For those interested in a hot tub but not a long-term commitment, an inflatable model is worth considering. Inflatable hot tubs can be installed virtually anywhere and, unlike other spas, are truly portable -- although they have to be drained, then refilled when set up in their new location. However, don't expect an inflatable model to have the same durability or range of features as a molded above-ground tub. They're a low-cost substitute, not a full-blown spa.
Least expensive type. Inflatable hot tubs are less costly than other types. Some go for as little as $350, though the largest and most elaborate versions can cost nearly as much as some budget above-ground models, such as the Lifesmart Rock Solid Luna. Installation is also not much of a consideration, since an inflatable spa can be set up on almost any level surface. User reviews indicate that inflatable models tend to lose heat during use, which can limit their energy efficiency.
Flimsy construction. Sources agree that inflatable hot tubs aren't very durable. According to the editors of HotTubSpaRatings.com, "as a shell material vinyl is easy to damage, especially if the chemical balance of the water remains out of ideal range for very long." Poor durability is one of the most common complaints about inflatable hot tubs in user reviews, though many also report better experiences. These tubs typically come with a one-year warranty.
Easy to install, but a few quirks. An inflatable hot tub is the easiest kind to set up and install. When deflated, you can carry it anywhere, then simply inflate it, fill it up and plug it in. However, the water may take a while to come up to temperature (days, in fact, some reviewers say) and may lose heat rapidly during use. That's because inflatable tubs generally use air jets in place of hot-water jets, and the airflow cools the water. Some users also complain that the air blowers are noisy. Unlike other hot tubs, however, this type is truly portable. You can even take it with you on vacation, but the hassle of emptying and refilling the spa may be a consideration.
Looks like a kiddie pool. Inflatable hot tubs don't have the range of features found on molded above-ground spas. Most don't even include seats, so users must sit directly on the floor with little room for their feet. Some models have rigid sides that snap into place to give the tub more structure, but others just look like a giant, tub-shaped balloon. Owners choose inflatable hot tubs for their low price and convenience, not their looks.
Inflatable hot tub reviews
Several models of inflatable hot tubs are sold through Amazon.com. Most attract only a few attract user reviews, but others get significant feedback. While reviews for some models are mixed, other's rate fairly highly with cost, surprising effectiveness and easy setup among the most often cited pluses.
Review: Hot Tubs: Portable, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of March 2015
This comparison of hot tub types notes that inflatable hot tubs offer some advantages that make them a good choice for some. Cost, portability, easy installation are among those. Inflatable hot tubs can also be brought along on outings or vacations.
Review: Hot Tub Buying Guide: Types of Hot Tubs, Editors of What's the Best, Not Dated
3. HotTub SpaRatings.com
This site is designed for consumers trying to choose a hot tub. In this section of an expansive buyer's guide, editors compare different types of shell materials, including wood, vinyl, acrylic, thermal plastic and stainless steel. The article also touches on the maintenance needs of each.
Review: Shell Materials, Editors of HotTubSpaRatings.com, Not dated