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Archive for the ‘Chemicals & Water Chemistry’ Category

Hot Tub Enzymes: Frequently Asked Questions

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hot tub enzymesThere are many chemicals that help to keep your spa water clean and clear. However, one of the most effective products for boosting sanitizer efficiency and removing organic materials from the hot tub technically isn’t a chemical at all – it’s a protein! We’re talking about hot tub enzymes.

What are Hot Tub Enzymes?

Enzymes are biological catalysts that accelerate chemical reactions without undergoing changes themselves. In the case of spas and hot tubs, enzymes attach to non-living organic materials in the water, including body oils, lotions, cosmetics, dirt, sweat, dead skin cells and other unsavory substances. The enzymes work to break these down into smaller particles, helping reduce sanitizer demand and prolonging the life of your filter.

How do Hot Tub Enzymes Work?

Once an enzyme attaches to the organic materials in the water, it becomes much easier for sanitizers like chlorine and bromine to break them down.Think of enzymes as a natural digestion aid for your hot tub. Since they don’t attack living organisms like algae and bacteria, enzymes are not considered a sanitizer. However, they do supplement your existing sanitizer in keeping the water clean and clear. Without an enzyme, organic contaminants start to accumulate at the water’s surface and along the waterline as a greasy layer of scum. Not only does it look bad, but this scum can also clog up your spa filter over time.

How Long do Enzymes Last in a Hot Tub?

Once organic material has been broken down in your hot tub, the enzymes are free to move on to the next contaminant. Their molecular structure is not changed during this chemical reaction, so the enzymes remain in your water for continued use. They don’t get used up in the same way that sanitizers do. Most hot tubs only require a small weekly dose to maintain an effective level of enzymes.

Will Enzymes Work for My Hot Tub?

Yes! Hot Tub enzyme products are compatible with most popular sanitizers, including chlorine, bromine, ozone, biguanide, saltwater chlorine generators and mineral systems. They are specially formulated to tolerate the warm water temperatures.

Why are Hot Tub Enzymes so Popular?

Enzymes are incredibly useful as a clarifier, foam preventer, odor eliminator and a remover of surface scum and waterline stains. They also help to prolong the life of your filter, slow the rate of biofilm buildup in plumbing and reduce sanitizer demand. To top it off, enzymes are non-toxic, non-corrosive, hypoallergenic, biodegradable and environmentally friendly. Why not give ‘em a try? Hot Tub Works carries leading enzyme products from brands like Leisure Time and Rendezvous.

Spa & Hot Tub Chemicals for Dummies

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spa-chemicals-for-dummies-book2In today’s post, we follow up on our popular Beginner’s Guide to Spa & Hot Tub Care, and get more granular with our newest installment: Spa Chemicals for Dummies.

The book pictured is not a real book – not one that you can purchase, anyway. And by no means am I calling our blog readers dummies; it’s just a fun title used for an in-depth informative guide on using hot tub chemicals. Because such a book does not exist, this post will explore some basic hot water chemistry topics that may confuse a novice hot tub owner.

Subjects like how to test water, what chemicals are needed for a hot tub, how to treat common water problems, as well as info about alternative sanitizers like ozone and minerals will all be included in this blog post.

So, without further ado, here’s our in-depth guide to hot tub chemistry. Or, as we like to call it, Spa Chemicals for Dummies!

 

Types of Spa Chemicals

We carry more than 100 different spa and hot tub chemicals in our online store. No wonder it can be so confusing for new hot tub owners! To help make it easier, we’ve broken this section down into six categories of chemicals, each with a short description of what they are, when they’re used and for what purpose.

Balancers: Spa chemistry is not overly complicated. When I speak about “water balance” and balancing chemicals, some people’s eyes glaze over, but it’s really quite simple! Balanced spa water is simply when your spa chemical readings are all within the proper ranges. Specifically, we want chemical ranges for pH at 7.4-7.6, total alkalinity at 80-120 ppm and calcium hardness at 150-250 ppm. When all three are within range, your water is balanced. If you really want to geek out and determine more accurate water balance, you can use a Saturation Index calculator. Of all spa balancing chemicals, pH reducer is probably the most commonly used. This is because pH and alkalinity tend to rise in spa water, and a pH decreaser effectively reduces both. If spa water is soft or you’re noticing low hardness levels, raise it with a calcium booster. For a low pH and/or alkalinity test, use a pH increaser and/or alkalinity increaser to raise the levels.

Clarifiers: If your spa water is cloudy and lacks clarity or sparkle, it may be time for a new spa filter cartridge. If the filter is fine, there may be issues with water sanitation. Clarifiers are polymers that have a positive charge and attach themselves to negatively charged water particles floating around the hot tub. What starts as a microscopic particle eventually ends up as a large clump of hundreds of particles, large enough to get trapped in the filter. That said, clarifier chemicals are used for spa filters that need a little help, or when water conditions turn poor. Be careful not to overdose with clarifier however, or it may have the opposite effect and gum up your spa filter. If your hot tub water is always clear and sparkling, you may have no need to use a clarifier chemical.

Cleaners: In this category of spa chemicals, we have cleaning chemicals for your spa filter cartridges, cleaner and conditioner for your spa cover, cleaning and polishing products for your spa shell, as well as Jet Clean to purge biofilm buildup from your plumbing lines. Generally speaking, you should NEVER use household chemicals to clean your spa or accessory items. The only exception to this rule is using a mild soap, but only if you rinse it thoroughly afterwards to prevent the spa from foaming. In my own spa, I use filter cleaner, spa cover conditioner (my tub gets a lot of direct sun), and I use Jet Clean once or twice per year to prevent buildup in the pipes.

Sanitizers: A sanitizer is the everyday chemical used to kill pathogens like bacteria, fungus, mold, viruses, etc. Most spa owners will use either bromine or chlorine as the main sanitizer. Granular chlorine is hand-fed when chlorine is preferred, or you can use bromine tablets, which is usually the easiest route. You can also use sodium bromide (a.k.a. bromine booster) and then a small amount of spa shock (either chlorine or MPS) to activate the bromide salts into bromine. Never use chlorine tablets in a spa, as they’re formulated for use in swimming pools and are often too strong for spas; doing so could damage spa surfaces and equipment. You must keep an active level of sanitizer at all times in spas and hot tubs – about 2-4 ppm bromine or 1-3 ppm chlorine. If the level drops below the recommended range or near zero, pathogens, algae and other contaminants will begin to grow and multiply quickly, even in hot water and even when covered tightly.

Shocks: Spa shock is also a type of sanitizer, but it’s used differently than normal spa sanitizers. Chlorine and non-chlorine (MPS) spa shocks are quick dissolving and fast acting. Shock is used to kill anything that your daily sanitizer has missed, or it can be used to supplement your daily sanitizer, such as after a four-person soak in the spa. Spa shocks are also used to activate bromide salts and convert them into bromine. If you use bromine tablets, this isn’t necessary. But shock is still useful for giving the spa a sanitizer boost after heavy use, or as a regular weekly or biweekly shock treatment just to be sure the water is sanitary. Another use of spa shocks is to kill algae, remove foul odors, correct water discoloration or poor clarity, or resolve a variety of water issues from many causes. For best results, always check water balance and adjust as necessary before shocking a spa. Follow label instructions for treatment info and dosage to match your spa size in gallons/liters.

Specialty: Specialty spa chemicals are chemicals that don’t fit neatly into the other categories. Chemicals like Foam Down or Foam Out (removes surface foam), Metal Gon/Defender (keeps metals and dissolved solids in solution), enzymes like Natural Clear (dissolves oils naturally), algaecides (prevents algae growth in hot water spas) or Leak Seal (seals up small leaks) all fit into this catch-all category. You may have some need for these chemicals at some point to resolve water-related issues in your spa. Then again, you may be lucky and only rarely need specialty chemicals. Some people also group aromatherapy products into the specialty chemicals category, but these are not for correcting a water balance or hot tub issue. Aromatherapy is for YOUR benefit, and can be used anytime you settle in for a soak. At least when you need specialty chemicals, you’ll know where to find them!

 

How To Test Spa Chemistry

There are two ways to test hot tub water – with test strips or with a test kit. Unless you fancy yourself a chemist and prefer to use a titration test each time, I usually recommend multi-purpose test strips, which test for all the important stuff in just one to two minutes. The secret to spa chemistry is not sold in a bottle, but it is pretty simple. Just test your spa water two or three times per week with regularity, and adjust in small increments as needed. You will begin to see patterns in the water’s chemical fluctuations, especially if you keep a test log book. Even if you don’t write down your readings or enter them into an app, over time you’ll come to know your own hot tub’s chemical personality.

 

How To Store Hot Tub Chemicals

  1. Keep out of reach of children.
  2. Store in cool, dry location at 50-80° F.
  3. Only open one container at a time.
  4. Tight lids keep out moisture, children and prevent spills.
  5. Protect chemicals from spills, mixing and contamination.

We’ve covered the topic before with some neat spa chemical storage ideas, but the general idea is to, number one, keep out of reach of children. Secondly, store spa chemicals in a cool, dry location, which usually means indoors. Temperatures of 50-75° F are best for prolonging chemical shelf life, helping to prevent gas formation or the hardening of granules. Always open, use, and tightly close only one chemical at a time. Tight lids keep out moisture and small children, and also prevents spills, accidental mixing or contamination. Very important tip: never allow spa chemicals to mix with each other or become contaminated with any substance (dirt, leaves, etc.). A fire or explosion could result. Also, don’t hang onto old spa chemicals; use them up or dispose of them. If you live in an earthquake zone, it’s recommended to keep chemicals close to the ground, and not high on a shelf where they may fall and spill their contents. Again, make sure children can’t access these chemicals.

 

What Chemicals Do I Need for a Spa or Hot Tub?

  1. Spa sanitizer – usually bromine or chlorine
  2. Spa pH increaser and decreaser
  3. Spa alkalinity increaser
  4. Spa calcium hardness increaser
  5. Spa shock – either chlorine or MPS

As a minimum, you’ll need most of these spa chemicals. You’ll likely use pH reducer more often than pH increaser, and probably adjusting the levels two or three times per month. Total alkalinity and calcium levels will usually hold steady for a month or more once it has been adjusted after a spa drain and refill. Spa shock will be needed for weekly use, in addition to a regular spa sanitizer for daily use. You may also have a need for other chemicals from time to time such as filter cleaners, metal removers or clarifiers. Many of our customers like the convenience of our Spa Care Kits, which are complete 6-month chemical packs for bromine, chlorine or Nature2 spas. These kits include a pre-filter for your water hose and up to a dozen other items.

 

What are Natural Spa Chemicals?

  1. Mineral sticks
  2. Ozone
  3. Enzymes

ozone-minerals-mpsFor those that want to avoid the smell of chlorine or the slightly softer scent of bromine on your skin, try approaching water sanitation from a different angle. Instead of using chlorine or bromine, you can use Spa Mineral Sticks, which use silver and/or copper ions to help purify the water. You can also use ozone, injected into the plumbing from an Ozonator. Both of these systems, coupled with regular use of MPS (a non-chlorine oxidizer), some extra filtering and careful attention to good water balance can allow you to operate most spas without the use of chlorine or bromine. Also in the natural chemical category are enzymes, which are natural scum eaters, helping to remove contaminants in the water by naturally digesting them. While not a 100% chlorine-free or bromine-free option, you can also reduce chemical use with a floating mineral system that uses supplemental bromine or chlorine cartridges.

 


 

dummies-guyIf you made it all the way to the end of this post, you are now a well-informed hot tub owner who knows how to properly balance and sanitize spa water! The great thing about maintaining spa chemistry is that if things go really bad, you can always replace the water and start fresh. Then again, you should be doing this every three or four months, anyway. Remember to re-balance your water’s chemistry, and rebuild the sanitizer levels or bromine bank after refilling.

 

Can You Put Epsom Salt in a Hot Tub?

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Can you put epsom salt in a hot tub?

Hot tubs and Epsom salts are synonymous with relaxation and pain relief for sore joints and muscles. Wouldn’t it be great if you could combine the two? Of course! In fact, many people use pure Epsom salts in their bathtubs at home. But can you put Epsom salt in a hot tub? In most cases, the answer is NO. Here’s why.

Chemical Reactions

Pure Epsom salts are an alkaline compound also known as Magnesium Sulphate. The mildly acidic properties of Epsom salts can very quickly disrupt the total alkalinity and pH balance of the water in your hot tub. Unbalanced water can launch a cascade of other problems, including reduced sanitizer performance and corrosion of your hot tub equipment (metal parts, plastic pieces, seals, gaskets, etc.).

Total Dissolved Solids

When using a regular bathtub, the standard recommendation  is to add 2 cups of Epsom salts to feel the full therapeutic effects. Now, let’s think about that for a minute. The average bathtub holds about 80 gallons of water. On the other hand, the average hot tub holds about 400-500 gallons. To reach the same concentration level in your hot tub would require 10-12 cups of pure Epsom salts. That’s a lot of solids being added to the water! A bathtub can be drained quickly and easily, and the water is only used once. Unfortunately, a hot tub can’t be drained as often or as easily, which leads us to our next point.

To avoid scale buildup on spa surfaces and equipment, many spa manufacturers recommend draining and refilling a hot tub when the level of total dissolved solids (TDS) reaches 1500 ppm or higher. Failure to do so can potentially void the warranty. High TDS levels can also cause problems with cloudy water. Using our previous comparison, adding 10-12 cups of Epsom salt to your hot tub will quickly raise the TDS reading far past the 1500 ppm maximum threshold. Spa heaters usually sustain the most damage from scale buildup, but water lines, jets, pool pumps and tub surfaces can also accumulate scale if proper water balance is not maintained.

Alternatives

Rather than pour pounds and pounds of pure Epsom salts into your spa, risking long-term damage to the tub, plumbing and equipment, why not try a safe yet effective alternative instead?

spazazz aromatherapy productsHot tub aromatherapy products offer many of the same benefits as Epsom salts. In fact, most aromatherapy crystals use Magnesium Sulphate (Epsom salt) as the primary ingredient. The key difference is that spa aromatherapy crystals have been specially formulated for use in spas and hot tubs. Smaller quantities are needed to achieve the same effects, and they don’t negatively alter the water chemistry or cause problems with spa equipment. Most spa crystals are also formulated with vitamins, minerals, moisturizing nutrients and natural herbs and botanicals. And of course, there’s the unique aromatherapy experience that can elicit any desired benefit or mental state. De-stress, detoxify, rejuvenate, reduce pain and inflammation, breathe easier, boost energy levels or promote a better night’s sleep – anything is possible with aromatherapy.

There are also alternatives to aromatherapy crystals that promote the same therapeutic benefits. Spa elixirs help you to relax while also softening the water and moisturizing your skin. Revolutionary new spa bombs offer the same benefits as the increasingly popular bath bombs. However, unlike standard bath bombs, spa bombs won’t damage your hot tub equipment, alter the water chemistry or clog up your filter.

Conclusion

In most cases, you should never add pure Epsom salts to your hot tub. Despite this warning, if you still want to try, just be sure to drain and thoroughly clean the hot tub immediately after you’re done soaking to avoid long-term damages to your spa. You can achieve the same therapeutic effects by using spa aromatherapy products, which are specifically formulated for use in spas and hot tubs. These products won’t upset fragile water balance, harm the equipment or cause scale buildup on tub surfaces. Hot Tub Works carries dozens of aromatherapy products from top brands like Cover Valet, PharmaSpa, Spazazz and Zodiac. 

Cloudy Hot Tub After Shocking

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cloudy hot tub water

 

Getting cloudy water immediately after shocking your spa or hot tub is pretty common, and usually considered normal. After all, there are a lot of chemical reactions going on when you shock a spa! Clear water should return to a spa within just a few hours.

That said, when adding just ounces of a spa shock makes the water cloudy, there are probably other things going on. Here are just a few reasons you might be getting cloudy hot tub water after adding spa shock.

 

Swimming Pool Shock

Using pool shock will almost always make your spa or hot tub cloudy. It’s not as refined and the particles are much larger, meaning they won’t dissolve right away. Pool shock is also loaded with calcium, which can be a problem if you’re in a hard water part of the country. If you want to use chlorine shock, use Spa 56 chlorinating compound, which is specially formulated for hot tubs. The best advice for shocking a spa or hot tub is this: DON’T use pool shock. Only use spa shock for spas and hot tubs.

High pH & Alkalinity

Before you shock a spa, it’s always best to check the water’s pH and alkalinity. This is especially true if you add shock right after using the spa – few sweaty bodies into your hot tub can spike the pH and alkalinity levels up too high. When the pH and alkalinity are out of balance, strong shock treatments can knock carbonates and bicarbonates out of solution and make your spa water cloudy. Keep some spa pH decreaser on hand so you can use it to lower both pH and alkalinity.

Hard Water Hot Tub

My water comes out of the tap with a calcium hardness of about 450 ppm. This is high, but not as high as some in nearby desert areas or those drawing from a well. When your spa water is hard, that means it has a lot of dissolved calcium in it. Spas and hot tubs operate best around 200 ppm, and when there is more than that, it can come out of solution as visible scale on spa surfaces. If your spa pH is high and you also have high calcium hardness, shocking can make the spa water cloudy. To avoid this problem in hard water areas, fill your spa with water that has gone thru water softening tanks, or use a pre-filter on your garden hose to keep calcium levels low.

Lotions & Potions

If you host a get-together and there are a lot of people using your hot tub, the water may get a little funky by the end. It’s a common reaction to add spa shock once the party’s over, but then the water turns cloudy. Why? It’s because of all of the body oils, sweat, dirt, makeup, lotion, deodorant and who knows what else that has washed into your hot tub. Spa shock doesn’t do very well with oily gunk. The shock has trouble breaking it down, which can turn your hot tub cloudy after shocking. To prevent this problem, keep your spa as clean as possible and encourage everyone using the hot tub to take a quick shower – or at least be reasonably clean – before stepping in. Using a spa enzyme once a week can also help to break down the oils and organic materials at the root of this problem.

For best results, keep the spa as clean as possible, make sure calcium hardness stays around 150-200 ppm, and maintain proper pH and alkalinity levels to lower the risk of cloudy water when shocking your spa. If cloudy water continues to linger after a few hours, keep reading. We have another blog that can help you isolate and fix the cloudy water culprits hiding in your hot tub: 10 Reasons Why Your Spa Water is Cloudy.

The Chlorine Free Spa – Is it Possible?

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chlorine free spa

It’s a common question that we get in our call center: “Can I run my spa (or hot tub) without chlorine?” The quick and smart answer is usually, “Sure, you can use bromine!” Then they say, “But isn’t that the same thing?” It’s not, really. Bromine has less of a smell, it’s not quite as harsh on skin and hair, and it has other advantages over chlorine.

But seriously, the real answer is YES! You can run your spa without chlorine OR bromine, and still have a safe and sanitary spa. It requires using some modified methods to make sure that pathogens don’t thrive, but it can be successfully done. Here’s how.

 

Replace Your Filter Cartridge More Frequently

For most spas under halogen treatment (chlorine or bromine), I recommend that the spa filter cartridge be replaced every 12-24 months, depending on its size and how much the spa is used. For those who wish to go chlorine free in the spa or hot tub, I’d recommend that you double the frequency, and replace your spa filter every 6-12 months.

Some spa filters are available with more square footage. When you search for a replacement spa filter by dimensions, model number or cartridge number, you may see two spa filters listed. They both have the same dimensions, but one costs more. The more expensive spa cartridge will have more pleats and thus more surface area, which will do a better job of filtering.

Drain Your Spa or Hot Tub More Frequently

Draining the water out of your spa should be done every 4-6 months, depending on your rate of usage or if the water goes bad. For those using a non-chlorine method in the spa, increase the frequency to every 2-3 months, or at least every 4 months.

When draining a non-chlorine spa, be sure to use a purging product to remove any build up inside the pipes, hoses and jets of your spa. Without a halogen residual, biofilms can form faster and create a biohazard in your spa water. I use Jet Clean every other time I drain my spa to keep organics and oils from building up in hidden crevices.

Ozone + Minerals

DEL Ozone MCD-50

For a spa that doesn’t use chlorine or bromine, you need something to kill bather waste and bacteria. My recommendation is to use a spa ozonator and a mineral sanitizer, such as Nature2 or Spa Frog. The combination of these two – an ozone sanitizer and a mineral purifier – takes care of most disease-causing bacteria.

Check on your ozonator regularly to be sure that it’s on and operational, and replace the mineral cartridge as directed, to keep a proper amount of silver and copper ions working. These two treatments working together will do most of the job in keeping your spa water healthy.

Non-Chlorine Shock

Cense shock by Zodiac

Ozone + minerals can do most of the job. But to be sure, you need to oxidize the water, or shock the spa. Non-chlorine shock has no odor, and does not affect water chemistry. You can use the spa immediately after treating the water.

My recommendation is to use a few tablespoons of non-chlorine shock after every spa use, or at least weekly to control and destroy any pathogenic microbes that are able to get around the ozone and mineral treatment.  Also known as MPS, Zodiac Cense is a great product that will oxidize quickly and also adds a nice scent to the water.

Keep Your Spa Water Balanced

This is important no matter what your spa sanitation method may be. However, it’s especially important when you are operating a chlorine free spa or hot tub. Maintain your pH level at 7.2-7.5, your alkalinity at 80-120 ppm and your hardness at 180-220 ppm. Use fresh test strips or fresh reagents and test your spa water at least twice per week, adding water balance chemicals as needed.

Shower Before Using the Spa

shower before using hot tubI know some people (ok, I’ve done it too) who treat their hot tub like a big bathtub. After working in the yard all day or dancing all night, they jump in the spa to “clean off.” Well, when you bring perspiration, body oils, makeup, or if you’ve gone to the bathroom (#2), without washing yourself, this creates a large sanitizer demand in the water.

I’m not saying you must always shower before using the spa. But if you don’t, be sure to give it a good shocking afterwards with MPS.

It can be awkward to ask your friends to shower before coming over, so use an enzyme product to help break down oils and organics, and retain healthy spa water that all can enjoy.

And that’s it! You can successfully operate a healthy spa or hot tub without using chlorine and bromine if you follow these steps above.

Hot Tub Water: Test Like a Boss!

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Manage hot tub water balance with a proper test kit.

Testing hot tub water regularly is important to avoid peaks and valleys of sanitation and water balance. Testing every day is not necessary unless your spa is used on a daily basis. Instead, test the water 2-3 times per week – more often if the spa is used frequently.

When you are only working with 300-500 gallons of water, it’s crucial to be accurate. Otherwise, it’s easy to underdose or overdose your hot tub when adding chemicals. Here, we’ll show you the good, the better, and the best of the business when it comes to testing your spa water.

 

spa test strips

GOOD Hot Tub Water Test

Spa test strips are made to work with hot water, and are “calibrated” especially for use with spas. They are inexpensive, easy to use, and several options are available depending on your needs. You can use test strips that for a single aspect like bromine levels, or you can use a multi-test strip that looks at six (or more) components of your spa water.

Test strips are both useful and economical, and many people use them to keep their hot tub water balanced. However, the wide range of results and hard-to-determine color matching scale can make them less accurate and less reliable when compared to other types of hot tub water tests.

 

BETTER Hot Tub Water Test

AquaChek TruTest Digital Pool Tester

A better way to test spa water is to not abandon test strips, but to simply remove human error from the equation. The AquaChek TruTest Spa digital test strip reader analyzes the test strip from 16 million colors, which improves accuracy of test strip use immensely.

Replacement TruTest strips cost as much (or less) than other multi-test strips, so it doesn’t take much to keep a constant supply handy. The AquaChek digital reader measures free and total chlorine or bromine, pH and total alkalinity with excellent precision in just seconds.

 

BEST Hot Tub Water Test

Taylor Test Kit

The best way to test hot tub or spa water is to use a “liquid drop style” titration test kit. Titration test kits are different, and here’s why. First, you take a water sample in a test vial and add the reagent. Next, you’ll add an indicator solution drop by drop, counting the drops until you achieve a solid color change (from red to blue for example). Multiply the number of drops x 10, and you have your calcium and alkalinity reading, accurate to within 5 ppm. When testing for sanitizer levels, accuracy falls within 0.5 ppm.

titration-test-for-hot-tubs

Yes it takes longer to do a titration test, but not much longer. You can do a full battery of tests (bromine, pH, alkalinity and hardness) in less than 5 minutes. If your balance is off, the charts in the booklet will tell you exactly how much adjustment chemical to add. There are more options available for the type of test you’d like to perform on your hot tub, but the more inclusive tests usually come with a higher price tag.

 


When choosing a hot tub water test, it really comes down to what is most important to you. If you’re looking for unparalleled accuracy, a titration kit or digital strip reader are the both a good way to go. If you check the water often and don’t want to spend a lot of money on testing supplies, regular test strips are a solid option. The digital test strip readers have become quite popular in recent years because they offer a good balance between test strips and titration kits when it comes to cost, accuracy and ease of use.

 

Bromine vs. Chlorine for Spas & Hot Tubs

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chlorine vs. bromineFor the hot tub or spa owner, a thought might enter their head: “Hey, why not use pool chemicals for the hot tub? They’re a lot cheaper!”

So, why not just use 3″ chlorine tablets and powdered pool shock to sanitize your spa? Isn’t it the same thing?

Bromine vs. chlorine – two challengers will fight for the title of best spa and hot tub sanitizer.

ROUND ONE: COST

Trichlor chlorine tablets, the 1″ size, are about 20% cheaper than bromine tablets. The 3″ tablets are over 40% cheaper when you buy in bulk. Chlorine does have a shelf life, however, and after about a year, depending on the temperature it is stored at, the chlorine can lose half of its power. Cal-hypo or dichlor shock, two types of pool shocks, are also cheaper than non-chlorine shock.

Round one goes to chlorine – definitely a cheaper alternative!

ROUND TWO: CONVENIENCE

hot tub works bromine boosterBoth challengers are fairly convenient. Simply purchase a small quantity of 1″ tablets (3″ tablets are too slow dissolving for hot tubs), and put enough in a floating dispenser to give a good reading when the water is tested.

However, bromine requires a bank of built up bromides before you can register a reading with your test kit. Adding another small step in the process, you can shake a little Brom Booster into the tub after draining a spa, or you can use the 2 oz. sodium bromide packets.

Chlorine comes out slightly ahead in round two.

ROUND THREE: STAYING POWER

Bromine is not as easily protected from the sun as chlorine is from adding stabilizer or cyanuric acid. But then again, most hot tubs are covered and out of the sun. And although bromine lost the first round for being more expensive than chlorine, it has the curious property of reactivation.

Bromide salts can be reactivated into bromine by adding a small amount of chlorine shock or MPS shock. This allows you to reuse the bromide again and again, and you use less bromine tablets. With chlorine, however, once the killing work is done, the chlorine molecule becomes inert.

Bromine wins this round, with an amazing ability to regenerate.

ROUND FOUR: KILLING POWER

bromine-has-an-extra-layerWhich is stronger, chlorine or bromine? Chemically speaking, chlorine is a stronger halogen, with a quicker oxidation reaction. But bromine has a larger atomic size with an extra valence shell.

Bromine has a big advantage over chlorine in killing bacteria and viruses, whereas chlorine has an advantage in killing algae more rapidly. Bromamines continue to be an active sanitizer, in contrast with chloramines, as we will see in the next round.

Bromine wins round four; it’s stronger in more water conditions and molecular states.

ROUND FIVE: STABILITY

Bromine comes out swinging! At a high pH, say of 7.8, only about 25% of chlorine is active. Bromine is not affected by pH swings as much and continues to be effective, even when a full hot tub quickly raises pH levels.

Being stable at high temperatures is another characteristic of bromine. Chlorine becomes really active at high temperatures and tends to quickly gas off at temperatures around 100 degrees.

Third, when bromine or chlorine combine with nitrogen or ammonia, they form bromamines or chloramines. In chlorine, the compound formed becomes an ineffective sanitizer, and is responsible for red eyes, itchy skin and that awful chlorine smell. Bromamines, on the other hand, continue to be active sanitizers without the smell or irritation.

Bromine wins round five!

ROUND SIX: OTHER

  • ODOR – Chlorine smells similar, but the bromine odor, both in the container and in the water, is softer.
  • IRRITATION – Skin irritation can occur with bromine or chlorine, but bromine is less irritating.
  • pH – Trichlor has a very low pH, bleach has a very high pH, and bromine has a pH level of 7.5. Perfect!
  • ADDITIVES – Cal-hypo adds calcium to a spa, and trichlor and dichlor will add cyanuric acid.

Bromine has chlorine against the ropes, and in the sixth round, has delivered a knockout blow!

 

bromine-winsIf you have a spa, bromine has a lot of advantages over using chlorine. It may cost a little bit more, but it lasts longer and does a much better job than chlorine at killing bacteria, especially at high temperatures and high pH levels.

So, which is better – bromine or chlorine? Bromine is best for spas, use chlorine for pools.

 

Shop For These Featured Products:

sodium bromide packets leisure time bromine tablets spa mps shockfloating bromine dispenser

 

10 Reasons Why Your Spa Water is Cloudy

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Cloudy Hot Tub WaterWhy is my spa water cloudy? If we’ve heard that question once, we’ve heard it a thousand times. It may be the number one spa water problem plaguing spa owners.

There is a lot of misinformation out there about cloudy spa water – such as, “Bromine will make your spa cloudy”, or “Metals in the water cause cloudy hot tub water”, or the constant sales pitch – that if you just had this super-special-magical spa water treatment, your spa water problems will disappear.

If your spa or hot tub water is cloudy, hazy, milky – turbid, as we sometimes call it, your problem will be one of these situations below, or a combination of more than one.

1. High Calcium Hardness or Total Alkalinity

Your spa water chemical balance may be to blame. Take an accurate reading of your calcium hardness, alkalinity and pH levels. In areas where hard water is common, calcium can easily come out of solution and cloud the spa water. If your calcium hardness levels are greater than 300 ppm, use a chemical balancer to lower your pH, calcium and alkalinity levels in your spa.  This will help to keep your spa water clear and help to prevent the scaling that causes cloudy hot tub water.

If your test for Total Alkalinity shows high levels, in excess of 150 ppm, excess carbonates can come out of solution, and make the spa cloudy. High TA levels will also make it hard to control your pH, or keep it in range. Use pH decreaser to lower TA to around 100 ppm. If your spa pH level is outside of the range of 7.2-7.6, adjust accordingly for easier control of cloudy water.

TDS, or total dissolved solids, is not usually a concern in spas and hot tubs – but, if you have not drained your spa in years, for whatever reason – you may have a very high level of dissolved solids in the water. When water reaches it’s saturation point, where it can absorb no more solids, frequent bouts of cloudy water are the result. Time to drain and refill the spa.

2. Low Spa Sanitizer Levels

Some people are sensitive to bromine or chlorine, and try to operate the spa with as little as possible. That may be OK, if you have other sanitizers working, such as an ozonator, or a mineral cartridge, and your water chemistry is balanced, especially your pH level.

Otherwise, spas should always have a level of 2-3 ppm of bromine, or slightly less if using chlorine. When sanitizer level drops below 1.0ppm, particles and contaminants in the water begin to run rampant or grow at a rate faster than they are being destroyed.

A proper sanitizer level should destroy the particles that induce cloudy water. To help it out, shock the spa water regularly, especially after a several people have used the spa, or if sanitizer levels have mistakenly dropped to very low levels. If a chlorinated spa shock is clouding your water, try using MPS shock instead.

3. Cloudy Fill Water

Maybe the problem is not with your spa, but in your fill water. Nonetheless, balanced and sanitized spa water with proper filtration should be able to self-correct, and clear the water within a day or so. A spa clarifier can help coagulate suspended particles for easier filtration. In most cases, it may be better to use a spa pre-filter, to remove particulates that cloud your spa water. Just attach it to your garden hose when adding water or refilling your spa or hot tub.

4. Air in the System

Small particles of air, tiny bubbles – can make the spa water appear cloudy. If your spa has bubbles coming into the returns, but your air blower and spa ozonator are turned off – you may have an air leak, on the suction side of the pump. The suction side is anything before the spa circulation pump. A loose union fitting before the pump, or a loose pump drain plug can pull air into the system.

Low water level in the spa can also bring air into the spa, and give the water the appearance of being cloudy or hazy. Inspection of the pipes and equipment before the spa pump can reveal the source of the air leak, which can then be sealed up with sealants or lubricants.

5. Spa Filter Problems

This is a common cause of cloudy spa water. A spa filter cartridge may be positioned incorrectly, allowing for water to bypass the filter cartridge. Make sure the cartridge is fully seated on both ends to force the water to go through the pleated spa filter material.

A spa filter cartridge won’t last forever, and each cleaning reduces it’s efficacy a little bit more. After about 15 cleanings, replace the spa filter and you’ll notice an immediate improvement in water clarity. Depending on how much the spa is used, and how much is asked of the filter, you should replace the spa filter every 12-24 months.

Spa filter cartridges can also become gummed up with oils or minerals, drastically reducing their filtration ability. These substances can be very difficult to remove with a garden hose alone. Spraying a cartridge in spa filter cleaner before cleaning will break down greasy or crystallized deposits, and restore full flow to your filter.

DE filters are more commonly used on inground spas, and if a DE filter grid develops a hole, it will allow DE filter powder to come into the spa. This will cloud the water, and leave deposits of a light brown powder on the seats and floors of the spa.

6. Spa Pump Problems

There are a number of pump problems that can lead to cloudy spa water, the first being the amount of time the spa filter is running each day. You may need to increase the amount of time that the spa pump operates, to increase your daily filtering time. Running a pump only on low speed can also contribute to ineffective filtration. Run it on high for at least 2 hours every day.

Another issue could be with the spa impeller. It could be clogged – full of pebbles, leaves, hair or any number of things. The vanes on a pump impeller are very small and can clog easily, which will reduce the flow volume considerably. Another possibility is that the impeller is broken – the pump turns on, but the impeller is not moving, which will reduce flow rates to zero.

If you have no flow from your pool pump, there could be an air lock, especially if you have just drained and refilled the spa. To fix an air lock, shut off the pump and loosen a union on the pump and allow air to escape, tightening it when water begins to leak. If the pump doesn’t turn on at all – well, there’s your cloudy spa water problem. There could be a tripped GFI button, loose wires, bad contactor or relay, or another control problem.

Air leaks before the pump, as discussed above, also makes the pump less efficient by reducing the overall water volume. Water leaks after the pump is also a problem, in that your water level will soon drop below the skimmer intake, begin to take on air, lose prime and stop pumping your water through the filter.

7. Biofilm Problems

Biofilm is a slimy bacteria that coats the inside of pipes and fittings. In extreme cases, it will cloud the water, and you may notice slimy flakes floating on the water, or have severe issues with spa foaming. Biofilm forms quickly in a spa that has sat empty and idle for some time. If you suspect a biofilm contamination, lower the pH to 7.2 and use spa shock to raise the chlorine level above 10 ppm. Follow this up with a treatment of Jet Clean, to remove biofilm deposits.

8. Salt System Problems

Salt systems are becoming more popular with spa owners, although they are much more prevalent on swimming pools. The issue with salt systems is that it is possible to place too much reliance on them, and never check your chlorine level. Spa salt cells also need occasional cleaning to maintain chlorine output.

Adding salt to your spa when needed may cloud your spa temporarily, until the salt becomes fully dissolved. When adding salt, be careful not to overdose, and run the jets on high for greater agitation of the water.

9. Biguanide Problems

If you use a non-chlorine, biguanide sanitizer in your spa, and have difficulty with cloudy spa water, you are not alone. This is the main complaint of using a PHMB sanitizer. You may find relief by draining and refilling the spa, and changing the spa filter, which is probably gummed up with residue. Using spa chemicals with any amount of chlorine, or using algaecides or any non-approved chemical will not only cloud the water in a biguanide treated spa, but can also create some wild colors, too!

10. Soaps, Lotions, Cosmetics and Hair Products

This problem is common to just about every spa, unless you shower well before using your spa. Everything we put on our body and in our hair can end up in the spa, and can bring oils, phosphates and detergents into the water, and a hundred other undesirable chemicals. These can consume sanitizer, clog spa filters and make the spa water cloudy and foamy. If your spa has a high bather load, or is used as a giant bath tub, you can expect issues with water clarity. Adding spa enzymes can help control greasy gunk, and reduce sanitizer demand and clogging of your spa filter.cloudy-spa-water

Cloudy spa water is not so difficult to find and fix – but remember that you may have more than one of these issues working against you. Consider each cause of cloudy spa water carefully – it’s likely one or more of these situations above. Draining the spa regularly is one more piece of advice to prevent cloudy water – depending on how much the spa is used, draining it every few months is a good preventative way to keep your spa water from becoming cloudy in the first place!

 

Hot Tub Preppers: Be Ready for Holiday Visitors

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December is upon us, and cars and planes will soon be packed with people, visiting relatives for the holidays. Around my house, a popular ‘amenity’ for our guests has always been our 8-person spa, especially for those that don’t have their own hot tub at home.

Now is the time to step up spa maintenance, kick it up a notch to have over-filtered and over-sanitized water, and hot water for your guests. Now is also the time to review some spa safety standards, and be sure that your hot tub will be safe for all family visitors – adults, kids and pets.

 

1. Balance the Waterphoto of nature2 test strips

Unless your water needs changing that is; if your water has 2 or 3 months of age to it already, go ahead and do a complete drain, refill and re-balancing of the water. Otherwise, balance the pH and Alkalinity to 7.2-7.6 and 80-100 ppm, respectively. The next step may be to add calcium increaser, if your fill water is below 150 ppm. In my area it comes out very soft, around 80 ppm, so I add a few lbs of calcium when refilling. Soft water can cause staining, foaming and other problems.

2. Shock the Spa

For shocking the spa, you can use either chlorine spa shock like Spa 56, or you can use non-chlorine MPS shock, but in either case don’t be shy about it – hit it hard, which is usually about 1 – 1.5 oz., see label for correct dosage. Run the pump on high when shocking a spa, and leave the cover open for 30 minutes or so after shocking with chlorine. Shock the spa after each heavy usage while visitors are staying at your place.

photo of cartoon spa filter - copyright Hottubworks.com3. Change the Filter

A new filter cartridge and a new mineral stick from Frog or Nature2 will boost the water clarity and purity, to a point where it can take a sudden increase in users, without turning cloudy or dull, or foamy and greasy. I usually replace my filter cartridge every December anyway, and use a new Nature2 stick every 4 months, so it works with my schedule.

4. Increase Filter Run time

If you do expect to have more spa users than normal this month, it may be a good idea to adjust the timer settings or the programs to filter the spa an extra 20% – 50% longer each day, to compensate for the additional bather load. A little extra insurance to be sure that the filter system can handle the increased users.

5. Add Clarifierhottubworks spa clarifier shown

This one is my little secret weapon, what clarifier does is – it acts like a magnet to tiny particles, making invisible stuff clump together until it is large enough that the filter will trap it, which makes your water look great, even with the lights shining through the water. TIP: Do Not over-dose with clarifier, follow label instructions, and treat only once weekly, or it can have the opposite effect, and make your spa water cloudy!

6. Carpet Runner

My spa sits about 8 ft from the back sliding glass door, across a fairly clean, but gritty, concrete paver patio. I buy these runner carpets at my local ‘home’ store, for about $40, and they last nearly a year. I’m due for a new one, they’re about 2’x8′ and in dark colors that look good for quite awhile. You can put one inside the house too, for ‘drippers’ dashing into the house.

7. Towels and robes

I have an antique console leaning up against the back of the house and I stock the cubbies with lots of colorful towels, and hang a few robes and lots of hats (don’t forget the hats). I also have a small hand drawn (cute) sign that says “Please bathe before Use”, as a reminder to not use the spa as a bath tub. And plants, lots of plants (if you live in the south). Even plastic plants are very nice to have, surrounding the spa.

8. Spa Supervision

Don’t forget to set some ground rules, spa safety must come first. Many tragic accidents around spas and hot tubs actually happen at the homes of relatives, by people unfamiliar with the basic ground rules.

  • No single spa users, 2 or more people at all times
  • No unsupervised children under age 14
  • No pregnant women or persons with high blood pressure
  • 20 minutes maximum soaking time
  • 104° F maximum temperature

 

Finally, make sure the heater is running well, see Danny’s post last month about the most common spa heater problems and how to troubleshoot them. And be sure to close-up the spa yourself after use, unless you can train an ‘able-body’ to remove and replace the spa cover, safely and properly, so you don’t have to. 🙂

 

 

Carolyn Mosby
Hot Tub Works

 

 

6 Hot Tub Chemicals You Should Always Have

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If you are like most spa owners, you have more than 6 spa chemicals on hand, and like most of us, there is a larger collection of various spa chemicals, including sanitizers, balancers, clarifiers, cleaners and other specialty chemicals.

Every spa is different in terms of what is needed for proper and optimum water chemistry. Things like spa use frequency, number of users, cleanliness of users, filter size and effectiveness, pump run times, fill water quality and factors like sun, wind and rain can all call for different spa chemicals, at different times.

However, there exists a core set of spa chemicals that a hot tub owner should always keep in stock, because they are used more often than others. You will need other spa chemicals from time to time, to adjust water balance to proper ranges, or to control other water conditions, but keep a good stock of the basic inventory.

 


SANITIZERS

Every spa needs a means of controlling the ABC’s – algae, bacteria and contaminants, on a daily basis. When hot tubs first came on the scene, everyone used bromine tablets as the primary sanitizer. Bromine tablets are used with a bromine booster, to build up a bank of bromide ions, which can be easily regenerated by simply adding a shock oxidizer to the spa.

Many spas are outfitted with ozonators, which allow for much lower levels of bromine, or you can use a spa mineral stick to accomplish pretty much the same thing. Frog has two popular bromine+minerals floating sanitizers, the traditional Spa Frog floating system and the new round flip-floater, called @ease.

Chlorine tablets are not used as a spa sanitizer, because they dissolve too slowly, and lower pH and raise cyanuric acid levels, however Spa 56 by Leisure Time is a popular granulated chlorine that dissolves quickly and maintains a chlorine residual for 5-7 days.

SHOCK

Spa shock is in a class of chemicals known as oxidizers, because they will oxidize contaminants in the water, pipes and filter. Even though spa water may be clear, there exists at any given time, various ABC’s and other particles and byproducts that reduce sanitizer and filter effectiveness. Spa shocks destroy everything in the water, both inert particles and pathogenic organisms.

Shock your spa after each use, or every 7-10 days, whichever comes first. Shocking regularly is important to kill bacteria that may have escaped your daily sanitizer, and reduce build-up of oils, soap, skin, dust and other particles that enter the spa naturally. You can use chlorine spa shock or non-chlorine spa shock (MPS), they are both very effective.

CLARIFIER

Spa Clarifiers are positively charged polymers that are strongly attracted to negatively charge particles, which make water cloudy. They work by forming large clumps of very small particles, those that would normally pass right through your spa filter, making them easy for your filter to trap.

Clarifiers like Bright & Clear make the water more pure by removing dissolved solids, which increases the effectiveness of your sanitizers and shock. This in turn, makes your spa water last longer, increasing the length of time between water changes. Leisure Time’s  Protect Plus also adds a stain & scale additive, and Rendezvous’ Natural Clear adds an enzyme to remove oils and soaps from spa water.

pH DECREASER

At any given time, you may need either pH increaser -or- pH decreaser, but most people need the latter. Spas and hot tubs are small bodies of water, and with regular use, pH tends to rise in most spas. When pH rises above 7.8, sanitizers become less effective, and scale can form more easily. High pH is also a better breeding ground for algae and bacteria.

pH should be maintained in the 7.2-7.6 range, just slightly basic. If you are having trouble adjusting your pH, or if pH is very erratic, changing fast and often, test the Total Alkalinity of the spa water. 80-120 ppm is best, to provide a buffer for the pH level, helping it to remain steady for longer periods. Add Alkalinity increaser if below 80 ppm, and use pH decreaser to lower alkalinity levels in excess of 120 ppm.

COVER CONDITIONER

This one doesn’t need a long explanation, other than if you regularly condition the marine grade vinyl on your spa cover – it will look better, stay cleaner and last longer. Clean your spa cover first with a mild dish soap and a dish sponge to clean surfaces.

After drying, apply the spa cover conditioner to seal and protect the vinyl from rain, dirt, snow and sun. Regular use can add years to your cover lifespan by preventing breakdown and tears in the outer vinyl surfaces.

FILTER CLEANER

Hosing clean your spa filter gets most of the big stuff, but it won’t easily remove oils and mineral scale, which clog up the pores of spa filter cartridges. In such cases, the water pressure can push oil and minerals deeper into the fabric fibers, contributing to early failure.

Spa filter cleaners gently lift oils and mineral scale with a combination of mild acids and degreasers, like Rendezvous Filter Fresh or Leisure Time Filter Clean. Just soak your cartridge in a bucket or pail of water with the recommended amount of filter cleaner added, or use our own spray-on filter cleaner and let it sit for a few minutes, before rinsing clean.

 


 

As mentioned above, you may need other hot tub chemicals from time to time, but these are what I call the core set of chemicals – those that are needed most often, which are also (coincidentally) the most popular spa chemicals, or those that are purchased most often. I hope this was helpful!

 

 

XOXO;

Gina Galvin