Homeability.com is alarmed to see that an industry serving seniors and persons with disabilities is mired in scams and shady sales practices.
Walk-in tubs – that is, tubs with a step-through door in the side-wall and an integrated seat inside – are aggressively marketed to seniors and persons with disabilities.
Before we jump into exposing some of the shady practices going on in the walk-in tub industry, let’s start by addressing the stark contrast between the dream of owning a walk-in tub and the reality of doing so.
Manufacturers and retailers of walk-in tubs promise a product that provides a “pleasurable, safe, and affordable” hot soaking bathing experience. If you find yourself having difficulty using your tub due to mobility or balance problems, this message will likely resonate with you, especially if you are finding yourself longing to regain the lost luxury of soothing your aching muscles, bones, and joints by immersing yourself into a tub of steaming hot water.
And then there arrives the latest issue of the local Yellow Pages at your doorstep, with a walk-in tub advertisement on the front page, promising exactly what you were looking for: “Pleasure, safety, and independence, at an affordable price!”. So you ask yourself after a life of hard work: Why not splurge a little? You might even be inclined to think it is a wise investment in your bathing safety and independence for the coming years.
In light of this level of hope and expectation, the reality of owning a walk-in tub couldn’t be more sobering. Walk-in tubs come with a host of problems, just a few of which include:
- Substantial safety hazard. If a medical incident or even a simple event such as a fall occurs while inside the tub, the high tub walls, narrow doorway, and the inward-opening door found on most walk-in style tubs make it extremely difficult for family members or emergency medical teams to get people out. (For examples, see user testimonials below.)
- Limited “window of use.” From our experience working with thousands of patients in rehab therapy, for most people there is a limited “window of opportunity” to enjoy these tubs. Eventually, those who find using a regular tub difficult will often experience the same frustrations when trying to use a walk-in tub. Walk-in tubs are called walk-in tubs for a reason: You have to be able to walk steadily, step over a threshold in the tub’s door, and navigate through the door while opening and closing it. With your regular tub still in place, it is possible to use a host of simple assistive technologies that allow you to enjoy a soaking bath or at least a pleasant and safe seated shower. Owing to the high walls of walk-in tubs, however, these options are wiped out the moment you install one. This means that you might have bought yourself an expensive ticket to sponge bathing at the sink.
- Long, unpleasant waits. Even in the short window of time when these tubs might actually add some value to your life, they come with another fundamental drawback: They usually take much more time to fill and empty than regular tubs. That alone wouldn’t be a major problem. However, what is a fundamental showstopper is that it is not possible to start filling the tub until after climbing in or to get out until after the tub is completely empty. Some of our readers have referred to this experience as the “walk-in tub sandwich:” You sit there naked and cold waiting for the tub to fill up, get a hot bath, and then you sit there – cold, naked, and wet – waiting for the tub to empty before you can open the door and get out.
Vendors will tell you that their models do not come with some of these drawbacks. For instance, some might argue that their tub model has an accelerated filling and emptying feature. Regardless of whether a manufacturer offers features that can alleviate one or two of the problems, the majority of the fundamental problems will still remain.
What do customers say? Let’s look at some actual user experiences. The following is an excerpt from an email homeability.com received from one of our readers in August of 2015. In it, the reader describes an experience encountered by her husband (of average height and weight) while using their recently installed walk-in bathtub.
He slipped and this time he really wedged himself in the bottom of the tub. Everything we tried only got him in tighter. After 3 more hours, he ‘let’ me call the rescue squad and it took them a half hour to get him out.
We were so glad to have that tub removed.”
Here is a related but even more extreme experience reported in the Huffington Post article “Anna Cullen Sues Bathtub Company After Stuck In Tub For 30 Hours”. The victim stated:
That was the lousiest $12,000 I ever put out. I ended up in the hospital for four days, and then in a nursing home for three months.” [link to article]
Next, here are some insightful comments summarizing the use of a walk-in tub, posted by a walk-in tub owner on consumeraffairs.com:
“This tub has been nothing but trouble to me. It is not built for the elderly. It is difficult to stay on the seat and the drain is difficult to open. It is the worst investment I have made in my 70+ years. The advertising made the tub appear to be something that it isn’t. The cost far surpassed its usefulness. I have called the company numerous times and the last person I talked to told me I needed to change my attitude toward the tub. I would not recommend this experience to anyone. [link to review]
Finally, here are some excerpts from a detailed review posted by a walk-in tub owner on pissedconsumer.com:
I have been remiss in not telling the world that I hate this product. We have now had a […] Walk In bathtub […] for about 6+ years and I have a litany of feedback I would like to share. Why I have not complained about this before is beyond me. Today I had to write after giving my dad a shower, dad’s knees nearly buckled trying to get out of it (it took my husband and me plus a physical therapy belt to get him from the tub to the toilet to sit down). […] I have been stuck with a substandard AND unsafe product for the elderly that cost us a whopping $12,000 to buy and install, and that was the for-you-I-will-give-you-a-deal deal […]. The design has several flaws:
- the door is way too narrow. My father is only 148 pounds, and cannot get in/out of the tub without going sideways and stepping down. This is quite difficult, given the weakness in his legs from M.S.
- by the time you fill the tub, it’s freezing. Further, if you take a bath, you cannot open the door until it completely drains out, so you are wet and cold by the time you can get out. (We have taken a bath in it maybe twice in 6+ years.)
- the door opens IN, which makes it extremely hard for the elderly person to get out because they have to negotiate not only the narrow opening, but also a door in their way.
- the money that we spent for this […] tub, we could have completely renovated our bathroom to have a handicap accessible walk in shower, which would have increased the value of our home, instead of this piece of sh** tub that we are stuck with (because it cost us $12,000!!!)
To recap, from what we have learned about walk-in tubs from users, and experienced first hand, the hopes of regaining safe and long-term independent “hot soaking bathing” pleasures are likely to end up in utter disappointment. Most people pay somewhere between $US 5,000 to $20,000 for one, and many report not using it beyond a handful of times (if that).
So one wonders, how could it be that a surprising number of seniors are still being lured into buying these tubs? It is easy to understand the consumers’ side – namely, the psychology of expectations in regaining a treasured experience. But why don’t more prospective buyers know about all the drawbacks and risks of owning this kind of tub? To understand this better, we researched into the other side of the equation, the manufacturers and retailers and, in particular, their marketing and sales strategies for selling walk-in tubs.
Here are some of our findings.
Scams and Shady Sales Practices
The hope to regain bathing safety, convenience, and pleasure, is bound to make some of us open up to a degree of gullibility – a willingness to believe aggressive marketing messages on the benefits of walk-in tubs, along with a preparedness to shell out thousands of dollars in the process. This gullibility and hope for improvement to the quality of life are being exploited by sellers and manufacturers in the walk-in tub industry in a number of ways – from borderline shady practices all the way to outright scams in order to make what is known to be enormous amounts of profit off of members from the most vulnerable layer in our society. Here are some examples for such business practices.
1. Aggressive Opaqueness on True Costs
Many walk-in tub vendors, including some of the largest national retailers, are well-known to resist any attempts by customers to get a rough upfront quote of expected cost for product and installation. (Homeability.com independently confirmed this practice by calling vendors and insisting on a ballpark price range – to no avail.)
The purpose of this opaqueness will allow exploitation of an old-school mindset many seniors exhibit – that of feeling guilty when a person comes into your house and you send them packing without awarding business based on the visit. Along with that, aggressive rhetoric playing with the safety fears of seniors and their families while neglecting to provide a full picture of the potential problems we outlined above, may therefore, push people into making a purchase that would have been inconceivable and squashed in the tracks if a realistic, i.e., pricey, quote had been given on the phone.
An additional aspect demonstrating the unwillingness to disclose all expected expenses upfront is related to the water heater. Every walk-in tub salesperson knows there is a high likelihood customers will have to replace the water heater due to the high water demands of a walk-in tub.
It can be expensive to replace a water heater – adding up to an extra $1,000-$2,000 beyond the price of the installed tub. Salespeople have been known to conveniently withhold this detail until after the tub itself is installed for fear the additional expense will dissuade the customer from moving forward with their purchase.
Some walk-in tub purchasers have reported the installer already had the water heater in the truck ready for purchase as an additional item the same day the tub was installed, but nary a mention had been made about needing a water heater until after the tub was in place. To learn about more potential hidden costs, click here.
Finally, here is an interesting scam that may not immediately sway people to buy a tub when they are still reluctant to buy one, but that will nevertheless cheat additional funds out of unsuspecting Americans: The practice of labeling a tub “Made in the USA” that clearly originates in another country – including countries known for lower quality. While a few legitimately are made in the U.S., others are actually imported from overseas and just assembled in the U.S. In some cases, they have simply had a small, possibly meaningless feature or two added once they arrive in the States.
Catch phrases like “Assembled in the USA”, “Built in the USA”, “Handcrafted in the USA”, or “Designed in the USA” usually indicate that the entire tub was not made in the USA. It is also wise to be careful when you see “We manufacture tubs made in the USA.” A company can say this if they manufacture just one or two of the different models they offer in the USA, while most of the models they offer may be manufactured overseas. To see a list of manufacturers who offer walk-in tubs manufactured in the USA, click here.
2. Suspicious Walk-in Tub Review Websites
Another scam deliberately diffusing negative perception of walk-in tubs and, to that end, adding confusion to the industry, is the excessive use of fake review websites.
When the homeability.com team searched the Internet for “Walk-In Tub Reviews”, the following websites appeared at the top of the search list:
These websites are all clearly posing as if they were a place where consumers can find unbiased reviews, but our research suggests otherwise.
Below are causes of concern for each of these (and similar) walk-in tub review sites:
- No “About Us” Page: None of the websites listed above had an “About Us” page – except one. Walkintubreviews.com technically has a page called “About Us,” but it doesn’t identify who “Us” is. If they aren’t open about who they are then steer clear.
- Broken Page Links: No “About Us” page combined with strangely broken pages leads us to believe these sites are not legitimate. For example, every time we clicked on the name/logo on http://myseniorsource.com/walk-in-tub we got the following message: “Oops! Website currently not available”. Similarly when we visited http://walkintubreviewer.com/ and clicked “Need Help? Click to Chat!” we got the following message “Unauthorized Access”.
- Missing Authorship:There’s no indication of who authored the reviews. Where did the reviews on these sites come from? Did someone make up bad reviews about their competitors? Our team is inclined to believe this is the case because many of the statements we read in the reviews were clearly bogus, based on our own knowledge of these tubs.
- Potentially misleading use of “.org” domains: The “.org” domain ending behind a website name does not imply by any means that a government agency or non-profit organization is behind the content. It is important to be aware that anyone can purchase and use a URL that ends in “.org”. (The first website listed above is a .org). So don’t let your guard down simply because you see the letters “.org!”
In our research, we found that even walk-in tub manufacturers themselves are very concerned about scams involving fake review practices. Here is quote from a June 2015 article entitled “Exposing Walk In Bathtub Product Review Websites“, published by a manufacturer called Ella’s Bubbles on rampant unethical behavior in the walk-in tub industry:
… Many consumers use a simple internet search to see how a product ranks against the competition and performs. With such transparency, there has been a new trend of businesses posing as review websites to sway consumer research about their product and the competition. The majority of these websites say they are a legitimate product review website and purposely write about the competitor’s product in a negative light, while revering the features and benefits on their own product.
The same article, while also listing various fake review sites and the alleged names of tub companies behind these scams, continues:
… The walk in tub industry is bombarded by these “review” websites and most of these are constructed by competitors that have never even seen or touched the product [that they bad-mouth to make their own product appear in a better light].
The presence of these fake review sites, inherently unethical and possibly even illegal in some instances, makes it very hard for anybody to learn the truths about walk-in tubs, as any negative voices and legitimate reviews on walk-in tubs are deliberately squashed in a deluge of misinformation.
Another aspect that destroys transparency and effectively hides the realities outlined in earlier sections of this article, is the use of excessive rebranding, which we describe next.
3. Excessive Rebranding Tactics
Re-branding refers to the practice of offering the exact same product (here: tubs) under many different names. You might be reading the reviews for one tub and get a very favorable impression of this model, and then you read the reviews for another tub and think it sounds like a terrible design, when in actuality the two tubs you are reading about might very well be the exact same model offered under different names.
Here are screenshots of a Spa World Tub that sellers have posted online under different names.
Would you have recognized that the three tubs featured below are the same tub? Probably not, certainly not with a high degree of certainty.
Spa World is one example of a manufacturer that allows their tubs to be rebranded. The following are 20 (!) of the brand names under which Spa World’s tubs have been listed over the years. Some of these are still being used, some have ceased to exist, and there may be even more we don’t know about.
While the use of re-branding is technically legal, how can you even begin to track a product’s history if you have a dizzying diversity of names for one and the same product. And how can you possibly make an informed decision if you can’t track a product’s history in the market place?
Re-branding makes it difficult to research a product due to the sheer number of different names. It also renders the reviews essentially meaningless because a product that has received many bad consumer reviews can simply be sold under a new name and advertised as a new model – and you would never be the wiser.
Homeability.com is opposed to the use of re-branding practices for products such as specialized bathtubs that a vulnerable layer in our society, the elderly and persons with disabilities, rely on on a daily basis for their safety, comfort, and independence. Many products that are specially designed for seniors and/or persons with disabilities aren’t showcased in local stores, so people are forced to rely solely on online reviews to determine if a product is good or not.
The Homeability Advice™
From our analysis of the business practices in the walk-in tub industry, we have to conclude that lack of transparency on product pricing and cost of tub operation, fake product reviews, and other forms of misinformation, are commonplace to promote sales of a very questionable category of product. These practices exploit a desire in the aging population to regain lost pleasures, a readiness to splurge a little and to soothe one’s aching muscles and joints. As a consequence, consumers spend a large amount of money for what in many cases ends up being experienced as a useless, often highly problematic, and even unsafe product.
As a consumer, you may be left wondering how to navigate the jungle of deliberate misinformation to figure out which walk-in tub brands and retailers are reputable and which are not. The simple fact of the matter is that owning one of these tubs does not make sense, because of the significant safety risks (i.e. chance of getting trapped inside behind the high walls and inward opening door) and the high likelihood it will block you from bathing all together, so we feel the answer is simple:
Do not buy a walk-in tub!
If you are seeking a solution to help you take a soaking bath, instead you may want to consider A Portable Battery Operated Bathlift that lowers you into and lifts you out of your filled tub. Or, if you are just seeking a solution to make showering easier, consider a simple bath bench that can help make it easier to get in and out over the bathtub wall Bath Chair to have a seated shower in your tub. If those solutions seem insufficient, and you are willing to put up with some of the less dramatic problem areas shared with walk-in tubs (i.e time to fill and empty), a Slide-in Tub is worth a consideration.
If the reason your are considering a walk-in tub is not because you long for a soaking bath, but because you want a long-term solution that will help you to best maintain your future safety and independence with bathing, we highly recommend that you consider installing a Curbless Shower. If you do install a curbless shower and find yourself longing for an occasional relaxing soak in a hot bath, you always have the option to visit a local spa. Any spa that serves the general public is required to have equipment to accomodate persons with physical limitations (i.e grab bars, hot tub chair lift etc.). If they do not, in most cases they are legally obligated to make upgrades to make it accessible for persons with physical limitations (per the Americans With Disabilities Act). Splurging a few times a year by visiting a local spa can help you to satisfy the desire to have an occasional hot bath, while saving you a lot of money compared to the costly mistake of buying a walk-in tub.
We hope this article will help open your eyes and prevent you – or one of your friends or family members – from being caught by some of the “not-so-kosher” practices that are going on in this industry.
Since you’ve read this far, you might also enjoy our earlier article on walk-in tubs, “Buying A Walk-In Bathtub – Your Biggest Mistake?”, which analyzes common misconceptions about walk-in tubs in greater detail. Or, to learn more about alternative bathing solutions, visit the following articles:
- Getting in & Out of the Bathtub: Benches, Lifts, and Transfer Chairs
- Slide-in Bathtub Buying Guide
- What You Need to Know Before You Buy a Bath Lift Chair
- Accessible Bathtubs: An Amazing Diversity!
We understand and recognize that some of you will want to get a walk-in tub no matter what. If you are one of those, and in spite of all the disadvantages, glaring safety issues and scams, you are still determined to purchase a walk-in tub, our last bit of advice for you is the following: Click here for a list of purchasing tips.
Bathtub Equipment on Amazon.com
Wall-mounted model, folds up when not in use
Elegant Teak Wood bath bench, clamps to tub wall
Bath chair lift, lowers bather to bottom of tub
Sliding swivel bath seat, clamps to tub wall
Finally, our advice to manufacturers and retailers is to stop making false claims about a generally unsuitable and highly problematic product category. Instead, we recommend you focus on creating, selling – and making money off of – bathtub/bathing products that truly work for the needs of the aging population, promoting a lifetime of safety and independence for grateful customers.
Note: The information in this article is all true to the best of our knowledge, the results of our research, and the interpretation of our findings. This article was posted in October 2015. If upon reading this article you find that some of this information is no longer up to date, feel that something is incorrect or have other comments or suggestions, please let us know via our Contact Page. To learn more about homeability.com’s mission, you might also enjoy reading Welcome to Homeability! and About Us.