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How to Troubleshoot Common Hot Tub Problems

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hot tub troubleshootingUnfortunately, hot tubs don’t always work the way we want them to. Heaters may not heat, water flow will be low or nonexistent, leaks can pop up and water chemistry can go awry. The good news is that most hot tub problems can be remedied with a little bit of troubleshooting and a quick fix or two.

Heater Not Working

Problem: What’s a hot tub without hot water? That’s an easy one – it’s not much fun at all! If your hot tub heater doesn’t seem to be working properly, it’s often the symptom of another underlying issue.

Solution: The first thing to check is your water flow. Is there enough water going through the lines to close the flow or pressure switch and prompt the heater to start heating? If not, continue reading in the next section to resolve the flow problem. If there is adequate water flow, it may be one of the electrical components of the heater – flow or pressure switches, thermostats, high limit switches, heater elements, loose wiring, blown fuses or a tripped breaker. For more information on getting your heater up and running again, check out this article about the Top 5 Hot Tub Heater Problems.

Low Water Flow

Problem: You turn on the jets, and the water pressure flowing through the lines just isn’t as high as it should be. You may even be seeing flow-related error codes popping up on your spa’s control panel. Low water flow is actually one of the most common problems hot tub owners have to deal with. With flow troubles, there could be several different things going on.

Solution: First things first – make sure the filter and drain cover are both clean. A dirty, clogged filter or drain cover won’t allow water to pass through very easily. Also check to see if water levels are where they should be, since low levels can negatively impact flow rates. Open up all of the jets to determine if it’s just a few malfunctioning jets (which will need to be repaired or replaced) or if it’s all of the jets (which might indicate a faulty gate valve). Other potential causes include blockages in the pump impeller, blockages in ozonator valves (if you have one) or air lock, which is next on our list. If your hot tub jets aren’t feeling as strong as usual, you’ll want to read up on this informative blog post: Hot Tub Jets Not Working?

Air Lock

Problem: Air lock happens when air gets trapped in the plumbing and has no way to get out, so the pump is unable to work properly. This often happens after a hot tub has been drained, cleaned and refilled.  If you turn on the hot tub and hear the motor running, but nothing is coming out of the jets, chances are pretty good that you’re dealing with an air lock problem.

Solution: To get those jets flowing again, you’ll need to “burp” the air out of the lines. There are a couple of ways to do this. The first method involves opening the jets and turning the jets on and off a few times, increasing the duration each time. If no air or water is coming out of the jets after three on/off cycles, you’ll need to release the air directly from the pump. More detailed instructions can be found in one of our recent blog posts, How to Fix Hot Tub Air Lock.

Leaks

Problem: You may have stumbled upon a leak as the result of troubleshooting other hot tub problems, such as low water flow or air lock. Or, in some cases, you may not even notice a problem until you see water leaking from the bottom of your hot tub. Rest assured, this is usually an easy problem to resolve.

Solution: The first step is to locate the source of the leak. Check any connections that utilize a gasket or o-ring to form a seal, including spa jets, lights, pumps, unions, filter housings, chlorinators and ozonators. Leaks can also happen where PVC pieces are glued together. If you can’t locate the leak by quickly looking in the equipment bay, you may need to do a bit more digging. Once the leak is found, you’ll know what kind of repair is needed. Hot Tub Works has many helpful articles on hot tub leak repair and how to do it properly.

Error Messages

Problem: The nice thing about error messages popping up on the control panel is that you have a clear direction for focusing your troubleshooting and repair efforts. The bad thing is that there are a LOT of them, and some codes can indicate a variety of different issues!

Solution: The owner’s manual for your hot tub will usually have its own troubleshooting guide paired with a list of error codes for your specific model. But if you’ve misplaced this guide, error code meanings aren’t too hard to track down. They generally pertain to three categories: water flow, heating and sensor errors. Lucky for you, we’ve gathered “The Big List” of Hot Tub Error Codes to help you out on your troubleshooting journey.

Noisy Pump

Problem: No one likes noisy neighbors, just like spa owners don’t appreciate noisy pumps! It’s not relaxing at all, and those noises are a red flag that something’s going wrong with your pump. If your hot tub pump is banging, rattling, squeaking or  squelching, it’s time to open up the spa cabinet and take a look.

Solution: It’s fairly common for bearings to wear out on pump motors, especially if the motor is older than five years old. A screeching, high-pitched whine coming from the motor is usually a sign that the bearings are failing. If so, either the bearings, the motor or the entire spa pump will need to be replaced as soon as possible. On the other hand, if you’re hearing a low-pitched grumbling noise, your pump may not be getting enough water. Make sure the intake valves are open and your lines are free of clogs and debris. Rattling noises are often caused by vibration of the pump while it’s running, which can be fixed with a rubber pad to reduce the rattle. If the pump hums for a little bit before popping the circuit breaker, you’re likely dealing with a faulty capacitor. For more help with troubleshooting various pump issues, check out this article about Hot Tub Pump Problems.

GFCI Tripping

Problem: If no power is reaching your hot tub, the first thing you usually check is whether or not the GFCI or circuit breaker has been tripped. When you reset the button or switch and it keeps tripping, there is something else awry with your hot tub or the electrical wiring.

Solution: It’s best to start at the source, making sure that the breaker is not worn out. Moisture and corrosion on electrical components can also cause a circuit switch to trip, so thoroughly check the GFCI box and the inside of the spa cabinet for signs of a problem. Wiring can also come loose or become damaged, causing incomplete circuits or a short in the system. If all of this checks out and no problems are noticed, it’s time to look at the different electrical components of your spa. The heater is the first place most people look, since it’s the most common culprit when a breaker continually trips. If the heating element is tested and appears fine, you’ll need to narrow down the faulty component through process of elimination. Disconnect everything, then reconnect them one at a time – lights, pump, sound system, ozonator, air blower, etc. until you determine which one is causing the problem. There are many reasons power may not be reaching your hot tub. Some of those problems are best left to an electrician to handle. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to seek out a professional’s opinion!

Cloudy Water

Problem: This is a common hot tub problem, and it’s a good indicator that something is “off” in your water balance or hot tub equipment. Not only does cloudy water look bad, but it’s usually not good for you OR your hot tub, either.

Solution: Calcium levels, total alkalinity, pH and sanitizer can all play a part in water cloudiness. Excess organic materials, biofilm buildup, dirty filters and plumbing malfunctions can also be a source of cloudy water woes. It’s sometimes difficult to figure out why the water gets cloudy, so Hot Tub Works put together a handy detailed guide: 10 Reasons Why Your Spa Water is Cloudy.

Smelly Water

Problem: Just like cloudy water, smelly water often stems from poor water chemistry or hot tub maintenance practices. Foul smells coming from the hot tub indicate that bacteria is taking over, and it’s time to act fast!

Solution: Make sure pH and total alkalinity are balanced, and keep the sanitizer levels consistently within the recommended range. Shocking a spa will quickly kill off any bacteria lurking in the water. If this doesn’t help, it may be time to deep clean your spa. Purge biofilm from the lines with a cleaning product like Jet Clean, drain the tub, clean all surfaces, clean or replace the hot tub filter, and refill with properly balanced and sanitized water. If your hot tub still reeks when you’re done cleaning, check the cover. Mildew loves to grow on the underside of hot tub covers, which can make the whole tub smell musty. Keep your hot tub and cover clean, and maintain proper water balance so you’ll never have to hear, “Your Hot Tub Water Smells Bad!”


These problems (and more!) happen to every hot tub owner at some point or another, so it’s nothing to be worried or embarrassed about. Hot Tub Works has you covered! With countless informational “How To” articles, hot tub parts and chemicals, we have everything you need to get your hot tub back on track.

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