Floating and flotation therapy is an enjoyable experience with many benefits, and if you are reading this, you may be wondering if it’s safe to float while we are dealing with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic which was recently declared a national emergency by multiple countries, including the United States.
At the time of writing this, international travel has been severely restricted, with the entire country of Italy is under quarantine and the United States has significantly restricted travel to and from infected countries, including the European Union, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and China, as well as limiting travel between states known to be hotspots for the recent outbreak.
Additionally, sports leagues from professionals to collegiate and even recreational have either cancelled upcoming events or postponed play, schools nationwide have closed or taken their classes online, and many businesses have told employees to work from home, in order to limit the spread of the highly-infectious disease.
While we are not health professionals or epidemiologists, Royal Spa has also been very concerned with the safety of its products and customers. When it comes to float tank sanitation and quality standards, Royal Spa is the leading global authority. In fact, we’ve worked closely with international organizations such as the Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) in the United States and the Directorate-General for Environment in the European Union to create international safety and environmental policies for float tank manufacturers in some of the world’s largest economies.
This article is intended to set the record straight by giving you a clear understanding of the health and safety standards for a) float tank manufacturers and b) float tank operators which have been set by law, as well as provide guidance for float enthusiasts around the world.
To start, we’ll give you an overview of the actual policies and the governing bodies that have set them. We’ll then follow up with industry best sanitation practices and equipment you can use to reduce exposure to harmful diseases, germs, and limit community spread.
For more information about coronavirus infection symptoms, how to diagnose and treat it, here’s a link to what the CDC is saying about the coronavirus.
Although compliance standards vary state to state, when it comes to sanitation and public health concerns, many countries look to the Michigan-based NSF International for policy recommendations. Formerly the National Sanitation Foundation, NSF International is widely known as the authority on product sanitation procedures.
In addition, like other governing bodies, NSF International has a certification arm that helps consumers make better decisions regarding product hygiene.
True or False: Royal Spa is the only manufacturer of NSF-certified float tanks…
Within the float industry specifically, the Float Tank Association establishes its own standards and best practices for float tank operators that often go above and beyond generic industry provisions.
To float so with zero effort, the float tank solution must fully offset the user’s body mass, achieving neutral buoyancy.
As a rule of thumb, float tank solution should have specific gravity (SG), or density, of between 1.23-1.30 in order for users to float effortlessly on top of the water. (For reference, the Dead Sea has a specific gravity between 1.17 and 1.23).
At this density, it’s impossible for humans to fully submerged without the addition of external weight.
The average float tank needs between 800-1,000 pounds of magnesium sulfate (epsom salt) with 150 to 200 gallons of water to create a between 25-30% salt solution to achieve a specific gravity between 1.23-1.3.
While it’s possible to increase the density of water by other means, magnesium sulfate is the standard ingredient in float tank solution for many other reasons.
For one, magnesium sulfate is abundant, inexpensive, and reusable. At around $20 per 50 pounds, under normal circumstances and with proper maintenance, you can reuse your float solution indefinitely.
In addition, magnesium plays a key role in nerve transmission and neuromuscular conduction within the body. Magnesium deficiency, often caused by excessive fluid loss from exercise, can lead to cramping, mental confusion, convulsions, and interruption to the digestive system.
Although magnesium is usually taken in by dietary practices, there is some evidence to suggest that it can be absorbed through the skin during the act of floating for extended periods. Arguably the most important role of magnesium sulfate outside of increasing float solution density, is its antimicrobial properties.
The surface of the earth is roughly 70% water, yet as the old adage “water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink” suggests, in raw form its not suitable for consumption. This is because the salt content of ocean water is higher than what’s found within the body, and albeit, counterintuitive, drinking salt water draws water out of the cells. In mammals, it doesn’t take much to lead to diarrhea, dehydration, and the shutting down of the nervous system.
But the impact of highly saline water does not stop with just human cells. The chemistry of any organism with a semipermeable cellular membrane, no matter how complex or simple it may be, will be altered in a highly saline environment such as in float tank solution. For bacteria and viruses, this disrupts the process of reproduction that is essential for sustained growth, though the time it takes to do so is not universal among organisms.
Unlike other viruses, what’s most concerning about the novel coronavirus is its ease of transmission and how rapidly one’s health can deteriorate after showing symptoms. It’s been reported that the incubation period for the coronavirus is several days, during which time the infected is highly contagious.
As has been reported by many scientists, pathologists and epidemiologists, COVID-19 can have an incubation period anywhere between 5 and 12 days. This is particularly alarming as you pass the disease onto others even if you are showing no symptoms of having the virus. And although we’re seeing that it may be no worse than the common cold of flu in healthy individuals, immunocompromised individuals and those with preexisting health conditions, such as the elderly, are particularly vulnerable.
As a rule of thumb, individuals are encouraged to take extra preventative measures in order to limit the community spread of the coronavirus. Commonly suggested hygiene practices include:
Although floating has been around for decades, there’s still many misconceptions. However, organizations like the Floatation Tank Association are helping to increase the general understanding about the industry.
In the introduction to FTA’s North American Float Tank Standards it states “In jurisdictions that do not already have standards for float tanks, there is often an attempt to initially place them in the same category as pools or spas… Equating pools and spas with floatation tanks may create unintended negative consequences to the health of the floater and place unfair and unnecessary burden on the float tank operator.”
Floating is not like swimming. It’s not like hot tubbing. It’s a completely different experience and so is the way users interact with the water. For the vast majority of users, floating is a solitary activity. This means that when you float, there is no one to share the space with. Unlike going to a gym or swimming pool, exposure to cross-contamination between individuals is very limited for many reasons.
As a rule of thumb, float tank users are to thoroughly rinse themselves before using the tank, removing oils, lotions, and any germs that may be present on the skin or hair. They also shower afterwards to remove any residual salt.
Whereas swimmers often swallow water inadvertently, with floating the mouth is never submerged. Children known to contribute to fecal contamination in pools and spas, however, float tanks are almost exclusively used by adults, reducing the chances of contamination due to someone not properly relieving themselves.
Additionally, float tank users are given a thorough understanding of the floatation process — the do’s and don’ts, as well as how to maintain proper hygiene throughout the process.
Although float tank solution is a highly inhospitable environment for biological growth, float tank solution is thoroughly treated between uses. Royal Spa float tanks sterilize float tank solutions by radiating the float solution with ultraviolet (UV) germicidal rays after each treatment. The radiation is used to penetrate cells and destroy the genetic materials (DNA/RNA).
As per NSF International policy, “a floatation system shall be equipped with a float solution treatment system that provides a minimum of 3-log [99.9%] or greater, kill or inactivation of bacteria in the main vessel after completion of the cleaning cycle when tested in situ.”
Additionally, Royal Spa float tanks incorporate Ozone generators to disinfect the solution, surfaces and air within the tank. Ozone (O₃) consists of two oxygen molecules strongly bound together with a third oxygen molecule weakly bound that separates and reattaches to other substances, whereby altering the chemical composition. In other words, ozone is a very powerful antimicrobial.
Ozone is over 50X more effective than chlorine bleach and works over 3000X faster. With a very short life span, ozone is rendered inactive and harmless prior to use.
View the full current floatation tank standard operating procedure document here.
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