What is a Slide-in Bathtub?
Slide-in tubs have high tub walls, a chair-height seat inside and a door in the sidewall. They are similar in many respects to Walk-in Tubs, however, there is one critical difference: The classic-style walk-in tubs have a high wall that block both sides of the seat, leaving users with only one means of getting in and out, namely to “step” in and out. Whereas with a slide-in tub, one side of the seat is exposed when the door is open, making it possible for users to get in and out of the tub in a variety of different ways.
Who can use a Slide-in Bathtub?
- People who have the skills to sit down and stand up from the tub seat independently or with the assist of a caregiver.
- People who can slide sideways from a wheelchair seat onto the tub seat.
- People who rely on a ceiling lift to get into and out of the tub.
- Some slide-in tubs (ones with a special cut out compartment below) can be used by persons who rely on a portable-style mechanical lift to transfer into and out of the tub.
How do you get in and out of a slide-in bathtub?
Most slide-in tub will allow users to choose from at least four different means of transferring into and out of the bathtub. Some models allow as many as five different transfer styles.
A user has the option to step in to the bathtub. Or, they can bypass the stepping in part and simply turn around and sit down on the seat – as if sitting on a regular chair, then once safely seated raise each leg in one at a time. It is also possible to perform a lateral sliding transfer from a wheelchair seat onto the bathtub’s seat. A person who relies on a ceiling lift for transfers can enter and exit most slide-in tub modesl without difficult. Lastly, a portable mechanical lifting device can be used in conjunction with some slide-in bathtub models, which enables a caregiver to assist a physically dependent person safely into the bathtub. The slide-in bathtub models that offer this fifth option have a cutout space at the bottom edge of the tub, which allows the legs of the mechanical lift to slide underneath the tub.
|Door opens to expose seat||Open space below tub||Wheelchair accessible|
Slide-in Bathtub door styles
Slide-in tubs can have a variety of door types. Some open outwards, some have doors that slide upwards, and others have doors that slide sideways. (See pictures below.) If selecting a tub with a door that opens outwards, make sure it will clear the toilet, vanity and other fixtures in the bathroom when it is opened.
|Outward swinging door||Pull-up door||Sliding door|
The doors on most slide-in tubs are designed to be opened and closed manually by the user. A few slide-in-tub models have a door that slides up/down with the assist of electricity. “If” you purchase a model with an electric door, confirm that it has an emergency release mechanism to allow you to get out of the tub in the event of a power failure and/or opt to add a back up generator as an additional precaution.
Lying down or Seated Versions
Some slide-in bathtub models have a molded seat inside the tub allowing for an upright, seated bathing experience. Other models allow for the standard lying-down style tub experience. In the latter type the entire height of the tub has been raised to seat height. (See pictures above.)
Tub Frame and Materials
Tub frames can be made of wood, aluminum or stainless steel, with stainless steel being the strongest of these options. The molded exterior layer can be made from acrylic or fiberglass. The acrylic is considered to be more durable, more color-fast, and better at withstanding cleaning and wear and tear over the years. Fiberglass models typically cost less.
Water Jet System vs. Air Jet System vs. Soaker Bathtub
Most manufacturers offer bathtub models that can be ordered simply as a basic soaker tub, or optionally upgraded to a water jet system or air jet system. Following are some of the advantages and disadvantages of these options.
- Water Jet System:
A water jet system offers reasonably strong streams of water. This amounts to a great massage-like experience for some people, while others feel that too much pressure concentrated on small areas can be painful, especially as age increases and the skin becomes thinner. In a water jet system, the water is recycled through the system, which has the potential drawback of allowing residual water in the pipes to grow mold or bacteria. This is not ideal for the elderly, individuals with compromised immune systems or those with respiratory problems. If you do opt for a water jet system consider one that is self-purging and has an ozonator, to reduce the likelihood of bacteria growing in the lines. If your intention is to use the bathtub for bathing, and not merely soaking, be aware that because the water is recycled through the system, soaps, oils and shampoos cannot be used.
- Air Jet System:
An air-jet system relies on smaller water jets that deliver a gentler rush of air through more holes. This can best be described as a gently bubbling bath. The water does not get recycled through the air jet system, which means there is not a problem with build-up of mold or bacteria in the pipes and it is OK to use oils, scents and soaps in the water (confirm this with the manufacture of the model you select).
- Soaker Tub:
The cheapest version is simply a soaker-tub, which is equivalent to soaking in a hot bath in a standard bathtub. Soaps, oils and shampoos can all be used.
Slide-in Tub Considerations
When you are assessing whether a slide-in tub is right for you or which type is appropriate, make sure to take the following into consideration:
- Does it Fit!? Check that the dimensions of the tub you select will fit through your doorways and hallways between the outside of the home and the bathroom. If not, you will need to pay to have the door frames removed and reinstalled to get the bathtub into the bathroom.
- Tub Size: Many sales people will try to persuade you to avoid smaller models and opt for a larger model, claiming it is more luxurious. There is a notable drawback to a larger tub, however, which is that it takes longer for it to fill and empty.
- Seat Height: Seat heights vary so make sure that the model you select has a seat height that allows you to easily sit down and stand up. Or, if you rely on a wheelchair choose a seat height similar to the height of your wheelchair seat so you can easily perform a lateral-sliding transfer onto the seat. In regards to the tub’s seat, also note that some seats are fully exposed and others have a few inches of wall blocking the back edge of the seat. The seats that are fully exposed are easier to transfer on and off of.
- Tall Users: If you are tall, the lying down style of slide-in tub may work OK for you, but the models that requires a user to sit upright are probably not an ideal option, unless your main intent is to soak from your waist down.
- Weight Capacity: Weight also needs to be considered when deciding whether or not to purchase a slide-in tub. If you require a bathtub designed for a higher weight capacity, be aware that these models tend to be wider, which means you will likely incur additional expenses to have the door frames removed and reinstalled to get the bathtub into the bathroom.
- Water Retention:If you plan to use an adjustable showerhead, consider installing a shower curtain around the upper portion of the bathtub to help contain the water.
- Drain: Ask how the drain system works. Does it use a chain and stopper combination that you need to be able to reach down to operate or does it have a dial to turn or button to push, which can be accessed from a seated position?
- Overflow Drain: For the seated-style slide-in bathtubs, ask how high the overflow drain rests above the height of the seat. In some models this can be rather low, meaning the water may only fill to about your belly button level, which is probably not what you had in mind when you set off to buy a bathtub for a nice, fully submerged soaking experience.
- Time to Fill: A feature that many people overlook when researching slide-in bathtubs is that in contrast to a normal bathtub which you can prepare with hot water prior to getting in, you must first get into a slide-in style bathtub, close the door, sit inside while it fills up and you can’t exit until is completely empty. Models will vary in the time it takes to fill and empty, but on average it will require 6-15 minutes to fill and empty depending on your home’s water pressure and plumbing.
- High Flow Faucet: Some manufacturers offer a high flow faucet feature for helping to fill the tub more quickly and an enhanced drain system for helping to empty it more quickly. Note that your home’s existing water pressure and piping system will affect the filling and draining speeds, so it is possible that no matter what you add it may still fill and drain slowly.
- Water Bills: These types of bathtubs can hold up to 40-80 gallons of water, which can translate to higher water bills if used regularly.
- Water Heater: Confirm that the size of your water heater is conducive to using a larger bathtub. In many cases people find it is necessary to replace the existing water heater in order to run the tub.
- Heat Lamp: In order to maintain warmth while waiting for the bathtub to fill or empty, consider installing a heat lamp above the tub. And, if it is not included in the base model, consider adding the adjustable shower head option, so you can begin bathing while the tub is filling.
- Bathroom Floor Structure: Your bathroom may require extra structural support to manage the weight of the bathtub, so be aware this could be an additional expense.
- Plumbing/Electrical: Ask if your current plumbing and electrical system will meet the bathtub’s requirements and if it will not, ask what the cost will be to add the necessary outlets or modify the plumbing.
- Consult With Your Doctor: If you have a chronic medical condition, you should talk with your medical doctor prior to purchasing a slide-in bathtub to ensure it is not contraindicated for your medical diagnosis.
Other Important Considerations
- Models on Display Locally: It is difficult to find showrooms that display slide-in style bathtubs and next to impossible to find a showroom that has more than one or two models of a slide-in style tub on display, so it is wise to start your search online. Once you have it narrowed down to the one or two you like most, call the manufacturer to ask if they know of anyone who has one on display locally. If you can find one on display, jump in and try it out. Make sure the seat is a good height, that you can reach all the controls from a seated position, and that you can easily manage the door controls.
- Installer’s Experience: When researching local installers, ask how many slide-in bathtubs they have installed and specifically how many they have installed of the model you have selected. These types of bathtubs often need subtle adjustments to make them function optimally and each model has different nuances. With this said, the bathtub models change often, so though it is ideal to have an installer with experience, it may be impossible to find a local installer who has installed multiple models of the specific one you desire.
- Features Included: Ask what features are included in the bathtub’s base price. Some slide-in tubs come standard with features such as a non-slip floor, handrails, adjustable showerhead, warrantied door seal system, massage system, and a self-cleaning system. On other models these features are considered to be options, which you will need to add at an extra cost.
- Pricing: Cost to purchase and install a slide-in bathtub can range from roughly $3,500 – $17,000, depending on the model and features you select.
- Installation: Some slide-in tub sellers offer installation services; others do not, in which case you will need to identify a contractor who can install it for you.
- Warranty: Bathtub manufacturers will rarely cover labor costs if repairs are needed, so it is strongly recommended that you use a professional installer who will warranty the work. Ask to see their contractor’s license and proof of insurance. Confirm the insurance covers not only them, but all workers who will be involved with your project.
- Does Medicare Cover a Slide-in Bathtub? A slide-in bathtub is not considered by Medicare to be a medical necessity and therefore not a piece of equipment they typically cover. There is a slim chance that if you can prove you truly cannot function without it that you ‘might’ get some reimbursement for it from Medicare. In order to do so you will need to have your doctor write a “Letter of Medical Necessity” stating why it is medically necessary for you. If you have Medicaid you have a better chance of getting it covered, but the ability to do so varies by state, so check with your Medicaid representative.
- History & Reviews: Last, but not least, prior to purchasing the bathtub, check the bathtub model and manufacturer’s name online in conjunction with the words “Scam” or “Complaint” to ensure that there isn’t a negative history or problems with the manufacturer or specific model selected.
- Beware! There are two types of bathtubs with doors located in the sidewalls, namely Walk-in tubs and Slide-in tubs. It has recently come to our attention that some Walk-in Tub sellers are misclassifying Walk-in Tubs with outward-swinging doors as Slide-in Tubs. A true Slide-in Tub is one which allows a user to sit down on the side of the seat prior to entering the tub. If there is a wall blocking the seat, it is not a Slide-in Tub! To learn more about how to distinguish the differences between Walk-in tubs and Slide-in tubs, read “Walk-in Tubs: Get the Facts.”
The Homeability Advice™
Models with a door that is designed to be opened manually by the user are usually best in regards to safety. Models with a door that relies on electricity may be beneficial for some persons with severe physical limitations, but they come with an inherent drawback, which is that in the event of a power outage a user might not be able to open the door. If you purchase a slide-in tub model with a door that relies on electricity, we recommend you always have a portable phone in reaching distance of your tub just in case there is a mechanical failure. Or better yet, consider installing a phone permanently on the wall beside the tub to prevent needing to remember to bring a phone into the bathroom with you each time you bathe.
In general, for most seniors we would not recommend the slide-in style tubs with a half-door that sideways (see picture in guide above), because it is necessary for a user to sit down in the tub’s doorway and then slide their bottom all the way to the other end of the tub and then reverse the process on the way out. Lifting and scooting one’s bottom across the length of the tub, requires a lot of arm strength, which people often lack with advancing age.
The slide-in tub with a door that slides sideways is, however, a possible consideration for a paraplegic with good upper body strength or for a person who will be assisted in and out of the tub by a caregiver using a mechanical lift. It is also a consideration for a parent of a special needs child because a parent can remain standing upright while assisting their child with a bath, which can help to reduce back strain. If this type of tub is purchased for bathing a child, we recommend to further add a portable bath seat to help hold the child safely upright.
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