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How to Buy and Care for a Hot Tub Cover

The price tag on a high-quality hot tub cover might make you wonder whether it’s really worth the investment. Spoiler alert: It is.

If you like keeping chemicals and heat in your hot tub while protecting it from debris and damage and extending its lifespan, then yes, a cover really is worth the money. The key is to choose the right one for your spa and your needs, and then to care for it so it lasts. In the end, that initial payout and the subsequent maintenance you perform will actually save you money.

How to Buy and Care for a Hot Tub Cover

Fight Water, Heat, and Chemical Loss

Evaporation is the enemy of all spa owners. Surely you know that some of your water ends up in the air, especially if the air where you live is very dry. Your water level drops, sometimes costing you a bit of money to top it off.

But that’s not the worst thing evaporation has in store for you. It will suck chemicals and heat out of your hot tub, too, throwing your sanitizer levels out of whack and forcing your spa to work harder to keep the water hot.

You can significantly reduce the effects of evaporation on your relaxation station by putting a lid on your hot tub. A cover that fits properly, without gapping, will keep your heat, chemicals, and water locked inside your spa.

Keep the Water in and the Nasties Out

A more obvious benefit to using a hot tub cover than keeping things in, is keeping them out. A cover will prevent all types and sizes of debris from winding up in your hot tub, such as sticks, leaves, and bugs. If your hot tub is indoors, a cover will keep dust and pet hair out too.

And regardless of where your hot tub is, a cover will also prevent technological disasters. Imagine walking by your uncovered hot tub and losing your grip on your smartphone or tablet. Bloop! Right into the water. Just the thought gives us the willies.

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Make Your Hot Tub Safe

A cover is also a physical barrier that will keep small children or animals finding their way into the water unnoticed. Because fewer drownings occur in spas than pools, they’re sometimes taken less seriously than the hazard they are. Don’t make that mistake.

ASTM International, one of the largest standards-developing organizations in the world, has established performance specifications for hot tub covers. An ASTM International-certified cover will help prevent tragic accidents from happening in your hot tub. Look for this certification when shopping for your cover.

Hot Tub Safety and Your Children

Hot tub safety is important for every hot tub owner, but it becomes even more important if you have children.

Hot Tub Cover Anatomy

Before you make such an important purchase, you should know what you’re getting for your money. What’s underneath that fancy vinyl cover, anyway? How exactly does it provide all those awesome benefits?

Hot tub covers have removable, vinyl shells, which zipper open and closed. Most are made up of two sections attached by a hinge between them. Each section contains a solid piece of dense foam.

Folded Hot Tub Cover

In outdoor covers, the foam is thicker in the middle (on either side of the hinge), then tapers down to the outer edges to help keep debris from accumulating on and causing damage to the cover. Buying a tapered cover is just one way to protect your spa cover from bad weather.

Before being slipped into the vinyl shell, the foam is wrapped in one or two protective layers of plastic. This is the vapor barrier, and its job is to keep the smaller water particles—the vapor—from reaching the foam.

High-quality covers are reinforced with steel bars near the middle, but some also have multiple bars spaced evenly throughout the foam, making for a sturdier cover. Generally, the cover includes handles and tie-down straps as well.

Anatomy of a Hot Tub Cover

Hot Tub Features the Pros Know

When you’re shopping around for an important (and expensive) item, you gotta know the lingo. Knowing what these terms mean for the quality, lifespan, and effectiveness of your hot tub cover can make a big difference in your purchase.

  • Foam Density: Hot tub covers are available in one-pound, one-and-a-half-pound, and two-pound densities. The higher the density, the stronger and better at retaining heat your cover will be.
  • Foam Thickness: Most cover tapers range in thickness from 4 x 2 inches to 6 x 4 inches. Thicker foam can handle heavier loads and keep in heat more effectively.
  • R-value: The Federal Trade Commision regulates how to test for and disclose to customers the heat resistance of foam insulation. However, no one regulates R-value for hot tub cover foam, so it isn’t consistent across manufacturers. That doesn’t stop some of them from using R-value as a selling point. Just remember density and thickness are better indicators of quality, and take R-value figures with a grain of salt.
  • Marine Grade Vinyl: The shell of your hot tub cover is made from material resistant to constant water exposure. The standard is marine grade vinyl. However, it varies in quality. It’s graded by its weight per square yard, typically ranging from 26 to 34 ounces. The higher the number, the stronger the vinyl, especially if it’s pre-treated for ultraviolet (UV) and mildew resistance.
  • C-Channel: A galvanized steel bar running the width of the cover helps reinforce it under heavy loads. It’s resistant to chemical corrosion, while providing a little protection for the foam panels, too.
  • Vapor Barrier: The foam core is wrapped in one or two layers of thin plastic film which help prevent moisture from soaking into the foam. Typically it’s sealed around the foam with heat. As your cover ages, the vapor barrier slowly breaks down.
  • Safety Locks: Spa covers come with as many as four locks built in. Some are a simple plastic dial, while others lock with a key. If you’ve got small children or you leave your hot tub unattended for a season, safety locks may be an important feature for your cover.

Measure Twice, Order Once

You can’t be sure a hot tub cover will fit without first measuring your hot tub. We’re all familiar with how rulers work, so figuring out the correct size hot tub cover to purchase should be a breeze, right? Well, maybe not.

Even if your spa is a perfect square, the corners are probably rounded, and not every spa has the same size curve on those rounded corners. Before you drive yourself crazy trying to remember high school math, let us help you.

Note: If you already own a hot tub cover, you may take these measurements with it on your spa, just don’t add extra inches where noted.

To measure the corners of your hot tub, you can use a framing square (an L-shaped ruler), two rulers held together at their zero ends, or a printable diagram offered by some retailers. The easiest, most accurate choice is the framing square.

  • Length: Measure across the longest part of your hot tub. Be sure to measure from lip to lip (the acrylic tub), and not the outer edge created by the cabinet. Take this measurement in two spots to be sure the sides are perfectly straight. If the figures are different, use the larger one. If your spa is round or octagonal, simply measure straight across. Add one inch to this measurement to give your cover half an inch of give on both sides.
  • Lip-to-Lip-Measurement

  • Width: Measure across the shorter side of your tub. Again, measure lip to lip only (the acrylic tub), not the outer cabinet edge. You may also take this measurement in two spots to ensure consistency in width. Add one inch to this measurement to give your cover half an inch of give on both sides. If your spa is octagonal, measure one panel from point to point.
  • Corner Radius: Place the framing square (or rulers) against the corner of your hot tub. The points where your hot tub touches the ruler are the corner radius. If you need to round this figure, be sure to round down. Because the square actually measures the space around the corner, a smaller number means a larger corner in your cover, which means it’ll fit your spa better.
  • Skirt Length: The skirt is a flap that extends from the bottom edge of the hot tub cover. The skirt must be long enough to help the cover seal well, but not so long it bunches up and creates gaps. To get the right length, measure from the top of your spa down to the bottom of the cabinet. If your spa cabinet has a lip or ledge, measure down from that. If you’re measuring your old cover, start at the seam below the foam, then measure to the bottom of the skirt.
  • Fold Direction: Be sure to note where any digital control panels are, so you can choose a cover that folds away from them. This way, you’ll be able to access the controls when you open your hot tub.

Hot tubs with unusual shapes, water features, and built-in sound systems may require you to special order a custom hot tub cover. Sometimes custom covers require you to create and send a template to the manufacturer to ensure proper fit.

How to Clean and Maintain Your Hot Tub Cover

Don’t be stingy about the tender, loving care you give your spa cover. The better you treat it, the longer it will last, and the more money you’ll save. You can limit sun damage, prevent mold, and avoid premature chemical damage by sticking to some good cleaning and maintenance habits.

Daily Cleaning: As often as needed, brush debris off your hot tub cover. Outdoor covers are wedge-shaped, so rainwater should run right off. However, you’ll probably still need to clear off leaves, sticks, bugs, and any snow accumulation. Just a quick swipe or two with a push broom works fine. Avoid using anything with sharp edges that could gouge the vinyl.

Twice Monthly Cleaning: Do a deeper cleaning at least every other week to prevent mold growth and other damage.

  1. Remove the cover completely. Lay it flat on a non-abrasive surface. Spray it with a cleaner made for marine vinyl. Wipe or rinse it clean per the product instructions. Don’t forget the sides and bottom. If you use any other type of cleaner, avoid ones that contain alcohol, detergent, oil, and silicone.
  2. Wipe down the bottom of the hot tub cover with a solution of 1:10 parts distilled white vinegar or bleach to water. Be forewarned that bleach may be harder on the vinyl than vinegar.
  3. Apply a vinyl protectant or conditioner to give your cover an extra dose of UV protection. These products keep the vinyl soft and help prevent cracking.
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Odor Problems: If you start to notice a funky smell coming from your cover, you may be growing a mold and mildew problem. Surface mildew can be scrubbed off with cleaner, then treated with a diluted vinegar or bleach solution.

Mildew on the underside of the cover may be subdued with a disinfectant spray. However, if the mold and mildew has made it through the vapor barrier into your foam, you’re probably past the point of no return, and you’ll need to replace your cover.

How to Clean a Hot Tub with Natural Ingredients

Check out how to clean a hot tub with natural ingredients so you can avoid those harsh chemicals that may irritate your skin and ruin your next soak.

Basic Maintenance: In addition to cleaning, you can help prevent major issues by checking for and repairing any damage on a regular basis. Damaged vinyl should be patched immediately using a vinyl repair kit. Inoperable zippers may need to be repaired by a professional, but must also be fixed as soon as possible. Both issues can allow water to infiltrate the foam core if left unaddressed.

Your hot tub cover must be allowed to dry out occasionally. If you never take it off your spa, you’ll shorten its lifespan. Pop it off monthly while you clean the shell and balance your water, and let it dry completely before replacing it.

Stay on top of your hot tub chemistry with weekly testing and balancing (more frequently if your hot tub gets a lot of traffic). Balanced water keeps your spa from growing bacteria and algae, so your hot tub cover won’t be absorbing bacteria-filled moisture.

Fabulous Hot Tub Cover Accessories

Is there anything more you could possibly want once you have the perfect hot tub cover? Of course! First, how are you planning to get that thing on and off your hot tub? How will you protect it from wind, heavy debris, and harsh chemicals? Do you need to do anything special with it if you close your hot tub for the season?

Hot Tub Cover Lifter

This is available as hydraulic arms that bear all the weight of opening your hot tub, manual arms that lighten the load, or a simple shelf to slide your cover onto. Spa cover lifters make it a one-person job to open and enjoy your hot tub. It’s possible to survive without one, but why would you want to?

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CoverMate 8234 ECO Spa Cover Lift

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Wind Straps

Particularly useful if you live somewhere with high winds, the straps are anchored to your spa cabinet to keep your cover in place. Also known as hurricane straps, they have small clasps that make them simple to open when you want to use your spa, while still protecting your cover from becoming a projectile.

Cover Cap

A physical, protective layer for your hot tub cover, a cover cap provides more UV protection than vinyl conditioner alone, and helps make cleaning even easier. These are especially useful if you don’t use your hot tub often.

When to Replace Your Hot Tub Cover

Maybe you made a significant investment in a high-quality cover, but several years have passed, and you’re unsure whether it’s time to replace it. Maybe you’re still using the low-quality cover that came with your spa when you bought it, but it suddenly seems to weigh as much as a Volvo, and you don’t know if you’ll ever get into your hot tub again.

The ideal weight of a hot tub cover is 50 to 75 pounds. Over time, it will absorb water and grow much heavier. If it has a cheap or insufficient vapor barrier, or if you’re not maintaining it well, this process can happen much more quickly. Once your cover is waterlogged, it’s time to start shopping for a new one.

Luckily, you now know everything you need to know to buy the best cover for your hot tub, how to take good care of it, and all the benefits it offers. See? We told you it was worth the investment.

Happy Soaking!

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Last Updated: Wednesday, November 1st, 2017