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Walk-In Bathtubs: Dream Come True or Big Mistake?

Written by Kevin Huwe, PATF Funding Assistance Coordinator

Everyone has seen the 60 second commercial for a bathtub with a door, proclaiming that this bathtub alone will solve all your accessibility issues. And it looks like it will! Imagine, the luxury of a hot bath without the risk of injury while climbing over the side of the tub. For a person with limited mobility, it seems like a dream come true, complete with handrails, seats, and textured pads to keep you from slipping.

What those commercials fail to tell you is that those miracle tubs often come with a lot of extra headache and expense. Make an informed decision before you buy one by considering some of the following points:

  1. Walk in tub.

    One example of a walk-in bathtub.

    Water Heater Capacity: With limited mobility in mind, many of these tubs have tall seats that are easy to reach. However, to accommodate this, the tub wall needs to be significantly higher than that of an average bathtub. This equates to gallons more water required to fill the tub, meaning a higher water bill and possibly a larger water heater to accommodate a tub this size.

  2. Drain Time: Another thing to consider is that a tub this large also takes a long time to drain. Because you can’t open the door until all the water has drained, you’re stuck, shivering and waiting until you can get out. If this is a concern, installing an extra heat source in the bathroom will at least keep you warm while you wait. However, this will be an extra cost.
  3. Leaks: If you’ve done your research, and your water heater can accommodate this tub, and you’ve planned to install your heat lamp, be aware that it is not uncommon that, over time, these tubs might leak. Soap scum can build up in the gasket around the door, or some people may lean on the door to steady themselves, and eventually the door doesn’t close properly, causing a leak.
  4. Lifts and Caregivers: If you use a lift mechanism to get into the tub, be sure to check whether your lift can hoist you high enough to clear the wall of the tub. And, if you require the help of an attendant/caregiver when bathing, keep in mind that the height of the side of the tub can make it difficult to assist in washing below the waist.
  5. Cost: One final consideration is that walk-in tubs can be quite expensive, especially when you add in installation costs, as well as all the extras, like a larger water heater, increased water bills, another heat source in the bathroom, and possible damage repair from leaks.
Roll-in shower.

One example of a roll-in shower.

All of these factors should be considered when thinking about accessibility options in the bathroom. My preference for those with mobility issues, is a barrier-free, roll-in shower because it can accommodate a wide range of disabilities. For those who have balance issues, you don’t have to lift your legs over the side of the tub. For those who have difficulty standing during a shower, you can add a removable tub bench. If you are unable to stand and walk, you can be transferred to a shower chair and rolled into the shower. A barrier-free shower allows an attendant/caregiver more room to assist. Multiple grab bars make it safer for the person with the disability and the caregiver. Cost may be comparable with the additions of seating and grab-bars, but the accessibility and convenience of a roll-in shower, as opposed to a walk-in tub, is superior, in my opinion.

The best thing you can do is your research. Be informed of all the options available and how they can benefit your situation not only for today but in the foreseeable future.


Need help paying for modifications to your bathroom? Contact us to learn more about what funding resources are available to you, or visit our programs page to learn more about our low-interest and 0% interest loan programs.