January 2008
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How to choose

All whirlpool tubs entail added cleaning and maintenance. You might also prefer a deep, non-whirlpool soaking tub if you like your luxury without a massage. Those deep tubs lack a whirlpool’s complexity and start at about $300.

If you decide on a whirlpool, see Types to determine the massage you want and the amount you’re willing to spend. Remember that extras such as colored underwater lights, known as chromatherapy, can add up to $1,200 to the price. Then keep these points in mind:

Think outside the suite. Because suites don’t match tubs with other bath fixtures as closely as they do faucets with towel racks, whirlpools are an appropriate place to mix and match.

Consider the configuration. Drop-in tubs like those we tested come without sides, allowing for a customized surround (about $1,000 or more). You can also buy tubs that come with one, two, or three sides; look for removable sides that allow access to the pump and motor.

Try before buying. More showrooms have working whirlpools that let you immerse a hand or arm. But even a dry tub can tell you whether the length, width, and depth fit your physique.

Check the jets and controls. Besides favoring center-mounted controls and a more vertical seating position, we also found that more air jets along the sides, rather than at your back, tend to create a better, bubblier massage. Also look for handles and armrests, and, for water-jet models, easily adjustable jets.

Consider efficiency. You’ll pay only about $17 per year in electricity for a water/air tub using both pumps, based on Department of Energy averages for one 15-minute bath per day. But that doesn’t include heating the 70 gallons of water these tubs hold. At roughly 30 gallons more per bath than regular tubs, water use could be an issue in drought areas.