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An introduction to the wonderful world of spa chemistry

You're reading this right now because you are either the proud new owner of a hot tub or you have had one for a while and are just totally confused by what you've read and seen up until now. No matter why you're here, let's take a moment to soak it all in. We'll go step by step starting with one cardinal rule:

"Everybody's water is a little different."

So what does this mean? It means that even though we are going to go over a laundry list of terms, definitions and best practices here, in the end you will need to find a routine that works for your water. The goal is to test your water and get it to fit into the proper ranges. What, when, and how much? We'll give you a framework, but be willing to custom tailor it to your water's needs. Now, let's get started.

"The most vital component of spa water and your health."

We're not really sure if we can stress this enough. THE PROPER USE OF SANITIZERS IN YOUR SPA IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FACET OF GOOD SPA WATER CHEMISTRY. Selecting your sanitizer and maintaining is level in your hot tub is very important. Why? Because the sanitizer is the agent you put in the water to kill the bacteria and viruses that are in each and every spa. And we mean every spa. You wouldn't want to go take a bath at the sewage processing plant would you? We didn't think so. Let's take a look at your choices in sanitizers.

  • CHLORINE - Chlorine is a very popular form of spa water sanitation. Many pool users are immediately familiar with chlorine due to its wide-spread use among pool owners. There is one important thing to remember though. There is a different formulation of chlorine for spas versus pools. This is done because a spa's water environment is both hot instead of cold and typically under 1000 gallons. These two properties make taking care of spa water much different than that of a pool. Simply, the active ingredient in the spa formulation is a DI-CHLOR instead of the TRI-CHLOR found in pool chlorine. Further, a spa chlorine will almost be exclusively found in dry granular form. Many pool chlorines are liquid. The key to using this popular sanitizer in your spa is to make sure you are using the properly formulated product.

    Example Products Sold by America's SPA-MART: Leisure Time Spa 56 Chlorine

  • BROMINE - Another form of spa water sanitation is the use of bromine tablets. Bromine tabs are a combination of sodium bromide that is activated by sodium di-chlor. That's right, bromine actually has some chlorine in it. Many bromine users cite a less pungent odor when using this over strictly chlorine. Bromine tabs are distributed through a floating dispenser that allows the bromine to dissolve in the water over time.

    Example Products Sold by America's SPA-MART: Leisure Time Brom Tabs

  • OZONE - If your spa is equipped with an optional "ozonator" than you are using ozone sanitation. Even if your spa didn't come with one, an ozonator may be added with a simple aftermarket kit. Ozonators need help. They cannot be relied on to do all of the dirty work themselves no matter what anyone tells you. This goes for the guy who sold you your spa too. You still need to use a reduced level of bromine or chlorine in order to keep your water sanitized. What does the ozonator give you then? It allows you to use less of the other sanitizers. Also, ozonators become less efficient over time and, depending on your model, may need to have the ozone generating mechanism replaced as it wears out.

  • NATURE2 & OTHER MINERAL PURIFIERS - Though not a solution all by themselves, mineral purifier cartridges can be used to assist your sanitizers in keeping your water clear. The use of a Nature2 or Leisure Time spa purifier cartridge enables you to use less of the traditional sanitizer. When using these purifiers, you can safely maintain a chlorine or bromine level of 0.5ppm instead of 3ppm. These cartridges slide inside of your spa's filter. The Nature2 Purifier precisely controls water flows through a replaceable cartridge. Inside, a non-electrical reaction "activates" oxygen to kill bacteria, algae, and viruses. Next, Nature2 releases trace amounts of natural, algaestatic and bactericidal minerals into the pool to help prevent bacteria and algae growth.

    Example Products Sold by America's SPA-MART: Leisure Time Mineral Purifier, Nature2 Spa Purifier Cartridge

  • BIGUANIDE - Biguanides (whose chemical name, polyhexamethylene biguanide, is abbreviated PHMB) were first developed as a pre-surgery antimicrobial scrub. Despite their aggressive desire to kill germs, biguanides are gentle on the skin and eyes. In fact, biguanides are used in some contact lens cleaning solutions. And because they reduce the surface tension of water, swimmers often comment that biguanide-treated water feels silky smooth. There are several manufacturers of biguanides for pool and spa use, but the most widely known brands are BAQUACIL® and SoftSwim®. Here at America's SPA-MART, you can enjoy the benefits of biguanide sanitation with the Leisure Time Free Sanitizing System.

    Compared with chlorine or bromine, biguanides are less susceptible to UV rays, and they are more stable (which means that their sanitizing power lasts longer). They do not produce smelly chloramines (the byproduct of inactive chlorine), and they are not affected by high temperatures or changes in pH. Also, most biguanide manufacturers have devised simple-to-follow sanitizing schedules that make a biguanide pool or spa easier to maintain than a pool sanitized with chlorine.

    More information on biguanides: Leisure Time Free Sanitizing System

    Product Catagory Link to the America's SPA-MART online store: ALL FREE SANITIZING SYSTEM PRODUCTS

  • ECO-ONE - ecoONE can act as a replacement for, or greatly reduce your need for the vast majority of your spa-care chemical regimen, non-toxically. ecoONE reduces the overall amount of sanitizer needed by minimizing the "workload" of the sanitizer. Normally, spa owners have to add many chemicals to balance their spa, not with ecoONE. It handles the bulk of the chores and leaves the sanitizer to do it's job, which is to kill bacteria fast and effectively. There is NO reason why someone should add heavy amounts of sanitizer to breakdown foam, suntan oils, personal care products, detergents, scum, etc. This can all be taken care of without harmful chemicals. With ecoONE you will reduce your sanitizer use by up to 90%. You wont even be able to tell that there is a sanitizer in the water. NO chemical smell, itching, rashes, dry skin, red eyes, faded clothing, damaged hair, etc. NONE!

    More information on ecoONE: ecoONE Spa Care System

    Product Catagory Link to the America's SPA-MART online store: ALL ecoONE SPA CARE PRODUCTS

Testing the water
"To truly know, you must measure"

Okay, we just made up that tagline, but it's very true. Don't guess at whether your water needs chemicals. You'll just be wasting your time and money. Spa chemical manufacturers have made it easy to test your water. All you do is dip the test strip in the water and match it to relative color chart. The days of using the OTO/PHENOL reactant test kits are a thing of the past.

The one detail you need to pay attention to is using the right test strip for your sanitizer type. Yes, there are differing test strips for different sanitizers.

Test strips will typically measure 1) Free Available Sanitizer, 2) pH level and 3) Alkalinity. Some strips test more items, but these are the basics. Just follow the instructions on the test strips container and adjust your sanitizer accordingly. We'll discuss pH and alkalinity in a bit.

Varying test strips kits are found in their respective sanitizer categories in our online store. They are also found in the Balancers section. Remember to match the test strip to your sanitizer.

Changing your spa's water
"Do you really want to soak in water that hasn't been changed in two years?"

Yeah, we didn't think so. We also know that most people don't really think about it often enough and when they do they wonder what refilling it is going to do to the water bill. Trust us, it's going to be less than your co-pay at the doctor's office when you start not feeling so hot. Water needs to be changed about every 3-4 months. Notice we said NEEDS TO BE not should be. Why? Because, no matter how wonderful the chemicals are at doing their job, there comes a time when there's just too much stuff in the water. We could bore you with the details of high total dissolved solids (TDS) counts and their effect on the effectiveness of varying spa water care products, but just take our word for it. When three months roll around, try to plan a half hour to change the water. You'll save money in the long run. Trust us.

Unfortunately, we don't sell water in our online store. But you probably have a more local source anyway which will save you a bundle on the shipping.

Shock Agents
"Oxidation is a beautiful thing when you're trying to kill bacteria."

Shock agents are oxidizers. Oxidizers break down the oils, lotions and other tough compounds that end up in the water that sanitizers aren't designed to destroy. So what's the big deal? Well, bacteria's got to eat. And they just love dead skin and body oils. Oxidizing destroys the food source for bacteria. You help kill them the old-fashioned way: You starve them

You will typically shock your water about once per week with a non-chlorine shock agent like Leisure Time Renew.

pH and Alkalinity

Water pH is a measurement of the concentration of hydrogen ions in your spa water. Without getting technical, you basically want to keep the water pH between 7.2 and 7.8. Too low and your water becomes too acidic which will start to corrode your spa parts. You won't like the effects of low pH personally either. Too high and your water becomes too basic or alkaline. This causes mineral scaling and deposits and stains on your spa's surface.

After testing the water with the test strips and reading the pH level, adjust the pH up or down with the appropriate pH mover agent. Check out our Balancers section in the online store for these products. Once you get the pH normalized over a couple of weeks, you can look at some of the pH locking products like Leisure Time pH Balance plus.

Alkalinity is the ability of your water to buffer pH levels. We know, you're asking yourself why that matters if you can move the pH. But it does and here's why. pH and alkalinity are dancing. The key is to get them to slow dance in unison. (WARNING: A chicken and the egg scenario is going to look like it's about to appear.) The ability of the pH to normalize and not bounce around constantly depends on the alkalinity being normalized. However, alkalinity cannot normalize until the pH is maintained normal for a period of time. Huh? We know, it sounds difficult but it really isn't. Here is what you do. Unless your alkalinity is very low, forget about it for a while. (If it's low, there are alkalinity increaser products). Check and adjust your pH every other day for two weeks. By staying on top of the pH this frequently, you don't allow it to drift wildly. Once it's maintained this way for about two weeks, alkalinity will normalize which will then allow the pH some parameters. It sounds confusing, but it's not if you are disciplined in that first two weeks.

Heavy Metal
"Spas are more jazz machines. There's no place for heavy metal contents in spa water."

To begin, the finger needs to be pointed at your water source. And guess what? They don't really care that you don't want really hard water in your spa. They have other things to worry about. So don't waste your time going after the source. We just have to deal with it. Good for you, the spa chemical industry has seen a need and offered their help. Graciously, of course. Meet Leisure Time Metal Gon. Use it more often than you think necessary. That is unless you like water with a greenish tint and the heavy metals messing up your spa's heating equipment.

There is another solution if you have really hard water. Why not remove all those metals before the water goes in? If this is more to your liking, check out the ecoONE Spa Water Pre-Filter. Attach this to the end of your hose and then fill your spa. You'll be amazed by all the stuff this thing filters out.

Calcium Hardness

Like other elementals, improper calcium levels can mess up your spa's equipment. After testing, if the calcium is too low use Leisure Time Calcium Booster. If it's too high, the calcium level can be brought down with regular use of Leisure Time Defender.

Clarifiers, Flock Agents and Defense Products

So you want that crystal clear blue water huh? Well there are chemicals for that too. They are commonly referred to as Clarifiers. Some coagulate small particles into larger particules that will get trapped in your filter. These are Flock Agents like Leisure Time Bright and Clear. Too much foam when you turn on your jets? No problem for Leisure Time Foam Down. This product discourages the foam by putting a skin on your water. Getting that ring around the tub? Pick up some Leisure Time Scum Gon Enzyme.

Leisure Time Defender and Natural Chemistry Spa Perfect are great defense products to protect your spa. Leisure Time Algaecide works beautifully on algae-ridden spas.

Filter Cleaning

Consider for a moment what the filter is doing. It is trapping particulates that were floating in the water. Now they're in the filter. You need to clean the filter... a lot. Every 2-4 weeks is ideal. Once a year is not. Please do not neglect this. It's gross. We've talked to people that have owned their spa for three years and never had the filter compartment open. Don't be that guy! Please!

Okay, so the filter's out and you are contemplating your choices. Do you clean it or replace it? Well since filters are moderately expensive and most of us aren't the owner of a very large software company in Washington, that leaves cleaning. You can soak or you can use the spray-on instant cleaners. Just depends on how much you want to scrub. There are also devices to help you clean the filters. Check all these out in the Spa Filter Cleaning section of our online store.

General Purpose Cleaning

It's a good idea to keep the spa surface clean. Leisure Time's Citribright and Tub Rub products are great.

Closing Thoughts
"It's what you make of it"

Spa water chemistry is really what you make it. It can be hard, but using the right tools it can also be really simple. We hope you have benefitted from this "light" reading. We know there's a lot here and if you've read this whole thing we congratulate you. Now read it again!

Seriously though, spa water care is tedious process, but a simple one. You choose and maintain your sanitizer. Test your pH weekly and adjust. Shock once a week. With the exception of a few defense products, everything else is reactionary use. If you have the problem, get the chemical to fix it. Along this line, here is a link to our Spa Water Troubleshooting page. If you have a problem, try to match it to one of these symptoms and suggested solutions.

The folks over at Advantis Water Technologies, the makers of Leisure Time spa chemicals, have been nice enough to put together a Simple Spa Care Guide. Check it out and see if their approach works for you.

And finally, just remember that everyone's water is different. Just because your college buddy has a routine that works for him, don't assume you're doing something wrong if it doesn't work for you. Tinker and play around with your routine within the guidelines set forth here and make the spa water care system your own.