Are Hot Tubs Sanitary?


Few things spell relief like soaking tired muscles in a hot vat of bubbling water. A short soak in a hot tub can relieve pressure on joints, nerves and muscles through heat and jet-powered massage. While there are those who look forward to soaking several times a week, others tend to shy away from the idea for fear of illness and infection involving improper sanitation practices.

The Numbers Count

  • As far as hot tubs and sanitation are concerned, the numbers are what matters. To kill bacteria, a hot tub must contain a sanitizer, such as chlorine or bromine. Effective bacteria elimination requires no less than a free chlorine or bromine residual of 1.0 parts per million. A pH between 7.2 and 7.8 is also necessary for the sanitizer to be effective. A water test will provide information on both the free residual and pH levels. A bacteria sample taken with each test will show whether the sanitizer is performing optimally. A negative bacteria result reflects a well-sanitized hot tub.

The Worst That Can Happen

  • A hot tub that does not meet sanitary standards opens up a world of health troubles to the user. Relaxing in a hot tub swarming with bacteria can lead to hot tub rash or hot tub folliculitis, a condition that causes red bumps, blisters and boils under the skin. Hot tub lung is another hot tub illness that can cause serious health complications. Mycobacterium avium is the cause of hot tub lung entering the lungs when the hot tub jets cause the water to bubble. Hot tub lung can cause breathing troubles, chest tightness, fatigue, fever and chills.

Stop, Look and Listen

  • Before submerging yourself in any hot tub -- stop. Check the water before getting in. If it looks cloudy or you notice a layer of foam on top, think twice. Hot tub water should always be crystal clear. Listen for the pump and filter, which should always be running in an effort to keep the hot water circulating. Last but not least, sniff the air. If you smell chlorine, the water is not chemically balanced. A healthy hot tub should emit no odor at all. If the water is clear, the pump and filter are running and you smell no chlorine, go ahead and venture in. But take heed if the hot tub feels slimy once you begin to make your decent; get out quickly. A slick, slimy hot tub may be indicative of an underlying bacteria problem.

Never Hurts to Ask

  • Facilities that provide hot tubs for public use require regular health inspections to determine their sanitation levels. If you have concerns, put your mind at ease and ask the facility director for information about the hot tub, such as how many people use it per day, how often inspections take place and the qualifications of the employees that care for the hot tub. Ask how often the employees check the pH and chlorine levels. A sanitary hot tub has a pH and chlorine check two times a day, every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Even if It's Yours

  • Just because the hot tub is yours doesn't mean it's clean. Cleaning and sanitizing a personal hot tub is just as important as a caring for a public hot tub. Once a month filter cleaning and a complete draining every three months will help keep your hot tub clean and microbes at bay. After draining, clean the inner shell with a household cleaner. Wipe it dry afterward with a clean cloth. A garden hose can take care of cleaning the underside if the hot tub is not in a fixed position. Periodic cleaning of the vinyl cover is also important. Wipe the cover down with a vinyl cleaner following the manufacturer's instructions.

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