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A Guide to Hot Tub Chemistry

Hot Tub & Spa Chemicals: The Ultimate Water Care Guide

  |   Hot Tub Tips   |   19 Comments

Spa Care Made Easy, Hot Tub Water Care GuideThe move into hot tub ownership is an exciting time. You’ve picked the best hot tub for you, decided on the perfect location, and are now ready to jump in and relax. However, there is one thing that may still be on your mind as you embark on your spa ownership experience: hot tub chemistry.

 

In fact, “How hard is it to take care of a hot tub?” is one of the first questions many people ask. Learning how to manage the chemistry in your hot tub is not overwhelming and anyone can do it. The basic factors that go into maintaining and balancing your spa water are alkalinity, pH levels, sanitizers, and shock treatments. While you may or may not have any interest in chemistry, in order to maintain clean water that is ready to use at any time you do need to know a couple of simple basics about these things. Don’t worry, you don’t need a lab coat, it’s really easy, and this handy hot tub chemical guide is here to help.

 

 

 

Browse directly to a specific category by clicking on any of the quick links below:

 

 

Alkalinity Draining Your Hot Tub
pH Level Alternative Water Care Systems
Sanitizers Saltwater Systems
Shock Treatment

 

 

Alkalinity

 

When it comes to hot tub chemistry, the first thing you want to check is the water’s alkalinity. You want to check this before your pH levels because a proper alkalinity level will help to prevent fluctuations in the pH level. If the alkalinity (and pH levels) become too high, the chlorine-based disinfectants won’t be as effective and can lead to mineral buildup and other issues like cloudy water, skin or eye irritation, algae formation, and the formation of scales along the sides and bottom of your hot tub.

 

As you test your alkalinity, you want to fall between 80ppm and 120ppm.

 

 

 

Tips on balancing your alkalinity:

 

 

  1. Start with a testing strip. When removing the strip from the bottle, tip the opening of the bottle down and let the strips fall into your hand. Be careful to only grab one of the strips, not touching the other strips with your fingers, as you don’t want the oils on your fingers to get on the strips and ruin the test.

 

  1. Dip the strip into your hot tub water. Dip the test strip in the water, just long enough to get it wet, and remove. Shake any excess water off the strip and compare it with the color on the back of the kit. Where your color falls will determine what your next course of action is.

 

  1. Alkalinity too low. To correct low alkalinity levels, use a Total Alkalinity Increaser. When adding the increaser to your water, follow the directions on the bottle.

 

  1. Alkalinity too high. If you’re alkalinity levels are too high it may be an indication of significantly hard water in your area or other issues, contact your dealer to determine your best course of action.

 

 

Remember, as you add chemicals to the hot tub, allow your water to circulate for a few hours (or overnight) before re-testing for more accurate readings. Add chemicals slowly in your hot tub and never add more than one at a time. That way you can see how each chemical is influencing your hot tub chemistry, without the guesswork.

 

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Know Your pH Levels

 

Before you add any sanitizing chemicals to your hot tub, you will want to check your pH levels to measure how acidic or basic your water is. When checking the pH levels, the ideal range you want to be in is 7.2 to 7.8.

 

If your pH levels are below 7.2, your water is too acidic which can affect the chemistry in your hot tub and impact the overall efficiency, corrode equipment, and cause ear and eye irritation. On the other hand, if your pH levels are above 7.8, your water is too basic (or alkaline). This can cause cloudy water, poor sanitizer efficiency, and skin and eye irritation.

 

To determine your pH levels use a standard spa test strip or pH test kit.

 

 

Tips for balancing pH levels:

 

 

  1. Grab a testing strip. Check your chemistry to determine your next steps to balance the water. When removing the strips from the bottle, take care not to touch any of the other strips.

 

  1. Dip the strip into your hot tub water. Dip the test strip in the water, just long enough to get it wet, and remove. Shake any excess water off the strip and compare it to the color on the back of the kit.

 

  1. When pH levels are too low or too high. If the levels are too low (below 7.2), use a pH increaser to help raise the pH levels and balance the water. If the levels are too high (above 7.8), use a pH decreaser to help bring those levels back down into the recommended range.

 

  1. Add the appropriate chemical. Once you’ve determined whether or not you need a pH increaser or pH decreaser, follow the instructions on the back on the bottle. In most cases, you’ll be instructed to add a few capfuls of the chemical.

 

 

When adding chemicals to your hot tub, it’s important to remember that the amount of chemical you need will vary with each situation. This is because you have to take into consideration the body chemistry, bather load, and any outside materials being brought into the hot tub, such as mud, grass, and leaves.

 

While on the topic of plant material, strange as it may sound, there is even a type of moss you can place in the spa which could also help to balance your pH.

 
 

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Sanitizers

 

Unfortunately some bacteria and viruses are able to survive in warm water. For this reason, sanitizing your water is important to keep it disinfected, clear, and smelling fresh. The two most popular sanitizers are bromine and chlorine.

 

 

 

Bromine vs. Chlorine

 

Bromine

Chlorine

Bromine treatments are more complex than chlorine and can take longer to dissolve in water. Chlorine treatments are easier to apply and go into effect quicker. Chlorine dissolves faster in water below 75° F than bromine.
Initials costs of bromine are higher compared to chlorine, but will be recouped over time (lower number of annual treatments). The cheaper option out of the two, but chlorine requires more maintenance compared to bromine.

 

 

 

 

Tips to balance your sanitizer levels:

 

 

  1. Test your water. With the same testing strip you used to determine your pH levels and alkalinity, you can also see where your sanitizer levels fall.

 

  1. Add chemical sanitizer to balance your water. Opinions vary about which chemical sanitizer works best for them. Because of this, you may want to separately try out both chlorine and bromine to see how your water looks, if your body reacts in a negative way, and which is easier for you to maintain.

 

 

In addition to testing different sanitizers, Todd Cossey, Bullfrog Spas Lead Service Tech, recommends using a water conditioning kit, which has a pH balancer in the chemicals to help maintain these levels correctly.

 

When it comes to using sanitizers, Cossey likes both chlorine and bromine, but recommends always using them in the granular form. He explains that, in his experience, he’s seen the most damage caused by bromine floaters.
 

 

 


Shock Treatment

 

Modern Hot Tub Water CareTaking time to shock your hot tub is another important part of hot tub maintenance. Shock treatments sound a little violent, but really what they do is simply break down the organic contaminants that could lead to cloudy water and unpleasant odors. By oxidizing contaminants and releasing them as a gas, shocking your hot tub reduces the need for high chemical doses; aids in eliminating bacteria, viruses, and algae; and prolongs the life of your equipment.

 

Experts recommend shocking your hot tub at least once a week to keep your water clean and clear. This can fluctuate depending on how often your hot tub is used, where you live, and humidity.

 

When it comes to shocking your hot tub, there are two types of treatments to be aware of: non-chlorine and dichlor (chlorine) shock.

 

 

  • Non-chlorine shock. A monopersulfate compound (aka MPS), is an oxygen-based shock and is used more regularly for maintenance.

 

  • Dichlor shock. A form of chlorine often called sodium dichlor, this is both a sanitizer and shock. This type of shock is used occasionally to clear up problems. In most cases, dichlor shock is recommended only when you refill your hot tub. After that the non-chlorine shock is the best option to go with.

 

 

The shock treatment dosage depends on the size of your hot tub, water type, water temperature, hot tub placement, and other factors.

 

When it comes to shocking your hot tub, read the label to ensure you are conducting the spa shock correctly. Oxidizers (shock) can be dangerous when mishandled or are used incorrectly. Before beginning, read the label on the shock treatment package to verify you are adding the correct dosage to your hot tub.

 

 

Tips for shocking your hot tub:

 

 

  1. Test your water. Similar to the first step above, before you shock your hot tub, take a moment to test the water.

 

  1. Keep the water calm. Because you don’t want to agitate the oxidation gases (shock), make sure you turn off the blower, but leave the circulation pump on.This way you’re still allowing the shock to circulate within the spa, killing the bacteria, but not stir the gases up too much.

 

  1. Read the label. As mentioned above, make sure you read the label before adding the shock to your hot tub. If you measure incorrectly, this can lead to a stronger oxidation strength than you’d planned and lead to problems.

 

  1. Measure your shock with care. When it comes to shocking your spa, dosage is extremely important. Carefully measure your shock to confirm you’re adding just enough (not too much or too little) to disinfect your hot tub and not cause you issues.

 

  1. Shock your spa with care. High winds can blow the shock treatment into your face or other human errors (spillage) can happen. To prevent these things, carefully pour the shock over the surface of your water. If a spill happens, clean it up immediately and keep the shock out of reach of children.

 

  1. Wash your hands. Once you’re done shocking your hot tub, wash your hands to ensure none of the shock treatment is lingering on your fingers.

 
 

 
 

Draining Your Hot Tub

 

After a while water chemistry can become difficult to balance and needs a reset. Replacing the water in your hot tub is important to flush out your plumbing and generally freshen things. You should drain your hot tub about every 3 months.

 

As you prepare to drain your hot tub, make sure you do a complete drain. You may be tempted to only drain half or a portion of the water, but it’s not advised. Give your hot tub a deep clean to remove surface stains, avoid corrosion, and eliminate any organic material that may have started to grow.

 

When you drain your hot tub, use a line flush or hot tub pipe cleaner to clean out your plumbing. If you’ve purchased a used hot tub, you may want to perform this task a few times to ensure you get everything cleaned out sufficiently.

 

 

Tips for draining your hot tub:

 

 

  1. Pick a place in your yard to drain the water. Hot tubs hold a lot of water and when you drain your spa, you’ll need a place for all that water to go. Avoid areas where the water could drain into basement window wells, a neighbor’s yard, or anywhere else that could lead to water damage. Side note: most spas drain at a rate of around 5 gallons per minute.

 

  1. Turn off the power to the hot tub at the breaker. This will protect both you and your hot tub from serious injuries.

 

  1. Locate the drain. On most spas, including Bullfrog Spas, this can usually be found below the equipment compartment door. Once located, follow the manufacturers directions for engaging the drain. On a Bullfrog Spa, turn the drain clockwise to pull the drain out. Next, remove the drain cap.

 

  1. Drain the hot tub. To activate the draining process, attach a standard garden hose to the drain spout to direct water to your preselected location. Once the hot tub is completely drained, remove the hose and replace the drain cap and push the drain back into the spa. Remember to never expose an empty hot tub to direct sunlight, this may damage your acrylic shell.

 

  1. Refill your hot tub. Place the garden hose into the filter compartment and turn on. Filling your tub at the filters will prevent air pockets in the plumbing and help keep your water clean as you fill. Fill your hot tub with high quality water which, in other words, means using house water and not secondary water.

 

 

 


Other Water Care Systems

 

For those who are interested in taking a different, less conventional, approach to your hot tub water care, two additional possibilities you may want to explore are what are loosely grouped as alternative water care systems or salt systems.

 

 

Alternative Water Care Programs

 

If you want to try a different water care regimen than standard chlorine or bromine, there are a few products available. These are sometimes sold as “natural” or “premium” water care systems. There are several brand names available. These alternative solutions may or may not be more “natural” depending on how you look at them. However, they do take a somewhat different approach to inhibiting water-born contaminants. Some of these solutions are marketed as a technology that hinders bacterial growth by eradicating the food source. Others are sold as metal-based bacterial inhibitors. Most contain additional water conditioning agents that claim to help your water feel softer to your skin.

 

 

Tips for using alternative water care systems:

 

 

  1. Investigate thoroughly. The information available for several of these regimens is a bit hazy. That’s not to say that they don’t work. Many hot tub owners swear by them. However, it’s wise to inform yourself thoroughly and be aware of the potential issues. Ask your local spa dealer and those you may know who have used the specific system.

 

  1.  Clean with a bio-film eliminating agent. It’s important to prepare for switching to these alternative regimens by thoroughly cleaning and removing all organic matter and any debris you don’t want in your hot tub. Apply the prescribed agent, usually included with these systems, turn your jets on high for 30 minutes to flush plumbing.

 

  1. Drain your hot tub. This will ensure no unwanted residue is left, and gives you a fresh start. You may want to let your spa dry for several hours to a few days to ensure as much water as possible is removed before refilling.

 

  1. Test your water. Before adding any conditioning agents into your hot tub, test the water to see where your alkalinity and pH levels fall. Once you’ve tested your water, refer to instructions included with your system for any further steps to take in preparation.

 

  1. Add conditioning agent. Depending on usage and how many gallons of water your hot tub holds, you should, on average, add most alternative water care products to your water about once a week. To know how much of the product you should add, follow the instructions on the bottle.

 

  1. Shock your water. Most of these products are not actually sanitizers, but instead preventative agents. For this reason you will still need to oxidize (shock) your water, particularly after use. Several shock treatments exist and many of these alternative systems will include or specify their prescribed oxidation agents.

 

 

 


Saltwater Systems

 

couple-hot-tubSaltwater treatment systems are another alternative which have picked up traction over the past few years. Salt systems for hot tubs generally use electricity to generate chlorine or bromine from a salt base (sodium hypochloride or sodium bromide).   For many, the appeal of going with saltwater systems is to reduce the time and effort of water care. While this can be the case with some systems, there is significant care and maintenance associated with many of the components used in these systems and some other factors to consider.

 

If you’re considering going the saltwater treatment route, it’s important to look at both pros and cons:

 

 

Pros Cons
Saltwater hot tub systems generate the same sanitizers that you would add to the water in conventional water care regimens, however, some of the additional properties of salts can soften water and feel good to the skin. With the upfront costs, saltwater hot tubs are usually more expensive.
Saltwater hot tubs constantly generate their own chlorine or bromine, keeping the sanitizer flow fairly consistent. Salt can corrode the metal and rubber seals within your hot tub’s equipment and plumbing. Because of this, you may need to replace metal parts, seals, heaters, and other components damaged by the salt.

For those considering this option, here are a few things to keep in mind. Due to the salt, you’ll have to do an additional test each month to check the salinity of your hot tub. Because of the corrosive nature of saltwater and other factors, Bullfrog Spas expert Cyndi Blessing (who used an aftermarket saltwater system with her hot tub) wouldn’t recommend using a salt generation system. In her experience, she found that “it was actually harder to balance the water compared to a more traditional chlorine or bromine system.”

 

Todd Cossey, a seasoned spa technician at Bullfrog Spas, adds, “Quite a few dealers have installed aftermarket saltwater systems, and although they’re suppose to be great, they can get out of control fast and can damage the spa.”

 

The discussion of salt systems for hot tubs brings up another important factor. Most spa manufacturers don’t cover chemical damage to spa surfaces and equipment. So, whatever system you choose, make sure it’s not going to damage the hot tub in any way.

 

The more you work with hot tub chemistry and water care, the better understanding you’ll have on what to do to maintain the correct water balance in your spa. It will get really easy after a while. Additionally, your Bullfrog Spas dealer is always available and ready to answer your questions and help you decide which care option works best for your hot tub, climate, and environment.

 

Have we missed something you think we should include? Tell us about it in the comments below.

 

 

 

Still Have a Few Questions?

Read 25 Questions You Need to Ask Before Buying a Hot Tub before you buy!

 

Answer all of your questions before you buy. This informative buyers guide helps you ask the right questions about a new spas and answers the important questions you have. It’s a quick read that you simply shouldn’t miss before buying your new hot tub.





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AUTHOR - Bullfrog Spas

Bullfrog Spas is a premier brand of personalized premium hot tubs. With proprietary hydromassage technology and an eye for contemporary design, Bullfrog Spas is revolutionizing the concept of the portable hot tub and providing a relaxation experience unlike any other. Discover the award winning spa of the future today.

19 Comments
  • Renee Elbel | Dec 15, 2016 at 10:36 am

    #myfuturespa #freebullfrogspa

  • Joanne perry | Apr 28, 2017 at 10:44 am

    While in use the sanitizer is used up quickly and then a problem with foam, scum starts. Can i use a floating coordinator to replenish while in use. So frustrated.

    • Bullfrog Spas | May 1, 2017 at 12:58 pm

      Joanne,

      Foam is almost always a result of detergents in your swim suits, soap residue from skin, or hair care products. We recommend rinsing your spa swimwear with clean water but refraining from washing them with detergents. Once foam starts to build up it’s recommended that you shock treat the water more frequently and/or perform a water change. A floater doesn’t usually address a foam issue.

  • Natalie Knight | Apr 29, 2017 at 4:40 am

    I purchased a jet spa 4 person tub…. I have no idea how to take care of it. Your blogs have helped….but ….
    Should you use bromine in a jet spa?
    If so..how often?
    How often do you shock?

    • Bullfrog Spas | May 1, 2017 at 12:55 pm

      Natalie,

      Water care can be confusing at first until you get into the habit. You can use bromine or chlorine depending on your preferences. Chlorine can have a bit of an odor depending on how much your spa gets used but is typically more direct. Most regimens call for a weekly shock. The best thing to do is to contact your local Authorized Dealer and get their specific recommendations. They will be familiar with your local water chemistry and should be able to put you on the right track.

  • Anna errico | May 7, 2017 at 8:50 am

    I’m using frog chlorine floater in my spa and my spa is a Jacuzzi brand name. How often should I shock it if I have a clear A bulb instead of a ozonater

    • Bullfrog Spas | May 8, 2017 at 3:14 pm

      Anna, thanks for the comment. It’s a good rule of thumb to shock every week but with different methods of sanitization, your usage, and how much sanitizer your floater is releasing this may vary.

  • Danielle Belair | Jul 9, 2017 at 5:12 am

    I use bromine in my hot tub. Should I be adding bromine after using the hot tub. For example, if 4 people are in the tub for a couple of hours.

    Thsnks……Danielle

    • Bullfrog Spas | Aug 1, 2017 at 4:34 pm

      Thanks for the question. Yes, we recommend sanitizing directly after use. The exact amount to recommend does vary a bit according to the residual amounts of sanitizer in the spa when you got in. Follow the recommendations on the specific brand of sanitizer you’re using for the amount of water in your spa.

  • Stephane Guillemette | Jul 13, 2017 at 7:48 pm

    Hello,
    I purchased a brand new R7L spa two years ago. Overall we love it. We used it this entire winter (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) without any issues. Having owned a swimming pool for 14 years prior to replacing it with the Spa, I am quite particular (my wife says obsessed) about water chemistry balance. Since my last drain / refill this past April, I have had the hardest time ever keeping the alkalinity and the PH levels in line. When I get my PH perfect, the Alkalinity is down to 60PPM which is too low. When I get my Alkalinity level to 110PPM which is perfect, my PH is over 8 ! I cannot for the life of me get those 2 within there optimum range of 110PPM and 7.6 at the same time.

    Also, Pump number 2 always has an Air Lock after each drain / refill cycle. I have to open the cover unscrew the valve on the pump while running it to get the air to escape. Don’t know why this happens every single drain / refill cycle. Pump number 1 does not have that issue.

    The dealer is of no help really. Do you have a tech support number I can call you directly ?

    Please advise.

    Thank you

    Stephane

    • Bullfrog Spas | Aug 1, 2017 at 4:31 pm

      Thanks for the question. We hope you’re enjoying your spa. This may have something to do with your specific water chemistry in your area. Your local dealership is probably the most capable of diagnosing the issue and finding a solution. As far as the pump priming challenge you may try to fill the spa directly into the filter intake. If this isn’t sufficient you can contact us at info@bullfrogspas.com and we’ll be happy to help diagnose and solve this issue.

  • MICHEL BERLANGIERI | Jul 21, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    hi
    just got my R7 about 2 month ago, its our first spa and my wife and i love it
    we decide to use peroxide instead of chlorine or bromine
    any special advise when using peroxide
    thank you

    • Bullfrog Spas | Aug 1, 2017 at 4:26 pm

      That’s fantastic. We hope you’re enjoying your R7 spa. Please contact your local dealership for advice on water care methods in your area.

  • jose schauzu | Aug 11, 2017 at 8:21 pm

    You recommend turning off the blower but keeping the circulation pump on. How do you do that on an R series? i can’t figure out how to turn circulation on other than hitting “pump 1”

    • Bullfrog Spas | Sep 18, 2017 at 5:24 pm

      There is not actually a blower on Bullfrog Spas. On spas with a dedicated circulation pump there is no way to turn it on and off with a button. It operates according to the settings you set up inside the control. In spas that don’t have a dedicated circulation pump, then Pump 1 acts as the circulation pump. You can turn on Pump 1 for additional filtration circulation.

  • Larry Henn | Aug 12, 2017 at 5:42 pm

    After a couple of months my spa water starts turning green. I use bromine. What would cause the water to to turn green?

    • Bullfrog Spas | Aug 17, 2017 at 4:33 pm

      Thanks for the question. Unfortunately there could be a range of issues causing this. It is likely an issue with your sanitizer not activating due to some other imbalance in your water chemistry. It’s best to get a water test done to know this for sure. You may also consider a drain and fill and even switching sanitation methods to something better suited for your specific source water.

  • Nancy Emnett | Aug 29, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    I have a bullfrog A6. We have used chlorine in the past, can it be converted to salt water?

    • Bullfrog Spas | Aug 30, 2017 at 9:06 am

      Yes, this is a possibility using an after market conversion kit. Some dealers offer this while some will suggest staying away from it. “Salt water” chlorinating or brominating systems actually generate either chlorine or bromine by using electrolysis to separate the sanitizing chemicals from dissolved salt (Sodium Chloride, NaCl or Sodium Bromide, NaBr) added to your water. The sanitization effect is actually exactly the same as using direct chlorine or bromine application, just the method of activating that sanitizer is different. You put salt in once and then the electrodes in the system help change some of that salt into sanitization chemicals. It seems like an easier way to sanitize and in some respects, it can be, especially if you have very regular spa usage patterns. However, like any passive sanitization system (floaters, etc) you must stay right on top of how much sanitizer is in the water or it can over sanitize and cause breakdown of some spa equipment or even elements of the spa itself. If you do go this way you’ll likely be trading the time you spent adding the right amount of chlorine or bromine to the spa water for time spent monitoring that the system is generating the right amount of chlorine or bromine. Consult your local dealer as to whether or not they offer aftermarket salt based chlorine or salt based bromine systems.

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