Small or large, at some point your spa is going
to need a cleaning. This could be a complete drain and refill or just a touch up
to get a spot of dirt off the floor. When a spa cleaning is needed can depend on how much
the spa is getting used and the condition of the water. A thorough test of the
water can make the decision whether to treat or drain. Because spas have a low
ratio of water to occupants, the effects of sweat, deodorants and body oils
put a much larger demand on your sanitizer and filtration system.
Let's start with the water
We sell a variety of AquaChek test strips that
test your chemistry accurately and quickly. The
7-in-1 Test Strips
gives you seven
important tests in one easy strip. By adding the TDS Test Strips
Cyanuric Acid Test Strips,
and the Total Hardness Test Strips
you will have the critical tests covered. These test
strips are easy to use and they are remarkably accurate. I like, and use, these
because they store well and have a long shelf life. They are date stamped with
an expiration date.
After testing your water, the quandary of treating or draining will become more apparent.
I use four parameters:
- Combined chlorine
- Cyanuric acid
- Total dissolved solids
- Calcium hardness
Combined chlorine can be resolved by a super chlorination and or the addition
of a non-chlorine shock treatment Potassium Monopersulfate. Cyanuic acid (CYA)
is a chlorine stabilizer that accumulates with every addition of products such
as Di-chlor and chlorine tablets. Total dissolved solids (TDS) is the accumulation of CYA, non chlorine
shock and all the other things suspended in your water.
I strongly recommend the use of bromine as
opposed to chlorine for all spa sanitation for several reasons.
- Chlorine starts
to gas off and become airborne at about 106 degrees while bromine resists until
close to 120 degrees. With the addition of ammonia excreted by the human body,
combining with chlorine to form chloramines, water gets that foul locker room
smell that most people associate with too much chlorine, in reality it is just
- Next is bromine's ability to convert that ammonia into bromine
which remains a good sanitizer without an offensive smell. Bromine is a two part
sanitizer that needs an oxidizer to rejuvenate bromine, back to hypobromous
acid. The use of Ozone and U.V. do that for just pennies.
- And finally, chlorine
loses its effective killing ability as pH rises. Bromine keeps its ability to
disinfect at a high pH, which is more comfortable to us, with less irritation
to eyes and skin.
Reading the instructions provided with each test
strip will show you the maximum levels you can reach before a drain is
necessary. There is one other criteria that I use to resolve the drain issue.
If I cannot treat the water and have it respond positively within an hour, I
drain the spa. It is easier and cheaper to drain and re-fill than it is to keep
trying to load the spa with chemicals.
Draining your spa
Draining your spa, large or small, requires a
bit of common sense. Many above ground spas are equipped with a hose connection
or a valve to simply let the water out on the deck or to the nearest planter.
Spa owners may find this is a poor choice. The high concentrations of salts and
TDS when drained into their planters and lawns will have a detrimental effect.
The smart choice is to get the water into a clean-out at the house, a sink or
toilet that goes to a municipal sewer system. This isn’t always easy as the
drain valve on spas is below any of those options which means the water must
travel up hill. A tool which a spa owner should have on hand is a submersible
.You do not need a
high volume pump, something like a 1/6 to 1/3 HP will work fine. Little Giant
is a tried and true choice that will last you for decades. The Water Wizard 1/6 HP pumps
are very good choices. The
Superior brand 1/5 HP pump 91029
or the 1/3 HP pump 91335
are also reliable pumps and a bit easier on the pocket book. With a length of garden hose
these pumps will get you to a suitable place to drain your spa.
For inground spas, you should have an equipment
area with all your components visible. If it was installed competently, the
filter (either D.E. or sand) should have a backwash valve going to a sanitary
sewer system. If not, the same instructions and warnings listed above for above ground spas will
apply to you as well. Cartridge filters may escape the need for a backwash
valve, but the need to drain it remains just the same, so a sump pump is
something to consider.
Physically cleaning the spa
If you decide that you are going to drain the
spa this is a good time to clean the tile and interior surface and get rid of
all that junk that adds to TDS.
A cheap alternative to a tile cleaner and all
around cleaner is TSP (Tri-Sodium Phosphate) available at most hardware stores.
This is a very good degreaser and oil remover, and it will not foam. Though, be
cautioned that it will add phosphates to your water which is food for algae.
Thoroughly rinse, dilute and remove TSP any time you use this product in your
pool or spa. Another useful product is a Scotch-Brite pad. Yep, just like what
you use in the kitchen. In many cases this alone will get rid of the junk on
tile. You can find these in different textures and configurations from sheets,
to brush handled scrubbers at the local hardware store. Be careful as the
courser pads are more abrasive and can scratch your tile and acrylic finishes.
My tile is clean but I have dirt in my spa!
For many outdoor spas, especially those attached
to swimming pools, the need to get debris out may be present a challenge. The use of a
net to get the stuff on top is easy and many above ground spas have a small
skimmer that collects the debris in a basket or tray. A very useful tool that
works well for floors and crevices is a spa wand
or pool blaster
. My personal favorite is the Polaris X-Long Spa Wand
. Consider also a scrub brush
that gets into nooks, crannies and even under ladders.
Don’t forget the filter...
You’ve balanced your chemicals, cleaned your tile,
scrubbed the interior and vacuumed up all the dirt and debris, which leaves the
filter. If the circulating pump is the heart of your system your filter is its
kidneys, kidney failure is not a good thing. If you have a spa attached to your
pool then you already know that the filter requires cleaning on a routine
Most above ground spas have a cartridge filter
located in the skimmer opening. Removing it and cleaning it is usually pretty
easy. Use a cartridge filter cleaner like the Filbur Cartridge & Grid Cleaner
and let them soak
for a while. Do not use a solution of muriatic acid to soak them in, as it will
drive the oils into the fabric. A good alternative to a cartridge cleaner is
TSP. As I mentioned before, always rinse, dilute and remove TSP any time you
use this product in your spa or with your equipment.
Jetting them clean with a high pressure nozzle
will revive them. You will only be able to do this a couple of times as the
fabric will become clogged and require replacements. While we have a huge selection of replacement cartridges, there are too
many to list on our website; if you don't see what you need we can get you a replacement spa filter cartridge
quickly. It is always a good practice to have a clean back-up ready for
If you have a D.E. or sand filter, the time to
clean these is when you drain your spa. For a D.E. filter, a complete
disassembly of the filter grids from the manifold and a good scrubbing with a
brush should get them rejuvenated. Yes, even a bit of TSP will help remove the
Sand filters require a bit more of a personal
touch as they can get quite congested with oils. A procedure that works well is
to backwash the filter, followed by the removal of the top and scouring the
sand with a high pressure nozzle on your garden hose. Once you have loosened
the sand and it is free from clumps, put the top back on and backwash the
filter again. If you cannot get the sand to break-up and flow freely, you can
try soaking the sand in a solution of TSP overnight, scouring the sand once
again, assemble and backwash thoroughly. If this doesn’t get it clean, remove
and replace the sand.
For more information on filter cleaning, our article on how to clean a filter
will guide you step by step on this process for each type of filer.
Although the steps I have covered are directed
at residential spas it applies to commercial spas as well. Commercial spas, in
apartments, condo complexes, hotels and community complexes will require much
more dedication to the water chemistry and circulation. In my article on chemical automation
I provide some helpful suggestions for dealing with the control of sanitation by
automation for these facilities.
If there is one item I would have in any of
these spas it would be Ozone
or U.V. sanitation
. With the addition of just one
of these, you will enjoy a spa that has a dramatic decrease in chemical use,
reduction or elimination of the foul smelling water, and foam and scum accumulation; as well as
longer filter cycles between cleanings.
About now your spa is filled with fresh water, the
chemistry dialed in, and the water is hot and to 104 degrees, what else is
there to consider than to pop a cold frosty one and relax in your spa? Well a
lot! Did you ever wonder why the temperature of pool and spa heaters only go to
104 degrees? It’s really an easy safety feature that makes sense. If you are
sick and running a fever, the danger zone for brain damage is right there at
104 to105. Before you get there, you start dropping aspirin or ibuprofen to
keep your temperature down. When you start getting to 105 and upwards you reach
the danger zone and the prospects of an immersion in a cold bath of water is at
the top of the list to get you cooled down. So... you are in the spa up to your
neck in nice toasty water and the only thing cooling your body off is your
head. Is this starting to make sense now? Couple that with the ingestion of a
bit of alcohol and the danger potential rises. I live and maintain spas at 8,100
feet in a resort community. The air contains 26% less oxygen than at sea level.
The combination of these three can be deadly. Where am I going with this? Be careful, be smart! You want to be able to relax and enjoy the comforts of a nice
toasty, sanitized spa.
Remember, you can’t go skinny dippin' without
your birthday suit on!