If you’ve ever had a professional pedicure, you know the indulgent delight they bring: the warm water circulating between your toes, the tingly feeling of epsom salts dissolving, the sinister satisfaction as you watch a blizzard of dead skin fall off your feet.
Salons have opened up across the country—for many people, though, venturing out for a mani-pedi continues to feel too risky during the COVID-19 pandemic. Enter the ad hoc, at-home salon. After trying four popular foot spas, I concluded that they are generally not worth the roughly $50 investment: A bathtub or a bucket of heated water will work just fine to soothe and soften your feet.
The experts we contacted for advice on DIY manicures and pedicures actually advised against a water soak before painting fingernails or toenails, as water makes the nail swell and can lead to the varnish chipping when the nail dries back to its normal size. For many people, though, the best part of the pedicure experience is the soak, for warming cold feet at the end of a winter’s day or for softening corns and calluses before a good buffing.
If you know you’ll enjoy a warm soak from the safety of home during winter hibernation, don’t want to be tied to a tub or other source of hot water, or want to give one of these devices to your most calloused loved one, MaxKare’s Foot Spa Massager (14 rollers) might be worth the investment to you. It provides consistent water heating and a halfway-decent foot massage, which the bucket you use to mop with likely does not.
I tested four top-rated models, including Amazon’s three top sellers: the Conair Foot and Pedicure Spa with Vibration and Heat, the MaxKare Foot Spa Massager (four rollers), and the MaxKare Foot Spa Massager (14 rollers). I also tested the Kendal All-in-One Foot Spa Bath Massager, which The Strategist and The Spruce both recommend. I used each model for up to three hours, evaluating the (subjective) usefulness of features such as water circulation, heating, and vibration or massage.
The best feature these baths can offer is sustained heat and the fleeting thrill of some bubbles. But of the four I tested, only the MaxKare models were able to genuinely produce heat, whereas the Conair and Kendal foot baths could only maintain the initial water temperature. The MaxKare models’ heating mechanisms, located in the middle of the basin, can get very hot within minutes, which can be uncomfortable—if not searingly painful—on the insides of your feet. Both foot baths can reach 118 °F, but I tapped out at 105 °F (plenty hot for my taste) even with the bubbles circulating the water more evenly. According to MaxKare, the minimum heated water temperature is 95 °F.
I struggle with plantar fasciitis and was personally seeking a solid set of massage rollers that could offer intense pressure. Although the rollers on the Kendal model offered decent pressure on the muscly parts of the sole of the foot, each foot bath’s removable rollers can be attached in only one fixed spot; if your sore feet aren’t the exact right size for the rollers to hit that sweet spot, you’re out of luck.
The MaxKare Foot Spa Massager (14 rollers) is the only option I tried that offers the best of both worlds: a legitimate heater that keeps the water warm and a decent set of rollers to engage the muscles in your foot. (The other MaxKare model I tested offers the same heat settings but fewer rollers, and none situated near the muscly part of your foot.)
If you can handle trading in the ethereal spa music of your local salon for a laughably loud hum (video), and you want a basin perfectly shaped for feet, go for it. We all need our quarantine self-care purchases. For now, I’m holding on to my $50, grateful that closed-toe shoe season is finally here.
About your guide
Christina Colizza is the research editor and department head at Wirecutter. By overseeing fact checking and offering training and workshops for edit staff, she works to ensure that Wirecutter maintains the highest standards of accuracy in our reporting. She thinks you should not use Wikipedia as a source.