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Help: some chemical causing allergic rash from hot tub


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@dlleno @RDspaguy 

Hey folks! Sorry for the delay here, I wanted to wait until I could get you more information thanks for the patience. I had ordered new phenol red for my PH test and also ordered the Hot Tub Serum that you recommended so I wanted to test both of those before I reported back- they came last night! So I added the hot tub serum and it foamed a little like the directions said, but otherwise seemed good. My PH tests slightly high @ 7.9 but for now I'm just leaving that alone. My reaction seemed unaffected by the hot rub serum (for better or worse), but I am going to keep using it even though it's expensive. 

I have used the hot tub now 4 times since 5/8, the first two times/4 days in I had no noticeable reaction, then very slightly the next time I had the same issues. It starts very mild then seems to get worse and worse after a fill like last time. 

My water looks crystal clear and amazing, so there's that! But I remain very sad that something is still not right for me. 

Open theories: 

1) there's still some biofilm etc in there (?!). Is it possible for it to grow more and get worse if my chlorine is staying above 3ppm which is why my symptoms get slowly worse?

2) Is it possible for me to be allergic to the chlorine converting cartridge method that this uses? I think it's titanium based- the first time I used the spa I hadn't enabled the chlorine producing system yet.... interesting.

3) MPS/MPS bi-product buildup after time goes on

@tagyeritThis has been truly eye opening for me, we thought if our water was clear we were doing everything right- NOT SO! We also learned about the importance of CYA. I feel like we have our water care almost figured out so it's very exciting, even if it wasn't my skin problem.

THANK YOU ALL!

Cassie

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this is a good opportunity to "over purge" if you will, to help rule out the factor of biofilms.  one thing we know -- you got better.  So you could still have biofilms in your spa.  all automatic dis

@dlleno true very good point; I was going to ask about leaving the ahhsome in overnight and I think it's a wonderful idea. I hear you on putting the filters in after we think we got most of the gunk;

Oh No....o yuk is horrible and very weak (read my blog i tested this head to head with ahhsome.).   Even the label directions indicate that the company is clueless .  They dont know how biofilms work

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Well Cassie, you've tried everything you use in the bathtub except generated chlorine. Your salt system breaks apart sodium chloride (salt) into it's base componejts of sodium and chlorine. Your chlorine combines with organic contaminants becoming chloramines. Both chlorine and chloramines are oxidized from the water by ozone.

But sodium (a reactive alkali metal that does not exist in pure form in nature) is also created. I am no chemist, but was a bit disturbed by reading the wikipedia description of this element and how it reacts with water. I understand now why it can cause pool filters to explode, as it produces both sodium hydroxide and hydrogen by "stealing" the oxygen from the water molecule and leaving the hydrogen behind.  I can find no information on how it might react with ozone thrown in.

I want you to get rid of the salt water and unplug the salt cell. It may be a complete waste of time and water, but I can think of nothing else. And, frankly, I would like to know if that is the cause. I suspect you would, too. We've come this far, let's finish the tests.

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I think the combustible byproduct here is hydrogen gas which, if trapped inside of a filter could create some excitement if a spark was nearby. normally it harmlessly evaporates into the air.   I'm not aware that elemental sodium itself is created -- that would truly be a disaster because sodium is highly unstable in water that is absolutely true.    Back in the day, high school chemistry pranksters were known to take elemental sodium from the lab (it can be stored in oil), wrap it in some layers of tape or something, and flush it down the toilet..  if the plumbing itself stays in place (instead of blowing it up)  you get explosions of water all over the place.  

anyway now you've got me curious -- if some elemental sodium is created when NaCL is converted to Sodium hypoclorite then I'd like  to know, for sure.  the primary byproducts of electrolysis here are hypobromous acid itself and sodium hypo, which are both good things.  One of the advantages of salt water chlorine generators is that they create a localized high-concentration of chlorine in the cell, that oxidizes chlormaines.  but the disadvantage is that you have to swim in salt water.  

But in any case I'm in favor of simplicity here -- maybe there is some issue with the hydrogen outgassing or the combination of that and salt water?    I don't know but I'm with RD here -- as an experiment, lets get your spa back to the simplest possible chemistry, with ordinary dichlor in balanced water. another bonus of doing such a conversion is that you can dose with ahh-some and sneak in another purge.  I would still not rule out a biofilm contamination, but your next ahh-some purge should give you some insights there (does it release anything).  

while we're jumping ahead of ourselves here you have another card to play -- bromine.  but lets get you back to straight traditional chlorine first,.  no salt in the water just pure unadulterated balanced water with 3--ish ppm chlorine.  if you are allergic to the chlorine then add some sodium bromide salts and convert your (still dichlor) spa into bromine.  

 

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Thanks folks I agree we have come this far- I've absolutely gotta know what the issue is here! 

This is definitely over my head with chemistry, but I love the simple experiment. Is there any way to get my water tested for biofilm/bad stuff? I wish I had access to a different hot tub to try, but in this period in time that's not going to happen. 

I'll definitely sneak in another purge with ahhsome I was thinking the same thing!! Yay bonus purge. 

I'll try to sneak this drain/refill in this weekend. 

Cass

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this is a good opportunity to "over purge" if you will, to help rule out the factor of biofilms.  one thing we know -- you got better.  So you could still have biofilms in your spa.  all automatic dispensing mechanisms cover this up by "over sanitizing" to compensate for the sanitizer consumed by the biofilms themselves.  you mentioned a test  for biofilms -- they exist but are very expensive and wouldn't change your protocol here anyway.  the closest thing to a test for biofilms is the 'sanitizer decay' rate test which looks for decay rates above normal. but in this situation we don't have a "normal" baseline so we can't rely on that test.  you could shut down the chlorine generator and see how fast things go to zero, but with Serum in the water tha test is confounded as well.

so you're kind in deep water here re:  your ability to test for biofilms.  what you can/should do is repeated purges .  I would also (on each purge) extend the soak time to overnight (spa dosed with ahh-some, chlorine at 50ppm with bleach).  I would perform at least two more -- so one purge right away, drain/refill and dose with ahh-some again, but this time put the filters into their  normal positions (assuming you get no new release).  run the jets for 30-60 min with water dosed with ahh-some and chlorine -- wipe up any residue that you find.  your goal is an ahh-some dosed spa, with filters in their normal positions, and releasing no new material.  

Also here is a trick I found that works -- I would do this on your first purge if you dont get much release -- double up on the ahh-some dose and to control the foam just use an ordinary foam-down type product.  this will increase the strength of the Quaternary ammonium Cations in there for even more biofilim releasing goodness.  When doing this trick -- only use as much foam down as needed to keep from becoming the region's foam distribution center - some foam is good because thats the surfactants working.  

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@dlleno true very good point; I was going to ask about leaving the ahhsome in overnight and I think it's a wonderful idea. I hear you on putting the filters in after we think we got most of the gunk; I also did that on the second purge last time. I just purchased some of the de-foamer for the extra dose of the ahhsome if the first dose doesn't produce much so once I get that I'll start the process! 

Thank you all for the continued support and energy to help figure out what's going on! Eventually, we will get this and it will be glorious.

Cassie 

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Compared to my spa of 31 years, you sure add a lot of chemicals.  I fill mine with tap water, add an oz. of sodium bromide powder, and use a floater with bromine tablets.  I check pH and adjust if necessary with sodium carbonate if pH is too low, and bisulfate if too low.  If just a little off for pH, I use Arm & Hammer baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to buffer the pH.

Changing out the water every 3 months or so is not abnormal.

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7 minutes ago, Cusser said:

Compared to my spa of 31 years, you sure add a lot of chemicals.  I fill mine with tap water, add an oz. of sodium bromide powder, and use a floater with bromine tablets.  I check pH and adjust if necessary with sodium carbonate if pH is too low, and bisulfate if too low.  If just a little off for pH, I use Arm & Hammer baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to buffer the pH.

Changing out the water every 3 months or so is not abnormal.

As a former industrial chemist, do you have any insight on the salt cell system and residual sodium converting to sodium hydroxide and hydrogen? I know it's a long thread, but we have got into some pretty deep waters and would love to hear your opinion on that subject if you wouldn't mind reading the thread from the beginning.

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7 hours ago, RDspaguy said:

As a former industrial chemist, do you have any insight on the salt cell system and residual sodium converting to sodium hydroxide and hydrogen?

No chance of residual sodium converting to sodium hydroxide.  And the system will not convert water to oxygen and hydrogen either. 

The system will reduce (reduction) of chloride to hypochlorite. That's why such pools and spas use salt added to the water.

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Thank you, that is good to know. 

Since salt cells are known to cause filters to "explode" when operated without water flow through the cell, can you also explain that process? I have been led to believe this was a result of hydrogen produced as a byproduct of the chlorine generation process. If hydrogen is not produced, do you have any insight as to a cause? Could chlorine gas builup cause this?

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@RDspaguy @dlleno

OK internet friends, I've got an update! I was able to get my de-foamer for the weekend and I did my first purge on Saturday. I put in double ahhsome dose and it foamed a lot, so I put in the defoamer but I think I put in a little too much because a lot of the foam went away which I realize is a bad thing. I was shocked at how much more crap came out on this purge... I sort of expected almost none. I wiped up the amount shown in the first photo maybe 2-3 times. Then it stopped producing more crap. This was done with the filters floating in the tub. It's a full day of my effort to fill and drain the tub every time, this is really getting old and super time consuming.

Due to seeing what came out (even though it was NOTHING compared to the purge 3 weeks ago) I did a second fill and purge. This time, I double dosed it again and left it overnight for a deep clean. Not much came out on that time, except for what we believe is iron particulate. You can see the individual particles and they seem to be slightly ferrous. We use a filter on our hose to fill the tub, but we have a lot of iron in our water (almost no calcium). Every fill for the first day or so we get a ring of bright orange around the edge of the tub but after that it stops and we rinse the filters. We do use metalgone which seems to help when we actually condition the water. At the end of this purge we put the filters back in place and didn't get any more crap out, so we drained the tub. 

The scumball is a photo of what the iron crap looks like, it's brighter and much lighter than the biofilm that we see when we do the purge on the "treated" water. That goes away pretty quick. We do know from water testing we do have iron and copper in our city water.  

As of right now here's the situation: salt system is shut off with no salt in the water (although I don't think I can remove the titantium cartridge and run the tub, it leaks out a little drip hole without it!), we are manually adding liquid chlorine, we have our TA @ 110PPM, CA at 120PPM (we are slowing getting this higher), PH around 7.5. CA got a little higher than expected at 40PPM. I added the directed amount of the purple hot tub serum in this fresh water along with borates PH lock after the water was balanced. I have NOT used any MPS in this fill, and will continue not to. How do I oxidize during the once a week shock- just add extra chlorine? I would normally shock to 10ppm and put a couple oz MPS in and run the jets for 20 minutes.

Tonight is the first night that the water should be usable, so I will be in it for sure!! We will know in ~7 days if I get a reaction or not, I will be sure to update everyone :) We are being ultra careful about not letting the chlorine drop.

Thank you all for your continued attention and support!! You're truly my only hope :P 

Cassie 

 

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You previously said you tried each of your chemicals in your bathtub, I assume that includes serum, borate, metalgone, and mps? I should point out that this list of 4 is already one more chemical than I own.

I only bring chlorine to 10ppm at fill-up or if I spill my beer. Do you have ozone? If not, how long does your chlorine stay above 5ppm?

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@RDspaguy Yep I tried all 4 of those things in the bath tub at hot tub temp for the same period I sit in the hot tub. FYI This fill up I am NOT using MPS. Maybe I shouldn't add more hot tub serum and try to keep it simple? I used it last fill a few times and it didn't seem to change my reaction that's the only reason I added it. 

You never shock your hot tub to 10ppm? I was told to do that weekly. I do have a corona discharge ozone. I haven't really paid attention to how long the chlorine stays above 5ppm without us using it, since my hubby uses it so often. I will try to pay attention to that. 

How do you oxidize the spent chlorine? 

On this fill (like usual) I had to also add dry acid to get the PH down after adding baking soda to up the total alkalinity. Both of which I have also tested in the tub.

Cassie 

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Hi Cassie:  Please do NOT double dose the Ahh-Some when purging.  Adding more than the required amount does nothing for you except use more product.  Also, using de-foamer  is really not needed if you add the required amount of gel. We actually want foaming to occur since much of the active ingredient in our gel is part of the foam you see.  Foam is your friend during a purge.  We strongly recommend that everyone read the complete instructions @ www.Ahhsome.com.   Cassie, your hot tub rash (Folliculitis), was probably caused because your water had an opportunistic bacteria called p.aeruginosa.  This can be a very common bacteria in hot tubs where biofilms form because these nasties are not oxidized or eliminated by sanitizer when they are hiding and protected within the film.  Hopefully, you eliminated the biofilm inside your plumbing with the purges.  From now on, purge every 4-6 months and always maintain a residual sanitizer. 

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A few thoughts:

ozone is a strong oxidizer and, even in a chlorine spa, creates localized oxidation of contaminants that chlorine misses.  but I rather agree with RD -- ozone eats chlorine so its kind of a catch-22.  I turned my ozone generator off when I'm using chlorine.    ozone with bromine is quite another matter 🙂

Cassie -- yes, even though I am a fan of Serum I would start simple in your case.  first, purge multiple times until the recommended ahh-some dose produces no new material and your filters are in their normal positions (what I call the cleanest spa known to man).  then balance pH (dont' target TA), treat for metals only  if that is a problem, turn the SWG off and use straight dichlor at 3ppm. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

@dlleno  @RDspaguy

Hey folks- since my two purges on May 27th, unfortunately, 10 days in after about 5-6 uses I got the itches again. Usually it starts this way, where I can use the tub for a while on a new fill then it creeps back. I at first feel these little pin pricks all over, then a crawling feeling which turns into extreme itches. If I keep using it, then it morphs into a rash. Biggest issue is sleeping... I stopped using it after the first stage so I don't get the rash again, and just used it again tonight so we'll see. So strange that last fall I used the hot tub for 8-9 weeks with no issues what so ever..... at the same frequency of use. 

So I suppose I could do another purge and not use the metalgone (however I know I have high iron content in my city water and have had problems with it).... I only ever did one dose of the hot tub serum (even though I added that in to the tub before with no issue, if I purge again I wouldn't use it). I guess I was under the impression (from some other folks) that I needed to add PH locker of some kind, but I clearly I should try without that too.... 

Someone mentioned how a water test for biofilms/other nasties etc might be expensive; but I think that I'm at that point. I would like to know if that's still a possible issue or not; maybe I could send a water sample and just get it broken down of everything it contains? Given my hot tub was a very expensive purchase, and I've purged 7 times and bought lots of expensive chemicals, I wouldn't even blink at a couple hundred dollars. 

This is super unfortunate and quite saddening, but I guess there are still a few things we can eliminate on the next try. Is it worth trying bromine instead next purge!?

Cassie 

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I am at a loss, I am sorry to say. I can't imagine another purge doing any good. I would avoid metal sequesterants and anything else not absolutely necessary. Only sanitizer, oxidizer, and ph adjusters are necessary. I would also keep sanitizer levels at the low end of acceptable range (2-3ppm) and ph at 7.4 - 7.6. I can't imagine it is chlorine related, but it can't hurt (any more than it already does) to try bromine if you haven't already. 

I don't know what else it could be. Source water or temperature in conjunction with exposure time? Unlikely, but we are about out of options. 

I am sorry you have had these issues. I wish we could figure this out.

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  • 7 months later...

@dllenoSorry for not responding to your question- yes, then I put the filters in the tub with the ahhsome, and more gunk came out, then I did that until each  there was no material that came out, purged until it was clean, then I cleaned the shell and filled. This was the case for the last few purges. 

This last purge, the last thing I could think of (at least giving us more information) was to have ONLY me use the tub. This time, I made it 4 weeks instead of 2 weeks on the fresh water until I got the rash and itching/crawling skin. The chlorine never got below 3ppm the whole time I was using it. This is with only adding chlorine after the water was balanced with dry acid, CYA, and Calcium. So clearly there's something about the water being 'used' more?

@Apollothesun I am sorry that you are having trouble also.... I am extremely demoralized, and heartbroken that my dream of having a hot tub is ending this way. Sounds dramatic... but it sucks!!

I am ready to try some homeopathic remedies at this point even though I am super suspicious of that, because it can't hurt and I've exhausted my dermatologists ideas (they were not helpful to begin with). 

ANY other ideas, happy to entertain. We will be ready for another purge next month, my husband has been using it exclusively since July.  I am wondering if just filling the hot tub, balancing and treating, then letting it sit empty for 4 weeks then trying it will tell me something? 

THANK YOU ALL for your continued support you are all amazing! 

Cass

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Hi Cassie, 

I'm going to throw this out there just in case something in my situation provides a thread to follow for you.  I also have an issue with a rash. It's not as disruptive as yours but it is bothersome and unsightly. When it's bad it keeps me up at night.  It is definitely worse with use of my tub, and might possibly be induced by it.  My rash is 100% localized to my stomach and lower back, and more prominent on my ribcage (i.e. not so much on the center of my stomach).  Nothing on my legs, chest or 'where my swim trunks go'.

One thing I can say for sure is that Winter time is when it happens (at least so far).  I spend a lot of time outdoors in the Summer and my skin is exposed to sunlight more. A dermatologist once diagnosed it as 'winter rash', which is just severely dry skin that is further aggravated by hot water or other stimulants. I've only owned a hot tub since September, but even before that when I visited a hotel or whatever in the winter a hot tub would trigger this rash.  I didn't pay close attention enough before, but now that I own the tub I'm taking closer notice to the season when it happens. Where I noticed you are also in Massachusetts and subject to cold temperatures I thought I'd mention that.

I can't say for sure this might be a clue because the rash doesn't completely go away between hot tub soaks, but intense exercise also makes it worse. This is particularly the case if I wear a shirt that is tight around that area. I guess what I'm pointing out here is that in the cold temperatures, when my skin is drier, heating up this area either by hot tub or exercise seems to make this worse.

The best remedy for me, which seemed counter intuitive at first for dry skin, is gold bond powder.  I used to try lotion or 'Aquaphor' and the additional moisture seemed to aggravate it more. Powder dries up the rash and helps much more.  In fact, plain corn starch works even better or at least as well. I always shower after getting out of the tub just to rinse off (in addition to before getting in).

Now that I own a tub, I will definitely pay more attention once the warm weather gets here to see if my rash goes completely away or remains. Like you, no one else in my family has any adverse reaction when using the tub.

Not to be gross, but I'm adding a picture of my rash that I sent to the dermatologist mentioned above for comparison. This was right after getting out of the tub. It looks a bit like acne but like you say it goes away after a bit, and doesn't exist anywhere else on my body. The other thing that I will mention, only because you mentioned that you had Lyme, is that I had shingles in my late 20's.  Which is pretty young to get them.  The dermatologist also mentioned that the neurological nature of shingles can cause all kinds of future 'flare-ups'.  I'm certainly not a doctor, but if Lyme can have a similar affect it might be something to talk to your doctor about.

Anyway, I hope your situation works out.  I'm still hoping to find a clue as to what triggers this for me, but for now it's not bad enough to keep me out of the tub.

Rob

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Cass -- you made a very interesting observation -- that the problem gets worse over time, and that you can go four weeks now instead of two.  that tells me you have achieved partial success.  But to me it sounds like your skin is sensitive to the accumulation of something in the spa water -- for example maybe its just the total dissolved solids.  The only way to fix that is to drain more often.  There is also the accumulated CYA itself.   have you tried bromine (you could run a  bromine spa with zero CYA, although I don't know of anyone who has tried this...).     how about a silver cartridge with a low level of bromine?  

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Hey rcderm313,

i have similar skin conditions.  After getting a prescription from my doctor of silver sulfadizine 1% cream it helped with the flareups.  after 10 days i switched to triamcinolone for ongoing spots.  I've tried using the Antifungal Antibacterial Soap and Body Wash made by Miracle Skin on Amazon for worst spot flareups.  It helps a little, and briefly cools the skin.  Also Yardley oatmeal bar soap works good and Aveno lotion after showers works good too.   Im going to try spaguard natural enzyme a month into my water and see what it does.  if nothing improves, i will be draining and restarting this weekend with ahhsome on the list.  

Anybody else have any suggestions for itchy skin?

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