Soaking tubs are the modern version of the deep immersion baths that were an ancient ritual for many cultures. They are deeper than traditional tubs to allow you to comfortably immerse your body up to your neck, either while lying or sitting.
Almost all major manufacturers of bathtubs have entered the soaking tub market, however, many of them use the term "soaking" fairly loosely. While a 14-inch deep tub will certainly give you a deeper soak than an 8.5-inch deep tub, true soaking tubs should be at least 20 inches deep. Also, take the overflow valve into account. A low overflow valve can significantly reduce the depth of the water; the overflow valve on true soaking tubs is usually placed closer to the top of the tub. Some manufactures produce standard-sized tubs with features like adjustable overflow drains that enable you to fill them up a few inches more when you feel like a deeper soak.
Soaking tubs come in a wide range of sizes, styles and materials. Some soaking tubs have quite a small footprint and are popular for small bathrooms; some are even designed for upright sitting. Others are larger to accommodate two people. "Slipper" style soaker tubs are sloped either on one or both sides, to make it more comfortable to recline in for a long soak.
Many traditional soaking bathtubs are made of wood, and you can also buy freestanding soaking tubs with wood exteriors and acrylic or fiberglass interiors. Traditional, freestanding soaking tubs tend to be much more expensive than conventional tubs -- usually a minimum of $1,400 just for the tub, not including installation. From there, the sky's pretty much the limit, price-wise. However, even alcove-style soaking tubs are now available -- although they tend to be the shallowest type -- and are more affordable. Alcove-style soaking tubs are also appropriate to use as a bath/shower combo unit, whereas freestanding soaking tubs are not. Whether drop in style soaking tubs can be used in a bath/shower setup depends upon the type of installation. We discuss the three installation options -- alcove, freestanding and drop in -- in greater detail elsewhere in this report.
Many soaking tubs have whirlpool or other spa features and we saw some high-end models with dramatic illumination features, built in candle holders, and racks for holding books and other necessities. However, we also saw a surprising number of complaints from people who bought soakers with whirlpool jets and hated them because of the noise, which they felt negated the relaxation inherent in a good soak.
There are a few caveats to installing a freestanding soaking tub. A larger tub will use a lot of water, making it quite a bit heavier than a traditional tub, so it may require a reinforced floor. Unless you're looking for a cold soak, which we assume few are, you'll need to be sure you have plenty of hot water available as well. This might require an extra-large water heater, a second water heater, or some other type of technology that provides a dedicated hot water flow to the soaker tub -- a dedicated tankless water heater, for example. You can learn more about water heaters in their own report.
In addition, because soaking tubs are deeper than regular tubs, they may not be comfortable for bathing small children or for cleaning, as you have to bend and reach over a taller side. They also may not be suitable for those who may have mobility issues, unless they're drop in tubs with accessible stairs and grab bars. Many households opt for a soaker tub in one bathroom, usually the master bath, and a regular-sized tub in the second bathroom for bathing children or for easier access. If you need a bathtub that's specific to a person who has mobility issues, see our separate section on walk-in bathtubs.
Elsewhere in this Buyer's Guide: