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The Bath Tub
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

While getting squeaky clean in the bath, bodyssages, Ultra thermo-masseur baths, and multiple occupancy baths can also relax, energize, massage, and soothe away the aches. So, naturally, the bath seems almost an indulgence in leisure.

Now, baths have changed, too; the "air-only tubs" add a new chapter to a long history of bathing--for ceremony, religion, therapy, pleasure, and hygiene--a story that began long before the discovery of the oldest known tubs in1700 BC on the Island of Crete.

The most elaborate baths were, of course, the ancient Roman tubs, pools, and centers of steam rooms and hot-air baths, which also housed libraries, restaurants, and theater. But the early church forbid pleasure bathing. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the bath declined in western Europe. Sanitary conditions became terrible during the middle ages, and even into the 17th and 18th centuries, when people resorted to powders, paint, and perfumes to disguise their filth. Not until the outbreak of cholera in the 19th century did hygiene begin, and with it came the 1850 sitz tub, where the bather sat in a small basin. In 1873, John Michael Kohler heated a horse trough/hog scalder with powdered enamel to make the first Kohler bathtub.

Authentic antique tubs are hard to find these days and probably require a new coat of porcelain and new feet, according to Alan Hilsabeck, Jr., ASID, CBD, with Bentwood, who recommends nostalgic reproductions, such as the claw footed tubs.

Water Works manufactures a deep soaking, free standing, cast iron tub with old fashioned feet. For a modern look, the cast iron tub also comes as a drop-in model ($2340 for tub only) for surrounding cabinetry, tile, limestone, and granite.

"We feel we are inventing bath styles," says Annie Beam, sales manager. Water Works sells mostly cast iron models, but they also carry acrylic tubs impregnated with microband, an antibacterial and anti-fungal agent, and a fiber glass backing to eliminate noise from the motor inside the optional whirlpool.

Whirlpool tubs work on the principle of sucking water from the tub and air from the atmosphere, circulating the water and air through pipes and jets that blow the mix back into the tub. The most recent whirlpool therapeutic massage, introduced by Kohler and now also made by Jucuzzi and American Standard, features a bodyssage back jet system with ten jet sets blowing water in a variety of pressures and timings, according to Hilsabeck.

But a new design, the thermo-masseur bath made by Ultra in Canada and called a hydro massage system instead of a whirlpool, according to Kathy Richardson, manager of Pierce Plumbing and Hardware, is currently the biggest seller.

"Bathtubs have evolved to what we call and what we promote as an air only tub," said Alan Fishman, owner of Nob Hill. The Ultra thermo-masseur uses a motor that blows warm air (190 degrees F) through a channel of 34 to 70 air holes (jets), depending on the model, along the bottom of the tub. Here, rushing air into water creates the bubbling thermo-masseur.

"The nice thing about these air tubes," said Fishman, " because all it's doing is blowing air, you can fill oils and bath beads in these tubs." In fact, Ultra supplies oils and herbal additives. Another nice thing is the ability to eliminate the motor noise by adding extension pipes to put the motor in a cabinet or another room, away from the tub. A third feature begins when the tub empties because the motor automatically turns on to dry out excess water. Even a wet towel will dry, if left in the tub. For safety, a running motor won't damage the system should it accidentally get turned on, even for 24 to 48 hours. Ultra tubs retail from $1325 to $3100 for the tub only, says Richardson.

"We don't sell just bathtubs," said Fishman. "You're not buying a pair of shoes. People will come in and buy a whole bath room ensemble--a tub, shower, fixtures, faucets, commodes, and basins."

"In the secondary bathroom, generally people will do a tub or tub-shower combination," said Richardson. "But in the master bath, more times than not, people put in a whirlpool. I don't know how many (people) actually use them because you have to be kind of personal when selling a bath tub. You have to ask questions like are you going to be the only one using it or will your husband be using it together. That plays a part in the size of tub and the drain location."

"If two of you are going to use the tub, you both need to sit in there to see if the space is right, " said Richardson.

Tubs can be made to accommodate up to four bathers, according to Hilsabeck. But a too long tub, where the feet can't touch the end, leaves the bather sometimes struggling to stay up when the system is on, especially if the surface becomes slippery with bath oils and salts, according to Richardson. So, Pierce Hardware and Plumbing tend to sell more one person, 5 1/2 foot size tubs when women are the primary users

With over 400 colors available, ninety percent of tubs are white, and the next favorite color is a very light, creamy biscuit, says Richardson. Customers also like simple, old fashioned, fixtures in satin nickel and pewter.

"Nine times out of 10, people will get a hand shower," said Hilsabeck, " not so much to give a shower" even though hand held showers are available with adjustable massaging functions. People even buy hand showers for use in the shower with overhead rain showers and multiple body sprays, according to Richardson. But hand held showers work well for cleaning small children or pets, and for spraying down the sides of the tub.

For a clean tub, Hilsabeck recommends also wiping the porcelain with an environmentally safe liquid wax product. With proper care, a bath tub should last more than a lifetime.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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