Whirlpool Baths: The Ultimate Buyers Guide
The bathroom has transformed from being the smallest, and often most unloved, room in the house, to being a private health and wellness centre. This has been made possible by the fact that really posh facilities which were once only really practical in gyms and spas are now available at a size and price which is realistic for the average home. The popularity of whirlpool baths (often known as Jacuzzis) is one example of this. They combine the therapeutic powers of hot water with air jets, which provide a gentle or invigorating massage as well as the delights of a regular soak.
Although whirlpool baths actually have surprisingly low running costs, if you are considering purchasing one their initial purchase price can mean that they are very much investment pieces, so it is important to put in a little thought before making such a key purchase. Here are the points you need to consider.
How big a Whirlpool Bath can I actually have?
Probably the most practical approach is to start by thinking about what is actually possible and then look at how this relates to your needs. You may decide that you would prefer to have a bath which is smaller than the maximum size you can accommodate, which is fine, but you want to avoid setting your heart on one which is too big or, worse still, investing in a whirlpool bath only to discover that it is unsuitable for your home. The obvious place to start here is the physical space available in your bathroom.
It would be lovely if every bathroom had an obvious place to put a whirlpool bath (and many do) but in the real world it can help to remember that whirlpool baths can come in a variety of shapes, as well as sizes, so the solution to a room with a challenging shape and/or the need to work around existing appliances may be to look at different shapes of whirlpool baths, particularly corner whirlpool baths and offset shapes.
One specific point about whirlpool baths is that they generally come in one piece, which means that you will also need to check the route from the nearest delivery spot to the space where you want it installed. Basically the smallest entry points, narrowest spaces and tightest turning points will determine what size of whirlpool bath will actually fit in your home.
If you are planning to replace an existing bath with a whirlpool bath of the same size and shape then you will probably be able to support its requirements in terms of weight and water supply, although it might be worth double-checking. If not, then you absolutely must make sure of these points before you buy your whirlpool bath.
Remember that an empty bath weighs much less than a full one with a person in it, so you will need to check that your floor can physically handle a bath at full capacity. You could seek the advice of a structural engineer at the very start of the purchase process, but if you are still thinking your way through what you want, then it might be better to narrow your choice down to a smaller number of models, check their weight when full (this may well be in the product description, but if not the supplier should be able to tell you) and then provide these specific details to a structural engineer. You would also be well advised to check that you have sufficient and appropriate drainage. Again, if you have already had a bath, this is probably fine, but it never hurts to double-check.
As a final point, while most modern houses have combi boilers, there are still some houses out there with hot water tanks. You should check if yours is one of them and if so, verify its capacity. You may have paperwork which details this or it may be on the seal of the tank, if not you could check with your energy supplier or the company which installed the heating system. The basic rule of thumb is that your hot water tank needs to hold enough water to fill two thirds of the bath you intend to buy, (the other third being cold water).
What size, shape and type of bath do I actually want?
Now that you’ve established what your bathroom can actually support, the next question is what do you personally want? There are three elements which go into this decision.
Size - By now you should now the maximum size of bath your bathroom can support. Do you actually want to make full use of this capacity or would you prefer a smaller bath, which takes up less space in the bathroom? Obviously bigger baths can be much more luxurious for lounging, but having a smaller one may allow you to put the space you have saved to another purpose.
Shape - Similar comments apply here. This choice is a blend of practicality and preference.
Type - There are 4 main types of bath. Recessed baths, which are designed to fit in alcoves or against walls, and corner baths (which obviously fit in corners) are the most space-efficient options. Drop-in baths are either sunk into the floor or set into a platform (possibly accessed by steps). The only part of a drop-in bath which is clearly visible is the interior, which means that home owners have a large degree of freedom when designing their bathroom. They could choose to make the whirlpool bath a stand-out feature, or subtly integrate it for a seamless effect.
Freestanding baths are the exact opposite. They are baths which stand independently on four legs and are designed to be statement pieces, so much so that they are frequently used in adverts, including a very famous one for a well-known brand of chocolate. While this choice is also largely a matter of preference, you will still need to have a think about the practicalities. In particular, there are three key points to note about freestanding baths.
They look gorgeous on TV, but in real life you have to clean the exterior of both the long edges and both the short edges and the space underneath the bottom of the bath (whereas recessed baths generally only have one long edge to clean). In addition to the extra effort involved in this, there needs to be a decent amount of space around the bath if this is to be anything other than a frustration.
While the famous advert was obviously an exaggeration, it is fair to say that free-standing baths are notorious for water overflow. Again, if you have a bath set against a wall, the wall effectively acts as a backsplash, so water can only really get out of one side. With free-standing baths, however, the water can literally get out everywhere and generally it does. A good bathroom floor should be able to cope with this, but it’s up to each individual to decide whether the joy of wallowing in a free-standing bath is enough to compensate for the (pretty much inevitable) clean up afterwards.
Finally, when a bath is set against a wall, then it is generally pretty straightforward to install at least some form of storage or even just use the corners of the bath to hold the basic necessities you need for your soak. Free-standing baths don’t have this. If they are flat enough, you may be able to use an over-bath tray, although this, of course, compromises your freedom of movement. If, however, the sides are sloped, then there will be nowhere to rest the tray.
As a result, in addition to allowing for cleaning space, you will need to think about where you are going to put your bathing necessities like soap and hair products. You can install a side-table or two for this purpose, although this is pretty much an invitation to overflow as you are going to have to reach out of the bath every time you want to pick them up or put them back.
Do I want an unconventional material?
These days acrylic is the material of choice for almost all baths and there are a number of very good reasons for this, most of which relate to the fact that is naturally insulated and that it is also easy to clean, robust and low-maintenance. There are, however, plenty of other choices out there, just be aware that if you do opt for another material you are essentially choosing to prioritize appearance over practicality and there are very likely to be costs associated with this, some of which could be more obvious than others.
The purchase price is one obvious factor, non-acrylic baths have a more limited market and therefore tend to be more expensive. Since the material will probably have less insulation, the water will lose its heat more quickly and therefore you may need to top up the hot more often. They may not last as long and the scratches which are a minor fix in acrylic baths can be an expensive and/or time-consuming headache in baths made of other materials.
What features do I want in my whirlpool bath?
There are a whole range of features you can have in your whirlpool bath. Thermostatic control will keep the water temperature just how you like it. Adjustable jets (water and/or air) will allow you to tailor your massage exactly to your taste. This can be a particular bonus for medical users, who want the jets literally to hit them where it hurts. An air regulator can also be helpful if the bath is to be used by larger people as they can find themselves blocking some of the jets.
On a more practical note, a hand-held shower will help you to rinse off yourself and your bath and get rid of any lingering soapy suds and bubble bath, while a cleaning system will help to keep your whirlpool bath in perfect working order by cleaning out the pipes. There are also touches for comfort and/or just for fun, for example foam headrests or underwater lighting.
Keeping it safe
If you buy a whirlpool bath from a reputable supplier, you can have a reasonable expectation that it will meet all relevant safety standards. For information’s sake, however, here are a couple of features to look out for.
Water sensor - This feature can have various names but they will probably be along these lines. Basically it’s a sensor which checks that there is enough water in the bath for it to operate safely. It is linked to the water pump so that the latter will only switch on if the sensor confirms that it is safe to do so.
Residual Current Device (RCD) - In very simple terms, this will automatically switch off the electricity if it detects any safety issues with the current. You probably know the (very true) old adage about water and electricity, this device makes sure that they don’t mix.
In general terms, you want to make sure that your intended purchase is covered by the relevant electrical certification and is backed by a guarantee from a reputable supplier, who’s likely to be in business for the foreseeable future.
Health Benefits Of A Whirlpool Bath
While whirlpool baths have become associated with pamper parties and spas, they actually offer significant health benefits, which is why they are also used in gyms up and down the country. The usefulness of water-based treatments (technically known as hydrotherapy) has been recognized, literally for thousands of years. The Romans, for example, loved their public baths, but only the very rich could afford to have them in their private homes. Today, however, an average family bathroom can hold a whirlpool shower bath or a corner whirlpool bath quite easily so now we can all enjoy the same health-giving treatments as the Roman elite. Hydrotherapy really does provide top to toe benefits for body and mind. Here are just some of them.
Everybody knows that a long, hot soak is great way to get rid of stress and promote sleep. While baths are the classic way to do this, even a gentle shower can have a similar effect. With so many of us having to deal with stressful situations on a daily basis (particularly commuters), this is possibly the single, biggest benefit of hydrotherapy.
The stress-relieving properties of whirlpool baths are actually factual and backed up by science. Basically when the body is in a warm environment it increases its production of endogenous opioid peptides, which are a form of endorphins. Their primary purpose is to relieve pain, which, of course, is a common source of stress and they also help to promote a feeling of wellbeing in a person.
There is also a scientific reason behind why whirlpool baths help people get to sleep at night. They encourage the body to produce melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone which is closely connected with inducing sleep, so much so, in fact, that its levels start to rise naturally when it is time for us to go to bed, or at least they should.
In our modern world, however, it’s surprisingly easy for there to be situations where we lack our sleep-inducing hormone when we need to get to sleep. One obvious example of this is shift workers, who do not really have a recognizable sleep pattern.
The other is people who live in places where there are long, extended days or long, extended nights, or where there is sufficient light pollution to have the effect of long, extended days. These interfere with the body’s circadian rhythm, otherwise known as our body clock. Because of this, those who are having problems getting to sleep, could benefit from using whirlpool baths as part of a bedtime routine. Basically you want to set up a sequence which gets your body prepared for sleep both mentally and physically and since whirlpool baths increase melatonin, they can be a great way to get that sequence started.
Even though the picture of someone (usually a woman) relaxing in a bath with a glass of wine, is a favourite publicity photograph, it’s a scenario to avoid in real life if you’re having problems sleeping. Alcohol is a depressant, so it will actually aggravate any minor irritations and stresses, thereby counteracting the effect of that lovely whirlpool bath. Likewise avoid caffeine for much the same reason.
Herbal teas are probably the best way to go if you want a drink, but if you don’t like the taste, go for a milk- (or soya milk-) based drink rather than hot chocolate, which often has caffeine in it, can be full of sugar (which raises your energy levels) and can make you feel sluggish rather than sleepy.
Essential oils can also help to create an even more relaxing atmosphere, obviously avoid citrus and menthol as they are both known for their stimulating effect. Although menthol can help unblock stuffy noses to help you get to sleep, the steam from the whirlpool bath will also do this without keeping you awake.
Whirlpool baths are a great cure for tension headaches and can help to relieve headaches with other causes. For example, they dilate the blood vessels throughout the body, including the head, which can relieve pressure. It also cleans out the sinuses, helping to unblock noses and hence deal with the headaches they can produce.
We have skin all over our body, but for many of us, it’s the skin on our face which bothers us the most. Even though we’re unlikely to submerge our faces in water, the fact that our bodies are submerged in (or in a flow of) hot water has a positive effect on the skin all over our body, including the skin on our faces.
There are two main reasons for this. First of all, the heat stimulates the circulatory system, getting blood moving more quickly around the body. Blood carries nutrients to the parts of the body where they are needed and takes waste products away, so stimulating the blood flow ensures that the body is both nourished and cleansed more quickly.
Similarly, the heat encourages pores to open, which makes it easier for toxins to be expelled through sweat, thus cleansing the body further.
While these benefits are useful at any time of year, they really come into their own as temperatures drop and, for a number of reasons, the body becomes more sluggish. Plus, of course, the festive season is precisely the time when it becomes very easy to over-indulge on alcohol and/or comfort food and/or to go short on sleep (and exercise).
A spell in a whirlpool shower bath or a corner whirlpool bath is nowhere near enough to counteract the long term effects of living an unhealthy lifestyle day in and day out, but it can be very helpful at those times when you’ve had a bit more fun than is really good for you and need a gentle but effective boost to get you moving again. Add some essential oils for even more of a lift, menthol, for example, will help clear fuzzy heads as well as blocked sinuses.
We’ve already mentioned that heat stimulates blood flow and it’s the heart which keeps the blood moving around the body, so it has to work a little harder. In other words, one of the effects of a whirlpool bath is to give the heart a gentle workout. It also dilates the blood vessels, basically giving the blood more room to move, hence lowering blood pressure. Another hormone also comes into play here, cortisol.
Cortisol actually has a key role to play in managing a person’s mental and physical response to stress. What should happen is that our cortisol levels increase when we are faced with a stressful situation and then drop down again once that situation is resolved. Unfortunately modern lifestyles can be such that we find ourselves in an “always on” stress mode and hence maintain elevated cortisol levels.
A whirlpool bath helps to reduce cortisol levels, which reduces stress and hence lowers high blood pressure, thereby improving blood flow.
The whirlpool element of a whirlpool corner bath or whirlpool shower bath provides a massage, which can be gentle or stimulating depending on the settings used. This provides extra stimulus to the body’s systems, including the digestive system. In a person who is generally healthy, this simply helps to promote the digestion of food, which is the fuel the body needs to function well. In a person, who is suffering from mild digestive disorders, (such as festive indigestion), this can help to put the body back to rights. It can even be used to treat some chronic digestive disorders such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Those who suffer from stress-related attacks may find that the stress-relieving qualities of whirlpool baths reduce the number of attacks they suffer in the first place. If, however, an attack does occur, then a whirlpool bath is the ideal way to deal with it in that it not only relieves stress, but also relaxes the colon thereby dealing with the physical aspect of the problem and offers some degree of relief for discomfort.
For similar reasons, whirlpool baths are also very helpful to women who suffer from (pre-) menstrual cramps. These can be a bit of a vicious circle in that women who anticipate suffering from them are very likely to feel stressed and physically tense up, which, of course, can just make the cramps both more likely and more severe. Again, the compelling combination of heat, water and massage can deal with both the emotional and the physical issues.
Arms and legs
For arms and legs, read joints and muscles, admittedly these are found in other parts of the body as well, but it’s the ones in the limbs which, arguably, take the most pounding, whether it’s lifting weights with the knees bent or carrying heavy shopping bags, they do a lot of work. They can also suffer from modern lifestyles, for example sitting at desks all day is hardly the way to promote good circulation (particularly not if you’re in the habit of sitting with your legs crossed), nor are tight clothes such as leggings.
Some modern footwear is also very questionable from a health perspective. Hence the fact that whirlpool baths can improve circulation is a great benefit to the arms and legs, particularly the latter and most especially of all in winter.
We’ve probably all experienced the feeling of numb feet caused not by cold itself but by poor circulation, which is aggravated by the temptation (or need) to slow down in winter, e.g. to take less exercise than usual. The muscles in the limbs need fuel delivered and waste removed by the blood just like everywhere else, so it’s important to keep the circulation flowing freely around the extremities.
Speaking of the muscles, stress and tension in the mind often manifests itself as tension in the body, specifically the muscles. The combination of heat and massage in a whirlpool bath is superb for getting muscles to relax and extend, which is why they can be used to assist sports people for whom flexibility is important.
In the everyday world, they can be a great treatment for the physical stresses caused by modern lifestyles, such as spending long periods gripping tightly to a grab loop on a crowded train.
The combination of improved circulation and enhanced muscular flexibility also benefits the joints, which are essentially parts of the body where two bones are joined together by muscular tissue. Even younger people have probably experienced at least some instances of “morning stiffness”, when it seems to be extra difficult to get their body to do what it wants, particularly if it involves flexibility or complex movements.
As the body ages, this can become more of an issue and it can also impact people in specific life stages such as pregnancy and the menopause.
Whirlpool baths directly address one of the recognized triggers of morning stiffness, namely lack of sleep. They can also help to resolve some of the others, such as lack of exercise/being overweight. These two factors often go hand in hand.
The fact that whirlpool baths have the effect of a very light workout is beneficial in itself, but what is probably more beneficial is that they help relieve stress and improve a person’s mood, which can encourage them to take the next step to improve their health and take more exercise to reduce their weight.
On a similar note, poor diet is also linked with morning stiffness. While whirlpool baths cannot directly address this, they can help with poor digestion and hence improve the flow of nutrients to the body and, as previously mentioned, feeling better about oneself in general can encourage a person to take better care of their body.
For the sake of completeness, we should mention that the last key cause of morning stiffness is cold, particularly damp cold. The heat from whirlpool baths can help to counteract physical coldness but it is still important to ensure that the overall environment is conducive to health, for example by eliminating causes of condensation or “rising damp”.
In short, therefore, whirlpool baths should be thought of as investment purchases, improving both your health and the enjoyment of your home.