Mold Meltdown

Understanding and addressing persistent flakes in spa water

For many spa owners, the fight against flakes in their spa water is a familiar and persistent battle. They drain and refill the spa only to find that a few weeks later, the flakes have returned. Even after incorporating a plumbing cleanser, these flakes endure. After so many cycles without results, some owners just resort to selling their spas.

So what causes these flakes and how can spa owners rid themselves of this problem? 

It starts with white mold, which is an airborne spore that thrives in wet or damp areas such as garden hoses, dehumidifiers, spas, pools, children’s bathtub toys and hot tub filters that are reinstalled while not completely dry. In spas, it usually takes the form of flakes that resemble pieces of skin or tissue paper in the water, but sometimes the mold takes the form of salt, sand or even a pastalike substance.    

 White mold can affect even the best-cared-for spas and can:

  • Develop in spa plumbing from the time that the spa was wet tested at the factory to the time it is filled up in the client’s backyard, or even in the time between when it was drained in the showroom and is delivered.  
  • Occur if a spa has been drained and left empty for a few days.
  • Be introduced to the spa when it has been filled from a garden hose that has developed white mold.
  • Enter the spa water from children’s pool toys that had white mold. 
  • Drift into the spa water through the air while the lid is open.  

White mold can remain in a tub and be kept at bay for months and even years by conventional sanitizers. But, if sanitizer levels drop, the white mold can spread to a point that it becomes apparent (often 6-8 weeks before it’s noticed). Left unattended, it can overwhelm a spa and jam the pumps.

Thankfully, there is a solution. Spa owners can prevent white mold by decontaminating the spa with granular chlorine or bromine.

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 To decontaminate, leave the headrests and filter in the spa, then add chlorine at the ratio of 2.5 ounces of chlorine per 100 gallons of spa water. 

For this treatment, the chlorinated water must be distributed throughout the entire plumbing system. Ensure that all jets, valves, waterfalls, water features, aerators and diverters are open. If the tub has a floor drain, ensure some of the chlorinated water is bled through the drain at the onset because built-in drains are a dead end in the plumbing, and the chlorine will not naturally make its way here, but the white mold will.

Check the chlorine reading after 24, 48 and 72 hours. If at any of these intervals the chlorine is anything less than 30 ppm, treat the water again with chlorine and start the timer over at 72 hours. Do not use the spa during the decontamination process.

After 72 continuous hours of successful chlorination:

  • Remove your filter and clean it. 
  • Use a plumbing cleaner.  
  • Drain the spa.
  • Install the clean filter and refill the tub as per the spa manufacturer’s directions.

Chlorine will kill the white mold so that it doesn’t grow, but it will not make the flakes vanish. When you refill the spa, any flakes you may see are dead and will be filtered out or can be manually removed. If there is an overwhelming amount of flakes when you refill, consider draining and refilling the spa one more time.

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