Cleaning systems, heaters and upgrade options are just some of the new things in the whirlpool market.

One of the biggest concerns consumers have about whirlpool tubs is bacteria. They fear that dirty bath water collecting in pipes will produce mold and bacteria to be recirculated back into the bath water the next time the tub is used. To help allay those fears and stave off those pesky microbes, manufacturers of piped systems came out with cleaning systems that flushed water mixed with bleach through the pipes. Then SaniJet introduced its pipeless system, where each jet is powered by its own motor and can be removed for thorough cleaning by the consumer.

Today there are a few manufacturers taking other steps in providing clean, safe jetted and whirlpool tubs for consumers to have installed in their homes.

Say ‘Goodbye’ To Mold And Bacteria

American Standard has attacked this problem with its StayClean™ technology. “We wanted to tackle the problem of how to keep the whirlpool as clean as possible without making the consumer do extra maintenance on the whirlpool,” says James Walsh, American Standard’s product director for bathing products. “We’ve developed a system that uses a silver-based, antimicrobial agent (AlphaSan®) that is processed into the internal components of the whirlpool — the jets, the piping, the pump and motor. This agent inhibits the growth of microbes such as bacteria, mold and mildew, to give consumers a system that’s the cleanest they can get.”

And AlphaSan is not painted or sprayed on as a surface treatment, it’s actually molded into the parts as they’re being made.

“That’s important because you’re getting the antimicrobial feature into the parts of the whirlpool that you can’t really clean, the inner workings of the tub, as opposed to putting the antimicrobial treatment on the acrylic surface itself, which is what consumers clean anyway,” says Rob Kass, American Standard’s vice president of marketing.

Silver is used in the system because it is very effective against a broad spectrum of microbes, Walsh explains. In fact, silver has been widely used in the medical community to eliminate the potential for infection. It’s been used for wound dressing (especially for burn-care victims), infant eye care and implanted medical devices such as catheters.

StayClean technology makes cleaning the whirlpool very easy for the consumer, although Walsh still recommends bleach cleaning on occasion.

American Standard is making StayClean an option on all its American Standard and Porcher whirlpool models.

MTI Whirlpools has developed the Simple Touch cleaning system, which cleans the internal components of the whirlpool. “This unique system uses check valves to circulate clean water and cleansing solution through the air lines, water lines and pump, flushing out dirty water and bacteria,” says Russell Adams, MTI Whirlpools’ vice president of business development. “By removing leftover dirty water from the internal system, the potential for bacteria growth is eliminated.”

Here’s how the system works: After bathing, the tub is drained. The jets are closed off by pushing them in. Cleaning solution is added to the deck-mounted detergent dispenser, the Simple Touch button is pushed, and the system runs for three minutes. The check valves allow the cleaning solution to backflush the internal plumbing system — including the air line, water line and pump — and then out the suction and down the drain. After the system shuts off, the whirlpool jets are reopened to let the system drain.

The system allows the luxury of using bubble bath, aromatherapy oils and bath salts, Adams explains, because any residue and leftover solution can be flushed from the plumbing lines.

And it uses much less water than cleaning a standard whirlpool. Simple Touch uses five gallons of water and less than three minutes to clean the entire plumbing system. To clean a standard whirlpool, it can take 80 gallons of water and 30 minutes, as the tub must be filled and drained several times.

The Simple Touch system, an additional technology to the Fill-Flush® system, is optional on any MTI whirlpool.

Keeping The Water Warm

Another issue for American Standard was to make its whirlpool products easier to install. One way to do that was to make the whirlpool heater a stand-alone product. “Consumers may not think about a heater when they first start shopping for a whirlpool,” Walsh says.

Once a tub is filled, even a whirlpool tub, the water begins to cool, Kass explains. All the pump is doing is recirculating that water, not heating it.

And air being drawn out of the bathroom to mix with the water to create turbulence is also accelerating the cooling of the water, Walsh adds. “That air is most likely much cooler than your bath water, so it’s obviously cooling down the bath.”

Since traditionally heaters were factory-installed, wholesalers had to have an inventory of tubs with heaters and tubs without heaters. Consumers then had to think about whether they wanted a heater or not at the time they ordered their tubs, or they missed the opportunity.

So American Standard developed the Quick Connect system, which allows field installation of its stand-alone Safe-T-Heater on any in-stock Luxury or Cadet whirlpool. Underwriters Laboratories recognizes the system as a listed procedure for whirlpool heater installation.

“You can buy a tub, and as the plumber is installing it, he can put the heater in right then, pushing the decision to purchase and install the heater down to the point of installation,” Kass notes. “It’s also a nice upsell feature.”

New Luxury Upgrades

If consumers are looking to add a little luxury to their bathrooms, MTI has introduced the Jentle Ped™ foot bath. “This is for homeowners who appreciate the benefits of regular foot care to help alleviate back pain, stress and for simple relaxation and rejuvenation,” notes Adams.

The user can determine the initial temperature of the water when the Jentle Ped is filled prior to beginning the treatment. The water temperature gradually increases (maximum increase of 5 degrees F) while the pump is running to ensure a comfortable level for the duration of the footbath.

The Jentle Ped features four adjustable hydrotherapy jets and a raised bar at the bottom of the unit to allow users to exercise the arch and sole areas of the foot, along with a 1 HP pump. Ergonomically designed for custom installation into a personal health spa, it is available in more than 30 colors of Lucite® cast acrylic.

Not to be outdone, Kohler has launched its Experience Whirlpools, which allow consumers to choose their level of comfort — from relaxing to massaging to invigorating — within their own homes.

“Customization is top of mind with today’s discerning consumers,” says Mike Moldenhauer, Kohler’s marketing director for bathing products. “We want consumers to take the lead in creating their own water experiences within a home spa environment.”

The highlights of the Experience Whirlpools are the four Enhanced Experience Options:

• Relax Experience — This upgrade features variable effervescent bubbles and chromotherapy with eight different color sequences;

• Spa Experience — This whirlpool package combines stimulating Flexjets with effervescence and chromatherapy;

• Massage Experience — This package delivers a hydro-massage with Flexjets, backjets and neckjets;

• Spa/Massage Experience — This upgrade combines all of the amenities of the Relax, Spa and Massage Experiences.

These can be applied to five of Kohler’s most popular models — Portrait™, Revival™, Memoirs™, Tea-for-Two™ and Purist™.

Kohler also developed new product features, including a tub-mounted, lighted keypad control that provides feedback on operating functions. The bather can adjust the flow of water, turn off the heater or dial the ring to select a different function. A floating remote control is standard on Enhanced Experience whirlpools and optional on all Experience whirlpools.

Sidebar: Market Still Strong

Even with the advent of shower systems or “vertical spas,” the whirlpool market is still going strong.

“While certainly many consumers, both when buying new homes and when renovating their bathrooms, are looking to add new shower and vertical spas, that desire for a whirlpool tub is still an important thing they look for,” explains Rob Kass, American Standard’s vice president of marketing. “That has not diminished while the other segment has grown.”

In fact, Kass says a whirlpool tub can actually help with the resale value of a home.

James Walsh, American Standard’s product director for bathing products, agrees: “People want both whirlpools and showers in their homes. It’s almost as if the whirlpool in new home construction is seen as standard equipment.”

Part of the continuing popularity of the whirlpool bath may be the myriad of luxury upgrades available to consumers.

“MTI has actually seen an increase in high-end luxury baths,” says Russell Adams, MTI Whirlpools’ vice president of business development. “Instead of simple whirlpool baths, people are ordering custom tubs with air-bath/whirlpool combinations. We are doing underwater chromatherapy lighting with multiple pump whirlpool systems with jets that emulate shiatsu massage. The luxury bath has come a long way and is continuing to evolve.”