Buying Guide – How to Shop for a Hot Tub
Want to find out more about hot tubs, their benefits, and special features? The buying guide will walk you through hot tub basics, as well as key considerations when choosing a hot tub for your home.
How Hot Tubs Work
Humans across cultures have been taking hot, therapeutic baths for thousands of years, with archeological evidence suggesting that Egyptians began enjoying hot tubs around 2,000 B.C. Many cultures, especially in northern climates, have strong traditions that revolve around hot tubs and hot-water bathing to seek relief from the cold, as a place to socialize, and a way to relax. The history of the modern-day hot tub in America begins in the early 1900s, when the Jacuzzi brothers emigrated to California’s Bay Area from Italy. The Jacuzzi family invented the hydrotherapy jet in 1956 before developing the first self-contained, fully integrated whirlpool tub in 1968. By the 1970s, the Jacuzzi company expanded the baths to accommodate groups and spawned the modern-day hot tub industry.
Though hot tubs today are produced by many brands beyond Jacuzzi, the basic concept is largely the same: hot tubs send water through a system of pipework into a heating element, then jet the heated water into the bath itself. Most modern hot tubs include a control panel that lets you set jet pressure and choose a water temperature up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius).
Different Types of Hot Tubs
Hot tubs were historically made from wood. Cedar, teak, and redwood are among the most popular types of wood used for hot tubs. Technological advances in the mid-1970s introduced portable, acrylic tubs. The acrylic tubs replaced the wooden tubs in popularity, and several different types of tubs emerged as time passed There are four main types of hot tubs today are:
Above-Ground Hot Tub
Above-ground hot tubs are the most popular type of hot tub on the market. They are easily moved and usually do not require professional installation. They are made of molded acrylic, or thermal plastic, and come in a wide variety of styles, features, and price points ranging from $2,000 – $20,000. Above-ground models are generally easy to keep sanitized. They can be left to drain and refill with little supervision. They, like most hot tubs, need to be ‘shocked’ occasionally. Shocking is a cleaning process where you add cleaning chemicals to the water. It is advisable not to enter the hot tub during the shocking process or for a recommended number of hours after the water is shocked. Shocking can take up to 24 hours to clear up and be safe for bathing. Shocking will oxidize, or break down, organic material left behind from both the sanitizer and non-filterable materials, like sweat and soap. Above-ground hot tubs can also be purchased to accommodate saltwater systems, or saltwater chlorination, which lends for a more buoyant and therapeutic soak. Saltwater systems are also gentler on the eyes and skin.
In-Ground Hot Tub
In-ground hot tubs require professional installation and can be more expensive than above-ground models. They are not the type of tub that can be moved. In-ground hot tubs come in the molded acrylic versions, but they can also be concrete or tiled, like a swimming pool.
In-ground hot tubs are considered luxurious because they require more money and set up than an inflatable, or above-ground model. Still, an in-ground hot tub may be a better choice for you for a few reasons. They are much safer and easier to enter and exit which is helpful for the elderly, young, or anyone with mobility issues. In-ground hot tubs can be built with a much wider range of materials, including tile, and they are more aesthetically pleasing than above-ground hot tubs.
Inflatable Hot Tubs
Inflatable hot tubs are among the most affordable hot tubs. They can be easily installed and inflated. They are relatively easy to keep sanitized. Inflatable hot tubs are designed for a temporary assignment, which means they are easily drained and moved. Inflatable hot tubs cost under $1000 and come in square, round, and rectangular shapes. Despite being portable and temporary, they still have air jets, heating systems, and control panels. It is important to have both a cover and a ground pad when purchasing an inflatable hot tub.
Swim spas are a hybrid between a swimming pool and hot tub experiences. A larger version of the standard above-ground hot tub, they are built so a swimmer can swim against a current generated in the swim spa and get exercise.
Swim spas are helpful additions to homes where people can benefit from swim exercise and therapy on a regular basis but do not have space or funds for a full-sized pool. Swim spas are often connected to hot tubs in the same bathing area. They can serve as a great soaking pool to use as a part of contrast water therapy. Contrast water therapy is the method of vacillating between pools water set at different temperatures and has deep-healing effects on the human body.
Soaking tubs are a more traditional approach to the hot tub. They are often used in more rustic settings, or in places where spa culture is popular. Soaking tubs use firewood or coal to warm the water. They are often made of wood, but can also be made from stainless steel or copper. Soaking tubs are much deeper than a modern hot tub, with water levels going up to the neck. Soaking tubs are sometimes referred to as “Japanese Soaking Tubs,” and have grown to be a more popular choice for hot tub purchasers. They are simple, aesthetically pleasing, and have a sense of history and heritage that is lacking in modern models, which often have lights, a digital display pad, and are made from plastics.
Hot Tubs and Health
Cultures around the world have used hot bathing for relaxation and therapeutic purposes for centuries. Modern research associates regular hot tub use with a variety of health benefits, including:
- Stress reduction: Research has found submerging a body in warm water may help balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, boosting mood, cognitive function, and memory while reducing stress. Findings suggest that the body reacts to warm-water immersion in a similar way it does to meditation and other relaxation techniques.
- Improved cardiovascular health: Recent research suggests that heat therapy like saunas and hot water bathing can improve cardiovascular health by alleviating arterial stiffness and boosting circulation. Repetitive heat therapy can increase heart rate while reducing blood pressure, providing similar cardiovascular benefits to exercise.
- Disease prevention: A study on hot spa bathers in Japan found that routine bathing was associated with lower incidence rates of certain conditions, such as ischemic heart disease, hypertension, bronchial asthma, hyperlipidemia, renal disease, depression, and allergies.
- Improved range of motion: Hydrotherapy has been shown to restore flexibility by helping reduce joint pain and inflammation.
- Pain reduction: Studies on patients with chronic pain, including severe osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia sufferers, found hydrotherapy may be able to help reduce pain, stiffness, and tension. In addition, studies on people with chronic back pain saw a reduction in symptoms after hydrotherapy treatment.
- Improved circulation: Hot water increases circulation in the human body by opening the blood vessels. Blood flows more easily throughout the widened vessels.
- Muscle recovery: That same increase in circulation results in increased blood flow, oxygen, and nutrients into the muscles, which supports healing. This study found that muscles recover better after exhausting exercise if they are warmed, father than chilled.The jets in modern hot tubs have a massage-like healing effect on sore muscles.
- Aids workouts: Swim spas offer a space to swim laps. Soaking muscles for 10 minutes before stretching warms up and increases blood flow to muscles, enabling deeper stretches.
Certain technological features of a hot tub can also improve the healing experience of its bathers. Motors, shell design, and water quality all have an effect on how the bather feels.
- Powerful Motors: Premium hot tubs feature strong, efficient motors to power the jet and circulation systems. The motors power the massage effect you have in your hot tub and they also move the water through the filtration and heating systems in it. High motor power and efficiency will give you better massages and keep the water warmer and cleaner than the pumps found in low-quality hot tubs.
- Ergonomic Design: Many years of careful research and testing go into the development of hot tub seating. These ergonomically designed seats were constructed to keep their bathers comfortably in place while enjoying the hot tub’s powerful jets and massage options.
- Water Care: High-tech hot tubs may include state-of-the-art water filtration systems. These systems are highly effective at keeping the water clean and free of contamination. The water care systems are easy to maintain and require fewer chemicals than traditional systems, which improves the spa experience.
How Can Hot Tubs Help You Sleep?
In addition to many other health benefits, hot tubs can be used to promote healthy sleep. For those seeking to improve rest, hot tubs may serve as a natural alternative to prescription pills.
Soaking in a hot tub before bed may ease the transition into deep sleep. Your body temperature starts dropping at night to trigger sleep. When you soak in a hot tub, your body temperature rises before quickly cooling down as soon as you exit, signaling to your body that it’s time to rest.
In addition to cooling your body and preparing it for bed, hot water immersion can help you sleep by promoting relaxation and easing stress on your joints and muscles.
In studies on bathing before bed, subjects reported “good sleep” and “quickness of falling asleep” after warm baths. Similar research found significant increases in feelings of sleepiness and deep sleep after healthy volunteers took a warm bath.
Important Buying Considerations for Hot Tub Shoppers
To ensure your hot tub meets your personal needs and health goals, consider the following when making a purchasing decision:
Size, Shape, and Construction
Hot tubs seat anywhere from a single person to 12 people and come in a variety of shapes, including circular, square, triangle, and rectangular. To choose the right size and shape, consider where you will put your hot tub in your home, space limitations, and the number of family members/guests who you hope to accommodate.
Hot tubs also come in different materials, each of which will require different upkeep and provide a different aesthetic for your home. Common hot tub materials include:
- Wood: Hot tubs may be made from a variety of woods, including redwood, cedar, cypress, and teak. Wooden hot tubs create a rustic, natural look and emit a pleasing, relaxing aroma when wet. In addition, wooden hot tubs are more resistant to cracking, chipping, and blistering than plastic hot tubs, though they may require more maintenance like routine staining and sealing.
- Plastic: Compared to classic wood hot tubs, plastic or acrylic hot tubs are more widely available and come in a greater variety of designs. Plastic spas are more susceptible to aesthetic damage like cracking and chipping, but more durable and resistant to structural decay. Plastic hot tubs are typically easier to maintain than wooden hot tubs.
- Stainless steel: Stainless steel hot tubs are sleek, modern, and low-maintenance. Compared to other varieties of hot tubs, stainless steel spas offer a longer lifespan due to their structural strength and temperature- and corrosion-resistant properties. The material’s durability and recyclability make stainless steel an eco-friendly choice for a hot tub.
- Portable: Portable hot tub models tend to be inflatable, made from durable, puncture-resistant materials and inner-beam construction for support. Often equipped with pumps, heating, and filtration systems, inflatable hot tubs are easy to set up and tend to be inexpensive compared to permanent hot tub models. However, they may be slow to heat and often don’t include seats.
Indoor or Outdoor?
Whether you want to install your hot tub indoors or outdoors may impact the size, shape, and material of your spa.
An indoor hot tub offers privacy and protection from the elements, but may require certain sophisticated installation steps, including installing plumbing, electricity, ventilation, and a base. In addition, large, pre-assembled acrylic hot tubs may be impossible to fit through certain doors or hallways.
On the other hand, outdoor hot tubs may be easier to deliver and install, with the outdoors offering open ventilation and the possibility of being near a natural drainage site. With outdoor installation, you may enjoy a beautiful, natural view but sacrifice some privacy and convenience. With an outdoor hot tub, you may want to choose a more durable material, like plastic or stainless steel, to ensure longevity.
From basics like remote controls to luxuries like waterfalls, hot tubs can come with a wide variety of special features. Here are some to consider when choosing your hot tub:
- Remote control: Many remote controls allow you to set the temperature, lights, jet pressure, and more while seated anywhere in your hot tub or located within a certain distance outside of your hot tub.
- Lights: LED lighting can add safety and ambiance to your hot tub. Many spas come with multi-colored LED lighting systems that can be set to cycle or rest on a single shade.
- Jet settings: Some hot tub brands may offer different types of jets located in different areas, including strong, pulsating jets for larger muscle groups in the back and shoulders, directional jets for calves and neck, and hydromassage jets for the feet. Many models of hot tubs may allow you to adjust the speed and strength of your jets. Other models may offer aromatherapy and reflexology jet settings.
- Waterfall: Some hot tubs are equipped with waterfalls you can sit beneath for a shoulder and head massage.
- Sound system: Select hot tub models may offer music system with radios, AUX chords, and/or Bluetooth connectivity.
To ensure the safety of you and your family, there are certain safety features and procedures to consider with your spa. First and foremost: a secure hot tub cover is important not only for insulation and energy efficiency, but for the safety of children and pets. A quality hot tub cover should include child safety locks and be fully removable during use to avoid entrapment due to accidental closure.
The United States Consumer Product Safety Council requires hot tubs be kept below 104 degrees Fahrenheit and recommends lower temperatures for pregnant women and younger children. Modern hot tubs should be designed with a built-in sensor that prevents heat from exceeding 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Studies have suggested that pregnant women limit their time or abstain altogether from using a hot tub. A body temperature above 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.9 degrees Celsius) may raise issues during pregnancy, including increased risk of birth defects. In hot tubs, it can take as little as 10 minutes for body temperatures to exceed 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
Similarly, infants and toddlers should not be permitted in hot tubs because they are more susceptible to overheating. Older children, who are more susceptible to overheating and drowning accidents, should be constantly supervised.
Other safety concerns include dehydration, as hot temperatures can cause you to perspire more than normal. It is recommended that you drink plenty of fluids before and after leaving your hot tub, and that you do not consume alcohol before or during your hot tub session. Drinking alcohol can leave your more susceptible to extreme dehydration, heat exhaustion, and judgement impairment.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Proper cleaning and maintenance is key to keeping your hot tub safe and hygienic, while preventing costly hardware and water problems. Without routine upkeep, a hot tub can turn into a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.
Regardless of the model, all hot tubs require a basic physical and chemical check every week. This typically includes observing the water for cloudiness, discoloration, or residue, in addition to checking chemical levels with a testing strip.
Hot tub filters and covers generally require a cleaning once per month, while a drain and deep-cleaning may be required every four to six months. Users should shower before and after entering the hot tub. Before purchasing a hot tub, familiarize yourself with cleaning and maintenance protocols to ensure you are able to perform basic requirements.
Warranty and Return Policy
As you would with any significant investment, it’s important to ensure your hot tub is protected by a warranty for the duration of its lifetime. Before making a purchase, review your hot tub warranty and ensure terms are laid out clearly and are easy to understand, with no omission of important details.
A hot tub warranty should cover plumbing, equipment, shell, and controls. Reputable brands may offer a warranty from anywhere from one to five years on equipment and plumbing.