Ashkahn and I just got back from the World Aquatic Health Conference
in Indianapolis. It was a mix of scientists, manufacturers, pool operators, and health department regulators from across the country (and a handful from around the world)… and the two of us, sporting large mustaches, color therapy glasses, and a few hundred Beginner’s Guides
We realized how big the world of recreational water use is, and how little that we personally knew. Surprisingly, we also realized how little anyone knows about certain topics, even at the highest levels.
As a result, we’ve been redoubling our own education, and are launching into a new (and even more rigorous) regimen of water testing for the float tanks. Three of us owners even completed a training course and are now Certified Pool Operators. More on this, and our on time at the WAHC, to come in future posts.
For now, we want to share an overview of what we know about sanitation in the float tanks- we hope it’s helpful.
Sanitation in Float Tanks
Most float tank sanitation falls into 3 categories: using proper sanitation/filtration, cleaning and operating your float tank properly, and making sure people don’t bring in too many contaminants in the first place. The nice thing about float tanks is that we have a lot going for us that normal pools and spas don’t.
Unique Benefits of Float Tanks
- There is only one bather at a time (for most tanks)
- People don’t wear bathing suits (which bring a lot of bacteria with them)
- People are (almost) always showering right beforehand. Mostly with soap.
- There is no exertion in the tank (or high temperatures), so people aren’t sweating or splashing.
- You’re unlikely to get much water in your eyes.
- You’re VERY unlikely to swallow any tank water.
On top of that, the high concentration of magnesium sulfate prevents nearly all organisms from multiplying, and will often kill them off over time. Note that this does NOT mean that organisms cannot survive in the water, even for a significant amount of time. Using and maintaining disinfection is crucial.
Proper Cleaning Schedule
Doing all of the basic, but essential, things (filtering the water for 3-5 turnovers between each float, cleaning your filter regularly, changing out all of your water when necessary, etc) will go a long way to maintaining clean, salty water.
One of the most important parts of proper float tank care, which isn’t immediately apparent, is cleaning the inside walls of the tank on a regular basis (2-3 times a week). The parts that are out of the water are in a very humid environment, and are very friendly to an array of micro-organisms. Make sure you get inside, wipe them down, and clean them thoroughly with a disinfecting spray (we use an H2O2 spray cleanser).
Most important to the sanitation of your float tank is your actual disinfection method. By this we usually mean:
- Chlorine / Bromine
Chlorine and bromine are generally avoided by the float tank community, because of the lack of testing for chlorine/bromine by-products in an enclosed space, specifically in the air. Also for the unknown effects of the magnesium sulfate, both on reacting with the chlorine and in accurately measuring a residual.
H2O2 is used by many float centers, but it is not currently accepted for pools and spas in any health standards in the United States. There hasn’t been as much research on H2O2 as a pool disinfectant as there has been for ozone and UV. We think this is because it’s pretty expensive when trying to disinfect larger amounts of water, and so there hasn’t been a big impetus to adopt it in the pool industry. More importantly, H2O2 can be unstable if not stored properly and can degrade quickly. H2O2 is the primary disinfectant that we use at Float On (maintained at 100ppm), although we are currently considering switching to ozone.
Ozone is also used by many float centers, and an ozone unit comes as an attachment from many manufacturers. Ozone is only effective when the water is passing through the ozonator, which means there’s no residual of ozone in the water at all times like chlorine or bromine. For this reason, ozone is generally only accepted as a secondary system to chlorine/bromine in pool regulations, because pools and spas with multiple people in them need the assurance that the water is being sanitized even when it’s not passing through the pump system. Float tanks that only allow a single person at a time don’t have to be concerned about this, because the water is treated between every person who floats.
One concern with ozone is that ozone gas can be very harmful, usually requiring certain levels of ventilation to make sure the ozone gas levels are under control. Float tanks are a very small space, and often do not have the best air re-circulation. We’ve been unable to find documentation for studies of the residual ozone gas in the float tank’s enclosed environment. It is, however, still much more widely recognized as a legitimate form of disinfection than H2O2 in terms of Health Departments, and is legitimately a stronger sanitizer.
UV is typically used as a secondary disinfection method even in float tanks. It helps remove chloramines from chlorinated water (the dangerous chlorine by-products that are in the water and air), and works well with H2O2 and ozone to disinfect the water. UV is the same as ozone in the sense that it only works while water is passing through the UV unit in the pump system, and does not leave a residual or buffer in the water. The bulbs will also deteriorate in quality over time, and because of the high density of the float tank water, appropriately powerful units are necessary.
The effectiveness of both ozone and UV can be tested using an ORP meter (oxidation reduction potential) which measures them indirectly by telling you how well your water can oxidize new contaminants coming into it.
A plan for maintaining your float tanks is only as good as the people implementing it. Make sure that you have a good system for tracking all of your information, and that everyone working the shop is fully trained. Working with chemicals can not only be tricky, it can be dangerous. The health and safety of your employees and customers is, it almost goes without saying, paramount.
Graham Talley, Co-Founder, Float On