Whirlpool Tubs Healthy or Unhealthy?
by Building Inspector and Indoor Air Specialist, Dan Schilling
© Copyright 2002 Residential Inspections LLC, All Rights Reserved
So you want to relax in your whirlpool tub?
Whirlpool tubs have become so popular that they are now incorporated into virtually all new construction and remodeling projects. However, most people using these tubs have no idea what it takes to maintain them. They think whirlpool tubs are no different than ordinary bathtubs; just fill them up, enjoy them, and drain when finished. What they do not realize is the biological hazards that loom inside of the circulating water lines and in the pump housing; areas where no one can see. These areas do not drain entirely and can hold small amounts of dirty bath water. In between uses of the tub, this rancid water promotes the growth of bacteria and fungi inside the circulating system.
Bathing in contaminated water is a health concern. There are now reports of urinary tract infections and skin infections, particularly if the bather has an open wound or abrasion. Equally concerning is the risk of respiratory infection as the contaminated water becomes aerosolized from the bubbles in a whirlpool bath. Depending on variables such as the type of biological contaminant(s), length of exposure, and the strength of an individual's immune system, symptoms can also include fever, chills, pneumonia, gastrointestinal problems, central nervous system disorders, diarrhea, nausea, disorientation, confusion and death.
Professional standards do not require home inspectors to inspect whirlpool tubs other than for functional flow and drainage. However, many home inspectors will fill and run the tubs as a complimentary service. Sometimes, we inspectors see scum shooting out of the jets into the tub water. The scum particles may be green, black or brown, depending on what has been growing in the water lines and pump. Lack of visible contamination does not necessarily eliminate concern when microorganisms are involved. Personally, I would never get in one without first being certain it has been properly maintained.
Manufacturers include maintenance instructions with the tubs but they are rarely followed by owners. Instructions usually include occasional sanitizing with chlorine bleach and using dish soap to remove the scum buildup inside of the water lines and pump. However, there are also claims that the instructions are inadequate even when followed. We apologize if this article seems inconclusive but knowledge is currently limited until the manufacturers and the authorities work this problem out.
In the meantime, if you have a whirlpool tub, it may be in your best interest to use stronger chemical cleaners such as those used in hot tubs. They can be purchased in pool and spa stores. These cleaners should do a better job of removing scum buildup and sanitizing. To further control bio-growth, after every use, add an eighth cup of chlorine bleach to the tub and allow the system to run about two minutes before draining the water.
with those you care about.