Can You Get Rid of Biofilm Without Draining a Hot Tub?

Biofilm building up inside your spa is an inevitable part of owning a hot tub. Performing a full drain and refill can take quite a few hours, so is it possible to remove the build-up without having to drain the water?

Biofilm can only be removed by draining the hot tub. Because biofilm lives within the plumbing, a dedicated biofilm cleaner needs to be circulated through the pipes to dislodge the build-up. Thus, the biofilm that is removed from the pipes can only be removed by draining all of the soiled water.

You may have read on other websites about the possibility of removing biofilm using household cleaners such as vinegar. This article is going to take a look at whether that’s possible, along with how biofilm cleaners work.

Does vinegar or sanitizer kill and remove biofilm?

Vinegar doesn’t kill or remove biofilm. Household disinfectant products, like bleach, have been tested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and clinically shown to kill bacteria and viruses. 

Vinegar is not registered with the EPA as an effective household disinfectant. According to EPA standards, a disinfectant should be able to kill 99.9% of harmful germs within 5-10 minutes. Vinegar, however, only works against some germs, like E. coli and Salmonella. 

Any product containing one of the following ingredients can be regarded as a disinfectant:

  • Ethanol (ethyl alcohol)
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Quaternary ammonium
  • Sodium hypochlorite (bleach)
  • Phenolic compounds

You can also identify a disinfectant by checking the product’s label for the EPA registration number. It is usually listed as “EPA Reg. No.”

Examples of potent disinfectants:

  • Lysol disinfectant spray
  • Clorox bleach
  • Lysol or Clorox disinfecting wipes

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends disinfecting surfaces using diluted bleach solutions or alcohol solutions containing at least 70% alcohol. 

Although vinegar has some disinfectant properties, it is not as effective as standard household cleaners. Even regular soap and water are more effective disinfectants than vinegar.

The main component in vinegar is acetic acid. Acetic acid helps break down dirt and is useful as a cleaner since it can effectively dissolve soap scum and shine surfaces. 

Acetic acid can also chemically change the makeup of germ cell structures. However, it is not potent enough to effectively disinfect surfaces. In addition, acetic acid can damage your hot tub surface.

It is important to understand how biofilm forms. Organic matter such as dead skin cells, cosmetics, body secretions, body lotions, body oils, and sweat will cause slimy organic deposits to form in your hot tub. 

Even when you treat the hot tub water with chlorine or bromine, these deposits can remain in the water, settling and sticking to the nearest hard surface. They also act as a food source for bacteria.

Suspended particles, organic matter, and microbes in hot tub water are normally positively charged. They can associate and settle onto surfaces (e.g., inside plumbing) where water is stagnant.

The surfaces are also usually positively charged, but there is no significant charge repulsion. Therefore, the particles, organic matter, and microbes associate naturally with the surfaces.

Once the initial colonization has started, bacteria will quickly begin the process of biofilm construction. Bacteria will enter and exit the biofilm cell matrix. They will settle and form colonies and cell matrices easily. 

Sanitizers are very good at killing bacteria in a hot tub, but they don’t kill all the bacteria. Sanitizers such as chlorine or bromine can only reduce “free-floating” bacteria that live in the water. 

The other 99% of the bacteria are lodged in biofilm, existing as a colony and lurking inside the plumbing, jets, and filter that these sanitizers do not dislodge. 

Sanitizers help prevent biofilm formation, but they don’t get rid of it once it’s formed. This is because the biofilm structure has a protective layer that protects the bacteria from sanitizing agents.

The only way to eliminate biofilm in a hot tub is to use a biofilm cleaner like Ahh-Some Hot Tub Cleaner. Biofilm cleaners need to not only disinfect but also purge the biofilm out of the plumbing. You can’t bathe in water after biofilm has been purged from the pipes as the water would be filthy.

Dedicated biofilm cleaners

Ahh-Some is an EPA-registered algaecide and bio-cleaner. It contains alkyl dimethylbenzyl ammonium chloride (C10-16), which is an ammonium compound with surfactant and antimicrobial properties. This makes it a suitable biofilm cleaner for your hot tub.

Alkyl dimethylbenzyl ammonium chloride possesses gram-positive and gram-negative antibacterial properties. Some of the uses of this ammonium compound include:

  • Broad spectrum disinfectant
  • Phase transfer agent
  • Use as a preservative in cosmetics
  • Use in fungicidal products to kill fungus, algae, and mold
  • Use in formulations of mild cleaners
  • Microbe corrosion inhibition in the oil industry

If proper sanitizer levels in a hot tub are inadequate, it is highly likely that biofilm is present. At this stage, flush out the spa with Ahh-Some. I recommend you follow this routine every time you drain and refill your hot tub. 

Using large amounts of chlorine in the hot tub while running the jets will not completely remove the organic buildup or eliminate the established biofilm.

The proper way to remove biofilm buildup from the hot tub’s plumbing is to use Ahh-Some because it combines surfactants and scouring agents that thoroughly cleanse the piping and tubing of the hot tub.  Ahh-Some degrades the polysaccharides, exposes the contents, and then suspends the loosened debris.

If you’ve been using the hot tub for many months and need to refill it, use Ahh-Some Hot Tub Cleaner for a fresh start. This will dislodge chunks of black, green, or dark-colored matter that will come out from the jets. 

Ahh-Some works at dislodging the biofilm EPS matrix. EPS are mainly polysaccharides, proteins, nucleic acids, and lipids. 

EPS provide the mechanical stability of biofilms and are the reason biofilms can stick to surfaces. They also form a cohesive, three-dimensional polymer network that interconnects and immobilizes biofilm cells.

Ahh-Some quickly breaks through the outside layer of the biofilm and opens it up to let water pressure push it out of the plumbing. This occurs within minutes, and consecutive purges may be necessary since biofilms try extra hard to stay colonized.

Ahh-Some is non-acidic and will not harm hot tub plumbing. You should also note that Ahh-Some is not an enzymatic cleaner. Therefore, when using it in sanitized systems, add a shock dose of the sanitizer during treatment. 

This practice ensures that the Ahh-Some dislodges cells back into planktonic condition, allowing the sanitizer to work effectively.

Joshua Milton

Joshua Milton is a seasoned hot tub enthusiast. With many years of experience in the industry, he offers valuable insights on hot tub maintenance, health benefits, and relaxation techniques.

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