In this guide you're going to learn everything you need to know about maintaining your hot tub.
Here's what we're going to cover.
- Types of hot tubs
- Maintaining chemistry
- Hot tub tasks
- Shocking your hot tub
- Draining and cleaning your hot tub
So if you want to take all the guesswork out of keeping your hot tub clean and maintained, read on.
Let's dive in, shall we?
Types of Hot Tubs
Knowing a few basics about your hot tub up front will help you with regular care and maintenance.
One of those basics is the brand of product you have. This is information you’ll have to have if you ever need to order replacement parts or accessories.
Secondly, you’ll need to know the type.
Believe it or not, there are a LOT of different types of hot tubs.
They don’t necessarily vary all that much and there won’t be a pop quiz later. But it is important to understand some things about the specific type you have.
Portable Hot Tubs
One of the most common types of hot tubs is portable.
Portable hot tubs give you the most choices as far as size and other features.
These are the hot tubs you can set on your porch or deck, and they’re not portable in a way that you can just drain them and move them to a new spot without a lot of help.
They are just not built in, so they can be set up wherever you’d like.
In-Ground Hot Tubs
In-ground are another type of hot tub you might frequently see in hotels or beside in-ground pools.
They’re usually custom and lined with the same material as the adjacent pool. And that’s actually the most important thing to know about the type of hot tub you have: the material.
Different types of hot tub materials require slightly different maintenance procedures.
For example, if you have a wooden spa, cleaning the walls with chlorine can quickly lead to deterioration. Instead, you’ll need to use a gentler agent, such as baking soda and water.
Other types of hot tubs include inflatable, soft sided, and wood fired. Each are made with their own types of materials and their own directions for maintenance.
For the purposes of this article, we’re going to be covering hot tub maintenance on the type most people have.
And that would be portable spas with fiberglass interiors.
Maintaining the Chemistry in Your Hot Tub
You didn’t think you could get by without testing the water, did you? Well, suck it up, Buttercup.
Your hot tub is just a tinier version of a swimming pool.
And maintaining the right levels is actually even more important for your hot tub because the warmer water can quickly become a breeding ground for germs.
The first thing you should do is to buy a good testing kit.
Test strips work just fine and you might prefer them since you’ll be testing so often.
However, if you don’t feel comfortable testing it yourself and have a pool supply store nearby, feel free to run a sample to them to test once a week.
Just like with pool water, you’ll need to keep an eye on the pH, sanitizer, and alkalinity. In order to keep your water clean, all these levels need to be in balance.
The ideal total alkalinity (TA) level for hot tubs is 125-150 ppm.
Total alkalinity is important for you hot tub water because it acts as a buffer for the pH balance. When these levels are off, pH won’t measure correctly either.
Balancing alkalinity is actually the first thing you’ll want to do when adjusting your water chemistry.
To raise it, you can add sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).
Keep in mind that this will effectively raise both TA and pH levels and you’ll want to add it a little at a time, testing in between.
You’ll likely need more than what’s available in the small kitchen boxes, so make sure you purchase the big bags packaged for pools. These bags will have instructions on dosage amounts.
This chemical will also help stabilize pH, so if it needs a little tweaking, this will help.
The ideal pH level for hot tubs is 7.2-7.8.
Lower pH readings mean the water is too acidic, which can cause itchy skin and eyes and corroded equipment. Higher levels indicate that the water is too basic, which can cause cloudy water and scale formation.
You’ll use the same chemicals and methods to raise pH and lower pH balance as you do with TA levels. In fact, if you have to adjust one or the other, you’ll need to test each one in between adding chemicals.
Note: If you find that your pool’s pH and TA levels are constantly on a roller coaster, it’s probably time to drain your water and start over. Luckily this task isn’t as difficult with a hot tub as it is with a pool.
The ideal sanitizer level for hot tubs is 1.5-3.0 ppm for chlorine or 3.0-5.0 ppm for bromine.
Your hot tub’s sanitizer is the most important element in maintaining clean and safe water and the two most popular chemicals used are chlorine and bromine. You won’t find these levels too high very often.
Most commonly, they’ll be low when you check them. This is because various elements use up your active chlorine.
The product label on your sanitizer should give you the proper instructions for adding more. But keep in mind that if your TA and pH levels are off, adding more sanitizer won’t do you much good. See if you can get those balanced first.
If you’re having trouble keeping your levels balanced, it may be time to either shock or drain your water. Which one you choose will probably depend on how long you’ve used the same water.
If you refreshed your water recently, try shocking it first, even if you’ve already done it this week.
But if you still can’t get it balanced, it will probably save you time and chemicals to drain it.
Daily Hot Tub Tasks
It’s best to put your hot tub on your calendar and make sure these tasks don’t get neglected very often. It doesn’t take long for still warm water to get murky.
- Circulate the water. Even if you’re not using the hot tub that day, it’s essential that you keep that water moving. This keeps any contaminants running through the hot tub’s filtration system and bacteria from settling in. Some hot tubs have automatic circulation timers that turn it on once or twice a day. If not, you’ll have to do it manually. Make sure you leave it on for at least 15 minutes each time; twice a day is ideal.
- Check the water temperature. If you notice any drastic changes, it could indicate a problem with the system. Staying on top of it could help you head off costly repairs.
- Clean out debris. It’s best to keep your spa covered, especially if it’s outdoors. But if the cover’s been off for some reason, be sure to remove anything that’s found it’s way in, such as dirt or leaves.
Every Other Day Hot Tub Tasks
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday are good days to schedule these tasks, but as long as you kind of spread them out and do them three times a week, you should be good.
- Check your hot tub’s chemistry levels. Use your testing kit and test the pH, total alkalinity, and sanitizer. Adjust each one as needed.
- Clean the hot tub around the water line. Right above the water line, you’ll sometimes see a white film starting to form. This is usually buildup from your soakers, such as lotions and oils. You’ll need to wipe this away thoroughly to keep it from building up or throwing off your chemical balance.
Weekly Hot Tub Tasks
- Shock the water. Shocking your hot tub water will sort of refresh and recharge its sanitizer strength. It should kill everything in it you don’t want, including bacteria and algae spores.
- Rinse the filters. All you need is clean water to rinse these off and keep them working well. Dirty filters will stop collecting all that nasty stuff you’re trying to keep out of your water.
- Rinse off the cover. Usually, you can get by with just rinsing the cover off with a hose. But it’s a good idea to use a good spa cover cleaner and wipe it down. This will keep any dirt and debris on it from falling into the hot tub.
Monthly Hot Tub Tasks
- Check your jets. Turn on your hot tub jets and make sure they’re all working at full strength. Check for clogs or malfunctions. If there is a problem, handle it right away so that it doesn’t become a bigger issue.
- Deep clean your filter. Once a month, rather than just rinsing the filter with water, clean it off with a chemical. You can purchase spray filter cleaners that you can douse your filter with before rinsing. Or you can just use a little of the sanitizer you use in your hot tub. Just be sure to wear protective gloves when handling any chemical.
Semi-Annual Hot Tub Tasks
Depending on how much you use your hot tub, these tasks may need to be done three or even four times a year instead of twice. Just use your best judgment in figuring out what yours needs.
- Drain your hot tub. This task is essential and something far too many people neglect for too long. Since it’s a small body of water, it’s almost impossible to remove all the contaminants, no matter how much you circulate it. Body oils, sweat, lotions, hair products, and other bodily...um...fluids.
- Clean your hot tub. This once a month cleaning after the water’s been drained is a thorough cleaning that should rid it of every unwanted particle, film, or bacteria. We’ll go into this a little more in-depth later.
- Repair your hot tub. This is the time to make any minor or major repairs you’ve noticed on the surface or in your mechanics. If it’s something you can’t fix, leave it drained until you can get a professional to do the work.
Shocking Your Hot Tub
Shocking the water in your hot tub should be a regular part of your once-a-week tasks.
This just means you are super-chlorinating your water, but there is an actual product you will need to purchase called pool shock. Or you can use higher doses of the chlorine you already use.
We shock our hot tubs and pools for several reasons.
For one thing, it helps remove organic matter from the water—this is the gunk that builds up from people’s bodies, especially when you have multiple bathers. It also kills bacteria that naturally starts to grow in warm water.
Another instance where you might have to your hot tub water is when your sanitizer level is too high.
This doesn’t happen often, as this chemical is eaten up by sunlight and contaminants. But occasionally, your water can experience something called chlorine lock, where your chlorine is rendered ineffective no matter how much you keep adding.
When this happens, either shocking or draining is the only solution.
If you happen to use bromine as your sanitizer, it’s still best to shock it with a chlorine product at least every six months—this will help keep the bromine active and kill any germs not previously removed.
Here’s how it’s done:
- Remove your hot tub cover.
- Turn off the jets but leave your hot tub motor running to keep the water gently moving.
- Test and adjust the pH levels to somewhere right in the middle of normal ranges. 7.5 is ideal, but anywhere between 7.4 and 7.6 will work fine.
- Add the appropriate dosage of shock according to your product’s instruction label.
- Slowly add the shock to your hot tub water without pouring it directly on the sides.
- Leave the motor running and test your chlorine after a couple of hours. Don’t let anyone in the tub until the chlorine levels have gone down to about 3 ppm.
A note on non-chlorine shock: non-chlorine shock is usually bromine-based and is a good product for shocking your hot tub once a week since it’s less abrasive to surfaces.
But keep in mind that it is an oxidizer only. It may help boost the chemicals you’re using, but it won’t kill bacteria.
Draining and Cleaning Your Hot Tub
You should be draining and cleaning your hot tub at a minimum of once a year to keep it as clean as possible, mainly to prevent and rid your tub of that slimy biofilm that can build up from bodily contaminants.
To get to the heart of it, though, a quick run-down of why it’s bad is that it tends to hold on to bacteria and protect it from sanitizer.
So, the only way to get rid of it is to drain the hot tub and scrub everything away.
Flush the Lines
Every hot tub manufacturer has its own way of draining its hot tubs, but usually it’s as simple as pulling a plug. Before you do that, though, it’s important to flush out the lines because biofilm hides in there, too.
For this, you’ll need a specific cleaner called line flush that’s specifically designed to remove biofilm.
You add this to your hot tub water and allow it to circulate through the lines for the specified period of time (your package should have dosage and time requirements).
If your hot tub hasn’t been cleaned regularly, you may need to allow it to circulate a little longer than the directions require.
As the line flush circulates, you might start to see the gunk starting to form in the water. That means it’s working well and removing the biofilm from the lines.
Drain Your Hot Tub
Once you’ve allowed that chemical to work, you can now drain the water from the hot tub—the best way to do this is to connect a water hose to the drain and lower the other end to the ground.
Gravity should quickly start to pull the water from the tub. This will take a while, possibly even a few hours.
Be sure to check with your city for any ordinances about draining large amounts of water. Some require you to drain it into the sewer system, while others are fine with you draining it onto your property.
If you don’t want to wait, there is another option.
You can purchase a product called a sump pump, or submersible pump to suck the water right out in a matter of minutes.
Depending on the type of pump you buy, however, it may leave an inch or so of water at the bottom. Your hot tub drains should be able to remove this.
Or you can simply soak it up with towels to get it completely dry.
Clean the Filter
Next, remove your hot tub filter. You can either clean it or replace it, depending on how long it’s been in use.
If you do clean it, make sure you’re using a chemical soak at least once a year. You can buy products specifically made for this or you can use a solution of a little chlorine and water.
Let it soak for at least several hours and rinse it well with a hose. Of course, if the filter still comes out dirty, replace it.
Clean the Hot Tub
Once your hot tub is completely empty, spray down the fiberglass shell with a cleaning solution. This can be a hot tub cleaner you purchase or a mixture of vinegar and water.
Make sure you’re getting the liquid into all the nooks and crannies, especially by the jets.
Next, use a soft cloth or towel to wipe away the cleaner. Rinse it out well using containers of water and drain the rinse water with the residue.
You may need to do this more than once to make sure you get it all out.
Fill the Hot Tub
Open your spa jets if they were closed, then fill your hot tub with fresh water. The best way to do this is with a garden hose straight from your faucet, but be sure to use a hose filter to catch impurities that will taint your water.
These are cheap and easy to screw onto the end of your hose and it will keep you from having imbalanced water levels right from the start.
Test the Water
Use your testing kit to test the pH, sanitizer, and TA levels in the water. Add chemicals as necessary until it’s balanced.
Clean The Hot Tub Cover
Don’t neglect your hot tub cover.
Mold and bacteria can form on these as well, and if you’re not careful, that junk will fall right into the tub every time you put it on.
Completely remove the cover and clean away from the hot tub. The easiest way to do this is to place it on a tarp.
The lawn or a cement area is fine, but you’ll have to wipe away any debris that sticks to it in the process.
Spray it off with a water hose, removing all the debris you can.
Then, fill a bottle with a white vinegar and water solution and spray the cover down thoroughly.
Wipe away the solution with a soft cloth and rinse it with water.
You’ll do this one side at a time.
Hopefully, we’ve covered everything you ever wanted to know about hot tub maintenance.
If nothing else, it’s important to make it a habit to take care of it regularly.
It’s much easier to prevent issues than it is to try and fix them once they’ve gotten out of hand!