Hot tub bacteria can cause skin problems, rashes and other discomfort so it pays to understand the basics about water sanitizing and to establish a water maintenance routine.
Many hot tub owners get a spa delivered and then are left to their own to figure out how often to add chemicals, how often to change the water and when to test it.
Inevitably, after a few weeks the first rashes show up and then bromine, chlorine and other chemicals get blamed, when in fact it is the lack of any sanitizer including bromine or chlorine that is causing bacteria to multiply in the spa.
Hot tubs are hot water vessels which are a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Once bacteria are allowed to multiply because there is nothing preventing them from doing so, they will attach to skin, hair follicules and wreak havoc on the unsuspecting hot tub enthusiasts skin. So soaking in a hot tub of bliss turns into weeks of trying to get rid of a rash. This can be disheartening, especially for new hot tub owners, but do not fear – understanding the cause, how to prevent hot tub skin rash and also how to treat it in case you already got it is the focus of this section.
Preventing Hot Tub Bacteria from Taking Over Your Spa
This part is the easy part when compared to diagnosing and treating hot tub rash. To prevent bacteria from growing in hot water, a sanitizer is required. You can select either bromine (which lasts longer in hot water as it has a higher off-gasing temperature than chlorine), or chlorine. A test kit or test strips are used to check the amount of sanitizer in the water at any time to eliminate guesswork. If using test strips, dip the test strip into the water briefly, and then compare the color with the color on the test strip bottle to read amount of free bromine (or free chlorine), pH level and alkalinity. When checking for sanitizer, the color on most test strips is purple. If the color is white or a very light shade of purple, you don’t have enough free sanitizer in the water, so add some!
Some spas have self-dosing chemical dispensers, or your bromine (or chlorine) may be in the form of pucks that fit inside a floating dispenser. These dispensers usually have an adjustable opening to the bromine tablets, so by turning or twisting the dispenser, the opening to the tablet dispenser is increase (or decreased) to adjust the amount of sanitizer being introduced into the water.
When filling a hot tub for the first time, or when refilling it, it could take a day or two for the sanitizer level to be evenly distributed in the spa water. Using a quick-start package of chlorine or bromine will help get sanitizer into the water right away so the spa can be used. Keeping an eye on the sanitizer level and the pH (ideal between 7.2-7.6) goes along way to preventing hot tub rash.
Another bacteria killer is the ozone generator or ozonator. These can be purchased at the time the spa is bought, or even retrofitted if desired. The ozone generator introduces small amounts of ozone into the water which also kills bacteria. Many spas are programmed so the ozone generator only comes on during the spa filter cycle, so it is not always on and you still need either bromine or chlorine sanitizer to make sure the bacteria is under control. Test every couple of days for sanitizer level with test strips or a test kit until you are comfortable maintaining the proper sanitizer (chlorine or bromine) level. Note: it is not enough to just add bromine or chlorine once when filling the spa and then expecting that to last for a month. This is when bacteria start to take over, and they grow faster in hot water than in cold water, so if you don’t want you or your friends to jump into a hot bacteria pond, it is important to pick a sanitizer (bromine or chlorine) and then test for it regularly and add more as needed.
If you do get the sanitizer and pH monitoring and balancing under control, that is the hardest part of maintaining the spa and preventing hot tub rash. If you have been in an unkept public spa or other place and have contracted a skin rash, then you may have hot tub rash or hot tub folliculitis.
Hot Tub Rash Treatment
Depending on what type of bacteria has survived because there was a lack of sanitizer in the water (pseudomonas aeruginosa is one type), then the conditions may have been ripe for the spreading of this bacteria causing hot tub folliculitis or hot tub rash. This can manifest itself a few hours after the hot tub session, or even up to a couple of days later. The bacteria can be trapped in bathing suits, hair follicules and other areas where it breeds and spreads further.
Symptoms include bumps and patches that itch – even some that are pus-filled. For mild cases, ointments with neomycin or mupirocin, cortisone cream or other soothing items along with washing of the skin should have it healed in a week to two weeks, but if the case is more severe and fatigue sets in, you may need to see your doctor to determine the type of infection. In some cases antibiotics may even be prescribed. Note that this type of bacteria is sometimes resistant to antibiotics, so you may need to get more information below in case that does not work. Sometimes the infection is not bacterial but a fungal infection. In that case an anti-fungal cream may work. It is usually best to put topical creams on the affected area rather than take pills. This includes topical antibiotics if fighting a bacterial infection, or the anti-fungal cream.
Swimmers ear is also a bacterial infection which can be caused by unkept hot tub water, so it is best to get on a regular hot tub water treatment program and stick with it. One such program is a Monday – Wednesday – Friday program for assuring clean and disinfected hot tub water that will last months if you follow the program. Contact us for details.
Got Hot Tub Rash?
If you need further treatment information for Hot Tub Folliculitis, check out this information on curing staph infections such as folliculitis
Avoid hot tub rash by wearing looser fitting bathing suits to avoid the friction and constant contact with the wet surface to multiply the affects of any hot tub folliculitis in that particular area of the body. If you do have a mild case, many say to leave it and it will go away in a week or so, but there is a better way by checking the link above for information on curing follliculitis. Don’t take a chance of continued itching and a persistent rash that will not go away or even start to scar – take care of the rash and then take care of the hot tub sanitizer level and get on a program of regular water maintenance to enjoy your hot tub.
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Basically, folliculitis is a skin problem that occurs in the hair follicles. The cause is not only poorly maintained hot tub water, but also friction from rubbing clothing, ingrown hair, a blocked hair follicle or even shaving. If you see it on the surface of the skin, it may just be a superficial folliculitis vs. the deep folliculitis which is the more serious version and may require a visit to your doctor or dermatologist.
Preventing hot tub folliculitis is the same as maintaining hot tub water.