Hot Tubs vs Bathtubs: Do You Need Both?

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Hot tubs and bathtubs may have a bunch of similarities, but their differences are actually pretty significant too. From size to benefits to functionality and maintenance, there's not as much overlap as you might think.

  • A hot tub is a portable pool of heated water designed to accommodate more than one person (often between two and eight people). They're used mostly for relaxation purposes and/or social soaking with friends and family.
  • On the other hand, a bathtub is a container filled with hot water for bathing purposes. These are usually a single-person (or occasionally a two-person) fixture.

So, which is better? When would you use one over the other? Do you need a hot tub if you already have a bathtub at home?

What are the differences between a hot tub and a bathtub?

To answer these questions, let's start with the key features that set them apart.

  • Location: Hot tubs are mainly used outdoors, though you can fix them indoors if you have adequate space (an extra room, garage, etc.). In contrast, bathtubs are primarily for indoor use inside the bathroom.
  • Purpose: Hot tubs are used for relaxation and socializing, while bathtubs are used for bathing.
  • Heating: Hot tubs have a thermostat that regulates the water temperature (often keeping it between 100-104°F or 37.8-40°C), while bathtub water temperature isn't regulated. Once you fill the tub with hot water, it starts losing heat immediately—though this exact rate depends on the bathtub material.
  • Cost: Hot tubs are pretty expensive compared to bathtubs, costing over $10,000 in some cases, mostly due to their size and technology. Even if most bathtubs, especially fixed models, require extensive installation work (which escalates their cost) their average price still pales when compared to hot tubs.
  • Size: Hot tubs are usually large, accommodating multiple people (2-8), while bathtubs are smaller, with a capacity of a single user or two people in some models.

Hot tubs vs bathtubs: which is better?

While hot tubs and bathtubs have clear differences, they share a few similarities that may leave you at a crossroads if you're trying to decide between them. For instance, though traditional bathtubs are often fixed to a corner or alcove, modern designs include freestanding models that could be relocated from one room to another.

And again, if you're after a hot tub for its therapeutic benefits, you can still get some of the same experience from certain bathtubs, especially when you consider jetted models. You might have difficulty deciding between a hot tub vs a jetted bathtub if you're looking for muscle relaxation or back therapy benefits.

Here's my take on it:

If you enjoy quiet, relaxing soaks in the bath alone, and don't see yourself really using a hot tub with others, I'd stick with a bathtub. But if you want a social gathering place (maybe you don't even have a bathtub in your home, I don't currently!) or you want an advanced hydrotherapy massage right in your backyard, consider a hot tub.

Nonetheless, here's a rundown of the pros and cons of each in a little more detail to help you decide.

Pros of hot tubs

  • Regulated temperature: Hot tubs have a thermostat that keeps the water regulated at a standard temperature range, allowing you to enjoy a consistent, hot soak throughout your soak in the tub.
  • Filtration: Hot tub water is kept sanitary through a combination of filtration and chemicals—a feature that is not present in bathtubs.
  • Space requirements: Hot tubs are fairly flexible when it comes to space. There are plenty of different sizes to choose from, and you don't have to try to fit them in your house; the yard or patio usually makes an ideal location. However, if your bathroom is too tiny to accommodate a decent-sized bathtub, you may not have much of an option beyond building an extension.
  • Portability: Hot tubs (at least the small or inflatable ones) are portable, meaning you can change their location as your needs change. For instance, you can move it from the yard to the garage during winter to continue enjoying soaks indoors. Again, if you move homes, you could even take your hot tub with you.
  • Health benefits: From mental health benefits such as de-stressing to physical health benefits like reducing back pain, soaking in a hot tub provides significant therapeutic benefits. Even a jetted bathtub can't match the hydrotherapy of a high-end hot tub.
  • Installation: Hot tub setup doesn't have to be complicated if you have a suitable flat surface. You might choose to have an electrician install a 240V outlet, and then they can just wire in the spa—unlike most bathtubs which require many hours of plumbing work (and possibly renovating the whole bathroom) to install.

Cons of hot tubs

  • Risk of infection: Without spot-on maintenance and hygiene, hot tubs carry the potential of spreading infections and creating an environment where bacteria can grow.
  • Risk of heat stress: Excessive heat exposure can lead to serious health risks, so it's important to limit your time in the hot tub to avoid dehydration—the spa won't cool on its own so you have to time your sessions.
  • Cleaning: Hot tubs require a pretty rigorous cleaning and maintenance schedule to keep the water safe and sanitary. With a bathtub, you can simply let the water out when you're done and wipe over the surface with a mild household detergent.

Pros of bathtubs

  • Therapeutic benefits: Soaking in any ordinary bathtub is still pretty relaxing. In fact, many people prefer a simple soak without all the fancy bells and whistles of a spa. What's more, models such as the jetted bathtub can provide even deeper therapeutic benefits to people with back and joint pain issues—without taking up the space outside that a hot tub would.
  • Accommodates the entire family: Bathtubs can be used to bathe small children, who would not be allowed to soak in a hot tub.
  • Variety of models: Bathtubs come in various designs, giving you a host of options to choose from: under-mount, alcove, freestanding, corner, drop-in, jetted, walk-in, etc. Sadly, there's no such thing as a walk-in outdoor hot tub.
  • Increases home resale value: Built-in bathtubs often increase the home value. As some people prefer houses with a bathtub, having one increases the chances of closing a sale faster when you decide to sell the home. The same isn't always true of hot tubs—in fact, some homebuyers view them as a liability and even request for the hot tub to be removed as part of the sale!
  • You can use bath bombs: As bath water is changed every time, you can put whatever you like in it to enhance the experience—bath bombs, epsom salts, essential oils... While there are some hot tub aromatherapy options, you have to protect the chemical balance and equipment, so they are much more limited.

Cons of bathtubs

  • Installation: The cost of installing a bathtub can be hefty. And unless it's a freestanding unit, you cannot change its location without incurring additional cost once you install it.
  • Short-lived soaks: You can only enjoy a bathtub soak as long as the water remains warm, which doesn't last for long.
  • Space limitation: Since you can only install a bathtub in the bathroom, you might end up with a congested space if your bathroom is small. This can't be easily fixed unless you're planning to move walls around.

Clearing up some other confusing terms

While scouring the web for information on hot tubs, you might have come across these other two hot tub 'synonyms'—spa and Jacuzzi. Often, people use the three terms interchangeably. However, they may or may not have different meanings depending on the context.

Are all spas hot tubs?

While a hot tub usually refers to a portable spa, not all spas are hot tubs. For example, an in-ground spa is going to be less likely to get called a hot tub.

Are all hot tubs spas?

On the other hand, not all hot tubs can be considered spas either. The classic example here is the wooden hot tub. These traditional tubs are not referred to as spas because the word 'spa' is usually reserved for the more modern acrylic type of hot tub which typically has more modern technology and fancy features.

What about hot tub vs Jacuzzi?

If someone talks about a Jacuzzi, they're almost certainly referring to a hot tub. Nonetheless, not all hot tubs are Jacuzzis, since the latter is a brand name—just like Bullfrog Spas, ThermoSpas, and Master Spas.

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