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Spa Vs Hot Tub - Key Differences in Size, Features, Costs and Uses

May 13, 2024

Spas and hot tubs are often used interchangeably, but they are not exactly the same. While both spas and hot tubs use warm water for relaxation, they have some key differences when it comes to their features and intended uses. Understanding the distinctions can help choose between a spa or hot tub based on your needs.

What is a Spa?

The term "spa" can refer to different types of establishments focused on health and wellness through water therapy.

In some cases, a spa provides balneotherapy treatments using natural hot springs or mineral waters. The belief in the healing powers of these mineral-rich waters goes back to ancient times and remains popular today, especially at resort spas in Europe and Japan.

In other instances, a spa may be a commercial business offering services like saunas, skin treatments, and professional massages for relaxation and beauty - sometimes referred to as a day spa.

The word "spa" is also used for a type of hot tub with powerful jets that mix air and water to create a massage effect. These are available in different configurations like portable above-ground acrylic tubs or in-ground spas integrated with swimming pools.

So while the term spa can mean different things, it generally refers to facilities focused on therapeutic water treatments for health, beauty, and wellbeing.


What is a Hot Tub?

A hot tub is a large tub or small pool filled with heated, sometimes aerated water. Like spas, hot tubs can provide hydrotherapy benefits or be used for general relaxation. Some models may have a few jets for massage, while others do not. The terms "hot tub" and "spa" are often used interchangeably.

The traditional hot tub exemplifies the basic definition - a round wooden soaking tub with simple bench seating and only 4-8 jets. These types of tubs offer a warm water soak without all the extra features and noise of a spa. To many, a hot tub equals a tranquil and soothing hot water bath.

So while hot tubs are similar to spas in using heated water, they focus more on providing a basic soak and light hydrotherapy rather than comprehensive water treatment. For some, a hot tub is a warm, quiet, and affordable alternative to a fully-equipped spa.


Spa Vs Hot Tub Pros and Cons

Spa Pros

  • More space for seating guests comfortably
  • Customizable hydrotherapy through features like water or air jets, lights for chromotherapy, aromatherapy
  • Versatile design as a stand-alone unit or with an existing pool
  • Useful for relaxation, entertainment, exercise, and therapeutic water treatments

Spa Cons

  • Difficult repairs since equipment is installed underground
  • Less energy efficient at maintaining heat due to large capacity
  • Higher upfront costs, especially for in-ground installation

For homeowners who aren't moving, spas are a popular backyard addition alongside pools. Their spacious design accommodates entertainment and hydrotherapy. You can customize spa features to create an ideal therapeutic relaxation space seamlessly incorporated into your property.

However, their permanent in-ground nature leads to costly repairs. Energy usage is higher for heating and maintenance compared to portable hot tubs. And installation of an in-ground spa carries a price premium. But for many homeowners, the benefits outweigh the higher maintenance costs and effort.

Hot Tub Pros and Cons

Hot Tub Pros

  • Cost-effective compared to spas without complex installation
  • Easy maintenance with accessible filters and chemicals
  • Energy efficient at retaining heat, especially with insulated covers

Hot Tub Cons

  • Less durable from outdoor exposure to weather and wear
  • Slow initial heating time on standard 120v outlets
  • Limited legroom and seating capacity due to small size

Hot tubs are a great option for people who want to enjoy spa-like experience. They provide an affordable way to enjoy hydrotherapy relaxation at home, either alone or with guests. While exercise amenities are uncommon, hot tubs can still offer therapeutic soothing soaks.

Easy maintenance, energy efficiency, and lower costs are advantages of hot tubs over spas. However, their small exposed design reduces durability while heating speed and seating room are limited. Overall, hot tubs provide basic yet accessible home hydrotherapy.

Hot Tub Vs Spa - Comparing Features

When it comes to size, spas are generally larger than hot tubs. Spas hold more water and people, with seating for up to 8 people, while hot tubs usually only sit 3-6 people. The jets also differ - spas have more powerful, therapeutic jets placed strategically for massage, while hot tub jets are meant for light water pressure.

  • Spas keep water temperature set higher, around 95-100°F (35-37.7 ℃) on average, to promote muscle relaxation during hydrotherapy. Hot tubs usually max out temperature around 102°F (38.8 ℃).
  • Seating is also designed differently; spas have ergonomic seats contoured for comfort during long hydrotherapy sessions. Hot tub seats are more simplistic.
  • Spas offer extra amenities for therapeutic use like aromatherapy, chromotherapy lights, adjustable jets, and exercise equipment. Hot tubs can have the same features but not full treatment.

Hot Tub Vs Spa - Comparing Uses

While both can provide relaxation, hot tubs are more social, designed for people to enjoy together. Spas allow solitary or social use, but the experience leans more therapeutic.

  • Spas equipped for hydrotherapy and massage, while hot tubs offer light water pressure. The powerful jets in spas provide therapeutic massages to relieve muscle tension and pain.
  • For exercise, spas allow activities like water aerobics with specialized equipment. Hot tubs do not accommodate exercise regimens.
  • The main advantage of spas is the ability to provide hydrotherapy through massage jets, adjustable temperatures, and ergonomic seats. Hot tubs also use massage jets, control heating system and multi-color LED light system for water therapy treatments.

Hot Tub Vs Spa - Comparing Costs

Spas generally have higher upfront and maintenance costs compared to hot tubs. The extensive features and larger size of spas increase purchase prices, which typically range from $25,000-$50,000 installed. Hot tubs cost $2,000-$18,000 on average depending on size, features, brand, and installation.

Operating costs are also higher for spas given their larger water capacity requiring more energy and chemicals for heating, filtration, and sanitization. The hydrotherapy jets also consume more power.

While hot tubs provide a more budget-friendly option, spas can provide long-term health benefits that justify the higher costs for some homeowners. But hot tubs still allow enjoying basic hydrotherapy and relaxation at a fraction of the price of a full spa.

Factors like quality, size, features, and installation impact costs for both spas and hot tubs. But in general, purchasing and maintaining a portable hot tub will run considerably less than a permanent in-ground spa installment.


In summary, the main differences come down to hot tubs being designed for recreational social use, while spas provide therapeutic relaxation through hydrotherapy and massage. While the terms spa and hot tub are frequently used interchangeably, they actually refer to somewhat distinct structures and uses. A spa is a location utilizing mineral-rich or sea water, often as part of a commercial establishment, to provide therapeutic treatments like baths, steam, massage, and hydrotherapy. The main purpose of a spa is relaxation coupled with health and wellness therapies.

On the other hand, a hot tub is defined as a large, self-contained tub filled with hot water mainly used for relaxation, recreation, and hydrotherapy. Unlike spas, hot tubs are equipped with their own plumbing and electrical systems, and do not necessarily provide comprehensive health treatments. The key difference lies in spas being permanent structures focused on therapeutic water treatments, while hot tubs are alternative tubs for spa at home. Hot tub have the same features with a more recreational hydrotherapy purpose.

If you're looking for a more affordable and social-focused hydrotherapy experience, browse top-rated hot tubs at iBathtub.com. The selection of multi-person hot tubs to fit any backyard make it easy to find the perfect recreational soaking or whirlpool tub.

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