November 9, 2018
By Colin Taylor, B.Sc.
As the director of operations for Twilight Hot Tubs and Home Leisure Centre in British Columbia’s capital city of Victoria, Darrell Gazloff has heard a plethora of customer complaints regarding hot tub water care. Some say their water is cloudy all the time and they cannot figure out why. Others are frustrated from having to battle the up and down pH ladder with levels climbing or dropping off the charts. On top of that, they are bothered by nagging water care complications such as constant foam and unpleasant odours.
“Sometimes people can fall into poor habits without realizing it and do the same thing day after day and end up thinking to themselves: ‘Well, I’ve been doing it this way for so long it has to be the right way’,” says Gazloff. “So, we have to deprogram them to get them back on track.”
This journey can sometimes be a rocky road for his customers; however, Gazloff insists hot tub maintenance does not have to be the difficult chore many owners believe it to be. Rather, it could and should be smooth sailing.
At Twilight Hot Tubs, the staff explains to its customers there are two very different methods of maintaining water in their hot tubs: the traditional procedure or the natural approach. While both systems require users to first attain (and then maintain) proper water chemistry levels with respect to pH, alkalinity, hardness, and sanitizer, Gazloff and his customer service employees try to educate their clients on the benefits and ease of use of a more simpler, natural approach to water treatment.
One of the biggest complaints about hot tub ownership is maintaining the water. For some, when they think about hot tub water care, they immediately conjure up visions of test strips and copious amounts of bottles containing chemicals that need to be mixed together to formulate just the right elixir. There is no getting around the basic benchmarks on how to keep hot tub water clean and clear; however, it is up to the customer on what water treatment program they use to achieve the following:
This value can change easily, and quickly. The traditional method of hot tub water care requires the user to check it often to ensure it is in the target zone between 7.2 and 7.6. If not, they need to add more pH up or down, accordingly.
Alkalinity is a measure of the water’s ability to neutralize acids. It is an important part of balancing pH levels and is often called a ‘buffer’ because it helps the water resist changes in pH. Unbalanced alkaline levels can have an adverse effect on the hot tub’s appearance, while for some bathers it may even adversely affect their skin. The target to maintain is 80 to 120 parts per million (ppm).
Calcium hardness, also referred to as total hardness, is a measure of the dissolved calcium and magnesium in the water. Keeping the hardness level in range (±250 ppm) will ensure the hot tub is protected from acid erosion damage and assists in keeping the water clean and clear by preventing cloudiness and scale.
The key to safe, clean and clear water is the sanitizer. This step cannot be avoided whether a hot tub owner is using a traditional or natural method to water care. The difference, however, is in the bathing experience. Bacteria and other microbes feed on the organic matter introduced into the hot tub water. Chlorine oxidizes the organics, denatures the bacteria, and is the key player in maintaining clear water. The values to maintain with respect to chlorine are between 3 and 5 ppm.
People do not want to check their hot tub water regularly; they want to enjoy it in a manner that provides predictable and satisfying results. The problem is, when bathers get into the hot tub, they add a bunch of organic and non-organic matter, including sweat, urine, sodium chloride, proteins with nitrogen, bacteria, and amino acids, etc. The list can go on, but the point is obvious. This concoction can quickly develop into poor water quality. Treating these concerns does not have to be difficult—or harsh.
“What we have found in Canada is there seems to be a huge trend toward using more natural products as opposed to traditional chemicals,” says Gazloff. “The skin is the largest organ in the body and even though bathers are not ingesting hot tub water, it is still being absorbed by the body.
“In many cases, when people realize this, they decide to use more natural products in their hot tub—not just for health reasons, but also because they want to be more environmentally conscious. When customers buy a hot tub from us, we give them a kit that includes a natural conditioner, non-chlorine shock, and a plumbing line cleanser.”
Of course, even when using natural products, hot tub water must still be treated regularly with chlorine and a non-chlorine oxidizing shock. A stable conditioner, which uses all-natural ingredients, should also be introduced to balance and soften the water, eliminate odour, and help to prevent the buildup of biofilm in the plumbing.
Pete Morisette, owner of Calgary-based Paradise Bay Leisure Products, which has been in business for 26 years, also recommends a natural water treatment regimen to his hot tub customers.
“When we sell a saltwater system, which require probes and cells in the water, we find that when a natural water conditioner is used, it keeps the cells and probes a lot cleaner,” says Morisette. “On any hot tub like this we include a ‘Welcome to Water Care’ kit and simple instructions on what the customer needs to do. By doing so, our customers have been very pleased with their water quality.”
While Gazloff and Morisette start their new hot tub customers off on this natural path, they both also assist customers who have been using traditional water treatment methods. Many of these customers will bring in 500 mL (17 oz) of water to their respective test stations in the stores, and, from these samples, they are able to test for the benchmarks (e.g. calcium, alkalinity, pH, type of sanitizer is in the water, etc.) and try to figure out what is in the water and why it is reacting the way it does.
Twilight and Paradise Bay take these test results a step further and ask their customers probing questions such as: How many hours a day is their hot tub set to filter? Is the hot tub used a lot or a little? Who are the main bathers—adults or kids?
“We test water on a regular basis,” says Morisette. “We do it manually and check the parameters on a personal level. We don’t just let a computer spit out the results. Part of our daily routine is to help our customers get better water quality.”
Often, both Gazloff and Morisette find themselves breaking customers of their traditional water treatment habits and move them towards a new way of thinking. They recommend a hot tub plumbing cleaner to purge the pipes of any buildup of gunk. Then, they make sure they install a new filter, or at least thoroughly clean the existing one. With their customers’ hot tubs in “like-new” condition, they introduce the customer to a natural water treatment program.
“We’ve had a lot of customers comeback to our store with concerns about bathing in water treated with chlorine and bromine,” said Morisette about the two sanitizers approved for use in Canada. “There are products that can help reduce their concerns whereby allowing them to bathe in water that not only has the proper residual sanitizer, but also uses natural water treatment methods.”
Gazloff agrees. After he finds out exactly what his walk-in customers are doing wrong, and if they are using a traditional water treatment program that has them frustrated with the chemistry, he knows what to tell them.
“First of all, I explain there is no need for that anymore,” said Gazloff. “They’ve been conditioned over the years to think they need to add all of that stuff in the water. So we explain they don’t need to treat their water in that manner. A lot of the products they might be using aren’t necessary anymore when implementing a natural water treatment program.
“Today, people want things to be quick and easy—even hot tub water maintenance. They want instant gratification so to speak. They just need to keep their chlorine up to par (3 to 5 ppm). Also, they need to shock their water when they get out and add a conditioner once a week. When they see it from this point of view, it makes more sense to them.”
Colin Taylor, B.Sc., MIScT, is a chemist for SilkBalance, a hot tub water care company based in Vancouver, B.C. He has been involved in addressing several hot tub water maintenance problems and focused on resolving and simplifying them. Taylor also answers many e-mail questions from hot tub users around the world at email@example.com.
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