Buying an Inflatable Hot Tub: The Essential Pre-Purchase Guide

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Inflatable hot tubs can be a great way to enjoy some of the luxury of an expensive spa without breaking the bank—or going through the hassle of installation.

If you're in the market for one, this guide is for you. I'll take a brutally honest look at the pros and cons of inflatable spas, answer the most common questions people have, and ultimately help you decide if an inflatable hot tub is the right choice for you.

My goal is to go over everything you need to know before buying an inflatable hot tub so that your purchase won't be a waste of money.

Costs

Why are inflatable hot tubs so expensive?

Inflatable hot tubs typically cost anywhere from $400 to around $1,000.

While this might seem expensive, it's important to keep things in perspective here: an inflatable spa can still provide hours of relaxation and rejuvenation while costing less than one tenth as much as a traditional hot tub.

And these are not inflatable kiddie pools. While they might seem more like that than a traditional spa in some ways, the mechanical components required to heat, filter, and circulate water are fairly advanced, so there is a cost to that. You're not just paying for the inflatable shell itself.

One other factor here is demand. Due to the huge increase in demand for all kinds of hot tubs since 2020, manufacturers are having trouble keeping up. This means that it's difficult for them to produce enough inflatable hot tubs, so the ones that are available are being sold at a premium.

Are there any alternatives to paying these prices?

Yes! Believe it or not, you might be able to find better deals on inflatable spas by looking into used options instead of buying new. Even with the surge in popularity, there are still people who bought an inflatable spa and found it didn't meet their expectations for whatever reason, so they're selling it on.

If you do buy one of these, make sure that the spa is in good working order—always ask to see it filled and operating before committing to the sale.

Are inflatable hot tubs more expensive to run?

When compared to the average acrylic or rotomolded hardshell spa, inflatable hot tubs will generally be a little more expensive to run.

There are two reasons for this: first, the equipment is cheaper and of a lower quality than you would find in a traditional spa; and second, because it's inflatable there's very little insulation underneath or around the spa itself, so it loses heat much more quickly than a hardshell spa with good quality insulation.

On the other hand, inflatable spas are smaller so they don't have as much water to heat, or multiple pumps, heaters, or any of the fancy features you find in other spas—so you're also not paying for all of those extras. This balances things out a little.

You're also only talking tens of dollars a month difference, not hundreds.

As long as you know this going in and plan accordingly (there are even several things you can do to improve the insulation), then inflatable spas can still provide excellent value.

Usage

How long does an inflatable hot tub last?

On average, you can expect an inflatable hot tub to last around three years.

This may be shorter if it is used more frequently, if you get unlucky with faulty equipment, or in the case that it's left outside in all weather conditions (especially colder climates) for long periods. You will find people complaining that their hot tubs only lasted a few months, but bear in mind that this could also be due to lack of care and maintenance.

If your spa is well-maintained though, you could get around five years of use from it, or even longer. If you're okay with replacing the occasional component (heaters are the most common thing to break), then you'll also get a lot more use from it.

Of course, there is a range in quality between different brands and models so the quality will affect how long your spa lasts too.

How noisy are inflatable hot tubs?

All hot tub pumps make some noise, but an inflatable spa can be slightly louder because it has no insulated enclosure like a regular spa.

However, it shouldn't be so loud that it's unpleasant to use—or that it attracts complaints from the neighbors! Think of it more like a low, constant hum.

A lot of noise issues are down to poor placement of the pump, where it can vibrate more than it should. Here's how you can avoid this:

  • Make sure the pump is on a level, hard surface.
  • Put foam protection mats down beneath the pump.
  • Make sure the pump isn't near any walls.
  • Do not put the pump on uneven ground such as gravel or artificial grass.
  • Make sure the pump isn't trapped or enclosed.

There's a Lay-Z-Spa noise troubleshooting guide with more detailed suggestions on what to try if your pump is still noisy.

How deep are inflatable hot tubs?

Inflatable hot tubs are typically 25-28 inches deep, depending on the model. That's several inches shallower than traditional spas which are 32-38 inches on average.

Don't forget that hardshell spas also have some space for insulation under the tub though, whereas inflatable spas sit directly on the ground.

The depth shouldn't affect how comfortable it feels though—bear in mind that you sit on the ground in pretty much all inflatable spas, so a couple of feet of water is enough to come up to around shoulder height for most adults when seated.

Do inflatable hot tubs have seats?

I do not know of any inflatable hot tub that has built-in seats. They are all designed so you sit on the floor. However, if this doesn't appeal, there are a couple of things you can try.

Intex make an adjustable seat which can raise you up either 3 or 5.8 inches off the ground. You can use it with any brand of inflatable spa.

Intex 28502E PureSpa Slip Resistant Removable Contoured Seat, 2 Pack
Intex 28502E PureSpa Slip Resistant Removable Contoured Seat, 2 Pack
View on Amazon

Another idea is to try a hot tub booster seat. These are submersible cushioned seats that also lift you up a few inches. You might find one of these a bit softer and more comfortable than hard plastic, and you can use them in any type of spa.

Do you leave inflatable hot tubs on all the time?

In most cases, you should leave an inflatable hot tub on all the time. It's cheaper and more energy-efficient to maintain the temperature of your inflatable hot tub than to heat it up every time you use it. If you plan on not using an inflatable hot tub for several weeks, however, then you should drain, dry, and pack away the spa.

That said, the rules are different if you have an inflatable spa outside in an area with very cold winters. In this case, you should expect to pack away your inflatable hot tub each fall and bring it out again in spring (unless you have a model designed to withstand harsh winters—more on that in a second).

Most inflatable spas are only really designed to be used for around six or seven months of the year, or when average temperatures are above 40°F. This is because the materials used to create inflatable hot tubs are not as hardwearing as those used in regular spas, so they can be damaged by the cold pretty easily.

This isn't a problem where I live in California, for example, because the average minimum temperature is above 40°F. But if you live somewhere with a colder climate, then an inflatable hot tub probably won't be able to withstand the outdoor temperatures in winter—you'll need a spa that can handle freezing temps for productive use year-round.

There are actually some inflatable models that are made to withstand harsh winters, such as the Grand Rapids inflatable spa by the Canadian Spa Company. This spa is designed specifically to function through all four seasons.

If you do live in a climate that's cold for several months of the year then it might be worth investing in something like this—that way you can continue using your spa even during winter.

Do inflatable hot tubs stay warm in winter?

Even if you don't live somewhere that sees below-freezing temperatures for months, you might still have trouble keeping a regular inflatable spa as warm as you would like. This is due to the relatively weak heaters in them compared to those of other spas.

For example, a traditional hardshell spa is generally running on 240V power, and it's able to heat the water while the pump and jets are running with no problem.

But the average inflatable hot tub only works with 110V power. This is known as 'plug-n-play', which often means the heater isn't powerful enough to keep the water warm while you're using it. This means that if your inflatable spa is exposed to cool wind or a cold draft, then this can cause the temperature of the water inside to drop quite quickly.

Even though they claim to be able to maintain 104°F (40°C), the reality is that inflatable spas will often drop several degrees after about 30 minutes of use on a cold night. Having the jets on makes this worse because it's actually just blowing air into the spa, which cools the water even more.

The good news is that there are a few tricks you can try to maintain a warmer temperature in an inflatable hot tub even when it's exposed to cooler air outside, such as using a thermal mat under the spa or investing in a bucket heater.

Can you use an inflatable hot tub as a pool?

You can use an inflatable spa as a small pool on warm summer days. You'll want to either turn the heater off or set it to the lowest temperature, then just use the filter normally to make sure the water stays clean.

If you're primarily looking for just a small pool, then the best option might be to invest in an inflatable kiddy or baby pool instead—they are much cheaper than spas and designed just as well for having fun on a hot day. Plus there's no maintenance involved with these pools at all!

Installation

How do you prepare the ground for an inflatable hot tub?

Inflatable hot tubs can sit on most types of hot tub base: decks, concrete, spa pads, gravel, and even grass. But there are a few things you need to do before positioning and filling your tub in order for it to function correctly:

  • Make sure the area can actually support the weight (even inflatable spas can weigh close to 3,000 pounds when filled with water).
  • Give it a smooth surface for the tub to sit on—in other words, don't put it directly onto anything sharp that could puncture the base.
  • Level the ground as much as possible.
  • Leave enough space around the tub to be able to access it comfortably, and make sure the pump has plenty of space around it too.
  • Consider adding a thermal mat to help with insulation.
  • Make sure you have access to a suitable power outlet.
  • Make sure your hose can reach! You don't want to get everything in place only to realize your water source is too far away.

Setting up any type of spa, including inflatable ones, can be a bit strenuous depending on your available space for assembly and where the electrical hookup is located.

Are there any good inflatable hot tubs?

'Good' is subjective here. It all depends on your expectations.

There are inflatable spas that cost under $400, and these cheaper tubs do work just fine for many people—provided they aren't looking for an advanced hydrotherapy massage or planning to use them in colder weather.

That said, you can also find plenty of people saying they're unreliable, and this is unfortunately a valid complaint about cheap inflatable spas.

You don't have to buy the most luxurious model you can find, but I do suggest going with a popular midrange spa ($500-600 is a reasonable budget) with a strong track record, from a reputable inflatable spa brand like Bestway (who make SaluSpa or Lay-Z-Spa) and Intex.

Always check what kind of warranty is included so you know what your rights are if anything goes wrong.

One of the more popular smaller models (for around 3 people) is the St. Lucia from Bestway:

Bestway St. Lucia AirJet Inflatable Hot Tub, Gray
Bestway St. Lucia AirJet Inflatable Hot Tub, Gray
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If you're looking for something for up to 6 people, the Intex 28427E is worth looking at:

Intex 28427E PureSpa Inflatable Spa, 6-Person, Tan
Intex 28427E PureSpa Inflatable Spa, 6-Person, Tan
View on Amazon

Are inflatable hot tubs worth the money?

This is another very subjective question. Of course, owners of high-end acrylic spas would say no. And they would be right, in that no inflatable spa can compare with one of these traditional models. But they're not supposed to; they solve a different problem.

If you just want a quick and easy way to add a little luxury into your life, or if you want an affordable spa for family fun—or both!—then inflatable spas can be a great option.

If you're looking at an inflatable spa as a quick fix or temporary solution while saving money for something more permanent—they can be perfect for this. You can probably even find a buyer to take it off your hands once you're done with it.

Luxury acrylic spas can cost over $15,000, and no matter how good they might be, not everyone has this kind of money to spend on hot tubs.

So no, an inflatable hot tub is never going to give you the same experience as a traditional spa. But you do get some of the benefits—without actually spending thousands on a hardshell model.

After all, a lot of the pleasure of a hot tub really is just getting to sit and soak in warm, bubbling water. And for that, you can't really go wrong with an inflatable spa.

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