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How To Clean Your Spa

Categories: How To Guides, Chemicals, Hot Tubs & Spas, Maintenance & Upkeep
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, the 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:
  1. Combined chlorine
  2. Cyanuric acid
  3. Total dissolved solids
  4. 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 the opposite.
  • 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 pump.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 505025 or 505176 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
The accumulation of body oils and scum on the waterline tiles is common. The use of a detergent will only add to your problems by creating foam. We recommend the ClearView Tile & Vinyl Cleaner or SeaKlear Tile & Vinyl Cleaner. With the addition of SeaKlear Natural Clarifier you can filter out the dirt and oils if you do not wish to drain the spa. All of these products are safe on all surfaces.
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 basis.
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 emergencies.
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 oils.
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.
Commercial spas
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!
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