Air Tub vs. Whirlpool: What’s the Difference?

Tub shopping? If it’s your first time, you may be bombarded with a bunch of foreign terms. It can set you wondering: what is an air tub? What is a whirlpool tub? How do I know which one to choose?

You’re in luck – consult this handy bathtub buying guide to learn which tub is best for you.

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between whirlpools and air tubs. Both provide jet massages in a tub. But once you are in the market for one or the other, you will quickly realize that there are some important variances between a whirlpool tub and an air tub. The main distinguishing feature that sets the two apart is the mechanism by which the jets operate. Simply put, a whirlpool shoots jets of water while an air tub uses jets of air. This can have several implications in regards to upkeep, function and personal preference.

Duravit Starck Oval Freestanding Air Tub
Duravit Starck Oval Freestanding Air Tub

The most noticeable difference is the sensation. A whirlpool’s water jets come with the classic, high pressure, deep massaging jets that most people have come to associate with hydrotherapy. When you visit a professional physical therapist, this will likely be the type of tub they have. An air tub, on the other hand, is a more generalized, effervescent feeling. Instead of a few concentrated jets, the air tub has numerous air jets that shoot millions of massaging bubbles. It’s a gentler sensation, but still highly relaxing.

Aquatic Estate Collection Universal Oval Whirlpool Tub
Aquatic Estate Collection Universal Oval Whirlpool Tub

The other significant difference between whirlpools and air tubs is the maintenance. Both are relatively simple to clean. For a whirlpool, simply add in a cleaning solution (store bought or homemade) and run the jets for a few minutes. It’s also important to remember to never run a whirlpool unless it is filled. An air tub, on the other hand, is self-drying and is thus self-cleaning. Simply drain the air tub and turn on the jets until the tub is completely dry.

Every tub has specific cleaning instructions. It’s important to follow the directions and clean your tub regularly to prevent build-up and damage in the jets and the tub.

Some points to consider when choosing your tub:

  • If you’re sensitive to noise, air tubs tend to be quieter than whirlpool tubs.
  • Different manufacturers have different policies regarding bath oils, salts, and other additives. Generally, oil-based products are not recommended as they may clog the jets and mechanisms, and some salts may cause rusting. Some bath products are specially designed for use in jetted tubs. Water-soluble products are best and must be used in moderation; bubble bath may be used in small amounts (the jets will quickly whip up a mountain of bubbles if you use too much!).
  • For those who like long soaks, a tub with an in-line heater will regulate the water temperature for longer, so you don’t have to keep adding hot water when it starts to cool off.

Neither the air tub nor the whirlpool is a superior choice. Choosing which one you install in your home is simply a matter of taste.

Can’t decide? Then go with a combination tub. Combo tubs allow bathers to choose their bubble experience based on their mood that day! So if you want a deep-tissue massage one day and a soft, effervescent sensation the next, the combo tub lets you go with your preference – no matter how fickle that preference may be.

MTI Kalia 3 Whirlpool-Air Combo Tub
MTI Kalia 3 Whirlpool-Air Combo Tub

Consult our updated, comprehensive bath guide for more information.



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46 thoughts on “Air Tub vs. Whirlpool: What’s the Difference?”

  1. I have an Americh Airtub which I thought, like this website states, was “self-drying and is thus self-cleaning. Simply drain the air tub and turn on the jets until the tub is completely dry.” That is totally wrong, because after having my tub for almost 3 years and thinking it was clean, well, now I have the same little black specs floating around the tub in the water that I’m NOT supposed to have with an air tub.
    So, don’t be fooled, if you buy a whirlpool tub OR an air tub, it seems you still need to clear out those lines, even if you THINK they’re clean by their ‘self-cleaning’ because they ARE NOT.
    Hope my comments can help someone.

  2. Ive been researching tubs for about 2 weeks now. All sites seem to say that there is no way to clean an air tub. All you are supposed to do is run the jets and it dries it for you.

    Do you always … always run your jets after you use your tub?

    Im going to call a sales rep and ask them.

  3. I’ve had my air jet bathtub for a few months now and I cant be more impressed, I find the functionality better and the clear up quick and easy! I found another interesting article about air jet bathtubs for you to consider if you’re in the market for one.
    @Susie, I run my jets after every use just to make 100% sure its dry.

  4. Thanks for the comments. I am about to build a new home and need to select a “luxury” bathtub for our master suite. I currently have a whirlpool. I refuse to turn on the jets because it is just disgusting. Based upon my experience, I would NEVER get into a bathtub anywhere else besides my home. However, my husband and I were at a Hilton in Las Vegas a couple of months ago and I got into a air jet tub. It appeared to not have all those “black flecks” and I loved it. However, I want to make sure that I order the right thing.

  5. I have a Jacuzzi and let it sit for a couple months and had the black specks. A condo we stayed in had an air tub so I was checking into it to see if indeed it is self cleaning, it appears its NOT by these comments. The good news is, I got my Jacuzzi clean. Order Ahhh-some off Amazon and try it. I had to run my tub twice and rinse twice but, alas, its clean. I’ll just put a teaspoon in after each bath (I take only 1 a week) and it should stay clean from now on.

    1. I don’t like jet tubs because they are not clean and use old water sitting in the tubes for the following bather. However, you can clean them by running bleach water through them. Just fill the tub up, pour some bleach in the water and run it. Then fill it up again and run it again. Such a HUGE waster of water. But that is how you clean them.

  6. An remarkable share, I handed your link to a co worker who was doing a little analysis on this topic. And he bought me breakfast because I found it for him.. smiling. So let me reword that : Thnx for the treat! But yeah Thnkx for spending the time to talk about this, I feel strongly about it and enjoy reading more on this topic. If possible, would you mind updating the blog with more details? It is extremely helpful for me. Big thumb up for this blog post!.

  7. I totally agree with your comments. Both has its own advantages but i preferred whirlpool although its costlier than air tubs. As long as there are benefits from moving water, whirl pool is here to stay.

  8. If the air=jetted tub has an automatic turn on feature after your bath, it will automatically evaporate water in the air lines eliminating any possibility of bacterial water deposits. We have had 8 air tubs at our BnB and we have yet to have experienced a single dirty air system complaint. They are marvelous. Downside: the air system comes on automatically for 2 minutes after each bath. Some people might be annoyed by that. We just tell our guests in advance to expect it and there is no problem.

  9. Air tubs and water jetted tubs all will have biofilm buildup in the lines. Any surface that comes in contact with water, including the air lines, develop biofilm even though you don’t see it. It’s like the wall of a toilet, it looks clean but you wouldn’t bath in it.

    There is a cleaner the lodging industry uses to clean the plumbing lines called Oh Yuk Jetted Tub Cleaner. This will clean both air and water lines. Simply fill the tub up high enough to turn the jets on, let the product circulate according to the directions. Drain, wipe the surface down with a good cleaner and the tub is perfectly clean.

    A clean jetted bathtub is as safe to use as a well taken care of pool. A dirty tub on the other hand, very high levels of mold and bacteria in the water.

  10. I am currently trying to decide on a whirlpool jetted tub or a air tub(specifically BainUltra). Among the bacteria and mold issues, I was told that the whirlpool tub, because of its more vigorous jets, can break your blood vessels. The sales person assured me that I would be happier with the air tub. Any suggestions?

    1. An air tub for sure! I’ve had both. The air tubs are much cleaner and are more relaxing to soak in. The jet tubs can be painful and are dirty.

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  12. I was set on a whirlpool tub until I realized that you are not supposed to use bubble bath, bath oils, and bath salts in them because it will damage the water pump… I have heard that it is safe to use all of these in an air jetted tub.. anyone else hear this and/or have any input??? I like to take baths and I don’t think I’d be completely happy with a whirlpool if I could not put anything in the bath….

    1. Every manufacturer has different maintenance “rules.” Generally oil-based products are not recommended. Be aware that one major reason behind the “ban” against bubble bath is due to the fact that the forceful water jets will whip it into a huge frothing mess! (Not as much of a problem with the gentler air tub jets.) It can be okay to use a small amount of product in a whirlpool tub, but that depends on the manufacturer.

    2. I had two different whirlpool tubs over a period of about seven years and am currently shopping for another one for my new home because I miss it so much! I never had any black specks in my tubs. I use to clean them by using four to seven dishwasher pucks (depending on the size of the tub), filling my tub just over the jets because the pucks will cause some sudsing, dropping in the pucks and running it for about fifteen minutes. Never a problem! If I wanted to use bath oil in my bath, I wouldn’t run the jets, then made sure to clean the oily surface off the tub afterwards. I always ran the jets with bath salts and/or bubble bath products without a problem. Just put your salts in first to give them a chance to dissolve before running your jets. And of course always be careful with bubble bath, a drop goes a long way! Or you could end up with a bubble bath floor!

      1. Thanks for the tips, Dominique! Let us help you find your new whirlpool bath – contact one of our sales reps for a personalized showroom-like experience.

  13. With all the new features, whirlpool bath tubs are superior than air tubs. They look great and give us a comfortable and relaxing bath time.

  14. Everyone here appears to be quite knowledged on these tubs. I will be buying my 1st tub. I have decided on water jets due to therapeutic reasons. The tub will be standard size alcove. Any recommendations of what manufacturer to go with. I need to stay in the $1000-2000.00 range.

    1. Hi Vicki, we’d recommend Hydro Systems’ Sydney tubs for your particular needs. You can see them here.

      Feel free to call our knowledgeable sales staff for any further assistance.

      Good luck!

    1. Hi Janis, combination tubs are great if you can’t decide which type you’d like! They provide the best of both whirlpool and air tubs so that you can pick your experience based on your mood. You can call our sales staff during regular business hours, they’re incredibly knowledgeable and helpful and will help you figure out what you want. 1-800-554-3210. Good luck!

  15. No one has mentioned a heater option in choosing between Whirlpool and Air Tubs? My present tub gets cold too soon, so it would seem only one that circulates the water (whirlpool) would work. Any comments?

    1. Hi Carla, most air tubs actually blow heated air, and some are equipped with a standard or optional heater to keep the bath water warm.

  16. Thanks for sharing this interesting blog about the differences between both of the bath tubs. But, I think that Whirpool bath tub is the best one as its water jet acts like a massager that will give a feel of therapist and a soothing, luxurious hydro massage at home. For every individual who are suffering from unique health problems, it is good to use Whirlpool tubs.

  17. Could you give me a comparison on the noise level of an air and whirlpool tub. I never use my whirlpool tub. It is very loud and puts me quite on edge. I am looking for a new tub and will get an air tub or plain soaker tub. Thanks

    1. Hi Kim, generally air tubs do tend to be quieter than whirlpool tubs but every model is different. Contact our sales team to find the best tub for your needs – 800-554-3210. Good luck!

  18. Don’t be fooled by what the air tub manufacturers say. I have an Americh air tub purchased three years ago – purchased because I read that they are cleaner- and have just noticed black leaf like pieces coming out of the air vents. I’ll call the manufacturer to see how to clean it. So buyer beware.

  19. I always run the air jets after a bath. I just don’t know which cleaner to use on the whole tub…..any advice?

  20. Bought a house with jet tub. Used it a few times then stopped because the jets are all on the sides, non in the back. Water would get cold. Worse yet were the black flakes…BUT, and this is why I’m writing…they were from my WATER HEATER, WHICH SHOOD BE FLUSHED PERIODICALLY. sacrificial anodes in the heater fall apart over time protecting metal parts from corrosion. My heater is in the attic so the flakes come down. These anodes should be checked and replaced occassionally.

  21. Also, so now I am suffering from spial stenosis and considering replacing the old jetted tub. And trying to decide which way to go. Glad I found this site. Leaning towards air, but wish I could try one first! Will effervescence bring relief to the lumbar and thigh pain? Thanks for the site!

    1. Thanks for the advice, Ted! You may like a combo tub, it’s the best of both worlds – whirlpool and air. Good luck with your choice! Our wonderful sales staff can help you make the right decision. 800.554.3210

  22. Thanks for all this great advice. I am new to this game, and am learning alot from all your comments. Does anybody know the name of a back jetted tub?

  23. Hi, just found out about this blog… great info!!
    i purchased a home with jets tub in master and no black leaf like pieces or anything despite it might be several years old. I clean it with watter and bleach as other comments mention. BUT iy is noisy and takes huge amount of space!! looking now for a full bathroom renovation and to get new tub. After reading it seems airtubs will do the trick they are slightly affordable and I find more styles…
    MY QUESTION that hasn’t been raised jet here: any difference between motor installation on air vs water jets??
    Last but not least… looking for a 2 people tub. .any suggstion??
    thanks in advance to all!!

    1. Hi Virginia! Air tubs come with compatible air pumps, so there shouldn’t be any special considerations. Click here to check out our selection of 2-person air tubs, and contact our wonderful sales staff if you have any questions! Good luck and let us know what you choose.

  24. Yes there are not much differences between Whirlpool and Air tubs. From the name itself it is clear that Air tubs use air jets and Whirlpool uses water jets.

  25. I have a water jetted tub. It was the worst purchase I have ever made. It is impossible to to keep 100% clean all of the time. Even though I have put the recommended chemicals through the tub many times, there is still black mold in the air tubes that are connected to the jets. It is extremely hard to clean black mold around the jets. Thus you get mold spores in your water, absorbing into your skin, breathing into your lungs. Not only that, but bacteria as well. I feel this has contributed to some severe health issues in my family. I am removing this tub asap at great expense and replacing with a plain soaker tub. Read these articles. And don’t risk your health!!

    The health effects of black mold:

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