Note: Water that is not properly cared for and sanitized appropriately can lead to serious injury ranging from skin rashes to death. Be sure that you have a way to test your water regularly for harmful bacteria. There are many at home test kits and also your local pool supplier can even test it for you. Just because the spa water is clear, does not mean that it is safe.
I have no affiliation with any product or company mentioned in this article.
One of the biggest deterrents to purchasing a spa for my family and me is the amount of chemicals that are apparently needed to maintain a safe spa environment. A majority of our concerns are the halogen sanitizers, chlorine and bromine. Chlorine has been around for ages and it was the go-to product in the spa world for years. As chlorine does its job, by oxidizing contaminates, it is broken down into chloramines. Chloramines are most likely the culprit of your dry itchy skin. Due to a combination of factors from the odor, to the constant tweaking of your spa chemicals, bromine came on the scene. Although chlorine is still the most popular water sanitizer, bromine is gaining ground in the spa world. Bromine tends to be more stable at warmer temperatures and its breakdown products, bromamines, are not as harsh as chlorine. These chemicals can affect people in all different ways. Some have mild skin or eye irritation and others will feel much more hidden effects. Halogens can also strip your skin of beneficial fatty acids. Those with asthma or reactive airway disease may have a reaction in higher chlorine environments.
Here is my recommended list of things to have around:
Balancing your pH not only keeps your hot tub running longer but also allows enzymes and chlorine to function better.
Baking soda– used to raise pH
White vinegar– used to lower pH
Enzymes– these enzymes are optional but do a great job at keeping the water balanced. Not only do they breakdown organic material thus keeping water clear- they also soften your skin. Enzymes also have anti-microbial properties.
Non-chloride oxidizer– This product contains potassium peroxymonosulfate (MPS) and is used as an oxidizing agent. Note: It will register as whole chlorine on your testing strips. Do not be alarmed. It has not converted into chlorine. Here is an example: https://www.spadepot.com/Oxy-Spa-Non-chlorine-MPS-Shock-One-Half-lbs-P77
Zodiac Nature spa stick– This will be your slow chemical sanitizer. This item consists of silver, zinc and copper. Be careful as this product has many knock-offs that do not perform at all. These are a complete waste of money. Make sure you buy the authentic spa stick. You can find more information at the following link: https://www.spadepot.com/docs/nature2-spa-counterfeit-alert.pdf
Clarifier– This will be used to bind and clump things like lotions and oils. Many times, your water will look cloudy but will not contain any harmful compounds. This is normally due to dirty bathers or skin oil and lotion. Once the clarifier circulates it will leave a scum ring around the spa. This will need to be wiped off. Your filters should also be washed the next day as it will be attracting/catching more than usual.
Chlorine- Yes, I still recommend having some chlorine around. Depending on the volume of use, cleanliness of the bathers and overall care for water chemistries, you may still need chlorine from time to time.
UV or Ozone– This would be part of your original order with the hot tub you purchase. Some of these units can be installed afterwards, but it is best if the spa was engineered with this technology in mind. This is the ultimate in 24/7 protection
Test strips- Thesre are many options and varieties, depending on which method and chemicals you use. I recommend at least the following; total chlorine, free chlorine, total alkalinity, pH and total hardness. Some test strips also offer total bromine levels, but since I don’t use bromine this is not a concern of mine.
Here we go…
First you will likely want to start with a fresh tub of water. Completely drain your hot tub according to manufacturer specifications. Re-fill with fresh water. Place the Nature Spa Stick in the spa. I prefer to put it in the filter section but anywhere would be OK.
You’ll want to replace the spa stick every 3-4 months. This is perfect timing, as I like to drain and refill my spa every 4 months. If this is too much, then you can just drain half of the tub and refill in slightly shorter intervals, say every 3 months.
Next is the timing of the filtration system. You want to move as much water as possible through the clean filters in your spa. If your spa has a circulating pump, try to set this for at least 10-12hrs per day. This method of sanitation is more dependent on mechanical filtration rather than chemical.
When you first start this process, you may want to “shock” the spa with a tablespoon or two of the MPS (non-chlorine oxidizer) just to clear the water. If the water is newer you could probably skip this step.
You also now want to add a booster dose of your enzymes. This will be detailed on the manufacture’s instructions.
Every time you get out of the tub add 1/2tsp of Oxy spa per bather and let the jets run for another 5-10min after you have exited the spa. You’ll also want to check your settings to make sure your pump is filtering at least 10-12hrs per day.
Reminder: MPS, non-chlorine oxidizer will show up as “Total Chlorine” on your test strips, if you wanted to monitor levels. Eventually you will likely add MPS every OTHER session. You will have to play around with this.
Every Sunday (1x per week) I add a splash of enzymes (optional) and also remove and rinse the filters. I also dip the water with test strips and make sure everything is good. That’s it for routine maintenance.
Now all of these compounds have their limitations. If your spa gets very high use or your children use it (who tend to be just a tad dirtier than adults) then you may want to add a small amount of chlorine. Pro tip, add the chlorine while the jets are on and the lid is open. Allow the chlorine to circulate for 20min with the lid open. This will allow most of the chlorine to off-gas and be broken down by the next swim session. If you are very sensitive, wait at least 24hrs before hopping in the spa again.
I hope this article finds you and your family well and you get to enjoy your hot tub like we enjoy ours. From time to time we add in essential oils such as peppermint and lavender to add some aromatherapy. You can also use certain essential oils to help with sanitation of the spa.
Dr. Brett Wisniewski was born and raised in New Jersey. He attended Monmouth University where he received a Bachelors of Science degree in Biology with concentrated studies in chemistry. He has always gravitated towards the study of the human body and natural health. Dr. Wisniewski moved his family to Florida to further his studies at Palmer College Chiropractic where he graduated Cum Laude, with a Doctor of Chiropractic Degree. He then went on to study at the University of Florida where he completed his master’s degree in molecular cell biology with a concentration in immunology. Dr. Brett also holds diplomates from the American Board of Chiropractic Internists (DABCI) and the American Board of Clinical Nutrition (DACBN). Dr. Brett is both an instructor and administrator for multiple DABCI programs across the country and holds a seat on the executive board for the American Board of Clinical Nutrition.