Hydrotherapy Sanitation Solutions

In the midst of research for this month’s Water Solutions story, I had the pleasure of interviewing Don Genders, managing director of Design for Leisure, a company specializing in custom concepts and prefabricated elements for wet areas of spa and health resorts. He shared so much helpful information about designing smart hydrotherapy areas in spas, there wasn't space in the article. Here’s a snapshot to help you improve the water journey at your spa:


Q: What are the main sanitation concerns in spas and specifically hydrotherapy circuits?

A: These fall into two categories, one deals with the actual design of the facilities, the other with the housekeeping and management of the facilities. Hygiene is a crucial factor in every element of the modern spa. It should start from the earliest design stages and bringing in specialist designers is vital to the success of any project. From condensation control by using construction materials with the correct R Values, through the creation of effective waterproof ‘tanks’ when building steam rooms, to avoiding niches and recessed that are hard to clean and inspect. Proper ventilation in every area, (yes, that includes steam rooms), to ensure a good flow of oxygen for bathers and a good flow of air when closed to aid in the overnight drying out of all areas.

As hardly any codes apply to thermal bathing cabins, (saunas, steam rooms, ice rooms etc.), outside a few countries in Europe, there is even greater risk to public health here. Legionella can be and often is fatal and poorly designed steam rooms, plumbing and ventilation systems provide the perfect breeding ground for this disease, while black mold associated with wet gypsum boards has been proven to have a massively negative impact on respiratory ailments and asthma–frequently the very conditions people hope to find relief for by using steam rooms!


Q: Have laws for sanitation changed recently, what do spa owners need to know to keep up to code?

A: The laws, when they even exist are frequently out of date with modern technology. Keeping up to code isn’t difficult for spa owners as they are few and have existed for years, so spa owners need to ensure they are using industry professionals to advise them on how best to provide a sanitary and hygienic environment for their guests, as only then can owners and operators be sure they are using the latest technology and designs.


Q: What are the best tools for maintaining a safe, clean hydrotherapy environment?

A: The best tools are your eyes, if you are an operator, you should remember you can only expect, what you inspect. So vigilant inspections of all front and back of house areas is vital. Where technology exists, use it; make sure your pools have the latest automatic analysis and dosing technology to provide perfect quality bathing water. Embrace modern water treatment systems, the pool industry is one of the last on the planet using sand filtration systems, these were dropped years ago by the oil industry and the wine and milk processing industries stopped straining liquid through muslin in favor of centrifuge filtration systems. Spinning the solids out of liquids is efficient and cost effective, it is ‘green’ and saves thousands of gallons of water a year as it removed the need to backwash traditional sand filters which results in large volumes of water being dumped.


Q: How can spa owners/directors design a hydrotherapy area with lower risk for bacteria and mold?

A: Bacteria and mold can be designed out of wet spa areas. First of all the construction methods and products should be carefully accepted. Gypsum and cement boards should not be used in any wet areas, these products have now been removed from Swedish building codes as unacceptable materials for use in anything from a domestic bathroom, though to commercial spas. Studies have shown the link between these building boards, black mold and the link to asthma and bronchial conditions, suggesting the increase in asthma globally is a direct result of the increased use of these sorts of products. There are tested, proven and certificated alternatives and professional spa designers know these and would never design a spa using anything else.

A spa should be designed to be easy to clean, designers have an obligation to avoid fussy, intricate details. The frequency of grout joints in tiling, the correct use of high modulus silicone caulk on joints, even the correct use of tile trims on external corners makes cleaning easier all round. The use of cleaning machines may seem easy, but if the spa isn’t designed for their use, then they can cause a lot of damage. Pressure hoses give the sense they are doing a good job, but will damage grout joints in a single use. Low-pressure steam cleaners are a preferable and more efficient alternative.


Q: What hydrotherapy areas are prone to bacteria and mold and what can spa directors do to keep them safe?

A: Steam rooms and showers are the worst, but pool surrounds and indoor pool halls generally are a problem. If the wrong materials are used in construction, then this problem will not be easily eradicated once mold has set in, so relining walls with the correct materials is often the only solution. Steam rooms must be ventilated, they should have fresh oxygenated air supplied all day and the warmer dry heat at high level should be exhausted, while at night, the door should be left open and the ventilation system will then enable the cabin to thoroughly dry overnight.

I cannot stress enough that all the problems with modern buildings are avoidable, but within the architectural and building services design community, there is extremely limited knowledge of these ‘wet spa areas’ as their proliferation around the world has only grown up over the past 20 years in many parts of the world and in the U.S. their popularity on a grander scale started even later.


What are your sanitation strategies for your spa’s wet areas?