All About Hot Tub Rash


Ever been on vacation or visiting a friend’s house and developed some unpleasant side effects after getting in and out of the hot tub? Ever gotten that obnoxious rash of red bumps under your swimming suit after leaving your swim suit on too long? Unfortunately, there’s a chance you may have contracted hot tub rash, otherwise known as hot tub folliculitis.

About Hot Tub Rash

Hot tub folliculitis is caused by bacteria known as pseudomonas that make red bumps at the base of hair follicles that can spread if scratched. Bacteria and microorganisms love to breed in warm, damp places which makes a hot tub an ideal breeding location for all these nasty critters. While hot tub sanitizers are meant to eliminate these bugs from the water, if you’re in a hot tub that isn’t properly maintained (hopefully one over which you have little to no control), side effects like hot tub folliculitis can result.

People sometimes mistake hot tub rash for an allergic reaction to chlorine or bromine. While that kind of reaction is a possibility, it’s more likely it’s caused by bacteria. Hot tub folliculitis is known as a Recreational Water illness (RWI) defined by the hair follicle becoming inflamed or infected by bacteria. Others may mistake it for bug bites, depending on how severely it manifests itself on a bather. It could show up anywhere from 24-72 hours after exposure to the unsanitary water.

Bumps typically develop in areas where the bacteria-ridden water is trapped by a swimming suit. Children are particularly susceptible because they usually stay in pools and hot tubs longer than adults and leave their suits on long after they’ve left the water. This is a huge part of the problem. Swimmers should always take their swimming suit off as soon as they’re done swimming and shower with soap and water as well as wash their swim suit adequately.

Avoiding Hot Tub Rash

Whether you’re a hot tub owner or just a recreational user, there are things you can do to avoid getting swimmer’s rash.

  • If you are visiting a hotel hot tub or a friend’s, to the eye and smell test. If it doesn’t look clear (you can’t see the bottom) or the smell is mildewy, DON’T get in the water.

  • After using a hotel hot tub, get out of your suit immediately and wash yourself with soap and hot water. Rinse your suit and lay it out to dry, preferably in the sun.

  • If you’re in charge of young children, be sure they take off their suits as soon as they’re done with the water. They’re not likely to take the initiative on their own.

Prevent it in Your Tub

Bacteria thrives in environments where the water isn’t properly sanitized. No matter what kind of sanitization you employ in your hot tub, you should make sure there’s enough to keep bacteria at bay.

  • Test your water using a test strip or drop kit once or twice a week (depending on usage) to ensure proper pH, alkalinity, total hardness, and sanitizer levels.

  • Shock your hot tub once a week, more during times of heavy usage.

  • Before a routine hot tub refill (which you should do every 3-4 months), purge the system to clear out any stray water or accumulated gunk in the pipes and around the jets.

  • Use a pre-filter when you refill your tub with new water.

  • Clean your filters frequently. Use a filter cleaner for proper sanitization and let your filters dry completely before storing or putting back into the hot tub.

  • Take good care of your hot tub cover. Mold and mildew can grow on these if not taken care of and can in turn contribute to unhygienic water. If your cover is water logged or smells of mildew despite your repeated attempts to fix it, consider investing in a new one.

Treating Hot Tub Rash

If you do happen to contract hot tub folliculitis, there are a few things you can do to treat it.

  • DON’T SCRATCH! I know it probably itches, but scratching it leads to the spreading of rashes. Most hot tub rash should clear up on its own if not irritated.

  • Wash the area where you have bumps twice a day with a mild antibacterial soap. Wait for it to air dry before covering it with clothes.

  • Use a WARM compress to promote the sores to drain—this will make it itch less. Make the compress by running a clean washcloth under warm water, squeezing it out, and applying it directly to the rash. Change washcloths before each treatment.

  • Some dermatologists suggest a compress of one part white vinegar, one part cool water for 15 minutes twice a day. Consider alternating between hot compresses and cool compresses.

  • Use an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to relieve itching and inflammation.

  • Monitor the rash closely and watch for spreading. Be mindful of increased swimming or pain.

  • If it persists or worsens after a week, see your doctor. You may need to treat it with antibiotics.

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