Owning a spa or a Jacuzzi used to be unrealistic for most people because of their rich price tags. Technology has advanced significantly in the past few years, though. Inflatable hot tubs are now constructed with high quality materials and powerful water filtration systems and can be left set up year round. This makes them viable alternatives to permanent hot tubs, because most inflatable hot tubs can now provide the same experience as fixed tubs. Inflatable hot tubs often cost 1/10th of what their permanent counterparts cost, which means that the luxurious spa lifestyle is now within the reach of a lot more people. Picking out the right inflatable hot tub can be an overwhelming process, though, because there are a lot of variables that need to be in line for a tub to be reliable. This buying guide is intended to help you efficiently proceeded through the research process so that you can be confident that the tub you purchase will be the best inflatable hot tub for you.
You should have two fundamental concerns, while researching inflatable hot tubs: how long will the tub last and how well will it perform. The first concern, longevity, is largely determined by the quality of the materials used to construct the tub and the attention to detail in the design. The first aspect of the product that you should investigate is the tub basin. When we use the term basin, we are referring to the tub itself, and not the mechanical water filtration unit. There are two factors that you should pay attention to: the fabric used to construct the tub basin, and the seams where the materials are attached to each other. One of the most common reasons that an inflatable hot tub fails is because it gets a hole somewhere, so it is important to mitigate this risk by selecting a tub that is constructed with high quality materials.
The type of material that the tub basin is constructed out of is the first determinant of quality and durability. You should look for thick, dense material to reduce the risk of holes from wear and tear. Each brand uses a different type of material so it is important to research and decide if the material of the tub that you are interested in meets your standards for quality. This guide will explain some of the common materials used by the top inflatable hot tub brands, but it is not exhaustive. Throughout this guide, if you have any questions, remember that you are also always free to contact us with questions.
Intex outsources their tub basin material to a company called Fiber-Tech who specializes in production of heavy duty materials. They use a patented puncture resistant 3-ply laminated material which exceeds our benchmark for material durability. Coleman and Bestway also outsource their tub basin material, but they use a company called Tri-Tech who also produces a 3 ply reinforced material. Both Fiber-Tech and Tri-Tech’s 3 ply material is a polyester mesh core, encased in two layers of PVC. Both of these materials are incredibly strong so you can feel confident if you see a tub basin constructed out of either of these materials.
In addition to the material used, the design of the tub also important. The best inflatable hot tubs are rigid enough that you can sit on the side of them and the walls will not collapse under your weight. The reason that they are so sturdy is because the material that forms the inner wall and touches the water is connected to the material that forms the outer wall which makes up the exterior of the tub. The inner and outer walls are connected to each other every 6 to 8 inches with an internal support structure that prevents the material from ballooning under high pressure. There are various names for this design. Coleman calls this technology I-Beam construction, but other companies may call the design something completely different. This design is critical for durability, so be sure that the tub that you decide on contains an internal support structure.
The floor of the tub is far less prone to failure because it does not have to withstand constant high air pressure. One component that should be included, though, is some sort of ground pad. A ground pad will reduce the wear on your tub’s floor from gravel. A ground pad also serves two additional functions. First it creates a soft surface to walk on, and more importantly, it provides insulation between the tub and the ground. Heat is lost through every part of the tub, including the floor but a ground pad can limit some of the heat that escapes into the ground. The ground mat should not be a deal breaker, because one can be purchased for a relatively low cost. It is something that should be considered though.
All tubs should include a high quality cover which will prevent heat from escaping and debris from entering the tub when it is not being used. Most inflatable hot tubs come with an inflatable reservoir that inserts into a casing made of faux leather or some other kind of more attractive material. The inflatable cover is nice because it won’t sag and collect water when it rains because it floats on top of the tub water. This means that it is important to keep your water level at the correct height so that the cover sits properly. Look at the material that the cover float is made out of because it is often made out of thinner material. This is ok, as long as it’s not too thin. Use your best judgement and try to determine if the reservoir is made with thick enough material to remain undamaged. Also make sure you like the look of the cover. If you intend to leave your inflatable hot tub set up for a long period of time, you want to like how it looks.
Next you should take a look at the seams where the buckles and handles are fastened to the tub material. These seams will need to withstand significant stress, so you want to make sure that they are not going to fail and tear the liner wall. A quality tub will have fixtures attached to the exterior of the tub liner with an additional layer of material, and not sewed directly into the liner. That way the tension is spread against the exterior evenly instead of focused on a thread seam. You should try lifting the tub from one of the handles. Even if it has water in it, give it a lift and watch the area where the handle is attached to the tub material. You should see the stress distributed across the fixed patch, and not centered on one point. The handles and buckles should be capable of withstanding high stress, so it should not feel like you would ever be able to rip handles or buckles off of the tub.
Water Filtration and Heating Unit
The next component that you should inspect for durability is the heating and water filtration unit. The mechanical components are more difficult to investigate because there aren’t physical traits that you can look at to determine quality. You cannot look at a water pump and make any kind of determinations of how long it will last. This is an aspect of the hot tub that you are going to have to rely on testimonials from people who have tested them first hand, and can attest to the quality and failover rates of the parts. This is the whole reason that Tub Headquarters exists. We know that you don’t have the ability to run a water heater on full power for a whole year to see if it satisfies you. But we have that capability, so I would recommend that you read our reviews to determine which tub has the best mechanical components for the environment that you will be using your hot tub in.
You do have the ability to get your hands on the inside of the pump system so can perform a series of visual inspections to make a basic determination of quality. Take the cover off so you can see the components. Most pump units attach to the hot tub in three spots: where the water comes in, where the water comes out, and where the air comes out. These intake/output points use large butterfly hose connection fittings to create the seal. You will need to twist these pretty tight, so check that the connections are constructed out of heavy plastic and that the tubes that they are connected to in the pump are thick and strong. The pumps usually use high amounts of electricity, typically 1300+ Watts and 110-120V, so it is important that the electrical cord is made of quality materials. Check to see that that the electrical cord is at least 5 feet long and is made of thick insulated rubber that is fully sealed from end to end. The reason that the cord should be at least 5 feet is because, at a minimum, you want to keep your tub 5 feet away from any electrical outlets.
The pump system is heavy, so the housing should be constructed out of thick plastic. Rock the system back and forth and get a feel for the unit. You should not feel or hear components shifting and you should get a sense that the unit is sturdy and durable.
Your second fundamental concern, after you validate quality of construction, should be performance. Before you purchase an inflatable hot tub, you should decide how you will be using it so that you can narrow your search based on performance requirements. Do you plan on using your tub in cold weather? How many people do you expect will be using the tub at the same time? Is portability important to you? These are the types of questions you should be able to answer before you start research so that you can identify the best inflatable hot tub for your needs.
Size and Shape
Tubs come in all shapes and sizes so you want to be able to identify the best inflatable hot tub for your spatial needs. You don’t want to get a tub that is too small and not be able to share a soak with friends and family. But, you also don’t want to get a tub that is too big because it takes more energy to heat bigger tubs, and you don’t want to pay for more electricity if you don’t need to. Once you decide the maximum number of people that you would like to be able to sit in the tub at the same time, you can narrow down your list of potential tubs based on size. Most inflatable hot tubs have a capacity rating you can refer to, but typically personnel capacity thresholds align with water capacity in the following way:
|200-260 gal||4 People||1700 - 2180 lbs|
|260-300 gal||6 People||2180 - 2500 lbs|
In situations where you can’t decide between a larger or smaller tub, we suggest that you choose the smaller one. Smaller tubs are cheaper, easier to maintain, and usually perform better because there is less water to heat and clean.
In addition to the size of the tub, you will also need to decide what shape you would like you tub to be. Tubs typically are available in circles, squares, ovals, rectangles, and octagons. In terms of performance, shape doesn’t matter, so this decision should be made based on personal preference considering the environment that the tub will set up.
The potential output of the heat pump will influence how fast your tub can heat newly added water, and what air temperatures it can maintain hot water in. The first metric that you should look at is heat output. This is a measurement of how much heat the pump can put into the water and directly affects how fast it can heat the water of the tub. Different brands use different scientific units to measure power: Amps, Watts, etc. These units of measurement can be confusing so we will go into power ratings in more detail in a separate article. The best inflatable hot tub brands also use a relative measurement, degrees per hour, to quantity the heaters ability to raise the overall tub water temperature. This is the metric you should look for. We usually see measurements of 1-2 degrees F per hour, or 2-3 degrees F per hour. For people using their tub as a permanent fixture in a back yard, this performance metric might not be important because these people have the ability to fill up their tub with hose water and let it heat overnight. Heat rate is more critical for people who would like to use their inflatable hot tub for camping or travel. In non-permanent environments, it is nice to be able to set up the tub in the morning, fill it, and be able to use it that same evening.
Heat rate is also an indirect indicator of how well the pump will be able to maintain high water temperatures in cold air environments. By thinking logically, we can deduce that a pump that can heat a large body of water quicker will also be able to maintain that temperature in colder atmospheres because it is able to produce more hot water. This theory has been confirmed through testing. Intex uses the same heat pump on their 210 gallon spa as they do on their 290 gallon spa. The 290 gallon spa is rated at 1-2 degrees F per hour and the 210 gallon spa is rated at 2-3 degrees F per hour. We left both tubs sealed overnight in 36 degree F air temperatures, with the pump set to hold 104 degree F water, and measured the temperature in the morning. The smaller tub was still at 104 degrees F, where the larger tub had dropped to 100 degrees F.
Probably the most important questions that you will want to answer is whether or not your inflatable hot tub will be able to maintain high temperatures in the environment that you intend to use it. All reputable inflatable hot tub brands will provide a temperature rating with their product so you know exactly what temperatures the tub can maintain hot water. Intex inflatable hot tubs are guaranteed to keep water hot in temperatures above 39 degrees F. Coleman and Bestway are rated for temperatures above 40 degrees F. Inflatable hot tub water pump systems are vulnerable to damage from frozen pipes, so tubs usually aren’t able to be uses in sub-freezing conditions. If you would like to use you tub in colder air temperatures, there are ways to insulate the pump and tub and increase its heating capabilities, but we will cover these in a separate article.
The pump sucks water in from the tub and sends it through a filtration system before it is heated and pushed back into the tub. That means that the power of the pump also affects the system’s ability to keep your spa water clean and free from bacteria. Manufacturers usually measure pumping power in gallons per hour, which is called flow rate. We typically use a rule of thumb that the pump should be able to filter the entire tub volume 1.5 times in an hour. So, if the tub has a capacity of 200 gallons, then the pump should have a filter flow rate over 300 gallons per hour. Intex advertises a flow rate of 460 gallons/hr on all of their models, and Coleman and Bestway rate their pump at 320 gallons/hr. Both of these flow rates exceed the benchmark that we have established as sufficient rates.
Whenever you are soaking in your inflatable hot tub, it is nice to be able to turn on the jets. Jets provide the sensation of a massage as well as an element of privacy because the water fills with bubbles and loses its opacity. Inflatable spas accomplish this effect in two different ways. The first way is to pump air into the tub water around seam where the floor attaches to the tub wall. Manufacturers usually have a fancy name for this, like a Bubble Jet, but the bubble jet is just a perforated tube that air is pumped into and can escape into the water. The bubble jet is surprisingly effective, though. It causes the water to fill with tiny bubbles which causes the water to move vigorously as they rise to the surface. The bubble jets provide you with privacy and the spa sensation, but do not provide a massage because there are no jet streams of water to hit your body.
If you decide that you want massage jets, it is smart to validate that the water pump that powers the massage jets is strong enough to create high pressure water streams though the jets. The best inflatable hot tubs typically have at least .9hp jet pumps that can produce 7-10 PSI of pressure. Verify that the jet pump on the tub that you are interested in is close to this benchmark.
Inflatable hot tubs are impossible to blow up without a pump. Human lungs are unable to inflate the tub basin to the air pressure necessary to maintain sturdy tub walls. The external mechanical component of the tub should contain an air pump, which has two responsibilities. First it provides the air flow that travels through the bubble jets and creates the spa experience. The air pump is also used for inflating the tub basin. You can run a hose, which should be included with the tub, from the output of the air pump to the air input of the tub basin. This allows you to inflate the tub with the controls on the smart hub. The air pump needs to be powerful in order to be able to produce air pressure that results in hard tub walls. Air pumps potential power is measured in horsepower. You should look for a tub with an air pump that is rated around 1 hp. This will be enough power to produce sturdy walls and a bubbly spa experience.
Buying an inflatable hot tub can be an intimidating process because it isn’t always easy to decide which one is most appropriate for your needs. The water filtration and heating system is made up of multiple pumps and motors which makes it difficult to evaluate the overall quality of the tub. Even though inflatable hot tubs are less expensive then permanent fixed hot tubs, they are still a significant financial commitment. Hopefully this buying guide provided suggestions that will help you in your evaluation process. We have applied this same research and testing process to countless tubs on our path to compiling the list of best inflatable hot tubs, so we know that it can get overwhelming at times. If you have any questions during the research process, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Best of luck and happy soaking!