Use this checklist to guide you to the tub features that are right for you.
How high a tub threshold will you be able to handle now and in the future? Walk-in tub entry thresholds vary in height. For instance, Kohler’s walk-in tubs feature a 3-inch threshold while other manufacturers’ models can be as tall as 7 inches.
Grab Bars or Handrails
Because so many people need grab bars, many walk-in tubs have them. Young recommends visiting a showroom to test a walk-in tub’s grab bar location. Many factors, including the bather’s arm and leg strength, range of motion, grip strength, balance and coordination (plus their height, weight and body measurements) affect optimal grab bar placement. Check with your contractor, dealer or manufacturer to find out if a tub’s built-in grab bars can be moved to best meet your needs. Consider installing grab bars outside the tub to further prevent falls and injuries.
Choose a tub with a surface that’s safe when it’s wet. Most walk-in tubs feature non-slip surfaces, but not all non-slip surfaces are the same, says Young. She recommends a textured surface over a smooth one, noting that adding a bath mat and traction stickers inside the tub will further decrease the risk of falls. A non-slip rug or mat outside the tub is also essential.
Fill and Drainage Time
Because walk-in tubs are filled and drained while you sit inside them, an unclothed person can get chilly. A tub’s fill time depends on the flow rate from your water heater, and drainage time varies among tub models. Quick-drain tubs can drain in four minutes or less while conventional-drain tubs may take anywhere from six to 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, choosing a tub with a heated seat or installing a ceiling heater in the bathroom can help keep you or your loved one warm as the tub fills and drains.
Inward vs. Outward Walk-In Tub Door
Walk-in tub doors open either inward (toward the tub) or outward (toward the room). Outward-opening doors are generally easier to move through, especially for people transferring from wheelchairs. However, an inward-opening door may be necessary if your bathroom is small.
However, the bather’s specific physical challenges determine which door is preferable. An outward-opening door may be difficult for someone with limited arm range of motion to close. With an inward-opening door, it may be difficult to get legs and feet out of the way when you close it.
A clean bathtub is essential to preventing skin infection and mold contamination, but cleaning a tub can be unsafe for seniors. Self-cleaning bathtubs spray jets of antibacterial and anti-mold chemicals into the empty tub after a bath. Pipes are purged of hazardous materials, keeping the bathtub safe and clean. Ultraviolet lights also sanitize bathtubs, and some manufacturers use this technology as well.
In-Line Water Heating
Will your current water heater handle the volume of water needed for your tub? Walk-in tubs, especially those with hydrotherapy jets, use large quantities of water. Your contractor may recommend an in-line or tankless heater to keep up with the demand.
A tankless water heater provides a uniform supply of hot water, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The water is available on demand because you don’t need to fill up a larger reservoir with hot water. However, you may experience a slower flow than with a conventional tank-style heater.
A walk-in tub and shower combination enables you to enjoy the benefits of a walk-in tub and the convenience of a shower. Some of these tubs surround the bather with a tall transparent wall, and some are three-sided with a shower curtain rod above the entry side of the tub.
If you’re looking for a less expensive option, consider purchasing a separate enclosure to install above your walk-in tub. Ask your contractor or the manufacturer if this is a viable option with your choice of tub.
A handheld showerhead makes bathing easier for those with mobility challenges. “A handheld shower can be an enhancement because it allows more flexibility for the user,” says Fritzi Gros Daillon, a senior home safety specialist and educator with Age Safe America, a training and advocacy organization.
A handheld shower also helps with shampooing and tub cleaning, and it makes it easier for a caregiver to assist with a bath, says Young.