Hot Tub & Spa
Water Care & Troubleshooting

Hopefully we're not the first to tell you that owning a spa, just like a car or beautiful garden requires periodic maintenance and upkeep. While there's lots of products to greatly help reduce the amount of chemical use and maintenance time, NOTHING will make your spa totally maintenance and chemical free. Without a doubt, the most important aspect of spa care is the chemical balance of the water. You might even say that adjusting the chemical balance of your spa water is like feeding it. Feed your spa right and it will be healthy, feed it wrong and it'll get sick. And you know what doctor bills are like.

The important to remember is  that a spa is very different from a swimming pool   (four people in a spa is the equivalent to having 300 people in an average size pool). With the combination of high temperatures and ratio of people to water, problems can occur. Residual soaps, deodorants, perfumes and other cosmetics, natural body oils and perspiration are released into the spa water which can cause other organic contaminates. For this reason you should use products that are especially formulated for spa and hot tub use.

Spa water testing is much easier and painless than you may imagine. What's more, regularly spa water testing and adjusting will increase the life of your spa and it's equipment.


Spa Water Testing Tips

Liquid Test Kits

  • Test-kit reagents deteriorate over time and will eventually give you false results. Always check the expiration dates and follow the manufacturer's instructions for usage and storage.
  • It's very important to clean your test kit after each use. Any residual chemicals can falsify future tests.
  • Circulate the water before testing and take the water sample from at least 12 inches below the surface.
  • Read your results immediately using a brightly lighted background, preferably white.
  • Do not use your fingers in place of a test vial cap because the oils from your skin can skew your results.

Test Strips

  • Test strips deteriorate over time and will eventually give you false results. Always check the expiration dates and follow the manufacturer's instructions for usage and storage.
  • Circulate the water before testing and take the water sample from at least 12 inches below the surface.
  • Do not put your fingers inside the container to remove strips (oils from your skin can contaminate the remaining test strips).
  • Keep container tightly closed. Allowing moisture into the container can ruin the test strips.

Balancing Your Water

Basic supplies for testing and adjusting your hot tub water.

Spa Water Balancing
Quick Chart

  • Chlorine: 1.5 - 3.0 ppm
  • Bromine: 3.0 - 5.0 ppm
  • pH: 7.2 - 7.8
  • Total Alkalinity: 80 - 120 ppm
  • Calcium Hardness: 200 - 400 ppm
  • Total Dissolved Solids: 1,500 ppm above your start-up TDS

The Basics

TOTAL ALKALINITY

Total alkalinity the measure of all the alkaline material in the water, or it's ability to neutralize acid (or the water's buffering capacity). It is really an indicator of the ability of the water to resist changes in pH. Always test for total alkalinity (TA) first, using test strips or kit. The acceptable range is 60-180 PPM. If below 60 PPM, add Spa Up until a reading of about 100-120 PPM is reached. If above 180, add Spa Down until a reading of about 120-140 PPM is attained.

 

High total alkalinity

Low total alkalinity

  • Hard to change pH
  • Scale formation
  • Cloudy water
  • Skin and eye irritation
  • Poor sanitizer efficiency
  • Rapid changes in pH or "pH bounce"
  • Corroded metals/equipment
  • Skin and eye irritation

 

RAISING TOTAL ALKALINITY
IDEAL RANGE: 80-120 ppm

To calculate how much sodium bicarbonate is required to increase the total alkalinity, choose the increase you want and enter the gallons of your spa.


Desired increase in total alkalinity:
Gallons of water:

oz. of sodium bicarbonate is required.

Sodium bicarbonate (sodium bicarb, bicarb or baking soda) has a pH of 8.3 and contributes bicarbonate to total alkalinity. Because the pH of spa water is relitivly close to the pH of bicarb, bicarb will have the greatest effect on TA, and a slight effect on pH.

LOWERING TOTAL ALKALINITY
IDEAL RANGE: 80-120 ppm

To calculate how much dry acid (sodium bisulphate) is required to decrease the total alkalinity, choose the reduction you want and enter the gallons of your spa.


Desired reduction in total alkalinity
Gallons of water

oz. of dry acid (sodium bisulphate) is required.

To Raise Total Alkalinity With Spa Up

Gallons
of Water
Desired Increase in Parts Per Million (ppm)
10 ppm
20 ppm
30 ppm
40 ppm
50 ppm
60 ppm
70 ppm
80 ppm
90 ppm
100 ppm
100
1 1/2 tsp
1 TBS
1 1/2 TBS
2 TBS
2 1/2 TBS
3 TBS
3 1/2 TBS
1/4 cup
1/3 cup
1/3 cup
1000
1/3 cup
1/2 cup
1 cup
1 cup
1 1/2 cup
1 3/4 cup
2 cup
2 1/2 cup
2 3/4 cup
3 cup




To Lower Total Alkalinity With Dry Acid (Sodium Bisulfate)

Gallons
of Water
Desired Decrease in Parts Per Million (ppm)
10 ppm
20 ppm
30 ppm
40 ppm
50 ppm
60 ppm
70 ppm
80 ppm
90 ppm
100 ppm
100
1 1/2 tsp
1 TBS
1 1/2 TBS
2 TBS
2 1/2 TBS
3 TBS
1/4 cup
1/4 cup
1/3 cup
1/3 cup
1000
1/3 cup
2/3 cup
1 cup
1 1/4 cup
1 1/2 cup
2 cup
2 1/4 cup
2 1/2 cup
3 cup
3 1/4 cup

pH


pH indicates how acidic or alkaline your spa water is. pH is measured on a 14 point scale, with 7-8 being neutral for bathers. A pH reading below 7 would be acidic and one above 8 would be alkaline. The acceptable range is 7.2 to 7.8 . If below 7.2, add Soda Ash until a reading of about 7.4 is reached. Spa Up may also be used, but keep in mind that Spa Up will also raise the total alkalinity, so if the TA is already high, you must use Soda Ash. If the pH is above 7.8, add Spa Down until a reading of about 7.6 is reached.

Once pH adjustments have been made, you can lock pH into balance by adding pH Balance and there should be no need for further adjustments for at least 3 months! Note: pH holding products are not recommended in areas with high water hardness (above 500 PPM).

 

High pH

Low pH

  • Poor sanitizer efficiency
  • Cloudy water
  • Frequent filter cleaning
  • Scale formation
  • Skin and eye irritation
  • Poor sanitizer efficiency
  • Corroded metals/equipment
  • Skin and eye irritation
  • Destruction of total alkalinity

 

RAISING pH with SODA ASH
IDEAL RANGE: 7.2-7.6

To calculate how much soda ash (sodium carbonate) is required to increase the pH level, choose the increase you want and enter the gallons of your spa.


Desired increase in pH
Gallons of water

oz. of soda ash (sodium carbonate) is required.

Soda Ash (sodium carbonate) has a pH of 13.0. Because it has a high pH, soda ash will greatly raise the pH, however it also contributes carbonate to total alkalinity which will also be raised.


CALCIUM HARDNESS

Water hardness is a concentration of the calcium and magnesium in your spa water. The ideal calcium hardness level for hot tubs and spas is 200-400 PPM. If your level is below about 150 PPM, some erosion of equipment parts can occur. Low hardness can be corrected with Calcium Booster (not recommended if you are using pH Balance or other pH holding products).

 

High Hardness

Low Hardness

  • Cloudy water
  • Scale formation
  • Skin and eye irritation
  • Foamy water
  • Corroded metals/equipment
  • Cloudy water
  • Foamy water

DISSOLVED SOLIDS


Total dissolved solids or TDS is absolutely everything dissolved in your spa water, from metals to chlorine to alkalinity to sulfates and salts. The acceptable range of TDS in spas is 1,500 ppm above your start-up TDS. If you have a problem with TDS, spa water may taste salty or it may have a tint to it, although there isn't any clouding. You might also get false test readings, among other things.


SANITIZE


A disinfectant level of 3-5 parts per million (PPM) bromine or chlorine is necessary to continuously kill bacteria. Bromine, unlike chlorine, is effective even after disinfecting. It has a less offensive odor and causes less irritation than chlorine. It's more pH stable, and easier to maintain in the proper level by using tablets in a convenient floating dispenser. However, being more stable than chlorine it can be more difficult to remove the odor from your skin. Even if your spa is equipped with an ozonator, you should still use a sanitizer and shock treatment.

To Raise Chlorine Level One part Per Million (1 ppm)

Gallons
of Water
% Active Chlorine In Product
5%
10%
12%
35%
50%
65%
80%
85%
90%
100
1/2 tbs
1/4 tbs
1/4 tbs
1/5 tsp
1/8 tsp
1/10 tsp
1/12 tsp
1/13 tsp
1/14 tsp
1000
1/3 cup
1/5 cup
1/8 cup
2 1/6 tsp
2 tsp
1 tsp
3/4 tsp
3/4 tsp
2/3 tsp

 

SANITIZER NOTES
Chlorine and Bromine are in the chemical family known as Halogens. They are powerful oxidizers, which means they literally burn up organic matter in the water.  Outside of water they need to be handled with care.  Bromine and chlorine should never be stored where they may come in contact with each other as a chemical reaction can occur which could cause a fire.  They should never be mixed together in a dry container. Bromine and chlorine should never be switched in the same feeder. Even though empty, these feeders have residue which could react. When handling chemicals they shouldn't come in contact with any fertilizers, petroleum products or anything organic including Cigarette ashes.  All chemicals should be stored  in an area where there are no metals present because the gases escaping will attack these metals.  Even though it seems convenient, this includes the underside cabinet on a portable spa. Extensive damage can occur to the equipment and spa electronics.


SHOCK

Shock treatment is best accomplished by the addition of an oxidizer to the water to break down organic contaminates. These contaminants include dirt, soap films, oils and perspiration, along with ammonia and nitrates (bather by-products). Free chlorine will readily combine with these chemicals producing compounds known as  chloramines (smells strongly like chlorine, but has no 'killing' effect). Filters do not always trap these and other very small particles. If they are allowed to remain in the water, they can provide a food source for bacteria and algae. Bromine will also combine to form bromamines, but bromamines retain their sanitizing ability. Shocking rearranges the chemical structure to free up the chlorine or bromine to its most active state for sanitizing.  Chlorine based shocks also kill off any organic matter (bacteria) that may have gotten a 'foothold' and become resistant to normal amounts of sanitizers.


Water Troubleshooting

PROBLEM POSSIBLE CAUSES SOLUTIONS
Cloudy water Filter problems Inspect filter cartridge for tearing and cracking. See section on filters.
Microscopic particles too small to filter out. Test and adjust all chemicals and add 2 oz. of Spa Bright and Clear to cause the particles to combine together so they can be filtered out.
High TDS levels
High total alkalinity
High pH levels
High TDS levels
Test all chemical levels and make the appropriate adjustments.
Skin irritation Improper pH or Total Alkalinity levels Test all chemical levels and make the appropriate adjustments.
Eye irritation Low sanitizer levels or excess 'combined chlorine.' Test all chemical levels with an accurate test kit and make the appropriate adjustments. Shock your spas water with Renew or Oz tabs per instructions.
Algae growth Low sanitizer levels Shock your spas water  with Renew or Oz tabs per instructions. Brush the spa walls. Run the filter for a 24-hour period to increase distribution of sanitizer and add Spa Algaecide.
Excessive foam Buildup of body oils or cosmetics. Generally there will also be a water line around the top of the spa (see next problem). If no water line is present you can try using Spa Foam Down to break up the contaminants and then Spa Bright and Clear to help filter them away. If a water line is present the spa should be drained and cleaned. Either way, the filter should be thoroughly cleaned by soaking over night in Spa Cartridge Clean. An oil absorbing sponge such as The Dirty Duck can help in preventing this in the future.
Laundry detergent residual in swimwear. Run an extra rinse cycle on the washing machine or re-rinse well by hand.
Excess organic contaminants Some organic matter is prone to causing foamy water as it breaks down in the filter (maple leaves especially). Generally using Spa Foam Down to break up the contaminants, then Spa Bright and Clear to help filter them away followed by thoroughly cleaning your filter will clear up the problem. It may however be necessary to drain and refill your spa if the foaming is quite excessive.
Low Total Hardness Test water with a Total Hardness Test Kit and if necessary increase with Calcium Booster.
High Total Hardness Test water with a Total Hardness Test Kit .  If high, change the water.
Excess bromine Generally the water will also have a green tint to it. The spa will need to be drained and refilled, and the bromine feeder adjusted correctly.
Oily water line Body oils, dirt, soaps Scum line may be able to be removed with paper towel. Alternating weekly between Spa Bright and Clear and Scum Gone along with frequent filter cleanings usually eliminates this problem.
Unstable pH Low total alkalinity levels Test total alkalinity levels with an accurate test kit and if necessary increase with Spa Up.
pH resistant to changing High total alkalinity levels Test total alkalinity levels with an accurate test kit and if necessary decrease with Spa Down.

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