Sometimes—okay, a lot of times!—I crave an all-over body rub. What could be better than a soft tissue massage with thousands—no, millions!—of tiny bubbles?
So are air tubs worth the money? If you want an all-over soft tissue massage in your tub, the answer is yes. Air tubs vary greatly in price from $1,000 to $15,000, so you should be able to find one in your price range that enhances the health benefits that you can get from soaking in a regular hot bath.
Legend has it that Marilyn Monroe would bathe in 350 bottles of champagne at one time. So it’s all relative; it probably won’t cost you any more than it cost Marilyn to get that sensation from an air tub.
How Much Does an Air Tub Cost?
Air tubs come in the same varieties as any other tub type: You can find contemporary freestanding air tubs, alcove air tubs, corner air tubs and many more kinds. However, compared to its no-jet counterpart, an air tub will run significantly pricier.
On the high end, an extra-large drop-in air tub for two can run about $15,000 while a standard-sized acrylic air tub can start at $1,000. With such a huge variation in cost, you can probably find an aerated tub that is worth it for you.
Air Tub Pros
An air tub offers hydrotherapy to soothe muscles and joints, increase circulation and activate the lymphatic system. The effervescent bubbles invigorate the body, and the gentleness of the massage may make the air tub an ideal for someone with chronic pain or the elderly.
Another great benefit of the air tub is that it will leave you with the feeling of a “runner’s high,” because it releases endorphins. According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine:
“A hot soak increases the production of endorphins in the body as well. Endorphins are the body’s “pain killers” and are associated with feelings of elation or happiness. Endorphins also stimulate the immune system, alleviate pain, and help tissues heal faster.”
Increased circulation also benefits people with arthritis and diabetes.
Air tubs usually have a heating element to ensure the bubbles that soothe you are always warm. Some brands offer an upgrade called Hydro Fusion that will keep your bath water within 1 degree of the temperature that you set.
With an air tub, simply running the pumps once the bathwater has drained should completely clear any sitting water around the jets and prevent bacteria from building up.
Also, some air tubs have an “automatic purge cycle” that blows air through the lines once the tub drains. With this feature, you really don’t need to worry about bathroom mold.
Air tubs are quiet relative to some whirlpools. (However, it is possible to get a whirlpool with a nearly silent pump motor.) For many people, this is a huge consideration. A noisy tub can directly contradict the purpose of a soak: intense relaxation.
Air Tub Cons
Installing an air tub can be quite a bit more complicated (and expensive) than installing a standard tub without jets. You’ll need to consider where to place the air system, and you’ll need an electrician, in addition to a plumber, to hook up the jets.
An air tub itself will be significantly pricier than a non-jetted tub and just a bit more expensive than a whirlpool tub. Because of the more complicated installation, you’ll spend more than you would installing a non-jetted tub. According to homeadvisor.com, a contractor will spend an average of 18 hours installing a jetted tub and charge between $60 and $85 per hour.
No Targeted Massage
If you’re looking for a powerful, targeted massage on a particular area of your body, you won’t get it with an air tub. You’ll need a whirlpool for that.
May Need Floor Supports
If you’re getting an air tub that holds more water than a standard-sized bathtub, you’ll need to consider if your bathroom floor will require additional supports in order to hold the weight of the full bathtub and the bather. A ground floor bathroom is less likely to need more support. But if you do need more floor support, you’ll pay $100-$300 per each added joist.
Air Tub vs Whirlpool
Air Tubs and whirlpools are like apples and oranges. They are both in the same tub family, and they both involve jets, but that’s where the similarities end.
Unlike whirlpools that stream water from the jets, air tubs push out only air. Many air tubs enable you to adjust the force of the bubbles shooting out of the stream, though probably at their most powerful, they still won’t provide the force of a whirlpool jet. Because that’s not the point of an air tub.
Vigorous, Targeted Massage vs Whole Body, Soft Tissue Massage
You can aim a whirlpool jet at a particular sore muscle for a vigorous targeted massage, while an air tub provides an all-over body massage. Although a whirlpool jet releases a targeted stream of water that feels more forceful, don’t underestimate the power of an air tub.
For sure it feels more gentle and the soft tissue massage is dispersed across your body. But I once talked to a showroom saleswoman in a bathtub store, who told me she’d recently tried an air tub that had a microsilk feature. Unlike the massaging power of a hot tub, she said the air tub felt like a gentle vibration.
Terin Lewis of Expressions Home Gallery in Austin, Texas tells me she sells more air tubs than whirlpool tubs:
The air tub is more popular now. There’s a brand called Jason Hydrotherapy that makes a microsilk feature that cleanses your skin and breaks down the outer layer of your skin. If you own a microsilk air tub, it will wash your hair and skin so well that you won’t need shampoo or soap.
The Jason Hydrotherapy air tub even washed off her spray tan. That’s how Terin Lewis knew it was really powerful!
Some companies allow you to customize where you place the whirlpool jets in the tub. This way, you can be sure the jets target any trouble spots you might have.
Number of Jets
Air jets are smaller than whirlpool jets and are usually located along the lower perimeter of the tub or on the bottom. With an air tub, you can get 10-30 dime-sized jets. Some air tubs allow you to adjust these jets for more or less power. With whirlpools, usually there are fewer jets, commonly 4-16.
Unlike a whirlpool tub that may or may not come with a heating element, air tubs almost always have a heater.
An air tub can be easier to maintain and clean than a whirlpool, which can collect mildew in the lines, unless you purchase a whirlpool with antimicrobial piping. To clean a whirlpool tub, you add a cleaning solution while the tub is running. Air tubs, on the other hand, are self-cleaning and self-drying.
If you simply can’t decide between an air tub and a whirlpool tub, you can opt for both! Combo tubs offer the best of both worlds: You can run the air tub jets one day, the whirlpool jets the next, and the following day run all the jets together. Ahhh!
But be prepared to pay for this ultimate spa luxury.
Are There Any Cheaper Alternatives to a Spa Tub?
If you’re not quite ready to make the plunge and buy an air tub or a whirlpool tub, there are some fun options that can give you the feeling of living in luxury while staying on a very strict budget.
Did you know that you can transform your regular old bathtub into a Jacuzzi? It’s true. Check out these tips for how to buy a kit. If you’re handy or have someone handy in your life, this can be quite an exciting project.
However, if you don’t want to literally change your bathtub into a Jacuzzi, I highly recommend a Jacuzzi bathtub mat. This item runs around $100 and really is like a combo air tub and whirlpool. It lays on the bottom of your bathtub and, though it doesn’t have actual jets, it squirts up streams of air that are quite powerful—stronger than most settings on an air tub. (Here’s my absolute favorite Jacuzzi bath mat.)
Cleaning the Air Tub Basin
As we mentioned, air tubs are self-cleaning and self-drying, so you don’t need to worry about generating any bathroom mold from the jets.
But how should you clean the tub basin? Well, that will depend on what type of bathtub material your tub is made from. Is it acrylic, cast iron or fiberglass?
Consult the manufacturer’s guidelines for best results. If you’re looking to try a natural cleaning solution before turning to chemicals, consult The Bathtubber’s guide to cleaning your tub.
Can You Use Bubble Bath and Bath Oils in a Jetted Tub?
You can use some water-soluble bath products in a jetted tub, but you’ll want to avoid bath oils that can clog the jets and make them hard to complete their self-cleaning capabilities.
If you use bubble bath in a jetted tub, consider turning off the jets first. If not, you may be surprised by the enormous floor-to-ceiling bubbles you can generate in no time.
I was using my Jacuzzi bath mat in the tub. I turned on the water and powered up my bath mat, anticipating a great relaxing bath. I also added two capfuls of Deep Steep Rosemary Mint Bubble Bath (my favorite!) and then left to make a quick phone call in the kitchen.
The next thing I knew, my dog Athena was in the bathroom barking like crazy. I went to check on her and that’s when I found that the bubbles had grown into a mountain. My 15-year-old son and I thought it was hilarious. We put on our bathing suits and enjoyed the fun.
The moral of the story is that bubbles and jets don’t really mix—unless you’re intentionally trying to create a funhouse experience at home.
So Are Air Tubs Worth The Money?
The bottom line is how desperately do you want the benefits of hydrotherapy? Will you be satisfied with an overall soft tissue massage, rather than a targeted whirlpool jet deep tissue massage? And will you actually get in the tub on a regular basis?
If the answer to these questions is yes, in order to determine whether an air tub is worth it for you, you’ll need to answer another question: Can you afford the expense of the tub itself and floor reinforcement needed plus the installation cost?
You may need to do some mental trade-offs to convince yourself: Try out statements like “I won’t need a weekly massage so I’ll save expenses there,” or “My health is worth any price.” See what rings true for you.
If forking over the extra dough to buy an air tub is making you tense, then it’s a counterproductive purchase. However, if you can swing the funding, you’ll greatly enjoy the mental wellness and physical health benefits.