The importance of cleaning and correctly storing diving equipment after each dive
With diving equipment regularly coming into contact with water, perfect conditions are created for micro-organisms to thrive. It is therefore good practice to ensure that equipment is properly cleaned, dried and stored between dives. Particular care needs to be taken with equipment that could potentially cause the inhalation of spores (e.g mouthpieces).1
Other possible human health implications include fungal skin infections and eye infections such as conjunctivitis.
Aside from any contaminants affecting human health, aquatic life such as parasites and fish pathogens can be transferred from one dive area to another if diving gear and equipment isn't cleaned in between dives. This can be harmful to the environment and ecosystem.
In relation to this, a journal published in 'Medical Mycology' looked at micro-organisms isolated from improperly stored scuba gear and the possible impact on human health and the marine environment:
"In searching for the etiologic agent of an Exophiala infection of a dolphin in the Mediterranean Sea (unpublished data, F.J. Cabañes & M. Domingo), H. werneckii was isolated from moldy scuba diving equipment, such as silicone masks, straps and snorkel mouthpieces, kept in bad storage conditions."2
Equipment should be thoroughly rinsed after each use as well as being disinfected regularly. Rinsing with potable water and thorough drying is a minimum requirement after each dive. If there is no available clean, potable water, bottled or sterile water should be used for rinsing. Diving equipment / clothing should also be fully rinsed before and after applying disinfectant. 3
Any equipment that is due to be stored for a long period of time before its next use should be disinfected before storage.4
It is important to regularly and effectively clean equipment with care taken to follow any instructions from the equipment's manufacturer. Drying is also an important part of the process. Equipment needs to be thoroughly dried so that there are no damp areas left for microbes to take advantage of.
It should also be noted that the use of communal rinse tanks has been known to cause cross infection amongst divers so ideally, this should be avoided. 5
Care needs to be taken that any cleaning agents used aren't harmful to health or the equipment. In the same way that diver's lungs need to be protected from spores, they also need to be protected from the inhalation of strong chemicals. A cleaning agent that is safe for use and has a low COSHH rating is required. It also needs to be able to eliminate a wide spectrum of micro-organisms.
It is also necessary to ensure that any disinfectant is thoroughly rinsed off the equipment after use so that no residue is left.
Virkon 1% disinfectant is a widely used diving equipment cleaning product. It has low acute toxicity and does not cause skin / eye irritation if used correctly.
Research related to combat diving (conducted by the Canadian Military) found that a formulation of Virkon (Virkon S)* was the most effective cleaning agent for disinfecting diving equipment. The report looked at the suitability of the disinfectant in terms of toxicology in relation to cleaning re-breather equipment. In the study, Virkon S met all the essential criteria set out by those conducting the research. 6 To meet criteria, the disinfectant needed to:
- not cause undue risk to human health
- kill the full spectrum of micro-organisms that divers could be exposed to
- be compatible with equipment 7
Regarding the health implications, the article states:
"If the product is used as prescribed by the manufacturer, Virkon S is not deleterious to the health or equipment of divers and it is effective against microorganisms to which the divers may be exposed." 8
"Although a residue should not be present if correct manufacturers procedures are adhered (thorough flushing of the system with water), further assurances of complete removal of Virkon S can be made by testing the surface with starch iodide paper ."
If the disinfectant is still present, the paper will turn blue. 9
As with all things that could impact on health / the efficacy of equipment, divers are advised to thoroughly research disinfectants before use as well as asking the advice of equipment manufacturers / related advisory committees etc.
Further advice on how to clean diving equipment can be found in this Health and Safety Executive document: HSE "Cleaning of Diving Equipment".
*Virkon S is a formulation of Virkon aimed at use for the care of animals. Rely+on Virkon Disinfectant is based on the Virkon S product but was renamed for the healthcare industry / human applications. It was developed as a human grade alternative. As stated in this publication on The Bristol University website:
"it is marketed under several names including Virkon-S (for animal applications) and RelyOn Virkon (for human applications). The active formulations are the same but due to GMP requirements the human use form undergoes more stringent manufacturing controls."
Disclaimer: Please note that this article is not recommending the use of any particular product. It is stating evidence from published research and RMS advises that the reader comes to their own conclusions / conducts their own research regarding this.
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