To Drain or Not To Drain (Your Spa)–That’s the Question

January 7, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Posted in Hot Tub Chemistry, Spa Chemistry | 1 Comment
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“When is it time to drain the hot tub?”  I think this question hit the millionth-time mark in my pool-dude world. 

Following that query is, “Well, the guy at the spa store said to drain my hot tub every three months.  My brother-in-law drains his twice a year and my neighbor drains his spa every month.”

First, while spa companies recommend quarterly drains, there’s some misinformation in that answer.

Barring no real problems with green water or some other nasty water issue, the only parameter to drain a hot tub is Total Dissolved Solids (TDS). End of story. 

TDS measures all the solids that are in the tap water, not including what happens to hot tub water every time you use your spa.  In other words, when you are in the hot tub at 104 degrees, that steam is distilled water–lacking any minerals–leaving the minerals behind in the water. 

 Think of your hot tub like a giant tea pot.  When you use the hot tub and distill the water the TDS raises incrementally.  When TDS reaches 1500 ppm that’s when it’s time to drain the hot tub.

Why?  High TDS lessens the effect of your chemicals. That means disinfectants are less effective, as are all the other chemicals used.  And when minerals fall out of solution your spa’s innards will look like the inside of your teapot.  It’s okay for the teapot, but not for motors, pumps, heaters and plumbing. Think expensive repair bills.

When to drain your spa is not a time issue–not drain every 3 months, or whatever.  It’s how many times you use your hot tub combined with the natural TDS of your tap water.  And to complicate this issue is tap water TDS measurements can change weekly.  From the same water spigot I’ve measured TDS at 500 ppm and then 900 ppm several weeks later.

High TDS symptoms: You can’t keep your chemicals in solution, no matter how much you add, your spa has no water quality, bad smells, etc.

You can purchase a TDS meter usually for under $25.  I sell them for less.  Yeah, that’s a blatant bit of self-promotion, but, hey, I’m just another pool dude trying to make a living ;-)!!!  E-mail me at riptidealchemy1@aol.com

Blue, Green, Yellow, Brown–All The Pretty Spa Water Colors

August 17, 2009 at 3:52 pm | Posted in Hot Tub Chemistry, Spa Chemistry | 2 Comments
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All the pretty colors.  Great when in a rainbow.  Bad when in your spa.  Spa water should be crystal clear. So when your spa water is yellow, what does that mean?

 Here’s a quick synopsis of what these colors mean:

Cloudy Green

Dude, you got  algae in the water. 

Treatment: Shock your water with chlorine.

See-Through Green or Emerald Green

Acidic Water.  The metals in your heating elements are being stripped. The average cost for a replacement heating element–$200-$250 big green dollars (includes labor).

j0438606

Treatment: Try a product like Metal Gon by Leisure Time–then balance your chemistry. 

Total Alalinity  80-120, pH 7.2-7.6, .  If this fails, drain and start all over.

Yellowish

 Indicates low total alkalinity and low pH.  It’s also  the precursor to damaging the spa’s heating element. 

Treatment: Balance your  total alkalinity and pH.  Also check your calcium hardness — should be over 250 ppm.  

Treat with calcium increaser.

Blue

Blue rarely happens in above ground spas.  But in-ground gunite spas– with gas-fired heaters–can experience bluish/turquoise water, as well as the same color stains on the plaster. 

Treatment:  Get the total alkalinity pH,   and calcium hardness balanced.  Also check  total dissolved solids (TDS) –not over 1500 ppm–  because that can also begin striping your heater.

 

Brown

Rare, but happens.  Usually indicates iron in the water. 

Treatment:  Metal Gon should cure it.  If it continues, drain, refill and add a bottle of Metal Gon when you refill.

Cloudy Spa Water Is Like a Cloudy Day-Depressing

May 27, 2009 at 4:33 pm | Posted in Hot Tub Chemistry, Spa Chemistry | Leave a comment
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Cartridge filters require regular maintenance

Cartridge filters require regular maintenance

Stan from Philadelphia asks:  No matter what I do, my spa water is cloudy most of the time, even after I have added bromine to it. I’m getting depressed with my spa. What am I missing?

Cloudy water means turbid water—opaque or murky.  You spa’s water should be clear and glistening.

So I’m assuming that your bromine reading is 2 to 3 ppms.  If it’s below that, double the shock and bring the bromine reading up to 2-3 ppms.  Inadequate disinfection is a common cloudy water cause.

However, I’d bet that you haven’t taken a peek at your cartridge filter for a while.  I’m not psychic, but after near 40-years of hearing “My water’s cloudy no matter what! You need to fix my water now,” I’m betting on your filter’s health.

What does that mean?  The filter strains your spa’s water.  It traps organic wastes like your hair, skin, and other yucky body stuff.  If it isn’t regularly cleaned the filter becomes your water’s most likely pollutant. 

If your filter harbors a grey or brown tinge, soak that disgusting thing in a cartridge filter cleaner (a product you can find at your pool and spa store designed specifically to deep clean polyester filters) to remove the debris that is entrapped in the filter’s fibers.

Good filter maintenance requires at least a monthly soak in a cartridge filter cleaner.  Rinsing your filter with a hose is okay, but not sufficient.

Your filter could also be worn out.  Most filters last about two years with regular caretaking.  So, if your filter’s fibers are the first thing you notice, it’s time for a new filter.

Now, if your filter maintenance rates an A+, then you need to check your TDS (total dissolved solids).  1500-ppms means drain the tub.  High TDS will not allow your bromine to properly disinfect.  Most hot tubs require frequent draining.  It depends on the size of the tub and how often it is used. 

If you have crossed off the funky filter and high TDS, then be sure to check the standards:  total alkalinity and pH.  See TOTAL DISSOLVED SOLIDS AND YOUR UNRULY TEENAGE MOMENTS: TOTAL ALKALINITY & pH posted below.

Also be mindful of regular shocking. 

If your spa is new to your household, you are probably using it more than you will next year.  This means that your water is under more stress and requires above average attention.

Calcium Hardness–It’s Not About Your Bones

March 18, 2009 at 5:00 pm | Posted in Hot Tub Chemistry, Pool Chemistry, Spa Chemistry | Leave a comment
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j0323833In the last post, one of the questions I asked the spa tech with a sludge-like spa water nightmare was “What is your calcium hardness reading?”

A proper test kit should contain a calcium hardness test mechanism.  Calcium hardness tests were once just for swimming pools–but we’ve discovered that it is also important for your backyard hot tub. The reason to test for calcium hardness in pool water is because a low calcium hardness reading is destructive to the pool’s plaster. (Priced plaster replacement lately?  Think second mortgage to pay for the replacement.)

All tap water has variable calcium hardness readings.   In that same seam, low calcium hardness in a hot tub is not only corrosive, but also interferes with disinfection, and low calcium hardness can also cause your water to become foamy.

Spa and pool owners often think that they have a lot of minerals in their water and equate that to calcium hardness.  WRONG.  Calcium hardness is a different measurement apart from total hardness (and that also has little to do with TDS) . 

So, the reason I wanted a calcium hardness reading on this sludgy spa was: 1) to determine the effectiveness of the disinfectant and; 2) to determine if  this was adding to the ‘green sludge’ disaster–in that it could cause the water to foam.

Maintaining your spa’s water can be like maintaining your own skeletal health, but this low-calcium hardness business can destroy your spa or pool’s skeletal well-being.  If your calcium hardness reading is below 250 ppms, then prepare for funky water, and a visit from your spa’s doctor for an expensive repair to the heater, pump seals and possibly more. 

Raise calcium hardness with calcium chloride.  You can pick this up at your local pool and spa store. 

Spa’s Sludgy Green Water and Halitosis Is Bad for Spa Tech’s Job.

March 7, 2009 at 9:07 pm | Posted in Hot Tub Chemistry, Spa Chemistry | Leave a comment
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In the spirit of keeping our economy going, we’re going to blog a near-live time problem.  Here’s today’s email from a Midwestern spa tech.  Her job is on the line.  Can the Pool and Spa Master help her keep her job?  We’ll see. 

“I stumbled on your website trying to find a solution to an icky mess of a problem I’m having with a spa at my current job.  I say current because I am afraid if I don’t figure this out it may not continue to be my place of employment!  I work at a shop that sells spas and what not, chemicals, blah, blah…  SO I believe I may have caused the pH to go wacky or something on a couple of different occasions.  I used to think there was no way I could have caused these problems.  I had been listening carefully to what I had been taught about chemicals, following directions on the bottles and so forth.  But there have been a couple of occasions where it seems that by my trying to adjust the balance, the chemistry has gone nuts.  The water stinks like halitosis, has a green sludgy look and gets a bit foamy as well.

This Hot Tub Water Is An Ewwwww

This Hot Tub Water Is An Ewwwww

  This has occurred after adjusting the pH, waiting a bit and adding sanitizer.  It seems at first like it will be okay and then it just…turns.  Like it’s rotting or something.  After about a day, I added some shock.  Didn’t help.  In fact, it just caused the sanitizer level to read off the charts, the water to get greener and stink worse!  Man, I don’t want to lose my job.  No one else seems to know what exactly I could have done to cause this problem and how to fix it.  Can we fix it without having to dump it out?  This would be the 4th time we’ve had to empty and refill a tub! (in 4 months)  Awful, I know.  Please help me!  I need a paycheck!”

 

Clearly, the Pool and Spa Master needs more information, so here’s my reply to our frazzled spa tech:

“A few questions first,

1) What is the TDS (Total Dissolved Solids)?
2) What is the Total Alkalinity reading?
3) What is the Calcium Hardness reading?
4) What is the chemistry of the fill water and the makeup water (from the spigot)?
5) What is the source of that water?
6) What kind of disinfectant are you using in the spa?

————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

 

Our spa tech got back to me, and noted that the tub was drained when she got back to work. 

However, let’s discuss the reasons why I asked some of the questions.

 

TOTAL DISSOLVED SOLIDS AND YOUR UNRULY TEENAGE MOMENTS: TOTAL ALKALINITY & pH

 If you’re a pool or spa dude, there’s nothing sexier than asking, “What’s your spa’s TDS?”  It’ll rope ‘em in every time. I mean, talk about an ice-breaker!  (How do you think I met my wife?)

BTW, TDS is leftover minerals from your spa’s evaporation process.  Remember distilling water in high school chemistry?  Your local water will have a natural TDS to begin with.  As your use your spa, not only are hard bits and pieces left behind, but the tub is distilling as well—AKA TDS.

Now take an 8-ounce water sample to your local pool and spa shop, and ask them to test it for you.

High Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)—which is any reading over 1500 ppm–will interfere with your sanitizer’s ability to perform as designed.  If your spa’s water reads over 1500 ppm, dump the chump.  Trust me; it’s your only alternative.

 “But the guy at the spa shop said my water was only 800 ppm, and my spa’s water still looks and smells like a rank pond.”

So, cross off TDS as a contributor, and move on to my next question “What is your total alkalinity reading?” 

Why?  If your total alkalinity is unbalanced (not within 80-120 ppm) it’s likely that your pH is off the scale and not under control.  This scenario, again, affects your sanitizer’s ability to perform.  Sanitizers work best in a perfect world.

A pH fluctuation by 2/10 of a ppm can make your disinfectant 70-80% less effective. 

Remember those unruly teenager moments?  Just think of your spa’s unruly total alkalinity and pH as a teenager that needs measured control.  Always, always, always balance your total alkalinity FIRST (between 80-120 ppm).  Once your total alkalinity is perfect you will then balance the pH (between 7.2 to 7.6 ppm). 

 Yes, like teenage moments, you may have to use a LITTLE bit of sodium bicarbonate, sodium carbonate and sodium bisulfate to get your total alkalinity and pH balanced, but it is the first step to preventing all the calamities that our friend with her job-at-risk experienced.

…To be continued.

Chlorine Alternatives for Spas & Stinky Hot Tub Covers

February 25, 2009 at 12:26 am | Posted in Chlorine-Alternatives, Hot Tub Chemistry, Hot Tub Covers, Spa Chemistry | Leave a comment
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Roger  from Los Angeles asks, “I read your piece about chlorine-free pools.  What about my hot tub?  Can I have a chlorine-free hot tub and not get the heebie-jeebies?”

Roger Screams For Chlorine-Alternatives in His Hot Tub

Roger Screams For Chlorine-Alternatives in His Hot Tub

Answer: Roger, if you don’t breathe LA’s air (just kidding), and if you don’t use tea tree oil, crystals, prayer or no disinfectant at all, yes you can use chlorine-free alternatives.

 That said, my first question is, are you ready to perform more maintenance on your hot tub’s water than you do using either chlorine or bromine (bromine is chlorine’s kissing cousin)?  If you are not interested in micro-managing your spa’s chemistry, then stick with the forty-year-old technology.

Some of your chlorine/bromine-free options are:  Ozone, UV, biguinide, or minerals.  Regardless of your alternative choice, you absolutely must maintain a perfect chemistry balance, a clean filter, and drain the spa when necessary.  Check your local pool and spa store, see what they stock, then email me with your choices and I’ll go into more detail.

 

Sally in Portland says, “My hot tub cover stinks.  What can I do about it?”

 Answer:  Sally, is mold growing on the north side of your spa as well?  I mean, you are in Oregon and it can get a tad moldy there.  Fortunately, that has nothing to do with a smelly hot tub cover.  Give your cover the following test:

1)      Is it heavy when you lift it?  If so, your cover is waterlogged and you need to replace it.  Once it is waterlogged it no longer can offer the same insulation it did when it was new.

2)      Is your cover slimy on the underside?  This is a simple fix.  Wipe it down with a ¼ cup of bleach mixed with 2 gallons of water.  Be sure to remove the cover from your spa while cleaning the slimy beast.

3)      Still got gag?  It could be that the foam core’s plastic envelope and the covering inside the cover have mildew or mold.  You can probably fix this by, folding the cover in half, unzip the cover at the fold, remove the foam core in its envelope, turn the cover inside out, and spray both the envelope and the inside-out cover with the same bleach mix as above.  Let it sit for 20 minutes, and then thoroughly rinse the cover off.  Let it dry, reassemble, and gag-maker should be bleached away.

4)      If these ideas fail, I can get some clothespins for your nose—real cheap too.

 ….Okay kids, go ahead shoot me those questions…and yes, Bill, I will answer your question about the safety of luv in da tub!

 

Spa is Not Hot Enough, and Ross & Carlos are Coughing & Itching. Plus No Pool Chlorine.

February 5, 2009 at 8:51 pm | Posted in Hot Tub Chemistry, Pool Chemistry | Leave a comment
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Here are a few questions I was recently asked about spas and pools:

Question.  My spa won’t get any hotter than 105 degrees.  It’s not hot enough.  The company I bought it from refuses to adjust the thermostat to make it reach 108 degrees.  I’m very disappointed.

Mary in New Mexico

 Answer.  Mary, your spa dealer has done you a favor by not adjusting the thermostat.  Here’s why:  As a consumer protection, hot tub safety experts have determined that water temp over 105 degrees is dangerous.  It raises your blood pressure, and could cause you to faint in the hot tub.  That’s not a pretty picture. Following the inevitable wrongful death lawsuits that would likely (or have been) filed against spa manufacturers, the industry has set the 105-degree standard.

Personally, I’d recommend 102 to 104 degrees as optimum water temperature so that you can comfortably enjoy your hot tub’s hydrotherapeutic features for a longer length of time. 

Question. Why do I cough when I turn the jets on my spa?  Ross in Nevada.

Answer.  Ross, when was the last time you changed your hot tub’s water or checked the full range of your hot tub’s chemistry?  If you have to pause to answer this question, that’s the red flag.  This tells me that your chemistry or total dissolved solids (TDS) is off the charts. 

First check the TDS.  You probably don’t have a meter for this, so take at least 8 ounces of your spa’s water to your local pool store and ask for the TDS test.  If the TDS reads over 1500 ppm, dump your water and start all over again.

If your TDS is below 1200-1500 ppms, then check your total alkalinity and pH.  Get your total alkalinity to 80-120 ppm.  Then bring your pH to 7.2-7.6 ppm.  Also OXIDIZE (‘shock’) your water.

Next, Ross, enjoy a good long soak with lots of jets and no coughing.

Question.  Why does my skin itch after being in the hot tub?  Carlos in Chicago.

Answer.  Carlos, there are several reasons why your skin itches after a hot tub soak.  1) dirty filter, 2)chemistry imbalance, 3) old water (high TDS), 4) too much disinfectant, 5) too long of a time in the hot tub, and 6) you may just have sensitive skin.

So, troubleshoot the cause by running thru this list.  Let me know what happens.

 Finally, a pool question from Marsha in Phoenix:  “Why am I adding chlorine every couple of days and still getting a low chlorine reading?”

Answer.  Marsha, Marsha, Marsha, first of all, you are in Phoenix.  It’s hot there.  UV is chlorine’s worst enemy.  You can buffer that UV action by testing your chlorine-stabilizer reading (cyanuric acid).  This keeps UV from breaking down the chlorine.  You want between 40-50 ppm of stabilizer.

When the weather's hot and your pool is heavily used, check your chlorine readings more often. You can also find non-chlorine alternatives. Check out www.riptidealchemy.com

When the weather's hot and your pool is heavily used, check your chlorine readings more often. You can also find non-chlorine alternatives. Check out http://www.riptidealchemy.com

Also what kind of chlorine do you use?  If it’s liquid chlorine, it is about 6 to 8-percent available chlorine.  (How do you spell weak chlorine??)  Liquid chlorine is also without added stabilizer.  I’d recommend “stabilized chlorine” (with cyanuric acid) as well as, the available chlorine ranges between 90 to 100-percent available chlorine.  This will make your pool, test kit, and YOU much happier.

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