What is Biofilm?
Biofilm is a build-up of bacteria and other micro-organisms, typically in the plumbing and pipes of your tub. The bacteria comes from mold, algae, fungus, and airborne contaminants or is introduced to the spa by bathers through organics such as lotions and more. Spa biofilm creates a slimy outer layer to protect itself from the water’s sanitizers and chemicals. As the spa biofilm becomes resistant to the sanitizers, it can continue to grow and thrive in the warm, watery environment. It can make your water cloudy and odorous. When this occurs, it can have an impact on bathers, as well as equipment.
When biofilm is present, it is more challenging to maintain sanitizer levels. You are, therefore, adding more chlorine or bromine than you normally would. When chlorine and bromine are mixed with water, they turn to acid, lowering your alkalinity. When alkalinity gets below 80ppm, the water becomes very acidic and can cause itchy skin, rashes and can start to degrade the o-rings, seals, and gaskets in your spa. This will lead to leaks and expensive repairs and can be avoided by always keeping your water balanced.
There are many different types of bacteria that could be lurking and hiding within the slime bio-fouling in the piping and jets of these vessels. These bacteria remain vigorous even in well sanitized hot tubs because they are protected by the biofilm. Some include:
SOME BACTERIA TYPES AND IMPACTS
• Pseudomonas Aeruginosa
The most common type which are responsible for the majority of “hot tub rash” outbreaks.
Certain groups are more at risk including people ages 50 and over, people with chronic lung disease or current or former smokers. Some symptoms include: cough, shortness of breath, fever, or muscle aches
• Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) organisms
This is a lung disease caused by inhalation of water aerosol containing
non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM), that in most cases belong to the Mycobacterium avium complex. It is associated with Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis causing respiratory difficulties. Some symptoms include: cough, dyspnoea, fever and joint pain.
There are many other bacteria that could be present including e-coli that can lead to health issues.
Signs of Poor Maintenance and Treatments
WHITE FLAKES IN SPA WATER WHEN JETS ARE ON HIGH
The first step is determining what the white flakes are. White Mold issues are generally the result of bad water maintenance, typically, not maintaining adequate sanitizer (Chlorine or Bromine) residuals.
Are you using an EPA Registered sanitizer on an ongoing basis?
Does the label on the package show an EPA Registration #? If not, this could be the reason. Many people try to use methods that are offered by irresponsible sellers as an alternative to chlorine. Many consumers are always trying to eliminate or mitigate chlorine in their maintenance regimen. We do NOT recommend doing this. Chlorine and Bromine are great sanitizers.
Calcium Stearate could also be the problem
Extruding hot tub plumbing requires some type of lubricant that allows the tube to release from the hot molding process. Back in 2014, 2015 and a short period in 2016 a plumbing manufacturer used an excessive amount of soy oil as a lubricant. The over concentration of this oil caused and absolute nightmare within the industry as most of the major manufacturers purchased all their tubing from this vendor. When hot tub jets were employed there would be thousands of white “snow globe” floaters causing severe turbidity until the jets were turned off. Calcium Stearate is soap scum.
One last issue in hot tubs with the look of flaking may just be “air bubbles”
Sometimes when hot tub jets are turned on the injector can be the problem. Usually cloudy water from jets is just air bubbles in the water that have not dissolved because the water is over-saturated with air (oxygen and nitrogen). They are small enough to diffract light which is what makes the water cloudy. It clears up when the gas dissipates into the air. That takes time. The same thing can happen in water from a faucet that has an aerator especially in colder water under pressure.
Testing for White Mold:
To check and see if the white floaters are mold you can tell very quickly.
• Trap some in a small container and add a pinch of chlorine bleach to the container. If it is mold the white specks will dissipate almost instantly.
• Calcium flakes will not dissipate with bleach. To check and see if they are calcium based it requires slightly more time and a strong acid, typically muriatic acid. You can collect the white flakes and add a small amount of muriatic acid to them to see if they dissolve. Calcium deposits in solution with a strong acid dissolve.
HINT: Be VERY CAREFUL when handling muriatic acid. This can cause severe burns and don’t stand downwind while pouring. If your problem is calcium you will need to reduce the calcium levels and find the cause of it. You will need to use a good quality test kit as well. We don’t mean TEST STRIPS.
Sanitizers are great at oxidizing or killing what are called “planktonic biofilm cells." These are the cells that have broken free from the biofilm matrix and are in a “free floating” state. However, sanitizers have a difficult time of digging into the inner nucleus of biofilm. This is what the Spa Flush is engineered to do. We penetrate the slime layers and expose the bacteria to the sanitizer. Sanitizer kills the bacteria and microorganisms that it can touch and your purged hot tub will now hold a sanitizer residual for a longer time.
Purge with Spa Flush
TREATMENT FOR WHITE FLAKES
Follow the procedure below to clean spa water that exhibits one or more of the following conditions: This condition could be just high calcium flaking or a Calcium Stearate Issue.
White flakes that are not white-water mold (if present, be sure to follow all steps below)
“Fizzy” or effervescent water when the jets are on (clear when jets are off)
Cloudy or “milky” water when the jets are on (clear when jets are off)
Foamy water when the jets are on (clear when jets are off) Note: For mild cases, the addition of the Hydrogen Peroxide only (Steps 7 - 13) will likely be sufficient to clean the spa water. It is important to let the peroxide soak in the tub for the required time for up to 72 (3 full days) for this treatment to be effective.
SPA WATER NEEDS TO BE SET AT 104. WATER NEEDS TO BE HOT!
Perform an extended pipe purge cleaning for 4 days: Add 1 dose of purge product (e.g., SPA FLUSH) at start, and another dose on day 3. No need to overdose. This is concentrated and works the best for this issue.
Ensure water level is raised higher than normal to get water into all air lines.
Open all air valves, center diverters and cycle all jet pumps a few times daily to work solution through all water and air lines.
Drain and rinse and wipe spa shell. It is ok to drain the water & Ahh-Some Cleaner with all the released bio-contaminants on the ground or grass. Will not harm it.
Clean filters (with filter cleaner) or replace filters. If definitely Calcium Stearate issue you MUST REPLACE THE FILTER(S).
Refill spa with fresh water. Ok to balance pH if it is way off.
Ensure water level is raised higher than normal to get water into all air lines.
Dose with a concentrated Hydrogen Peroxide solution:
27% pool grade (e.g., Aqua Silk Chlorine-Free Shock Oxidizer): add 1 cup (8 oz) per 100 gallons (approximately 1 quart for most spas) Available at select hot tub retailers or Amazon. You can also buy “food grade” 30-36% Hydrogen Peroxide on-line. Still use 8 oz. per 100 gallons.
Note: if you use a lower concentration of peroxide, increase the amount used proportionately
Open all air valves, center diverters and cycle all jet pumps a few times daily to work solution through all water and air lines. Let it set and go and run jets every 3 hours.
Allow peroxide 48 to 72 hours to clean the spa water.
If water is still not clear after 48 to 72 hours, repeat peroxide dose in Step 8 above.
Once spa is clear, you do not need to drain the water, but most people like to do this.
Resume normal spa chemical treatment. Be sure to always use an EPA Registered sanitizer program. Chlorine and bromine are the two most popular programs to use. They work and if you maintain minimum levels at all times your water will be much easier to maintain going forward.
Sanitizers are great at oxidizing or killing what are called “planktonic biofilm cells." These are the cells that have broken free from the biofilm matrix and are in a “free floating” state. However, sanitizers have a difficult time of digging into the inner nucleus of biofilm. This is what the Spa Flush is engineered to do. We penetrate the slime layers and expose the bacteria to the sanitizer. The sanitizer kills the bacteria and microorganisms that it can touch and your purged hot tub will now hold a sanitizer residual for a longer time. In a nutshell, this is what really happens.
Purge using Spa Flush
Use test strips and ensure that spa water is adequately maintained and balanced
Use Spa Flush every 4-6 months or when required based on spa conditions, such as odours, turbid water clarity and changes to the feel of the water
For prevention of hot tub rashes in case of inadequate water conditions, rinse with soap following the time in the spa and wash swimsuit after each use