Hot tubs can be gross. Here's why

Germs love the warm water just as much as you do.

Emma Jones 4 minute read March 15, 2021

Hot tubs can be soothing, but they can also breed bacteria if imporperly sanitized. Taryn Elliott/Pexels

Former Jackass star Bam Margera was hospitalized last week after his new tattoo developed a staph infection. According to his Instagram post, he developed the infection after entering a hot tub soon after getting inked.

“I deserve it and it f***ing hurts very bad,” Margera captioned his Instagram post from the hospital.

Bam Margera received a staph infection after using a hot tub shortly after getting a new tattoo. bam__margera/Instagram

It’s no secret that even the best-kept hot tubs aren’t always super sanitary. Pool operators report finding toe-nail clippings, band aids and the occasional tampons in public hot tubs. Plus there’s also a smorgasbord of germs that love the warm water just as much as you do.

Higher temperatures in hot tubs create the perfect home for a host of bacteria. What’s more, the jets commonly found in many models also function as an aerator, increasing the presence of oxygen in the water and with it, the amount of bacteria that is able to thrive.

To push back against the growth of bacteria in hot tubs, owners are recommended to keep disinfectant levels at a specific concentration. However, this can be a constant battle. The most common disinfectant, chlorine, evaporates quickly in warm, aerated conditions, so the water must be constantly monitored to ensure these levels stay in an acceptable range.

Hot tub rash, hot tub lung, and more hot tub-isms

Bacteria that grow in hot tubs can cause a host of issues.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacteria that is commonly found in water and soil, does very well in hot tubs and spikes as disinfectant levels begin to dip. This bacteria is the culprit behind what’s known as hot tub rash: itchy red bumps that typically appear along where the seams of your bathing suit were. In more serious conditions, you might also find pus-filled blisters around hair follicles.

If Pseudomonas aeruginosa, or various other bacteria found in the water, gets into your ear — say from dunking your head under the water — it can cause an ear infection known as swimmer’s ear. Symptoms of swimmer’s ear include yellow, cheese-like discharge from the ear canal, itchiness, and pain in the ear or jaw.

While it is fairly common knowledge that you shouldn’t put your head under water in a hot tub, not many people know that inhaling the steam that arises from these tubs can also be dangerous. Hot Tub Lung is a respiratory infection caused by inhaling specific forms of mycobacteria, which thrive in warm water and are often found in hot tubs.

In 2015, a 77-year-old woman from New Zealand was experiencing constant breathlessness after using her hot tub twice a day to help manage the pain of her osteoarthritis. Through a lung biopsy, doctors discovered that two types of bacteria had made themselves at home in her chest, Mycobacterium phocaicum and Mycobacterium avium‐intracellulare. Other cases of Hot Tub Lung have also been reported in teenagers and adults.

Legionella, the culprit behind a serious type of pneumonia called Legionnaires’ disease as well as the Pontiac fever, is also found in hot tub water that isn’t maintained properly. Similar to Hot Tub Lung, patients come into contact with Legionella from the hot water inhaled contaminated mist.

But the risks don’t just come from the bacteria. While bathing in hot water does provide some benefits, it can also negatively impact the body.

Men who are looking to have children might also want to avoid frequently using hot tubs. Getting too hot down there can cause testicular heat stress, which negatively impacts sperms mobility and their general ability to get the job done.

Women who are pregnant are also advised to limit their use of hot tubs since raising core body temperature during early pregnancy is linked to neural tube defects in the developing fetus. These defects can impact the spinal cord, brain, and skin in a developed baby.

Hot tubs still have some benefits

Hot tubs aren’t all doom and gloom, however. Despite the litany of creepy crawly friends you contend with while sitting in a public bath, there have been documented health benefits to frequently taking a dip in warm water.

A recent study on the health benefits of hot tubs looked at health surveys from more than 11,000 residents in Beppu, Japan. Beppu has one of the highest natural hot spa concentrations in the world, and much of the city’s population uses these spas daily. The researchers found that habitual spa use correlated with decreased rates of hypertension in women and cardiovascular disease in men. There also seemed to be higher rates of colon cancer survival among men.

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