Inflatable hot tubs are generally made of vinyl, nylon or plastic, and they are the most portable and least expensive spas available, retailing for $500 to $2000. They might be a good choice for those not ready to spend $4,000 or more on a more on an acrylic hot tub. Rising in popularity in recent years, these spas are manufactured by a number of companies, including Comfort Line, Sun Pleasure, DreamMaker, SportStuff, InstaSPA and Softub.
Advantages of this type of hot tub include easy installation -- most weigh less than 100 pounds and can be installed on pretty much any flat surface, indoors or out. Portable spas require no special plumbing -- you can just fill them with a hose. Many models also either fold up or snap apart, allowing them to be moved to new homes, or even to a friend's house for a party. Nearly all portable hot tubs can be plugged into a standard 110-volt wall outlet.
While convenient and less expensive, inflatable spas have quite a few drawbacks. They are not highly durable, and most come with limited or nonexistent warranties. In order to create the 'whirlpool' effect, portable space use blowers rather than water jets to create the bubbles. While this can feel nice, owners complain that the blowers are noisy.
The most consistent complaint about inflatable spas is that tub temperature drops fast when using the blower. By contrast, acrylic spas use hot-water jets, so water temperature is maintained. With a portable hot tub, owners say the tub temperature can drop four or five degrees in less than 30 minutes. It can also take hours for the hot tub's heater to bring the temperature up again. Other consumers complain of leaking or puncture after only a few uses. In addition, seating can be an issue, as these spas are confined to floor seating or very basic bench-type seating. For these reasons, portable hot tubs are usually best for one or two people who prefer short dips of 15 to 30 minutes rather than long soaks.
Energy costs can be tough to predict since it depends on your usage -- how often you run the heater and blower. We did read one review by an owner who kept the heater on full-time and used his inflatable tub for 15 minutes each day for a month. His resulting electric bill had tripled.
The Comfort Line Spa-2-Go (*Est. $800) is a representative of this type of hot tub. This model seats four in a simple, round inflatable tub with no bench. About 125 air jets provide the bubbles. The hot tub is inflated using the same blower that later powers the air jets. We found very few owner-written reviews for any hot tubs, but about 15 owners have rated this model at Amazon.com. Most say it's nice for the low price. The complaints noted are common for this type of tub in general -- that it loses heat quickly when using the air blower. A few say that the blower is loud and that the eight-foot power cord is too short (it plugs into a 110-volt outlet and has a ground-fault circuit interrupter (CGFI) for safety).
A step-up model is the Comfort Line Spa-N-A-Box (*Est. $1,200) . This inflatable hot tubs works the same way as the cheaper Spa-2-Go, but the pricier version comes with a frame made of wood-look panels that slide together. You then insert the plastic liner. The panels give this tub a somewhat better look. Both models will heat water up to 105° Fahrenheit.
One crossover manufacturer among portable hot tubs is the DreamMaker Escape (*Est. $2,000) (*est. $2,000), a portable tub that isn't inflatable. It's made of molded plastic with basic jets, instead of a blower system, which makes it a bit more luxurious than an inflatable spa. It's also more expensive, but still cheaper than an acrylic hot tub.
As with any hot tub, you'll need to maintain the water in an inflatable or portable tub with chemicals to inhibit bacterial growth.