Hot Tub vs Swim Spa: Which One Is Right for You?

Jennifer Rhodes

By Jennifer Rhodes · Updated

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Want to relax in bubbly warm water after a long day, or get a workout in your very own endless pool? If you can't decide whether to buy a hot tub or swim spa, this blog post is for you. We'll break down the pros and cons of each so that you can make the best decision for your needs.

In general, swim spas are better suited for exercise since they're larger and allow you to swim in them continuously. On the other hand, hot tubs are perfect for relaxing with friends as they are usually more ergonomic and luxurious.

Ultimately, hot tubs and swim spas are both excellent ways to give your backyard a massive upgrade. Still, if you have to choose one, let's get into the nitty gritty of how to know which one is right for you.

Differences between swim spas and hot tubs

Despite their similarities, hot tubs and swim spas have some significant differences. And understanding these differences is critical in deciding which one is best for you.

Here are some of the main characteristics of swim spas and hot tubs compared:

  • Size: Swim spas are typically much longer than hot tubs. After all, they're primarily supposed to help you exercise via swimming. In contrast, hot tubs are smaller and usually round or square-shaped. So if you're tight on space, a hot tub is probably the better pick.
  • Main use: There's no question about it, swim spas are primarily designed for exercise. Sure, you can also relax in them (and also work out in hot tubs for that matter!) but the verdict on this one is clear: if your main goal is fitness, get a swim spa.
  • Seating: Hot tubs are all about leisure and relaxation. Because of that, they tend to have more ergonomic and cozy seats than those in a swim spa. Some swim spas have no seats at all.
  • Jets: Both hot tubs and swim spas have jets. However, the jets inside a hot tub feel soothing, much like a massage. Meanwhile, swim spas jets are mostly designed to mimic currents so you can swim in place—similar to a treadmill. Many swim spas do also have a couple of jetted seats for relaxing, but it's never going to compare to those in a hot tub.
  • Temperature: As hot tubs are designed to be relaxed in, you generally run them hotter than a swim spa. Swim spas are designed to be cooler so you don't overheat during a workout. You can turn them up, but generally to a maximum of 100°F, whereas a hot tub will go to 104°F.
  • Cost: Believe it or not, hot tubs and swim spas are not necessarily as different in price as you might think. Although swim spas are typically more expensive due to their larger size, the most expensive hot tubs overlap in price with the cheapest swim spas. You can see some examples in my swim spa cost guide.

While there are some big differences between the two, you can't go wrong with either one—they just serve different purposes. Both are ultimately excellent investments that will give you enviable health benefits as well as an inviting place to unwind, socialize, and have fun.

Hot tub vs swim spa: questions to ask yourself

Now you know the differences, it's time to choose between a swim spa and a hot tub. And to help, here are some of the most crucial things you should think about:

  • Exercise: Are you looking for a way to do some aquatic fitness? If so, you should get a swim spa. Most even come with features for controlling water resistance. That way, you can fine-tune your workout right there in your backyard.
  • Social events: Swim spas are excellent for parties since their large size can accommodate many people (kind of like a mini pool). Meanwhile, hot tubs are better for low-key get-togethers since they're smaller and more relaxing. What's your primary use going to look like?
  • Available space: You'll need a relatively large area to install your swim spa. Reinforcing or remodeling your back deck may also be necessary. On the other hand, a small hot tub can go almost anywhere. Do you have space constraints?
  • Relaxation: The loungers and bucket seats in hot tubs are the perfect places to let your troubles melt away. Swim spas often have seating too, but they're often a bit more of an afterthought. So if you solely want a place to relax, hot tubs are your best bet. Is fitness or relaxation more important to you?

Pros and cons of getting a hot tub

Still not sure if you want a hot tub or swim spa? In that case, learning the pros and cons of each one can make choosing much simpler.

To get started, here are the benefits of owning a hot tub over a swim spa:

  • Smaller footprint: Since they're smaller, finding a location that can fit a hot tub is generally easier.
  • Luxury: The cozy seats and therapeutic jets of hot tubs give them a lavish feel.
  • Lower maintenance costs: Hot tubs typically have 3 or 4 times less water than swim spas, so they don't cost as much to run or maintain.

Now, here are some downsides to also keep in mind:

  • Less spacious: The design of most hot tubs focuses on maximizing their available seating. As a result, some models can feel a little cramped.
  • Redundancy: Swim spas can also heat their water, making them more versatile than hot tubs if you don't care about reaching the highest temperatures.
  • Exercise is more difficult: You generally don't have the room to practice a lot of water fitness in a hot tub. It can be done, but it's limited.

Pros and cons of getting a swim spa

Swim spas have both benefits and downsides, just like hot tubs do. To illustrate, here is a list of some of their pros:

  • Fitness: The jets in swim spas create resistance powerful enough for you to swim. Some even come with exercise cables, bikes, and other fitness features.
  • Higher occupancy: Thanks to their large size, swim spas are perfect for social gatherings or for the kids to play in.
  • Versatility: Swim spas provide hydrotherapy, exercise, and soothing relaxation. Meanwhile, you can mostly only really lounge in a hot tub.

As you can see, swim spas are an excellent investment. However, they do have drawbacks:

  • Large footprint: Due to their massive size, finding a spot for your swim spa may be tricky. In some cases, remodeling may be necessary.
  • Higher costs: Swim spas generally cost more, and require significantly more water than a hot tub, which means higher running costs.
  • Less cozy: Swim spas are mostly for aquatic fitness. So while they have seating, it's usually less comfortable than kicking back in a hot tub.

Can you get both a swim spa and hot tub in one?

Even if you have all the answers, picking a swim spa or hot tub can still be challenging. So, why not get the best of both worlds?

As it turns out, dual-zone swim spas are hybrid products that do exactly that. At one end is a swim spa big enough for exercising. And at the other is a hot tub perfect for kicking back and relaxing.

Usually, a small divider separates these two zones. Although, there are models that are continuous to make moving between them more streamlined.

Here are some reasons why you should get one:

  • Family-friendly: While the adults unwind in the hot tub, your kids can play and splash around in the swim spa.
  • Social gatherings: Dual zone swim spas are usually bigger than standard swim spas. As a result, they're great for backyard parties.
  • Everyone is satisfied: Do you want a hot tub to relax while your spouse wants a swim spa for fitness? Then getting a dual zone swim spa could ensure everyone is happy.

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