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Treating spas like pools could get service techs in hot water: Best practices to ensure proper hot tub maintenance

Hot water does not kill germs

Service techs should consider incorporating broad-spectrum enzymes into the hot tub water-care routine. These enzymes break down non-living waste, such as hair products, lotions, oils, and more.
Service techs should consider incorporating broad-spectrum enzymes into the hot tub water-care routine. These enzymes break down non-living waste, such as hair products, lotions, oils, and more.

Service techs should start by informing their clients that hot water does not kill germs. Hot tubs are typically maintained between 37 and 40 C (100 and 104 F). This temperature may feel scalding on the skin at first, especially if one jumps into the hot tub immediately after walking through a snowy backyard or swimming in a cold pool. However, this temperature is certainly not high enough to kill bacteria and other germs that may be present in the water. In fact, the warm, wet environment of the vessel actually fosters bacterial growth. Germs living at typical hot tub temperatures can survive for days, even weeks.

“Most spa owners think bacteria and germs are more likely to appear in a warm environment rather than a cold one,” explains Belcourt. “My goal is to educate clients on the differences between hot and cold water temperatures and the importance of consistent water sanitation. Hot tub water that isn’t disinfected is far less forgiving than pool water that isn’t balanced.”

Soaking: not a substitute for bathing

Statistics show a majority of people do not shower before they get into a hot tub. This habit can severely impact the water quality as chlorine and bromine react with bather waste and cause turbid or cloudy water, forming chloramines that give spas a distinctive odour, or reacting with organic compounds (contaminants) that settle along the waterline and leave a coating where bacteria can grow.

In addition, having jets in a hot tub increases the need to sanitize and clean filters regularly.

“While jets make the muscles feel good, they also exfoliate one’s skin and their bathing suit at the same time,” says Belcourt. “As a result, the soaps from laundering one’s swimsuit enter the water, as does the moisturizer they apply after showering.”

Even when bathers shower before entering a hot tub, contaminants from their bodies can cause the sanitizer to be used up very quickly. The more people there are and the longer they stay in the spa, the faster disinfectant levels decrease. This results in a lower concentration of sanitizer levels than what needs to be present in the water to kill harmful bacteria. Further, chloramines can cause irritation to the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract.

“One must remember although body wash feels great on the skin, it leaves a film of oil on the body that is removed by the jets, which quickly mixes into the hot tub water and clogs up the filters,” says Belcourt.

In fact, a surprising number of bathers carry pathogens, germs, and bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas, on the surface of their bodies that can cause skin diseases. Gastrointestinal pathogens from feces, such as Escherichia coli (E. coli), can also contaminate the water.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one in five (21.6 per cent) of adults are unaware that swimming when ill with diarrhea can heavily contaminate the water and make other bathers sick.1 Therefore, it is critical end-users are properly educated about recreational water habits and hygiene, both in commercial and residential environments.

Due to these reasons, a hot-tub specific approach for disinfection and routine physical maintenance is mandatory.

“Owning a hot tub is like having a dog or a puppy, while maintaining a pool is more like keeping a cat,” explains Belcourt. “With the latter, one can go away for the weekend, and leave behind some food and water, and the cat will be fine. So will the pool. However, both a hot tub and a dog need more attention and can’t be left alone for days. But then again, there is nothing better than all the love and enjoyment one gets from their dog, which is also true of the many benefits one receives from their hot tub.”

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