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Spa, Hot Tub or Jacuzzi - What's the Difference?

What are the different types of hot water therapy? There's certainly some confusion out there, and many tend to use the different terms somewhat interchangeably. When people refer to a spa or hot tub, are they talking about the same thing? Or are they something different? And what about a Jacuzzi® hot tub or bathtub, jetted tubs, therapy tubs, and whirlpool baths? There sure are a lot of different monikers used for hot water immersion vessels!

portable spa


The word "spa" can mean a lot of different things. In some uses, spa is a term reserved exclusively for water treatment, also known as balneotherapy. Spa resorts (including natural hot springs and other mineral-rich springs) typically offer various forms of hydrotherapy. The belief in the curative powers of mineral waters goes back to prehistoric times. These are popular worldwide, but are especially loved in Europe and Japan.

In other uses, a spa could be another type of commercial enterprise offering health and beauty treatments, including saunas, skin treatments, and professional massages. Day spas are quite popular in the United States.

The word "spa" is also the American term for a hot tub equipped with strong jets that mix air into the water for a more pronounced massage effect. These come in a few different configurations, but most have an acrylic shell, molded seating, and a large number of jets. Some are above ground (like the portable spa shown here). Others are sunk into an indoor floor or outdoor deck. They can even be part of an inground swimming pool, which is known as a pool and spa combo.

wooden hot tub


A hot tub is a large tub or small pool full of heated, sometimes aerated water. Just like a spa, hot tubs can be used for hydrotherapy or pleasure. Some may have a few jets or bubblers for massage purposes, but others may not. Hot tubs are sometimes referred to as spas.

A perfect example of the traditional definition of a hot tub is the round wooden style with simple bench seating. These wooden tanks typically only have about 4-8 jets around the side, and don't usually have blowers and high-speed pumps. To many, a hot tub simply equals a hot soak, but without the extra frills and motor noise of a standard spa.


Jacuzzi logo

The Jacuzzi Group is the name of one of the first and foremost portable spa manufacturers. Hotels are famous for advertising an in-room Jacuzzi® bathtub, when it's actually a jetted bathtub made by some other manufacturer. If it is a Jacuzzi® product, fine - call it a Jacuzzi® hot tub or Jacuzzi® bathtub. Otherwise call it a spa, a jetted bathtub, or a hot tub.


jetted bathtub

A jetted tub is a type of bathtub that has several hydrotherapy jets positioned around the tub. They are connected to small flexible pipes around the tub, and are fitted to a circulation pump and often an air blower. Luxury models are quite large, and may even include a heater to keep the water that comes out of the tap hot. Just fill it up like a normal bathtub, set a few controls, and let relaxation set in. The main difference between a jetted tub and a spa or hot tub is that it is drained after each use. For this reason, they usually have no filter and no need for a cover. You'll most likely find a jetted tub installed in a master bathroom or luxurious resort suite.


A whirlpool bath is just one type of jetted bathtub, and is often used by bathtub manufacturers to describe a specific bathing experience.


therapy tub in an athletic center

Therapy tubs are the stainless steel tubs that you see in the training and locker rooms of athletic facilities. They're often used with hot water for loosening up the muscles of tired athletes. However, they can also be used with cold water or ice to help prevent inflammation from injuries. Therapy tubs sometimes have a circulation pump, and may have an electric heater. Their larger cousin, therapy pools, are used for neck deep, standing physical therapy and low impact exercise.

We hope this helps clear up some of the confusion about the official definitions for hot water hydrotherapy. You can call it whatever you want, as long as you call us when you need help with it!

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