This Inflatable Hot Tub Is Getting Me Through the Cold, Dark Days of Winter
See: Steamy nights under the stars.
Published Jan 27, 2023 1:00 AM
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As a self-professed water person, the winter season is, let’s say, challenging for me. In the summer, I’m used to having access to a community beach and lake, and being able to head out for a daily swim is my favorite way to relax, exercise, and spend time with friends. When the colder months set in, the harsh drop-off of daylight and warmth impacts me—and not lightly. While scrolling through social media a couple of months ago, I became all too aware of a very particular trend permeating my feed: inflatable hot tubs. There they were on my friends’ Instagram posts; TikTok videos were popping up of people tricking them out. Whether it was sad-season kismet or the powers of targeted ads at play, I found myself suddenly brightened up at the idea of installing a blow-up freestanding tub in my backyard. Might this be a feasible way to extend my water time while providing much-needed warmth in the dead of winter?
After extensive research and a considerable amount of time spent scrutinizing the 50-plus options available at Home Depot—all affordably priced compared to their hard-shell counterparts, I might add—I decided on the Coleman SaluSpa Inflatable Hot Tub. Featuring a retro green design, it was the least aesthetically offensive of the bulky utility buys. It also came equipped with a “Freeze Shield” function that maintains the water temperature and renders it four-season–friendly. After months of testing (soaking), here’s my honest review of the Coleman inflatable hot tub.
Coleman SaluSpa Inflatable Hot Tub
Setting up the Coleman hot tub was surprisingly straightforward and quick. The same spa pump that heats, tracks your time, and propels the jets is what you use to inflate the hot tub itself. No extra parts are necessary—you just plug it into a standard 120-volt outlet, hit the spa bubble buttons, and it fires right up. The main hot tub itself took no more than five minutes to fully inflate, while an inset for the cover took an additional minute to pump up. To note: There is an alternative set of directions if you are setting up the tub in colder months. While the printed instructions could be more thorough, it was easy to find YouTube tutorials that went more in-depth.
Before you add water, position the spa on a flat surface in your ideal spot. That’s because once it’s filled with water, the thing becomes too heavy to move. I spent 30 minutes filling the tub with water from my garden hose, but it required less than I expected; depending on how many people will regularly use it, the level will rise substantially. Hold on to that first soak, though—it takes nearly 24 hours to fully heat up if filled with cold tap water, and you will need to balance the chemicals.
While the Coleman reaches a max temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit, you likely won’t need to have it heated at that level when not in use. Here’s a good strategy: Keep the tub around 95 degrees and turn it up three to four hours ahead of when you’re planning to take a dip. The temperature typically increases about 2 degrees every hour, which provides ample time to finish work and grab a drink, towel, and robe before soaking.
There’s no way around weekly maintenance if you want to keep your hot tub sanitary (and trust me, you do). While the included cover does a decent job of keeping the water warm and protected from debris, cleaning and maintaining the chemical balance is a must. If you don’t, you may experience foamy or cloudy water or even a skin rash.
The Coleman comes with a chemical floater and two filter cartridges, but you’ll need to pick up a couple more tools before the first use. I invested in bromine (over chlorine), chemical test strips, washing soda, a defoamer, a clarifier, soda ash, extra filters, and a small aquatic net to round out my maintenance kit. An additional up-front cost, yes, but these supplies last for quite a while. I set a reminder in my phone to test on the same day each week and found test strips that are able to test the pH, alkalinity, and bromine levels all at once. Depending on how many people plan on regularly using the tub, you may also want to invest in shock, an oxidant that reactivates the bromine or chlorine, to help sanitize the water and keep it at optimal safety levels.
Aside from the chemicals, the pump requires monitoring; it will automatically turn off after three days if not in use. Just pressing a couple of buttons to change the temperature is enough to activate it. Overall, the energy usage and prices are comparable to when I hook up a window-unit air conditioner in the summer. With weekly maintenance and covering between each use, I can see this spa lasting me several years.
One recurring theme I continued to see when researching inflatable hot tubs is that they are generally marketed to fit more people than would actually be enjoyable to have all together. If this tub is something you plan to use regularly just for yourself or with your partner, then the two-to-four-person capacity is plenty of space. If it’s more likely you’ll use it with a group of friends or have a large family, I’d recommend looking for a spa that fits at least five to seven people. It’s not about the durability of the tub itself but the comfort level.
I found that sitting on the floor of the tub was surprisingly pleasant, so while there are versions of the Coleman tub that come with slip-resistant seats, I don’t think they’re necessary. Additionally, since I stay on top of keeping the levels balanced, shower before using, and only one to two people are in it, I found there wasn’t a regular need to drain and replace the water itself—once every other month was enough. However, if you’re using the product with several friends or have a bigger family, swapping the water every few weeks is a healthier route.
Inflatable tubs have a lot of positives, including the ability to easily move and store them, as well as their more affordable price point. They often can tuck into areas that may be too small to accommodate other activities, therefore activating underused space. The downside is that the exterior pump can be a bit of an eyesore. While the pump does need to be accessible, it doesn’t need to be on full display.
Facing the pump away from principal paths and gathering spaces is an effective strategy to keep it hidden, but opting for container plants like ornamental grasses or small trees to block key views can also help soften the environment around the tub. Yardzen’s design director, Kevin Lenhart, recommends opting for fewer, larger containers and favors screens that let some light through over more opaque structural solutions such as walls or fences. If you’re tight on space, he adds, vines rooted in plant containers can also provide an effective screen, useful along the sides of balconies or elevated decks.
The only accessories really needed to enhance your spa-experience surroundings are a dry surface to rest towels and a modest seat to reduce the chance of slipping while putting on shoes.
The Final Word
The Coleman SaluSpa Inflatable Hot Tub offers an immersive way to spend extra time outside, looking at the stars and getting more use out of my space year-round. If my husband or I are having a stressful day at work or in life, we know we can crank the heat and set ourselves up for the ultimate way to unwind, even during the darkest days of winter.