LiquiTech Blog

Plumbing 101 for Healthcare Infection Preventionists 

As an infection preventionist, ensuring patient safety is a top priority. Access to clean and safe drinking water is crucial throughout patient care, making plumbing a critical component in maintaining a safe healthcare environment.  In this blog, we will discuss the importance of plumbing in infection prevention, plumbing equipment associated with increased infection risk, and strategies to mitigate these risks. 

Common plumbing equipment in healthcare 

Water-bearing equipment can pose infection risks if not properly designed, maintained, and monitored. Infection preventionists should collaborate with facility staff to ensure the regular inspection and maintenance of valves and other plumbing equipment to minimize potential biofilm formation, water stagnation, and other infection risks and incorporate these activities into water management programs. Common plumbing infrastructure in healthcare facilities that can increase infection risk, include: 

  • Valves 
  • Recirculation pumps 
  • Storage tanks and water heaters 
  • Water softeners 
  • Dead legs in pipes 
  • Cross connections in pipes 


Plumbing valves such as gate valves and check valves regulate water flow and prevent backflow. They play a crucial role in controlling the direction and rate of water flow within a plumbing system. However, if not correctly sealed and maintained, valves can allow contaminants to enter the water system. They can also harbor pathogens within the biofilms that form on their inner surfaces, further increasing the risk of contaminants being introduced into the water.  Valves should be regularly maintained and inspected for deficiencies to ensure proper operation. 

Recirculation pumps 

Recirculation pumps are devices used in plumbing systems to circulate hot water throughout a building. They play a key role in providing hot water quickly and efficiently to all outlets in the building. However, if not sized, installed, or maintained properly, recirculation pumps may increase the risk of infections by contributing to a favorable environment for pathogen growth. 

Storage tanks and water heaters 

Storage tanks and water heaters are crucial components of water plumbing systems, used to store and heat water for various purposes such as bathing, washing, and cooking. They are designed to maintain a steady supply of hot water at all times, ensuring convenience for the users. Tanks and heaters can harbor and contribute to pathogen growth by providing a warm water environment. This can be compounded through configurations that may lead to sediment accumulation, stagnant conditions, and temperature stratification. They pose additional risks such as leaks and corrosion if not maintained properly 

Water softeners 

Water softeners are devices designed to remove minerals such as calcium and magnesium from hard water. The purpose of using water softeners in building water plumbing systems is to prevent mineral buildup in pipes and appliances, which can reduce their efficiency and lifespan. However, water softeners may increase the risk of infections by creating an environment that promotes the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms within the water softener. If softeners are not planned or designed properly, they can also reduce disinfectant residuals, further increasing the risk of waterborne pathogens. 

Dead legs in pipes 

Dead legs in plumbing pipes are sections of pipe that do not experience sufficient flow or use. These stagnant areas of water can become breeding grounds for harmful bacteria, such as Legionella. If not effectively managed, dead legs can pose a health risk to building occupants and compromise the overall quality of the water system. 

Cross connection in pipes 

Cross connections in pipes occur when two different plumbing systems, such as a drinking water system and a non-potable water system or between the hot water system and cold water system, are connected by a common pipe.  However, cross connections can pose a serious risk to building water plumbing systems by allowing water to flow between the two systems which can impact temperature delivery, disinfectant residuals, sediment levels, and even contamination of waterborne pathogens, potentially causing illness for those who consume it. 

Strategies for infection prevention 

There are various strategies to prevent infections when it comes to water-bearing equipment. 

  • Regular maintenance and inspections to check for biofilm, corrosion, or other issues 
  • Frequent temperature checks to ensure water temperature is not conducive to bacterial growth 
  • Regular flushing of systems to prevent water stagnation 
  • Implement water treatment solutions to control and prevent waterborne pathogens in the water system, like copper-silver ionization and sediment filtration 
  • Install point-of-use filters in areas where vulnerable individuals may be exposed to the water 
  • Regular water testing to catch the presence of harmful pathogens 
  • Educate staff on risks associated with water-bearing equipment and how to maintain them 
  • Create a clear plan of action if an outbreak occurs  
  • Consider plumbing designs that minimize risks like dead legs and stagnation 

All these elements above should be incorporated in the facility’s water management program, to provide a legally defensible program to mitigate the risk of waterborne pathogens. Understanding the importance of plumbing in healthcare settings is critical to preventing the spread of infections. By implementing the strategies discussed in this blog, you can help mitigate plumbing-related infection risks and foster a safe healthcare environment. 

Plumbing 101 group training

Are you interested in a comprehensive plumbing training? LiquiTech’s group training sessions elevate your team’s knowledge, improve your water management practices, and offer the ability to earn continuing education credits, if applicable. Request the Plumbing 101 for Infection Preventionists training today.

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