Just hearing the words "hot tub" can conjure up visions of sheer luxury or good times with close friends. But hot tubs can offer benefits beyond just fun and relaxation. Studies find that the combination of hot water and massage known as hydrotherapy can improve health in a variety of ways. Research being conducted by the National Swimming Pool Foundation reports that soaking in hot water can improve blood flow to internal organs, including the heart. A study published in the journal Sleep shows that soaking in a hot tub before bedtime can help people sleep more deeply. It can also ease stress, soothe sore muscles and relieve pressure on joints.
Owning a hot tub has its drawbacks, however, and the most obvious one is cost. Prices range from as little as $600 for an inflatable model to upward of $20,000 for a top-of-the-line in-ground spa. Yet the costs of ownership don't end with purchase. Owners must also pay for water, the energy to heat it and chemicals to keep the tub clean. Maintenance is another factor: You can't just climb in when you feel like a good soak and ignore your spa the rest of the time. Keeping a hot tub in good condition requires covering it between uses, testing the water, adjusting its chemical content, cleaning the tub and filters, and draining and refilling it every few months. Still, many owners say the delights of soaking in a warm, bubbling tub are worth the hassle.
The first hot tubs -- simply large wooden wine casks filled with hot water -- became popular in California in the 1960s. In 1968, Roy Jacuzzi introduced the Jacuzzi tub, which incorporated jets of hot water to provide a soothing massage. Other manufacturers soon followed suit, designing more sophisticated tubs made of molded fiberglass or plastic. They called their creations "spas" to distinguish them from the old-fashioned wooden hot tub. Today, most retailers and consumers use the terms "hot tub" and "spa" interchangeably. The term "Jacuzzi" is occasionally treated as a general-purpose name for hot tubs, but it's actually a trademarked brand name.
No matter what you call them, hot tubs have come a long way since their inception. A modern hot tub has several parts:
Experts say the best hot tub is the one that's most comfortable for you, which is a very personal decision. That may explain why most consumer publications don't test or rate hot tubs. However, a few professional publications such as Spasearch magazine and the Pool & Patio page at About.com recommend specific brands based on owner feedback, and retail sites like HomeDepot.com and Amazon.com post consumer reviews. In this report ConsumerSearch.com covers the major types of hot tubs, features, energy use, shopping options, and what you need to know about installation and maintenance. Along with our discussion of the top-rated brands, this information can help you determine which hot tub might suit you best.