Gel Coat Fiberglass is the more desirable material. Anyway walk-in bathtub is convenient for the elderly or handicapped.

By anon2011 — On Jun 24, 2007

While it is accurate that acrylic does not have the tensile strength of fiberglass and is not the appropriate material in and of itself for a tall tub, Acrylic Walk-In Bathtubs are ALL constructed of acrylic overlaid on fiberglass, and are just as strong, durable and safe as totally fiberglass/gel coat Walk-In Bathtubs.

There are benefits and drawbacks to both acrylic and fiberglass, neither is perfect.

By Recoverybath — On Jun 22, 2007

One important concern when choosing a walk in bathtub, is the material that the bath is constructed from.

Avoid one that is made of Acrylic. It is a vacuum formed substance that can be very weak when stretched to the depths that a walk in tub requires.

Gel Coat Fiberglass is the more desirable material.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
Learn more
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