All Collections
Jacuzzi® Hot Tub
What is a portable spa and how is it different from an inground hot tub?
What is a portable spa and how is it different from an inground hot tub?
Written by Kimberly Giraldo
Updated over a week ago

Congratulations on your decision to purchase a hot tub. A spa can provide years of relaxation and hydrotherapy to help relieve pain and soothe sore muscles, not to mention the fun of enjoying a soak with family and friends. After you have decided that you would like to purchase a spa, you’ll have many other decisions to make. Ultimately, one of the biggest decisions will be what kind of spa you would like to buy. There are many choices. You may wonder what type of spa to purchase and what the differences are between the many types. You might find yourself asking or searching the internet for the answer to the question: “What is a portable spa and how is it different from an inground hot tub?”

Here, we will provide you with the answers to those two questions, as well as other questions you may have, so you can make the most informed decision for your needs. Read on to learn what a portable spa is and how it differs from an inground hot tub. We’ll uncover some of the basics of each type of spa so you can determine which might be the best choice for you.

First, it’s important to note that generally the terms “spa” and “hot tub” are often used interchangeably. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a hot tub is “a large tub of hot water in which bathers soak and usually socialize.” People often use spas or hot tubs to relax, socialize, and experience a deep hydromassage to relieve muscle pain and ease tension. There are many different styles of hot tubs or spas. Portable and inground are two popular ones that we’ll focus directly on in this article.

What is a portable spa?

The term portable spa refers to a hot tub that is self-contained. All the components for heating the water, filtering the water and operating the unit are enclosed in the hot tub’s shell. “Portable” refers to the fact that it is not built into the ground or permanently attached to anything. A portable hot tub is a freestanding unit that sits above ground on a flat surface. A portable spa can be relocated around the backyard or to another location altogether. However, this will likely require the assistance of professionals.

The shell in which a portable hot tub is contained is commonly constructed of high-quality acrylic. This is a durable material that is designed to withstand the elements, protect the unit and resist the growth of bacteria and algae. Portable hot tub shells can also be made of fiberglass, wood, stainless steel and other materials. Portable spas come in many sizes and shapes (square, rectangular and even triangular).

Standard components within a high-quality portable hot tub will include a circulation pump, heating element, filters, water management and filtration systems, temperature controls, control panels and jets. Other features can include lighting, water features, sound systems and compatibility with smart technology designed to help you monitor and manage your hot tub.

What is an inground hot tub?

An inground hot tub is just that — a spa that is installed directly into the ground or landscaping. An inground hot tub can be built adjacent to or connecting with a swimming pool so you can go back and forth between a cooling swim and a warm soak. An inground hot tub can be customized for size and shape and designed to complement a swimming pool or the surrounding landscape. Inground hot tubs can be made from various materials including concrete, stone, tile, acrylic, or a material called gunite, which is a sprayed concrete often used as a swimming pool liner.

Inground hot tubs also require filtration systems and they need water intake and output ports as well as underground plumbing. Inground hot tubs typically have a deck built around them and often feature stairs to get in and out of, like a swimming pool.

The water in both a portable spa and an inground hot tub will need to be maintained to keep it clean and safe for soaking. There are many different sanitation options for either. Ultimately, the water will need to be pH balanced and sanitized with the use of chemicals such as chlorine, bromine and or a non-chlorine shock product.

How is a portable spa different from an inground hot tub?

There are many differences between a portable spa and an inground hot tub beyond what was presented above. Here we will dig deep into some of the main differences between these two hot tub options.

Seating — When it comes to a portable spa, most premier brands can offer an array of seating choices that are designed to be comfortable while enhancing the hydrotherapy experience. Some models offer open seating, which generally can accommodate more bathers at one time, all who can experience hydrotherapy jets within those seats. Other models offer a lounger, which is designed for a more full-body hydrotherapy experience. Loungers in a premium portable spa model are equipped with high-quality jets to create a blissful hydromassage.

The collection of seats in every Jacuzzi® hot tub, for example, is designed to facilitate complete hydromassage while balancing the flow to each seat for the best experience. Seats in a Jacuzzi® hot tub are complemented by jets on the calves and in the foot dome, creating a unique hydrotherapy experience regardless of where you choose to sit.

Some of the unique seating options available in a Jacuzzi® hot tub include the MX Therapy Seat, considered the original in low-back relief. Bathers can ease into this deeply contoured seat to release tension in the lower back with a high-volume, low-pressure massage. Maximized air output delivers a soothing deep tissue massage. Paired with neck jets, this creates a completely relaxing experience.

Another option is the ProAir™ Lounge, which delivers whole-body relief. Designed to distribute body weight evenly for a comprehensive massage, the ProAir™ Lounge eases tension in your shoulders and back by combining FX and FX-R rotational jets along the center of the back. FX Jets focus on smaller muscle groups, and stimulate pressure points in the shoulders, back, and feet. Exclusive BX Jets feature a patented design developed to invigorate leg muscles, targeting the calves with a bubbly massage while the FX Jets penetrate the muscles of the feet with therapeutic relief. These are just a few of the examples of the type of exclusive hydrotherapy that a Jacuzzi® hot tub can provide.

Seating in an inground hot tub is typically made from concrete. The seats in an inground hot tub do not conform to the body as the seats in a portable hot tub are designed to.

Jets — If you are shopping for a hot tub mainly for the soothing hydromassage aspects, jets should be the number one priority on your list. The jets are the key to a next-level hydrotherapy experience. Most premier portable hot tubs have an array of jets that are specially designed to provide soothing pain relief through the power of water.

Jacuzzi® hot tubs, for example, are equipped with a variety of specialty and proprietary jets that create a one-of-a-kind experience. Every Jacuzzi® hot tub is equipped with a variety of Jacuzzi® Power Pro® Jets that target a different part of the body, delivering a unique massage. The FX Therapy Seat, for example, features a collection of 10 to 12 FX Jets that deliver a stimulating, spiral-action deep tissue massage to relieve aches from the neck and shoulders through the full back. The RX Therapy Seat, on the other hand, delivers comforting back and shoulder relief via a ring of spinning RX Jets which target key back and shoulder muscles, drawing on the highest performance hydromassage from the Jacuzzi® brand. These jets are designed to soothe stiff muscles and release tension while complementing the overall massage for extra relief.

Other specialty Jacuzzi® PowerPro® Jets include the NX, which delivers a highly focused stream of water targeting the neck as it massages tension and strain in the sensitive neck area. You can personalize the direction and the intensity of your massage by moving the nozzle to customize their hydromassage. Another is the PX, which applies pressure point massage on the palms and wrists, soothing discomfort.

Whether considering a portable spa or an inground hot tub for the hydromassage aspects, be sure to research the jets and speak with a professional hot tub dealer to find out more about the benefits of jets in the hot tub you are considering.

Cost — Naturally, cost will be a major factor in any significant investment, and a hot tub is no different. An inground hot tub can range greatly in cost depending on whether it is custom built or prefabricated. Installation will be an additional fee. According to an August 2023 report from, an inground hot tub could cost between $8,000 and $25,000 to build or add to an existing pool. Installing it along with an inground pool can cost an additional $6,000 to $15,000, or more.

This same report lists a price range of $2,000 to $6,000 for an entry level portable spa and up to $11,000 to $18,000 for a luxury hot tub. These prices are dependent on size, quality, features, brand, dealer overhead, delivery, installation and warranty, according to the site.

Energy Efficiency — Another important aspect of hot tub ownership, whether portable or inground, is energy efficiency. Insulation is key to maintaining the hot tub water’s temperature. Good insulation can also help keep operation costs down. A high-quality portable hot tub brand should offer models with excellent insulation that surrounds the shell and fills the cabinet of the unit. This can also help ensure quieter operation, another benefit of a high-quality portable spa.

A premium brand such as Jacuzzi® takes energy efficiency and insulation to the next level. Jacuzzi® hot tubs are equipped with a polymer base which serves as a rugged protective barrier that insulates the spa from the foundation. This durable ABS-formed foundation also protects the spa’s components from moisture as well as environmental elements while adding structural strength.

Portable hot tubs also have the benefit of hot tub covers that help maintain the water’s temperature. Another benefit of a good-quality hot tub cover is that it keeps the portable spa free of dirt and debris when not in use.

Inground hot tubs have the benefit of natural insulation of the earth around them. However, they are typically not fully insulated. They also do not have the benefit of a high-quality hot tub cover that helps retain the water’s temperature and protect the water from dirt, debris and the elements.

To further ensure the hot tub, whether inground or portable, is energy efficient, make sure it meets or exceeds California Energy Commission standards for spa energy consumption. This is something that the Jacuzzi® brand also takes pride in for every one of its hot tub models.

When shopping for a hot tub, you will encounter many choices and will make many decisions. As with any major purchase, it’s important to educate yourself on all your options so you can confidently make the best purchase for you and your family. Before deciding on a portable spa or an inground hot tub, ask yourself some essential questions that can help you pinpoint which type of spa might be right for you. Some helpful questions that can help you make your decision are:

-What is my budget?

-Do I want to use my hot tub for socializing, to maximize the benefits of hydrotherapy, or both?

-How many people will be using the spa?

-How important is energy efficiency to me?

-Where will I place my hot tub?

-How exposed to the elements do I want my hot tub to be?

-Do I want my hot tub to be a part of my permanent backyard landscape?

-If I move, will I want to take my spa with me?

Another important aspect of your hot tub decision should be visiting a local showroom or dealer who can help walk you through the various types of hot tubs along with their main pros and cons. A great benefit of visiting a local showroom is that you can make an appointment for a wet test. This allows you to try out a spa that you are interested in so that you can experience it when it is filled with water and operating. This is essential for trying out the various types of seating options as well as jet configurations.

We hope that upon completing this article, you have gained some insight into the question: What is a portable spa and how it is different from an inground hot tub? Armed with this information, we hope you find the hot tub that will bring you soothing relaxation and wonderful memories for years to come.

Affiliations: Jacuzzi® is a registered trademark of Jacuzzi Group. All rights reserved.

Medical disclaimer: This information is not intended to prescribe a particular diagnosis or course of action. We are not medical professionals. Please contact your GP or other medical professional for advice if you have any concerns about your current health or well-being.

Did this answer your question?