What’s the Difference Between Hot Tub and Spa?

You may have noticed that many people, companies, and marketers will interchange the words hot tub and spa when speaking about the same thing. They’re usually referring to hydrotherapeutic tanks of hot water. Apparently, what they aren’t referring to is when you fill your bathtub up for a nice hot bath even though you could argue that’s a hot tub as well. Also, they’re apparently not referring to your local hotel, sporting facility or vacation destination that offers massages, facial treatments and various pools of water for relaxation and pampering. Even though these places are often referred to as spas. So what’s the difference between hot tub and spa? It may not be an easy task, but in this article, we’ll try to figure it out.

What Constitutes a Hot Tub?

As argued in the introduction, filling your bathtub with hot water is, in essence, the definition of a hot tub. However, this can definitely be misleading. If you told your friends that you have a hot tub they’d be pretty disappointed if they showed up at your house with their bathing suits only to find that your hot tub is located in your bathroom and in no way will hold more than one adult comfortably. When your average North American thinks of a hot tub they think of a tank of hot water that has massaging water jets, bubbles and holds several people at the same time.

As a home-based recreational facility, hot tubs have really only become popular in North America since the late 1970s. The original ideas for North American hot tubs were brought over from Japan after the second World War, but these rudimentary, home built setups often lacked things that modern hot tubs are known for. Things such as massaging jets, water filtration systems and dedicated heating systems. Nowadays hot tubs can be purchased as “plug and play” appliances that can be ready to go the same day they were bought.

What Constitutes a Spa?

If you look at some of the internet’s leading authorities, such as Wikipedia, you’ll be told that a spa is a place that uses mineral-rich water as a type of health treatment. Some people will tell you that a spa should offer massages, facial treatments, and other therapies and may or may not include pools of water for therapeutic purposes. These types of spas are often associated with a hotel, vacation resort or sports centre and act as purveyors of holistic wellbeing.

Part of the confusion between hot tubs and spas is that many hot tub manufacturers and sellers prefer to use the name “spa” when it comes to marketing their wares. This may possibly be because the word “spa” sounds more graceful or they’re trying to distinguish themselves from the round cedarwood pools that were so popular when hot tubs first came on the market. There’s no doubt that today’s hot tubs are much sleeker and modern while featuring many more accessories and embellishments than the original models, but the basic premise remains the same: warm, bubbling water and massaging jets.

Should It Be Called A Hot Tub or A Spa?

Unfortunately, there’s no authoritative regulatory body that dares to clear this conundrum up for us.  Commercially sold hot tubs haven’t been around long enough to create the same kind of guidelines that control the naming of sparkling wines or aged cheeses. Maybe someday we’ll all be forced to use one term or the other. And then again, maybe that wouldn’t be such a good thing.