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23 October 2020

How to buy the best hot tub

Our expert hot tub buying guide reveals the different types of hot tubs, typical prices and sizes and our pick of popular hot tubs on sale
Hot-tub-advice lead
JH
Jade Harding


A garden hot tub has jumped to the top of many people's wishlists for the locked down summer of 2020. They can bring a variety of health benefits and hours of at-home relaxation, but if you're serious about investing in one, choosing the right type, picking the perfect brand and understanding the associated costs is essential.

A hot tub is a freestanding tub of heated water with filtration and jets. You might also hear the terms 'jacuzzi' and spa. A Jacuzzi is actually just a well-known brand name for a hot tub, while a spa is typically a tub that’s built into the ground and connected to a pool.

Use our expert hot tub buying guide to find out the different types and brands to choose from and how much you should expect to pay. Plus, we've got information on hiring a tub instead.

Buying a hot tub

When choosing your hot tub you’ll need to consider how much you’re willing to spend, where you plan to install it and which features are important to you.

First, decide on your budget. Cheaper hot tubs can be a good choice, but they will probably be inflatable and portable rather than a permanent fixture. Spend more and you’ll typically get a more durable tub with extra, powerful jets and fancy features.

Ongoing costs should also be considered. Maintaining and heating a hot tub will come at a price. How much that is will all depend on the type and size of your tub and how it's made.

Space is also an important factor to consider when picking your hot tub. They can be pretty bulky and if you opt for a hard-shell or wooden hot tub it will be a permanent fixture in your garden; inflatable options can be taken down and stowed away. You can find more information on the standard dimensions further down this page. 

Find out more about installing your hot tub or scroll down for popular hot tub brands.

Types of hot tubs

Hard shell hot tubs

Typical spend: £3,000 - £10,000

These permanent hot tubs sit on a hard base and have hard side panels. They will also have an internal heating system and a variety of jets, lights and pumps.

Hard-shell tubs can also come with fancy features such as wi-fi, in-built sound systems and full foam insulation that seals the heat in your tub making it more energy efficient.

These types of tub can come in a variety of materials, including plastic, acrylic, wood and even recycled materials such as metal.  

Costs vary widely and will typically depend on the size and any additional features you want. And it’s important to remember these tubs are permanent fixtures in your garden and will need to be set up on a solid, level ground.  

Pros

  • More durable
  • A wider variety of features
  • Insulated so can use all year round

Cons

  • More expensive
  • Cannot be stowed away
  • Higher maintenance

Inflatable hot tubs

Typical spend: £300 - £1,500

These are pretty much what it says on the tin; a hot tub that you inflate with air. An external heater warms the water and an air blower will inflate the walls and power the jets.

They are normally round and instead of seats you will have a padded base to sit on. The features are a little less fancy but you can still get lights, head rests and drinks holders on some of the best inflatable hot tubs.

Even though these tubs can be moved around relatively easily, you’ll still need to make sure they're set up on a solid, level base.

Pros

  • Budget friendly
  • Portable
  • Easier to maintain

Cons

  • Less durable
  • Fewer features
  • Most are not suitable for year-round use
  • Smaller – fewer seats

Wood-fired hot tubs

Typical spend: £1,500 - £8,000

This is essentially a permanent wooden tub that warms the water through a log-fired stove rather than with electricity.

Depending on the size of the tub, it shouldn’t take longer than four hours to heat up. The nature of the heating method means the water cannot be kept at a precise temperature. Hotter water will rise to the top while cooler water sinks to the bottom, so you’ll need to stir the water occasionally.

Most won’t have jets; those that do they will be powered with electricity.

Like other types of hot tubs, it will need to be positioned on a solid, level ground. But you’ll also need to consider where you’ll store wood for the stove.

Pros

  • Durable
  • Can be cheaper to run
  • Less chemicals needed

Cons

  • More work to heat
  • Cannot keep a precise temperature
  • Will need to regularly stock up on wood to burn

In-ground or custom hot tubs

Typical spend: £6,000 plus

In-ground or custom hot tubs are typically known as spas. Although they’re essentially a tub of warm water with jets, just like your typical hot tub, they will have a more bespoke, built-in element. Most are either set into the ground, attached to a swimming pool, within a complex or custom built in some way.

What you choose will depend on what you want from your spa. For example, swim spas allow you to exercise in the tub by swimming against a counter-current jet, while a hydrotherapy tub will be built using jets that can focus on easing specific medical issues.

If you opt for an in-ground tub or one built within a structure, always make sure you don’t need planning permission. Unless you’re in a conservation area it’s more than likely you won’t, but it’s worth double checking before you begin.

Hot tub sizes

There are three standard industry hard-shell hot tub shapes and sizes:

It’s important to note that these aren’t set in stone and many tub dimensions may vary a few inches either way so always ask the manufacturer for the exact measurements before purchasing.

Some brands do offer other, less common sizes and shapes including round and corner tubs and extra-large models that can fit up to nine people.

Inflatable and wood-fired hot tubs don’t have a standard set of sizes. Instead they typically categorise them into seat capacity. This can range from 1-2 people up to 6-8 people.

Hot tub brands

  • Jacuzzi hot tubs – this well-known brand offers a wide variety of domestic, commercial and custom-built, 2-9 person hot tubs alongside swim spas, whirlpool baths and saunas. Expect to pay £4,000 plus.
  • Lay-Z-Spa hot tubs – a leading inflatable hot tub brand. You can get inflatable tubs of all different shapes, sizes, colours and patterns that accommodate between 2-8 people. Prices start from around £800.  
  • Intex hot tubs – this US-based company sells pools, airbeds, floats and a selection of inflatable hot tubs. You can find its tubs at Aldi, Amazon and other more specialist retailers. Prices start from around £300.
  • Canadian spa hot tubs – stocks both hard-shell and inflatable hot tubs that can accommodate between 2-7 people. Prices start at around £500 and go up to more than £10,000 for high-end models. You can find tubs and parts on its website, but high street stores like Homebase and Argos also stock them.
  • Happy hot tubs – offers a one-stop shop for high-end hard-shell hot tubs, swim spas, accessories and maintenance parts. Prices are high though, ranging from £4,000 right up to more than £20,000.
  • Cleverspa hot tubs – offers a wide variety of affordable inflatable hot tubs sold at many high street retailers including Tesco, Homebase, The Range, B&Q and Asda. Prices start at around £250.
  • Wave hot tubs – has a range of eight inflatable hot tubs that have a strong focus on aesthetics – you can even get a marble effect tub. Prices start at £400 for a four-person tub and go up to around £800.
  • Skarsgard hot tubs – produces a small range of authentically Swedish wood-fired hot tubs. There are three types that come in two different sizes and prices range from £2,000-£5,000.

Cheap hot tubs

The cheapest hot tubs will almost always be inflatable and will cost from around £200. You can get cheaper models from brand sites including Cleverspa, Intex and Studio. 

Some larger supermarkets and high street stores such as Tesco, Aldi, Lidl and Argos have also started stocking hot tubs, too.

Cheaper inflatable options are great if you want to save money and have a tub you can deflate and stow away but try to remember they won’t be super-durable. So if you’re looking for a long-term investment you’ll need to spend a little more.

Most cheap tubs will also be great to use in the summer but won’t be insulated enough for the winter. And features and accessories won’t be as fancy – don’t expect wi-fi, numerous jets or lighting.

Once you pick your perfect tub, check out our guide to using a hot tub.

Hiring a hot tub

If you’re having a party, want to try out a tub or just fancy a weekend relaxing but don’t want a long-term investment you can always opt for hiring a hot tub.

There are hundreds of hot tub hire companies that offer hot tub rentals for between 3-14 days. You can get inflatable, hard-shell and even wood-fired hot tub hires. Prices vary depending on the type of tub and how long you want it for but typically start at around £200 for a long weekend.

Costs should cover delivery, installation, cleaning on pick up and any chemicals needed for the duration of the rental. Ensuring you keep the chemicals topped up is vital if you want a hygienic soak.

Key hot tub features and accessories

  • Jets: the number, type and positioning of jets will vary with each hot tub. Paying more will typically allow for more jets and customised positioning.
  • Insulation: better insulated tubs will keep the water warm for longer and ultimately reduce energy usage. 100% full foam insulation is considered one of the best.
  • Steps: will help you get in and out of the tub safely.
  • Cover lifters: will make taking the cover off much easier and help prevent damage to the tub and cover.
  • Seats: inflatable tubs aren’t always fitted with seats. You can buy these separately.
  • Head-rests: soft neck rests suitable for both hard-shell and inflatable tubs.
  • Side benches: to attach to the side of your inflatable tub.
  • Cushions: that attach to your seats for extra comfort.
  • Booster seat: some seats can be quite low so boosters will help shorter people sit comfortably above the water line.
  • Towel rail: to hang your dressing gown or towel on next to the tub.
  • Lights: perfect for night-time dips. Lights should come as standard with hard-shell tubs but will be a special addition to inflatables. You can also buy floating lights as an accessory.
  • Wi-fi: allows you to control your hot tub from your phone or tablet wherever you are.
  • Sound system: listen to your playlist, podcast or even TV channel wirelessly.
  • Floating trays: to hold snacks, drinks and even your waterproof playing cards.
  • Drinks holder: that attaches to the side of your tub.
  • Spa bombs and crystals: hot tub-safe skincare.
  • Hot tub gazebos: these enclosures are great for rainy or windy days and most can be taken down easily if you want to sit in the sun.

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Five popular hot tubs

We don't currently test hot tubs but Jacuzzi, Lay-Z-spa, Skargrads, Intex and Canadian Spa are some of the most searched-for retailers for hot tubs at the time of writing. Below is a selection of different types and styles from those picks.

Jacuzzi J-325 hot tub

  • Price: £9,000
  • Available from: Jacuzzi.com
  • Type: Hard-shell
  • Seats: 4 to 5
  • Dimensions: H86 x W193 x D213cm

This relatively compact hard-shell hot tub from Jacuzzi has 23 jets. You can customise both the shell and cabinet colours.

It's at the higher-end of the budget, but Jacuzzi states that its ‘smart seal’ technology helps to reduce noise and increase energy efficiency.

You’ll also get massaging pillows, LED lighting and a waterfall that provides neck massages.

Jacuzzi has a wide variety of tubs, including the J-235 that's a cheaper option and seats up to six people.

Lay-Z-spa Helsinki hot tub

  • Price: £800
  • Available from: Argos
  • Type: Inflatable
  • Seats: 7
  • Dimensions: H66 x W180 x D180cm (180cm diameter)

This high-end inflatable hot tub from Lay-Z-spa has 87 air jets and can seat up to seven people.

Designed to replicate a traditional Nordic hot tub with wood-effect panelling, the Helsinki tub is pricier than most inflatable tubs.

However, you will be paying to be able to use it all year round. Unlike lots of other inflatable models it has ‘freeze shield technology’ which means you can still use it in very cold conditions.

Skargards Regal 190 hot tub

  • Price: starts at £3,790
  • Available from: Skarsgards
  • Type: Wood-fired
  • Seats: 5 to 7
  • Dimensions: H93 x W190 x D190cm (190cm exterior diameter; 257cm flue height)

Coined by Skargards as the ‘original’ wood-burning hot tub, the Regal 190 includes an integrated stove and comes with either a white or ocean blue cabinet.

Prices start at £3,790 as standard but its website offers a build-your-own service where you can add accessories such as underwater lighting, frost protectors and an insulated cover.

Delivered near-fully assembled, you only need to attach a few items such as the flue and you’re ready to go.

Intex Inflatable Pure Spa Hot Tub

  • Price: £399
  • Available from: poolmarket.co.uk
  • Type: Inflatable
  • Seats: 4
  • Dimensions: H71 x Exterior diameter 195cm

Intex claims this inflatable hot tub is ‘strong enough for people to sit on the spa side’. It has 120 bubble jets and can be inflated with the air blower in 10 minutes.

It also has a built-in hard water treatment system that aims to make the water gentler on skin, clothes and the spa system.

At £400, this inflatable tub is pretty mid-range – but remember you won’t be able to use it all-year-round.

Canadian Spa Halifax Plug & Play

  • Price: £5,125
  • Available from: B&Q
  • Type: Hard-shell
  • Seats: 4
  • Dimensions: H79 x W153 x D211cm

This mid-priced hard-shell hot tub from Canadian Spa comes with LED lighting, waterfall and built-in aromatherapy canister that houses scented beads.

It has 22 spa jets and a valve that allows you to vary the pressure. The panelled edging and marble-effect cabinet also house a built-in stereo and five drink holders.

How we selected prices and retailers

We've chosen these retailers and hot tubs based on popular UK search terms and availability. Prices correct as of 24 June 2020 and obtained from manufacturer's own website where possible; otherwise, obtained from third-party retailers listed on Google Shopping.