A Beginner’s Guide to Hot Tub Maintenance

Buying a hot tub is the first step on a journey to lifelong relaxation. And to make sure you get maximum soaking satisfaction from your spa, don’t forget to include regular hot tub maintenance in your travel plans.

Understanding how to handle hot tub care is a gift you give to yourself—and your hot tub. By honing your hot tub maintenance skills and creating a regular schedule, you’ll be ready to keep your spa in tip-top condition, help prevent costly hardware and water issues, and tackle any problems that do crop up.

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, when you’re reading or talking about your hot tub, you might see it referred to as a portable spa, or just a spa. Some folks like to call every hot tub they splash around in a “Jacuzzi®,” but that’s an unfortunate case of universalizing a specific brand name.

Whether you call your hot tub by its brand name, a generic term, or Sir Tubby Warmington, 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 helps to have your spa’s “vital statistics” handy as well, both for your own reference and when speaking to a pro. These include maximum water capacity, age, and any specific water challenges (such as hard water) you might need to consider while maintaining your hot tub.

The Three Cs of Hot Tub Maintenance

You can think of your spa as a tiny swimming pool. Sure, it doesn’t have a diving board or that repurposed bouncy castle you found on eBay, but it does require the same basic care. The Three Cs of hot tub maintenance—circulation, cleaning, and chemistry—will keep your hot tub running smoothly all year long.

Circulate Your Hot Tub Water for a Happy Soak

Still waters might run deep, but flowing waters run clean. 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.

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

BONUS Protip: 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.

Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Scrub That Tub

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.

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 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.

Don’t Forget Your 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.

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.

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.

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.

The Science of Soaking: Hot Tub Chemistry

A spanking clean spa makes another core component of hot tub maintenance a lot easier: water chemistry. Balancing your hot tub’s water is similar to balancing pool water, but a bit trickier due to the drastic size difference.

Hold on—don’t put in a call to your high school chemistry teacher just yet. You’ll be targeting the exact same elements as you would with a pool: pH, alkalinity, and sanitizer levels.

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.

pH

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.

Alkalinity

For alkalinity, shoot for 125 parts per million (ppm) to150 ppm. If alkalinity gets too high, it can cause scaling and cloudiness.

Sanitizer

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.

Shock

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, Testing

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

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

  • pH increaser
  • pH decreaser
  • Alkalinity increaser
  • Sanitizer (chlorine, bromine, etc.)
  • Shock
  • Test strips

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.

Plan for Success with a 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.

Plan Your Hot Tub Maintenance

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.

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:

  • Ensure the spa cover is clean and secure. A properly secured cover keeps heat, water, and chemicals in, while keeping debris, pets, and kids out.
  • Check the water temperature and adjust as necessary. Take careful note of any drastic temperature changes, as they could indicate a serious system issue.
  • Check for damage to the cover and spa. This is especially important for outdoor spas, which are exposed to animals and the elements.

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.

  • Check the water’s alkalinity.
  • Check and balance the pH. Along with alkalinity, hot tub ph is one of the most important parts of hot tub chemistry.
  • Check your sanitizer levels. Sanitizer keeps your spa water clean and free from bacteria that might otherwise sicken your friends and family.
  • Clean above the water line. Wipe away debris that might contaminate the water and throw off the chemical balance.

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.

  • Test your hot tub water. Every single week, check your alkalinity, pH, and sanitizer levels, and if you adjust them, test again after the period recommended by the manufacturer. NOTE: this step counts as one of your thrice-weekly checks. Yay for efficiency!
  • Sanitize and shock the water. When you shock your hot tub, it recharges your sanitizer and keeps your hot tub healthy.
  • Rinse your hot tub filter with water. A clean filter is worth its weight in gold and protects against cloudy water, funky smells, bacteria, and the much-dreaded algae bloom.
  • Wipe down your spa cover. Cleaning the cover inside and out protects against mold, mildew, and the nasty smells they bring.

Monthly Hot Tub Maintenance

Once a month, it’s time 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.

  • Give your filter a chemical rinse. This deeper clean clears out more crud and ick than water alone can. Just replace one weekly water rinse with a chemical rinse.
  • Give your hot tub jets a once-over. Are they clogged or frozen? Uh oh. It’s time to troubleshoot your hot tub jets.
  • Have your spa water checked by a professional. Pros have access to more advanced testing equipment and can help you identify and solve water quality issues before they turn disastrous.

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.

  • Clean your hot tub cabinet. Your hot tub will look great with a quarterly clean, and you can touch up any cosmetic or structural damage while you’re at it.
  • Give your filter a chemical soak. This is the super version of the chemical rinse, and gives your filter the deep clean it needs to keep your hot tub free of contaminants.
  • Drain, clean, and repair your hot tub. The best time to make repairs is when you drain and clean your hot tub. And a quarterly drain and clean frees your whole hot tub from chemical buildup and other gunk and goop that can cause performance issues. Soaking your filter while the tub is empty kills two gunky birds with one cleansing stone!

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:

  • Flush the lines to remove bacteria and biofilm. It’s actually a good idea to use line flush any time you drain and refill your hot tub.
  • Inspect your hot tub’s hardware and wiring. Be on the lookout for damage due to wear and tear, pests, and chemical imbalance.
  • Have a professional perform a tune-up. They’ll evaluate all your hardware and wiring for potential issues, inside and out.
  • Inspect your cover. Keep an eye out for physical damage, moisture absorption, and mildew or mold infestations.
  • Replace or update your hot tub maintenance calendar. As the years go by, you’ll learn what works best for you and your hot tub. The new year is the perfect time for adjustments to next year’s maintenance schedule.

Maintain Your Maintenance

Taking on basic and preventive hot tub maintenance is a real bargain compared to the potential expense associated with repairs and equipment replacement.

And with a little forethought and regular, consistent maintenance, you’ll find that keeping your hot tub at its best is easy, leaving you more time for what matters most: enjoying your hot tub.

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