A walk-in bath is a bath with a watertight door that allows the bather to step into the bath over a low threshold to increase safety while getting into the bath. The door closes, the bath fills with water and after draining the bath, the person opens the door and steps out safely.
While many models are taller than they are wide, there are many different models and configurations available to meet the needs of almost every customer and housing situation. For example, there are walk-in baths available for easy transfer from a wheelchair to the bath seat; often called slide through baths, nearly the entire front of the bath opens to give the necessary width.
Walk-in Bath Comfort
Pro: Water Depth
Because there is no need to step over a tall wall, walk-in baths provide a deeper water depth when compared to traditional baths. A standard bath has a depth of 13 to 14 inches, while walk-in baths can provide up to nearly four feet of water depth for a comfortable immersion experience while seated securely.
Seats are generally placed at 17 inches high, leaving almost 20 inches of depth to immerse the torso, well within the average torso length of an adult. Many walk-in bath models also have hydrotherapy jets available and other luxury features such as chromotherapy lighting and heated seating.
Con: Time to Fill and Drain
Because a walk-in bath has a door in the side of the bath itself, you cannot add or drain water while the door is open. This means you’ll spend a considerable amount of time sitting in the bath while waiting for it to fill as well as time waiting for it to drain before you can exit the bath.
Some baths can take as long as 15 minutes to fill or drain, although some high-end models have features to speed up this process. Even with rapid fill and rapid drain features, walk-in baths can average around eight minutes to fill or drain, leaving a significant amount of time where much of the body is exposed to air and can become chilled. One possible way to reduce chilling is to purchase a model with a heated seat.
Walk-in Bath Safety
Pro: Safety Features
Much of the remodeling suggested for aging in place revolves around safety, specifically preventing falls. Over one-third of adults over age 65 fall each year and over 80 percent of those falls are in the bathroom. Walk-in baths generally provide an array of features designed to reduce falls. These often include built-in handrails, an ADA compliant overall design, anti-slip flooring, contoured built-in seating, and a low step height for entry.
Some models also include wide doors designed to allow those in wheelchairs to transfer easily to the bath seat without assistance. Another safety feature, although not related to falls, is a scald prevention valve, designed to prevent hot water burns.
Another concern with a walk-in bath is temperature. Since you must enter the bath before filling it, there is no chance to adjust the water and get it just right before exposing your body to the water. Also, because you must sit in the bath while it fills, it is very easy to become acclimatized to dangerous temperatures as the water slowly climbs. Because of this, it is important that any bath you consider be equipped with a scald prevention valve that is designed to prevent dangerously hot water from entering the bath. Even then, it could take some uncomfortable minutes to get the water temperature adjusted comfortably in the bath as it fills.
Cost of Walk-in Baths
Pro: Combined Features
Certain walk-in bath models offer a lot of features in a single bath. Rather than purchasing modifications such as over bath seats, add-on handrails, anti-scald valves, and non-slip flooring, a walk-in bath combines all of these features and more in one package. This can reduce the amount of construction needed in your bathroom for remodeling as well as reducing the time required to make the modifications.
Health Effects of Bathing
The benefits of warm water for seniors in reducing certain aches and pains, along with speeding the healing of certain injuries such as burns or ulcers is well known. Hydrotherapy can also help patients recovering from amputations or dealing with conditions such as arthritis. In addition to simply being able to soak in deeper warm water, many step-in baths have hydrotherapy jets similar to what you would find in an outdoor hot bath. Several jets of heated water and air agitate the water and provide massage to relax muscles further.
Because of the time required to fill and drain a walk-in bath, there is a risk of becoming chilled. As we age, our skin thins and our circulation slows, making us less able to conserve body heat or respond to chilly temperatures. These factors combine with health conditions such as diabetes that can make seniors more susceptible to hypothermia.
Hypothermia occurs when internal body temperature drops below 95 degrees and for seniors, this can happen even in ambient temperatures in the 60s, such as might be found in a home in the fall. Add in wet skin as a bath drains and hypothermia is a real danger even in warmer air temperatures. While heated seats can help, it does not address the upper body. Drying off with a towel as the bath drains and covering the upper torso with a dry towel or robe can help reduce the risk of chilling.
Water Usage in a Walk-in Bath
Pro: Comparable Water Usage
With the deeper size of walk-in baths, there is understandably the idea that a walk-in bath would hold more water than a standard bath or a shower. However, this is not always the case. Many walk-in baths are much narrower than standard baths, so it isn’t much larger than it appears visually when dealing with gallons held.