Posts Tagged ‘total alkalinity’

You’re Late! Keep Up on Spa Chemicals!

Pressed for Time?

Nobody enjoys being late, but for some of us it just comes along with being human… especially on Monday. Every morning in my house reminds me of a movie in fast-motion. One minute I am laying in bed snoozing my alarm, and an hour later I have gotten myself ready, the kids ready, packed lunches, taken the dogs out, made breakfast, drank 2 cups of coffee, dropped the kids at school, and am rushing to make it to work on time. Needless to say, it’s a miracle if I make it to work any earlier than 9:05am.

The Back Burner

Nobody likes to be rushed, but when we are we tend to put less noticeable things on the back burner. For example, I am sure there has been a time when you were planning to put spa chemicals in your hot tub, but were in a pinch and decided to use your time to cook for the family instead.

It’s vital to stay on top of the upkeep of your spa maintenance. There are agents and treatments that can be put into your hot tub with regular maintenance that can keep the water crystal clear. If you can add this chemical as a normal hot tub maintenance feature, you will enjoy crystal clear water and always be a step or two ahead of the hard water calcium build up that can turn even the cleanest water cloudy. If I have ever given good advice in my lifetime, here it is: always keep a backup supply. When you’re crunched for time like many of us are in this crazy world, a little extra stock won’t hurt anybody. I know you will be glad you did!


Using Baking Soda in a Hot Tub

Why Use Baking Soda in a Hot Tub?

I’ve noticed several searches recently on this subject so i thought i might expound on it a bit.  Baking soda, (chemical name: sodium bicarbonate) can be an  important additive for many hot tubs.   The primary reason for using "bicarb"  is to raise the total alkalinity of the water. This Buffers your Ph against change, raises it slightly and keeps your water from being aggressive to your equipment.  As you probably already know.. perfect Ph for a hot tub is between 7.2 and 7.8.  With the ph scale from 0 to 14,  with 0 to 6  being  acidic and 8 to 14 being  basic,  the "7′s" are  considered "neutral."   That being said.. the Ph scale is exponential…like the richter scale. A pH of 6 is 10 times more acidic than a pH of 7.  It all has to do with hydrogen ions but i’m not going to get into that now. 

Aggressive (acidic) water is the single most damaging issue that confronts hot tub owners.  Aggessive water will EAT your heater element up .. fast!  Even if the damage is slight… a little pinhole in the sheathing that protects a heater element’s electric core, the heater (or element)  is now garbage, will cause GFCI tripping, and must be replaced!  

So how, you ask, did my water become aggressive?   Because certain products you may use in your hot tub affect the pH and alkalinity.  Probably the biggest culprit is one of the most popular sanitizers in the industry :  Bromine.  Those convenient little tablets have a pH of around 2.  You throw your floating bromine  feeder in water that is perfectly balanced:  pH between 7.2 and 7.8  with an alkalinity of 80 to 140 and guess what happens.  The Acidic properties of the Bromine bring DOWN your pH AND alkalinity!  Now, i realize that you have a cover on your hot tub, but when you remove it., where is your bromine feeder?  Its sucked up against the skimmer or caught in your filter wier.  The water flowing across it and drawing it to these suction ports of your hot tub is now pulling LOW pH water through your pump and pumping it right across your filter element!  Can you say "formula for disaster?"  At least to your heater element!

there are other products that can erode your pH and total alkalinity as well.  Tabletized chlorines like trichlor also have extremely low pH.  Anytime you CAN check the pH of a product do so! 

How do you prevent this erosion of pH and Alkalinity?  BAKING SODA!  Good ole Arm and Hammer! Sodium Bicarbonate…YES!  Since Bicarb raises you total alkalinity, it also will bring up your pH and protect it from eroding. 

I often get calls and letters from people saying that their pH is high and they cant get it to come down.  My question is usually: what is your total alkalinity?  Many times the answer is "I dont know"  My next question is how are you testing your water?  Most people who are testing their water with drops can experience a phenomenon that bromine can cause: a "seemingly high" pH.   The problem with many of the 2 in 1 test kits is that they don’t test alkalinity!  My reccommendation is to use 4 in 1 test strips.  These strips will give you a total Alkalinity reading which is very helpful when trying to decide if you water is aggressive.  My experience with bromine is this… you will NEVER have a high pH and you will always be adding bicarb to bring UP the pH and TA of the water.   If you use bromine and aren’t adding bicarb on a regular basis, i can promise that your water is aggressive. 

Of course now you want to know how much to add.  It all depends on where your alkalinity is when you start, but if you add it in 1 to 2 ounce increments and closely monitor daily you should be able to come to your own formula based on your experience. NOTE.. if your ph and alklyinity are radically low.. don’t be shy about using a  third of a cup or so IF you can’t drain.  If you CAN drain and refill or drain half and dilute.. that would be a good start.. Then if still low, you can add some from there.

Fresh fill water can solve many problems and one of the reasons i reccomend that over a heavy dose of bicarb is that if damage has been done.. IE you water now has dissolved metals in it, radically raising the pH can cause these metals and minerals to immediately come out fo solution and turn your water shockingly orange or blue.  This indicates metals in the water and these metals are there because the acidity of the water has dissolved them. 

Fill water testing is always reccommended.  For those of you who have read the Spa Care Guide, you know i recommend testing Fill from the start to know from the beginning what your values are,  A point to know is that  municipal water supplies need to keep their water in the good and neutral range as well or else copper pipes, iron pipes and concrete pipes will be damaged by low pH.  Well water is different and may vary extremely across the board. For more info Check the Spa Care Guide..



Spa Care Guide

The Simple Truths About Spa Care

No doubt about it you will get a lot of conflicting advice on Spa Care.  Part of the reason is that a lot of people in the business don’t really bother to understand hot water chemistry.  Chemical manufacturers design kits for spa care that spa dealers then sell to you. The problem is that if you dont have an understanding of your own water, you can actually harm your hot tub using some of the products in a “kit,”  Not because they are bad products, they just shouldnt be used with  “your particular” water values. For instance, Ph up and Ph down are often included in spa kits. The Ph down product is an acid to bring down the Ph and total alkalinity of your hot tub water.  Ph UP reverses low Ph.  You would only use Ph down if your Ph and total alkalinity were extremely high which is almost non existent with a tub treated with bromine.. read on…

Start with a test of your fill water.


This is your most important first step.   Test it using test “strips.” The brand is not really important. 4 in 1 spa test stripsWe perfer these over the drop type test because they test more values than the 2 in one liquid drop type test kits you often get in a kit.  Now, when testing your fill water, you are primarily concerned with your PH and total alkalinity, because these values affect how your sanitizers will perform.  Ph and Total Alkalinity are also important to the surface of your hot tub and your equipment. Its important to know and correct for proper Ph and alkalinity before you add sanitizers which will affect the Ph and TA.  Later, when you use the test strips to test your water in your hot tub, you’ll also be concerned with the chlorine/bromine levels as well, but the fill test is to know what your starting Ph and total alkalinity readings are. This is important because it tells you whether your water is scale forming, (high ph and total Alkalinity) or corrosive (low ph and total alkalinity)  If you use city water, you will find that your water will be pretty close to being in the correct range for Ph and total alkalinity.  The reason for this is that the water department had to maintain these values fairly closely to keep the pipes from scaling or being dissolved by aggressive water.  If you are using well water, you still need to balance in order to treat problems like high iron content or tannins. Scroll down for problem water issues. Both extremes, High or Low, can cause damage to your equipment and your hot tub shell.  If your ph and alkalinity are high, scale can form on your heater element and on the hot tub shell itself. It feels like sandpaper.  While the scale on the tub is easily removed with muriatic acid, the scale on your heater element will remain and cause problems with heating.  If your ph and alkalinity are LOW, the acidity of the water will eat into anything metal or plaster (if you have a concrete spa.)  Heater elements are very susceptible to low ph. It eats holes right into them and causes water to contact the electrical part of the element, which will short it out and cause  GFCI tripping.  This can happen in a surprisingly short period of time if your water is aggressive.

Ph and Alkalinity Perfect values:

  • Ph 7.2 to 7.8  
  • TA 80 to 140

If you have a concrete hot tub, you’ll want to maintain above minimum values. Plaster can very quickly become a victim of acidic water causing pitting and erosion

  Everyone needs to think about correction at minimum values above.

Correcting High Ph and Total Alkalinity

If your Ph and TA are in the very high ranges  (Ph 8+ akalinity 140+), you’ll need to add some kind of acid to lower it.  You can use white vinegar, or the ph down from your “kit”  The key is to go SLOWLY.  You do not want to over correct because you’ll be in the far more dangerous side.. corrosive!  IF you are using bromine in your hot tub, the Ph and alkalinity will come down due to the fact that bromine is very acidic. You may not want to treat it at all, just let it drift lower gradually unless you are off the scale on the high side.   You’ll  need to run your hot tub for at least 6 hours after corrections have been made to determine the effectiveness.NOTE: If you are using bromine as a sanitizer and a test kit that uses drops of phenol red to test pH, you can be tricked into thinking that your pH is high when in fact it could be LOW…Use test strips and always verify both values pH and Total Alkalinity!  typically if the Total alkalinity is high, so is your pH, if yout total alkalinity is low, your pH either is low, or will be low soon!

Correcting LOW Ph and Total Alkalinity

The only chemical to use for this in my opinion is Sodium Bicarbonate. If you dont recognize the chemical name, fear not, you probably have a yellow box in your refrigerator that says Arm and Hammer on it. Yep, Bicarb is good ole Baking Soda!   A related chemical, Soda Ash or Sodium Carbonate, is much to0 harsh to use in the hot tub environment.  Be sure its Bicarb you are using.  Bicarb feeds the total alkalinity of the water, which will raise the Ph slowly and buffer it against change.Keep in mind that EVERY product you add to your hot tub has a Ph value..I just completed a new blog post on the use of baking soda in your hot tub.  Feel free to check it out. 

Sanitizerssodium dichlor

Now that your Ph and alkalinity have been adjusted to the proper range, its time to consider sanitizers. Sanitizers are a MUST to keep the water free of bacteria!   The most common sanitizers for hot tubs are Chlorine and  Bromine.  Both of these chemicals are in the halogen family.  Bromine being more stable in heat and  turbulence  became popular for hot tubs.  The convenience of a tablet was also nice.  However, after a long time in the field being exposed to hot tubs treated with bromine, i’ve come to detest its smell and the problems associated with using it.  Bromine has a very low Ph.  This erodes the Ph of the water.  Add to that the feeder gets stuck up against the skimmer and the corrosive water is being sucked right into the pump and  then through the heater.  Causes a LOTA damage to a LOTA hot tubs IF you arent aware of it!   Any hot tub being treated with bromine needs constant addition of bicarb to maintain the Ph and total alkalinity.  It also needs regular shocking to eliminate the “bromamines” that form with exposure to ammonia, a common waste product of bather load.

Bromamines are very irritating to the throat.  Sometimes the overwhelming chemical smell coming from a hot tub treated with bromine has people wondering what do do to get rid of it. Removing the floating feeder and leaving the cover off and letting it run on high with air blower on will help dissapate some of the built up bromine.  Shocking with a non chlorine shock like potassium monpersufate  (MPS)  can reduce the bromamines that are strangling you when you open the cover .  You can even use dichlor as a shock with bromine.  I know you’ve heard that you cant “mix” chlorine and bromine. That is true>>>>>>IN A BUCKET.   But in a hot tub.. yes you can.  They enhance each other.   Leave your cover off so some of this sea of chemical  can gas off.  And dont hang around breathing it.

With that in mind, I pretty much have eliminated bromine from my list of recommendations. Sure it works, and being able to put some tablets in a feeder and forget is agreeable to many i’m sure. BUT  I prefer and highly recommend Sodium dichlor as a primary sanitizer for hot tubs.   It is completely soluble in water, it is a stabilized chlorine product, and the best part about it is that is it has a neutral Ph.  It will not affect the Ph balance of your water.   for hot tub use, it is inexpensive as well.   The disadvantage is its granular form.  It must be added regularly as needed a couple of tablespoons at a time.   Use your test strips to determine when chlorine levels are falling below 1 ppm.  Chlorine combines with ammonia and nitrogen as well forming chloramines. They can irritating too, and often are mistaken for High Chlorine levels.  But it is amazing how shocking  the water with a good ole dose ( like a third of a cup) of dichlor will straighten everything out. With spas under covers there is always a bunch of chemical laden steam that rises up to you when you open the cover.  Dont stand there breathing it.  let it gass off a little before everyone jumps in 

Dichlor is not the only type of chlorine on the market. Other chlorines can do the job of sanitizing but their Ph values vary greatly!   Liquid Chlorine has a Ph of 13!  That will effect your hot tub PH balance to the high side!  Another chlorine on the market is Trichlor.  This product comes in a granular form and tablet form.  It has a Ph of 2.  VERY LOW  and will bring your PH down very quickly and can cause damage to your heater and other metal parts.  Dont use it!   Lithium Hypochlorite is a granular chlorine that is usable for hot tubs.  It also has a neutral ph but is harder to find and little more expensive than dichlor, and perfectly acceptable for hot tubs. 

Keep in mind that chlorine and bromine are oxidizers which means they react to organic materials.  always use a clean dry scoop for handling them.  Keep them away from fertilizers or other organic items like motor oil etc.  They can cause fires if not protected from organics. Never mix two chemicals together in the same container.

Ozone Generators

If your hot tub came equipped with an ozone generator, you will find that you will need very little additional sanitizer to keep your hot tub in good shape.  Ozone is a gas that is injected into your hot tub thru various means.  It kills only when in direct contact with the water, there is very little residual effect.  That’s why it is necessary to provide backup sanitation.  Again, Dichlor is the perfect backup sanitizer for an ozone treated hot tub.  You still and always need to maintain your Ph and alkalinity levels according to the values above.   But, using dichlor with ozone will greatly reduce your efforts at maintaining PH and Alkalinity because you wont be adding products that increase or decrease your water balanc

Ozone can build up under spa covers and as a gas it will cloud around you when you take the cover off.  I’d be kinda careful breathing this. Its nothing you want to linger around. Try turning the pump on high.. blower on too and let it run a while with the cover off, so it can gas off.  Also. If you have ONE jet that feeds ozone to your hot tub, you might not want to sit in front of it.  Ozone is an oxidizer.  You don’t want it oxidizing your calf. 

Alternative Sanitizers

There several alternative type sanitizers out there.  One is Baquacil a hydrogen peroxide based system.  I’m not really a fan, and it’s expensive.    Dichlor is my favorite. Salt chlorination systems for hot tubs are not extremely popular YET, but i feel it is coming.  A salt chlorinated hot tub uses a salt base in the water.  A chlorine “generator” converts this salt to chlorine by using a small electrical charge.  It’s pretty amazing and is becoming very popular for pools.  Spas do not need to be emptied as often and maintenance is at a minimum. UV Sterilizers are also being tried on hot tubs.  If you have one,  you  still need maintain some backup chlorination with dichlor. This can be as little a 1 PPM which is barely noticable. Mineral Alternatives include products like Nature 2 and the Spa Frog.  These products are actually pretty good to cut back on chlorine use.  They contain silver (a bacteriacide) and copper (an algacide)  They dont replace chlorine but you can often reduce the amount of residual chlorine in your hot tub.  They share the job, so the chlorine goes further.  These products come in canisters that fit into your spa filter.  They last about 3 months.

Draining and cleaning

heavy bather loadDepending on the Bather load,  hot tubs should be drained and fresh fill water added at least once a quarter.  Heavy use could indicate more frequent draining.  Hot tub “parties” definitely require a drain and fill! Keep in mind that 4 people in a 400 gallon hot tub is like having 400 people in a 15×30 swimming pool.  Anytime you start having problems with water balance, smell, clarity etc, its always okay to drain and start over!  Total dissolved solids build up over time and a good drain and fresh water fill eliminate them and get you back into sparkling water. Another sign that its time to drain your spa is the appearance of the water coming out of your jets when they start up.  When the bubbles start to look almost like smoke and if your spa is foaming heavily,  its time to start over. Its not really hard to maintain your hot tub specially if you dont fall prey to a lot of auxilary chemicals that may do more harm than good.  Keep the basics in mind and keep it simple!

Sometimes when you cant drain the whole spa,  Diluting will help.. drain about half  or even a third and fill it back it up again.

Problem Water Issues

If your water isnt from city sources and you have high levels of iron or tannins, or calcium you will need to take some additional steps to make water water crisp and clear.  Metals in the water require a product made for such issues.  There are two types.  One sequesters the metals so they can be filtered out.  This requires attention to your filter!  the small filters in many hot tubs can become clogged with the sequestered metal quickly. You’ll want to monitor your filter after adding a sequestering agent, clean it as needed! The other type chelates or surrounds the metal to keep it from sticking to the walls or other surface.  Both may lower your ph somewhat.   Once you get your water clear you can proceed with other steps.  

Tannins are organic and can be bleached out using Dichlor.  It may take a little more than a normal dose but it will correct itself eventually.


You go out and shock your hot tub with a heavy dose of chemicals and it turns blue, or orange.  Blue is probably copper in the water.  Now most likely, this copper was not there in your fill water.  It is most likely coming from a copper heat exchanger which is bad… very bad for a gas heater!  My guess is bromine treated hot tub, didnt know about the PH thing and your water has been nibbling away at your heat exchanger atom by atom.  Any seemingly “sudden onset metal” most likely has come from something metal the water is in contact with in an aggressive state.  If the Ph is raised, it comes out of solution where you can see it.  Precipitation,  this is called.  You’re going to need to drain and fill to really remove the copper.  Be sure water is balanced towards the high side of normal.  

Cloudy Water

If your water just isnt looking clean and clear the best course of action is to shock it.  Manytimes, cloudy water is caused by contaminants that need to be removed before using your hot tub.  Dichlor in a heavy dose can correct any bacterial problems that may exist.  Clarifiers do not sanitize cloudy water! Always start with a shock of some sort.  Potassium Monopersulfate can be used as well.  This product is sold as a “non-chlorine shock”   It acts by reducing the combined chlorines in your hot tub and freeing up the chlorine molecules so that they can go back to work disinfecting your hot tub.  A chlorine (or bromine)  base must be present however for it to work as advertised.   One of the things i love about dichlor is that it can do this same job just by adding extra.  Draining is also an option, specially if its been awhile.  You may have a buildup of total dissolved solids that aren’t easily shocked away.  Sometimes a fresh fill is your best option, with a heavy dose of dichlor at start up to eliminate bacteria in the lines.


A covered hot tub with adequate sanitizer should not get algae.   So if there is algae present in your tub you need to dose it hard with dichlor.  a third of a cup, and run it for a couple of hours on high speed should knock it out.  You may not be able to use the same day because of high chlorine levels but it will do the job.

A Warning

Hot tubs are maintained and used at a very friendly temperature to bacteria and viruses.  Sanitation is essential. If it doesn’t smell clean and fresh, if its cloudy, with a lot of dirty foam, it probably isn’t safe to use.   there are several diseases associated with hot tubs, but not nicely maintained and sanitized ones.  Sanitation  is the cornerstone  to safe  hot tubbing! 

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