There's something undeniably satisfying about taking a dip in a hot tub. Soaking in the warm water for a few minutes can help you relax after a long stressful day. It can even provide some pain-relief benefits as the heat and massaging action of the jets help reduce inflammation and ease sore muscles.
Traditional hot tubs are fairly expensive — easily $2,000 and possibly much more. Inflatable hot tubs, on the other hand, cost a fraction of that. For as little as $500, you can get a tub with bubble jets and built-in water filtration systems that fits up to six people. Better yet, they're ready to use out of the box and don't require professional installation. They're also portable and can be deflated and stored when not in use, making them perfect for renters with some room to spare.
Still, if you own your home and can afford it, hard-shell hot tubs are often the better choice. They're more durable, comfortable, longer-lasting, and energy-efficient than inflatable models. Since they require an independent power panel, traditional hot tubs can handle extras like underwater lights, for example. You can also adjust the jets' intensity for a deeper massage, which is more effective at loosening tight muscles.
Between purchase and installation costs, a traditional acrylic or plastic hot tub can cost more than $5,000. Yet it may be worth it in the long run, especially if you use your hot tub frequently and take advantage of all the extra features.
Hot tub buying guide
Here are a few factors to consider before deciding which type of hot tub to purchase:
• Inflatable or hard shell. Retailing for around $400 to $1,000, inflatable hot tubs can reach a temperature of 104°F just like traditional hard shell models. They also come equipped with digital pumps that can control around 100 bubble jets, a built-in water filtration system, and inflate the tub in as little as 15 minutes. These tubs are completely portable and require no tools or professional installation.
However, inflatable models are generally not as powerful. Their jets produce bubbles that are sufficient for a relaxing soak, but don’t provide the benefits of hydrotherapy jets, which can target problem areas in the back and/or feet. And inflatable hot tubs take significantly longer to reach the maximum 104°F temperature — sometimes up to 24 hours, depending on the climate in your area.
This doesn't necessarily mean inflatable models consume more energy. In fact, they technically consume less since they connect to standard 120v plugs and their heaters and pump require less power. The heater and pump on a 120v tub may consume around 3,000 watts. A traditional tub needs a 240v connection and may consume more than 5,000 watts.
But that doesn't fully explain how much energy your hot tub will use (or how high your energy bill will be). A traditional tub may require more power but can be more energy efficient since it is better insulated. Hard tubs have both an insulated locking cover as well as insulation along their walls. This allows them to trap heat more efficiently and thus reduce the energy consumption.
• Voltage. For the most part, hard shell hot tubs use 220v-240v outlets, while inflatable models generally use 110-120v.
Hot tubs operating on 220v-240v can run several pumps and the heater simultaneously. They can also support high-powered massage jets and extra add-ons like lighting systems and built-in waterfalls.
Although powerful, these models do have some downsides. Not only do they cost thousands of dollars, they also require the cost of professional installation.
Inflatable tubs running on 110v-120v, on the other hand, are known as plug-and-play tubs since all you have to do is plug them in any standard home socket and you're good to go. However, inflatable hot tubs take longer to heat up and may have weaker jets that can’t run at the same time as the heating system. So, if you turn on the jets, the water will eventually become cooler.
• Built-in features. Typically, budget hot tubs only come with a few simple features such as bubble jets and an insulation cover. If you’re looking to have a warm soak once in a while, this should be sufficient.
If you’re interested in the full spa experience, you'll have to pay extra. High-end tubs can feature molded seats with lumbar support, multiple jet types, a multi-colored light system, a waterfall, and even sound systems.
Best hot tubs
1. Best inflatable hot tub: Intex PureSpa Greywood Deluxe
Courtesy of Amazon
The Intex PureSpa Greywood Deluxe is ideal for anyone who wants an affordable inflatable hot tub that comes with a few bells and whistles found on more expensive models.
This tub can hold up to six people and heat water up to 104°F, like many other inflatables. However, the PureSpa has 170 bubble jets — around 50 more than cheaper models. More bubbles can provide some added stress relief. It also features a hard water treatment system to reduce calcium buildups and a floating chlorine dispenser that can keep the water clean longer.
Like other inflatable models, the PureSpa features an easy-to-use panel that controls the temperature, timer, bubble jets, and filtration system altogether. The panel is wireless for added convenience, and it can be charged directly on the tub by placing it on a built-in holding slot.
The PureSpa is fully portable and even comes with a carrying bag. Among the other extras are two inflatable headrests and a multi-colored LED light.
2. Editor’s pick: Coleman SaluSpa Inflatable Hot Tub Spa
Coleman is popular for its quality yet affordable outdoor gear, and the SaluSpa is a great representative of the brand.
For a little over $500, this inflatable hot tub offers a solid three-layer design and a quick setup. The SaluSpa comes with a digital pump that controls the inflation, temperature, and filtration. Press one button, and the tub inflates automatically, reaching full capacity in about 20 minutes.
Depending on the weather conditions and where the hot tub is placed, the pump can heat the water up to 104°F in as little as five hours. Note that if you live in a colder place, it could take up to a day. There's an integrated start/stop timer you can set to schedule a specific time for the tub to be ready for use.
The pump runs 114 air jets along the bottom of the tub to produce a decent amount of bubbles. Keep in mind, however, that the heater and bubble system can’t operate at the same time. So, if the air jets are on, the water temperature will start to decrease.
However, some reviewers have mentioned that the water temperature stays at 104°F for quite some time when the air jets are on, even in winter.
The SaluSpa is completely portable. It can fit up to six people and has cushioned walls and floor. The walls are also puncture-resistant, UV-resistant, and solid enough for bathers to lean on or sit on while climbing in and out.
3. Best hot tub overall: LS600DX by Lifesmart Spas
If you’re looking for a complete spa-like experience and are not limited by a tight budget, consider the LS600DX by Lifesmart Spas. The list price is usually $6,500, but it is sometimes on sale for around $4,000.
The LS600DX seats up to seven people and has 65 jets, including 14 turbo blasters and 4 foot jets for localized massage action. It has a 3 hp pump (compared to 2 hp for lower-priced models) that, when combined with the air-control valve, offers greater control over the jet's intensity. You can go from relaxing bubbles to full blast back or foot massage using the digital control panel. The tub includes a waterfall and underwater LED color-changing lights too.
This is a 230v hot tub, giving it sufficient power to heat up quickly. It contains full foam insulation, as well as an insulated locking cover to help maintain water temperature and save energy. According to Lifesmart, this model meets all the energy guidelines set for by the California Energy Commission (CEC).
4. Best hot tub for small spaces: Premium 300 from AquaRest Spas
The Premium 300 from AquaRest Spas is designed for two people, making it suitable for small decks or backyards. Yet the tub's tiny size doesn’t mean it’s bare bones.
This hot tub has 20 hydrotherapy jets, which can be adjusted to provide a gentle or deep massage. The jets are placed strategically to target back pain, and the seats also have a lumbar arch to provide additional support. To create a more soothing atmosphere, the Premium 300 features a small waterfall with a multi-color LED backlight.
The Premium 300 is a plug-and-play (120v) hot tub that requires no professional installation. However, when connected with the standard 120v plug, the hot tub will take longer to heat up, and it’s not possible to run the heater and the jets at the same time. This model can be converted to a 240v connection by a certified electrician, though.
The Premium 300 has a dual filtration system, which can filter water and reduce the need for chlorine by around 50% to 75%.
The retail price for the Premium 300 is $3,500 but it can sometimes be found online for around less than $3,000. If you’re not interested in the dual water filtration system or upgrading the power supply to 240v, you can go for the Select 300, which costs a few hundred dollars less.
5. Best for low prices: Graystone Premium 400 from AquaRest Spas
If the Premium 300 from AquaRest Spas is too small, check out the four-person Premium 400.
The Premium 400 has a polyethylene shell that is resistant to stains, cold temperatures, and UV rays. It’s also impact resistant, making it an ideal choice for an outdoors area where children play. And it’s as relaxing as it is sturdy: The lumbar arch and 20 hydrotherapy jets in each seat target sore back muscles, while the multi-color backlit waterfall creates a spa-ish ambience.
Although it’s a bigger model than the Premium 300, the Premium 400 is also a plug-and-play (120v) hot tub. It doesn’t require any professional installation, unless you want to upgrade to 240v for more power.
This model's filtration system reduces the need for chlorine by around 50% to 75%. Pair that with the tub’s insulated walls and the sealing cover, and you’ve got a water- and energy-efficient tub ideal for an average-sized household.