Hot Tub Water Problems & Best Practices

by Tony Turbo.

Many folks would rather not discuss potential problems related to hot tub use but preventing these is the reason maintaining proper chemical levels in your spa is critically important. Let’s discuss them and then discuss how you can easily prevent them all (Best Practices).

Potential spa problems basically fall into three categories: Moderate Concern, Major Concern, and Dangerous.

Moderate Concern

Issues of moderate concern in your hot tub are those that prevent you from truly enjoying your spa but don’t represent a significant health risk. The most common would-be Cloudy Water.

It’s been several days since you last used your spa and now you open your spa cover only to see less than pristine, clear water. What happened?

By far the most likely reason your spa water is now cloudy is your Chlorine or Bromine level is low.

If you are using a Chlorine-based system (and this includes many Ion-based systems because they require either Chlorine or Bromine), an additional potential reason is your spa water pH is too high. The bacteria killing efficacy of Chlorine is highly dependent on the pH level. If your spa water pH is above 7.6, the chlorine in your spa has a significantly reduced ability to kill bacteria. (Bromine is relatively unaffected by pH levels.)

Lastly, your cloudy water may be due to the fact that it’s getting near time to drain and refill. This is particularly true if you are using Dichlor as your primary sanitizer. Two issues are at play here. One, Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) in your spa water have been rising as you use your spa and add chemicals every week. Second, Dichlor is 50% Chlorine and 50% Cyanuric Acid (CYA). After a few months of continually adding Dichlor to your spa water, you now have excessive levels in CYA which also greatly reduces the killing efficacy of the Chlorine in your spa water.

Note:  Though a moderate concern, do not use your hot tub until you have resolved this issue either by:

  1. Properly adjusting your spa water pH, increasing your Chlorine level to 2 – 4 ppm (or Bromine to 3 – 5 ppm)m, and waiting 1
    – 3 days until the water clears
  2. Or, purging your spa with Serum Total Cleanse,
    draining, and refilling your spa

Major Concern

Of major concern when using your hot tub is Folliculitis, commonly called “Hot Tub Rash.” It may manifest as small red bumps or white-headed pimples. Though some folks are simply sensitive to Chlorine resulting in a rash, Folliculitis is caused by bacteria in spa water that enters the hair follicles in a person’s skin.

As with Chlorine it seems some folks are more sensitive than others as its not at all uncommon to find one partner gets Folliculitis in a hot tub while another partner, using the same hot tub, does not. The solution is the same as when dealing with Cloudy Water – keep your pH in the 7.2 – 7.6 range, maintain the proper level of Chorine or Bromine, and drain & refill your spa every 4 months (more frequently if your spa is used heavily).


Though not common, there are some dangerous pathogens that can be present in spa water when proper sanitation regimens are not maintained. These include:

  1. Pseudomonas which can cause rash & respiratory tract infections, including pneumonia
  2. Coli which can cause intestinal problems, including diarrhea
  3. Legionella which manifests as either:
    1. Pontiac Fever resulting in mild flu like symptoms
    2. Legionnaires Disease, a highly dangerous pneumonia-type illness which can be fatal.

Best Practices

First, Check your spa water at least weekly to ensure your pH is in the range of 7.2 – 7.6 and chlorine is in the range of 2 – 4 ppm (or Bromine is 3 – 5 ppm). I’ll also strongly recommend you add Serum Total Maintenance weekly. Its benefits include:

  1. As a strong pH buffer, it will make it much easier to keep your pH in the 7.2 – 7.6 range
  2. It’s the only EPA Registered back-up secondary sanitizer on the market
  3. It will also keep your spa filter(s) free of biofilm and spa cover free of the black mold that can develop on the underside.

Second, With one major exception you should drain and refill your spa every 4 months.  The exception is spas using Salt Systems[1] for sanitation.

Third, Purge your hot tub (spa) at least annually with Serum Total Cleanse!  Though all too commonly overlooked by spa owners (and even some spa dealers), purging your spa at least once a year is critical.  The reason is simple – All the above are bacteria that can be resident in biofilm.  Unless you are the most fastidious of spa owners, your hot tub will develop biofilm in the plumbing.  It is darn near impossible to completely avoid hence, one of many reasons to use Serum Total Maintenance on a weekly basis.

Thanks for reading,

Tony Turbo

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