Choosing between walk-in tubs and Barrier-free showers
An accessible bathroom can be a valuable upgrade for anyone dealing with aging or mobility issues. Here we guide you through the pros and cons of two popular choices: walk-in tubs and barrier-free showers. Read on to see which one is best for you and your loved ones.
Home sweet home should be a comfortable place for everyone, no matter your age or abilities. But the standard bathroom design in many homes can be inconvenient – or worse, unsafe – for family members dealing with mobility issues. Traditional bathrooms can present challenges like:
» TIGHT SPACES: Poor bathroom layouts make it difficult for users to turn around, especially if they’re using wheelchairs or other mobility aids.
» BATHTUB DANGERS: Slippery step-in bathtubs can cause falling hazards for users of any age, but especially for older adults.
» AWKWARD SHOWER DOORS: Shower doors in a tub/shower setup narrow the space for getting in and out of the shower, and can make it difficult for caregivers to access the shower.
» TRIP-AND-FALL HAZARDS: In addition to concerns about slipping in the tub or shower, shower base curbs and shower door tracks add one more obstacle for shower users.
If you or your loved ones are dealing with any of these bathroom accessibility issues, it’s time to consider alternative options that will make bathing easier and more enjoyable. Two accessible bath choices to consider are walk-in tubs and barrier-free showers. Read on for an explanation of each, and pros and cons to consider.
Option #1: Walk-In Tubs
Designed to fit within the footprint of your existing bathtub, a walk-in tub has taller sides, a built-in seat, and – most importantly – a door with a low threshold, eliminating the need to high-step over the side of a traditional tub. If your bathroom incorporates a tub/shower combination, you don’t have to worry about losing the shower portion of the bathing experience by installing a walk-in tub. These units incorporate hand showers for easy hair washing and rinsing, on top of additional features like whirlpool jets, and integral safety grab bars.
One walk-in tub drawback that some users mention is that bathers must wait inside the tub while it fills before bathing, and again after bathing while the tub drains. Thankfully, manufacturers have worked to resolve these issues with tubs that fill quickly and have dual drains for faster draining.
- Same effect as a bathtub without the challenge of climbing in and out; maintains safe bathing independence
- Seated bathing experience eliminates the need to stand in the shower
- Full-immersion soaking depth for hydrotherapy benefits
- Easy for caregivers to reach bathers without getting wet themselves
- Integrated hand-showers for easy hair washing and rinsing.
- Integral safety features, including grab bars
- In-line heaters to maintain water temperature
- Usually fits in the same footprint as existing tub
- More expensive than traditional bathtubs
- Fill and drain time
- Full soaking depth may use more water than traditional bathtubs
- Not suitable for small children
Option #2: Barrier-Free Showers
To make the most of accessible bathing options, barrier-free showers take out the obstacles (like shower doors) and add new features to benefit users of all abilities. Unlike all-in-one walk-in tub units, accessible showers are custom-designed with your style and needs in mind. Choose from low-threshold shower bases that reduce the step into the shower to as little as 1.5 inches, or opt for a no-threshold or “curbless” shower that uses a variable-height ramp. The latter option is ideal for wheelchair users who can roll in and out of the shower with complete independence. To that point, barrier-free showers can be designed with plenty of room for all kinds of mobility aids, including wheelchairs, walkers, and scooters.
Designing your accessible shower also lets you choose the safety features that best meet your needs, including benches and shower seats, grab bars, and hand showers. Though some bathers will find the lack of a door takes some getting used to, the level of customization with a barrier-free shower means the result is a shower that exactly meets your needs.
- Suitable for any body type, size, and mobility needs to maintain independence
- Wide range of sizes and access styles to choose from (low-threshold or curbless/no-threshold)
- Completely customizable for style, color, and storage options
- Wide range of safety features available for further customization, including benches/seats, hand showers, and grab bars
- Easy, familiar temperature control
- Uses less water than a bathtub or walk-in tub
- Caregivers can enter the bathing space to offer assistance
- Easy to clean
- Usually can’t incorporate a door, so they can have less privacy and more heat can escape than with a traditional shower enclosure
- Water can splash outside the shower, so flooring and safety are important considerations
- Inconvenient for small children
- If part of a tub-to-shower conversion, this project will remove a bathtub from the house.