Bugs in the Tubs

Texas consumers take on the whirlpool business--and that mysterious black crud shooting out of their bathtub jets

Booth, who in the late 1980s owned a small whirlpool manufacturing company in West Texas, says Sanijet tubs were an invention that grew out of problems he encountered with whirlpools over the years. First, he developed a cleaning solution for whirlpool pipes, then he began marketing a cleaning machine, then he set out to design and make a better tub.

"People trust the manufacturers and what they are saying is correct," says Booth. "We say they shouldn't. It's a real David and Goliath fight."

Last month, the company threw a stone in federal court, filing suits against Jacuzzi and Kohler accusing them of falsely claiming that their tubs fully drain and are free of contamination and bacteria. The companies deny those claims.

Scene of the grime: Top, the Jacuzzi tub in Ted Marules' new $20,000 bathroom. Middle, some of the residue left in a whirlpool bath. Bottom, the guts of a typical fill-and-drain whirlpool tub, which some Texas consumers claim are a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.
Mark Graham
Scene of the grime: Top, the Jacuzzi tub in Ted Marules' new $20,000 bathroom. Middle, some of the residue left in a whirlpool bath. Bottom, the guts of a typical fill-and-drain whirlpool tub, which some Texas consumers claim are a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.


The big unknown in all of this is how many people really are unhappy with their traditional whirlpool tubs, a product introduced during the Vietnam War era that is now pitched as a desirable, life-improving gadget, a move forward in the modern American house.

How typical is Bill Thomas, an insurance agent, who three years ago bought an 11-year-old custom home in Coppell?

Thomas, who says he used a whirlpool tub once before at a hotel, says he never used the whirlpool in the master bathroom at home. He's a shower guy. But his girlfriend likes taking baths, so he decided to check out the tub.

"I turned it on, and there was this junk, just black junk coming out of the jets," he says.

He tried cleaning it, flushing out the system, and a lot of gunk came out. But rather than fix the problem, it merely reduced it. "It's still not completely clean. It looks cleaner, but when you turn off the jets, you can still see all this filth floating around in the bubbles," he says.

Thomas, who doesn't know which manufacturer made the tub and has no idea where the manual has gone, says he's not contacted any companies. He hasn't filed any complaints or talked to any lawyers.

He simply lets the tub sit unused. "The crud coming out, it's bad, I'm telling you," he says. "That whirlpool is worthless. No way I'm getting in."

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