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A Beginner’s Guide to Hot Tub Maintenance

By Matt Giovanisci | Updated: January 12, 2021

There are 3 Hot Tub Maintenance Rules every hot tub owner should follow. Once you learn how to manage these concepts, you can keep your hot tub clean and clear without a ton of troubleshooting.

Hot Tub Maintenance Basics

Before you sink into the warm water of your new spa, take a moment to familiarize yourself with some essential terms. For instance, you might see it referred to as a portable spa, or just a spa. Some folks like to call every hot tub a “Jacuzzi.” But that’s an unfortunate case of universalizing a brand name.

Knowing the make and model of your specific hot tub is important. Having this information on hand makes it easier to get parts and service when you need them.

It also helps to have your spa’s “vital statistics” handy. These include water capacity, age, and specific water challenges (such as hard water) you might need to consider while maintaining your hot tub.

Is a hot tub HIGH maintenance?

Not really. It just requires a basic understanding of water chemistry and a simple schedule (which we’ll dive into), but it’s not expensive. All you really need is some chemicals and testing supplies which is about a $20/month investment.

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The 3 Basic Rules of Hot Tub Maintenance (The 3 Cs)

You can think of your spa as a tiny swimming pool because it requires the same basic care.

  1. Maintaining good water circulation.
  2. Stick to a simple cleaning schedule.
  3. Balancing your water chemistry.

1. Maintain Good Hot Tub Circulation

Circulating the water helps keep it free of contaminants by passing it through your hot tub’s cartridge filters.

Depending on the model, your spa may have an automatic circulation schedule that ensures it runs once or twice daily. These cycles circulate the water for around 15 to 20 minutes (or longer) to ensure all the water in your tub passes through the filters.

If your hot tub doesn’t have an automatic cycle, make sure you turn it on for 15 to 20 minutes, twice a day, to ensure your water’s been refreshed.

Don’t be afraid to put those filters to work. The more you run your hot tub, the cleaner it’ll be.

Pro Tip: Serve up some additional cleansing power by adding tennis balls to your hot tub after you’ve used it. The hot water extracts oils, lotions, and soap from your body and clothes, and sometimes your filters won’t be able to remove them completely. The fluffy fibers on a tennis ball will soak ’em right up, though, and help keep your water clean.

BONUS Pro Tip: Your tub’s running while you’re in it, too. When you soak is a matter of personal preference, although we don’t recommend trying it while you’re asleep or performing surgery. But you can save yourself some dough from the first time you slip into the tub by using it during off-peak hours. You’ll pay less for electricity while you keep the water moving. Plus, any would-be hot tub freeloaders will probably be busy elsewhere instead of trying to bribe their way into your backyard.

2. Stick to a Simple Hot Tub Cleaning Schedule

Cleaning your hot tub is a critical part of effective hot tub maintenance.

Indoor and outdoor hot tubs are both prone to developing scum, but if your spa’s outdoors, keep an eye out for debris like leaves, wind-blown trash, and the occasional stray critter, too. Keep the waterline and seats clear for a clean hot tub, and to help prevent potential water issues.

A weekly clean with a sponge and some white vinegar on your spa’s shell and jets will keep things tidy. Use it to scrub away the scum line at the water’s edge as well.

Can I put vinegar in my hot tub?

Yes! You can use white vinegar to clean your hot tub. White vinegar (not white WINE vinegar) is an all-purpose cleaner and is perfectly safe and effective for cleaning your hot tub. However, we recommend using a pH decreaser instead of vinegar to lower your pH.

Make sure you clean the inside of your hot tub as often as possible and don’t forget to wipe down the shell, too. While you’re at it, give the hot tub cover a quick once-over with a 10% bleach-to-water solution to keep mildew at bay.

A weekly clean is essential hot tub care. But plan to drain your spa completely for a thorough cleaning every three to four months, and more often if you’re using it often, or having a lot of guests in it, or both. After all, you wouldn’t fill the family bathtub once a year and expect everyone to reuse the same water over and over, right? Blech.

Protip: Set a timer when you’re refilling your hot tub after cleaning. It’ll remind you to check in on your spa and avoid messy, expensive overflows.

How to Clean Your Spa Filters

They’re on the job whenever your hot tub’s running, and your hot tub filters need a good cleaning to work properly. You can clean them using three methods: rinse, spray, and soak.

  1. Rinse your hot tub filters as often as possible with warm water or your garden hose, especially if you’ve been using your spa more than usual.
  2. Spray your filters every week or so with a hot tub filter cleaner to provide a deeper clean. Don’t forget to rinse them after.
  3. Soak your filters in chemical cleaner every time you drain and refill your hot tub to extend their life and loosen any stubborn particulates. Rinse them thoroughly afterward.

When your filters get to the point where even a chemical soak doesn’t completely clean them, it’s time to replace them.

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3. Balance Your Hot Tub Water Chemistry

Balancing your hot tub’s water is similar to balancing pool water, but a bit trickier due to the drastic size difference. But before you add anything to your spa, you need a baseline reading on your water chemistry. Once your hot tub’s full, test your water to determine the pH and alkalinity levels.

What Hot Tub Chemicals Do You Need?

Keep a good supply of essential chemicals on hand so you’ll be ready to tweak your water as needed:

Adjusting The Hot Tub pH and Alkalinity

Aim for a pH level of 7.4 to 7.6. Values below this range will be too acidic. The water might eat away at your hardware and will likely irritate your skin and eyes. Values above the range will be too basic. The water will reduce your sanitizer’s effectiveness and will be prone to cloudiness.

For alkalinity, shoot for 100 parts per million (ppm) to150 ppm. If alkalinity gets too high, it can cause scaling and cloudiness. Here’s some information on how to lower your hot tub alkalinity.

Can you use baking soda in a hot tub?

Yes! Baking soda is used to increase the alkalinity level in your hot tub. Just add 1 tablespoon (17 grams) of baking soda to your hot tub for every 100 gallons (378 liters) of water it holds.

How to Add Sanitizer to Your Hot Tub

Add the sanitizer of your choice according to the directions on the package, and test again to make sure your pH and alkalinity are within optimal ranges.

You can speed up the mix rate of your chemicals (and help your hot tub heat more quickly) by turning off the air valves.

Can I use salt in a hot tub instead of chlorine?

Yes, but only if you install a saltwater system in your hot tub to sanitize the water. And keep in mind that the saltwater is turned into chlorine by the system. So technically you’re still adding chlorine to the water but in a different form.

Shocking Your Hot Tub

If you’re using your spa after a long period of inactivity or you’ve been using it heavily, it’s a good idea to shock your hot tub to make sure it’s completely sanitized.

Make shocking a regular part of your scheduled hot tub maintenance to keep your water safe and clean.

Testing Your Spa Water

Test your water every week, either with test strips or a liquid test kit, and adjust your water chemistry as necessary.

Following the Three Cs provides a firm foundation for hot tub care that’ll get you started on that fabled path to soaking satisfaction. To further solidify your spa care regimen, add an effective and consistent hot tub maintenance schedule. You’ll expand your hot tub skills with more advanced tasks while minimizing the risk of nasty surprises.

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Plan Your Hot Tub Maintenance Schedule

When you’re talking hot tub maintenance, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of funky filters and frantic repairs. OK, so nobody’s going to be embroidering those words on a throw pillow anytime soon. At least, we hope not. But the truth is, preventive and practical maintenance is the first step to true hot tub happiness.

And the key to good maintenance? Consistency and simplicity. You’ll find it’s much less stressful—and much easier to keep track of tasks—when you break the process into manageable steps that won’t overwhelm you.

This technique, known as chunking, is used by educators, project planners, and businesspeople all over the world to improve their productivity. But it’s just as effective for planning a personal project—like, say, a year’s worth of hot tub maintenance—without feeling like your head’s going to explode.

Each hot tub is different, but every hot tub benefits from simple and consistent maintenance. It’s easier than you might think to set up a schedule that’ll keep your hot tub hummin’.

Before you do anything else, decide how you want to keep track of your tasks. You can go high-tech by setting up calendar reminders in apps such as Google Calendar or Apple’s iCloud, or keep things simple with a paper calendar or a dry-erase board.

Use an App

The high-tech route lets you keep everything on your phone, tablet, or computer, and will helpfully ping you when it’s time to attend to each task. Reminders can be set to repeat at the intervals you select. For example, you can set your application of choice to send you one daily reminder for basic, everyday tasks. Here’s a list of our favorite apps for taking care of your hot tub.

For a monthly task, such as giving your filter a chemical rinse, you could set reminders for a week before, the day before, and the day the task is due. This way, you’re constantly updated, and essential tasks don’t slip through the cracks.

Use a Calendar

If you go the paper route, we recommend getting an inexpensive calendar you can keep by the door leading to your hot tub area or, if your hot tub is indoors, by the hot tub itself. Choose a calendar with large daily squares with plenty of room for notes so you can see details at a glance.

You can chart out out a whole year’s worth of tasks in one sitting and give yourself a handy, visible reminder of what needs to be done and when. Hang a marker or pen by the calendar so you can cross off tasks that have been completed or add notes if something unusual crops up.

Use a Dry Erase Board

They’re not just for the office! You can hang a dry erase board near your hot tub to list daily tasks or add a reminder to deal with any unusual problems that might crop up. And unlike paper, it won’t be ruined if it gets splashed or takes an accidental dunk. Just don’t let any of the markers fall into the hot tub or you may end up with dyed water.

Build Your Hot Tub Maintenance Calendar

Once you’ve decided how you want to keep track of your tasks, the next step is assembling a list of tasks and deciding when they need to be done. This stage is also perfect for identifying tasks that have some overlap so you can schedule yearly hot tub maintenance tasks on the same day and time of weekly or quarterly ones to save yourself time and effort.

For example, you know you’ll be performing a daily hot tub maintenance task, such as checking for superficial damage, at the same time every day. So if you’ve decided to dedicate a chunk of time to caring for your hot tub in the morning, you can use part of that time on a given day of the week to perform weekly tasks, such as cleaning your hot tub cover as well.

To extend this chain of thought, if you schedule all your weekly hot tub maintenance on Thursday mornings, make sure your monthly and quarterly maintenance fall on the appropriate Thursdays as well. This will help you establish a consistent routine and avoid potential disasters caused by overlooking essential tasks.

Naturally, some tasks are more time consuming than others. If you need to block out some extra time for tasks you perform less frequently or spread them over two days, you can do so while still maintaining the same overall schedule.

Figuring out what to do when might seem a little daunting, but never fear. Following a sample hot tub maintenance schedule makes it easy to create your own calendar.

Sample Hot Tub Maintenance Schedule

Like your car, your computer, or, well, you, your hot tub needs regular maintenance to be at its best. Your spa will have its own special needs with regard to water chemistry, accessories, and repairs. But these tasks, broken out by daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly intervals, are universal.

Daily Hot Tub Maintenance

Chances are, a few moments will be all you need to attend to your home spa’s daily maintenance. Make sure your checklist includes:

Thrice-Weekly Hot Tub Maintenance

Adding these tasks to your list three times a week will help keep your hot tub in tip-top condition. Don’t forget to schedule them at near or the same time as daily tasks to save yourself time and stress.

Weekly Hot Tub Maintenance

These tasks need your TLC only once a week. Look for opportunities to combine tasks, and don’t forget to keep careful track of your hot tub’s water chemistry for comparison to your daily and monthly values if you’re tracking potential water quality issues.

Monthly Hot Tub Maintenance

Once a month, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty. Specifically, the “gritty” that’s accumulated in your jets and filters. You can also take water testing to the next level.

Quarterly Hot Tub Maintenance

Once every three or four months, your hot tub will need some in-depth attention. Empty it out, give it a good clean, and make sure everything’s in good working order. Schedule a drain and refill day that lines up with your other tasks to give yourself time to clean the cover and attend to your hardware while the spa is out of commission.

Yearly Maintenance

Many of the tasks we recommend could, in theory, be done annually without significant impact on your hot tubbing experience. But for optimal performance and the happiest hot tubbing, we’ve recommended them as monthly or quarterly tasks instead.

Remember, while your hot tub is empty and drained, you can attend to weekly or quarterly tasks such as cleaning, repair, and system flushing.

That said, we recommend you tackle these tasks at least once a year, and preferably more often:

 

3 Tip for Hot Tub Maintenance While on Vacation

With just a little bit of extra work before you head out of town, you can sit back and enjoy your trip without worrying how your hot tub will handle being ignored for a week or more.

1. Check Your Local Weather

Before you head out of town, check the weather you’re gonna have in your area during the week you’re gone.

During the warm months, you have to keep a close watch on the algae growth in your hot tub. This means adding shock to the hot tub whenever you need to increase the levels of chlorine in your hot tub to kill off any potential algae growth.

Before you go out of town, go ahead and add a little extra shock to your hot tub and allow the jets to run for thirty minutes to ensure that the shock has reached all of the water. Once that is complete, turn off the jets and go ahead and turn off the heater and the pump as well.

If you want, go to the breaker and turn off the power at the source and lock it, if necessary, to make sure no one can mess with it while you are gone.

During those colder months, your concerns are a little different. When I say colder, I mean when the temperatures could drop below freezing during the day and even at night.

Depending on the time of year, your daytime temperatures could be rather pleasant while the nights can still be cold. This largely depends on where you live. No matter when it happens, if the outside temperatures drop below freezing, the water in your hot tub and the plumbing for your hot tub is at risk for freezing.

Before you head out of town, add water to your hot tub if necessary and be sure it is properly heated. Remember, the colder it is, the faster the heat will escape. Once you have it heated properly, go ahead and turn the thermostat down about ten degrees. This will save you on your heating bills while still keeping the water warm enough so it won’t freeze.

While you are gone, you will need to leave the pump and the heater on long enough to maintain these temperatures to be sure the water does not freeze.

2. Test the Water

Before you go out of town, always test the water to be sure you have the proper water balance. If you don’t, go ahead and add the appropriate chemicals to either increase the acidity or the alkalinity of your water chemistry.

This will help you maintain the hot tub and keep your plumbing in the best possible shape while you are away.

3. Lock the Cover

Never go out of town without closing and locking your hot tub cover. Keep in mind that no one will be at home while you are away and that means that kids could wander onto your property and go for a dip without you ever knowing. If something were to happen, you could still be held liable.

So close that cover and lock it tight before you set one foot out of your front door.

Owning a hot tub should never be a tether keeping you home when you could be off enjoying life. Never be afraid to take a vacation that takes you out of town away from your hot tub.

Just remember to perform a little extra maintenance on it before you go and be sure you set the hot tub for the temperature that it is in your area, and you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. So get out there and enjoy life and quit worrying about your hot tub.

Trust me, as long as you perform the proper care tasks before you leave and check it when you get home, hot tub maintenance while on vacation will be a snap.

Happy Soaking!

Matt Giovanisci is the founder of Swim University® and has been in the pool and spa industry since 1995. Since then, his mission is to make pool and hot tub care easy for everyone. And each year, he continues to help more people with water chemistry, cleaning, and troubleshooting.
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