Picture this, you’ve spent a long day at the office, or maybe you just ran a marathon, you step out into your backyard with the necessities: a towel, a book, a glass of wine, and maybe you even have some music playing. The hot tub beckons to you from across the yard. As you open the cover and look down into the tub of water below, you’re horrified by what you find.
Odors, biofilm, gunk, and some murky water have overtaken your small piece of heaven. It’s time once again, to clean out your hot tub. The process can be so daunting, especially for first-time hot tub owners. Yet, it can be made easier with common household cleaners like baking soda. We’ll walk you through how to clean a hot tub with baking soda in 10 easy steps:
- Flushing your lines
- Powering down
- Draining the hot tub
- Cleaning the surface
- Dealing with problem areas
- Cleaning or replacing the filters
- Re-installing the filters
- Refilling with water
- Powering back up
- Treating the water properly with chemicals
- Maintaining the hot tub
- Winterize your hot tub
How to Tell It’s Time to Clean Your Hot Tub
Hot tubs need more than just chemicals and proper balance. Even if the water chemistry appears perfect, it could be time to drain the water and start fresh.
The water should be swapped out on a routine schedule which can be figured out by doing some simple math. Follow this equation for determining when to drain out your hot tub water and start fresh:
([Number of gallons in the hot tub]/[Number of people using hot tub regularly])/3=Days you should switch out hot tub water.
For example, My hot tub holds 400 gallons. Two people in my household use the hot tub regularly. So, 400 divided by 2 is 200. 200 divided by 3 is 66. I should clean out my hot tub and refill it every 66 days or two months.
There are other precursors to look out for when determining if it’s time to clean even before your routine schedule dictates. Look out for things like:
- Murky or cloudy water
- A build-up of biofilm noted by a brownish ring around the waterline.
- A strong chlorine-like smell. This smell is not actually chlorine, but chloramines that are mixing with urine, perspiration, and body oils in the water and causing a reaction to create the odor.
- The water is causing irritating sensations to skin and eyes, also another culprit of chloramines.
Before we walk you through cleaning your hot tub, let’s study some important key terms when dealing with hot tub cleaning.
What is Biofilm?
Biofilms are actually alive, and they are complex bacteria that reproduce to build colonies and communities. Hot tubs are a breeding ground for all kinds of bacteria and microorganisms since they offer damp and warm environments that many of them thrive on.
This bacterium combined with body oils, skin cells, and organic matter that is introduced into your hot tub, creates this biofilm. The biofilm mostly targets the insides of pipes and jets within the hot tub as the water in these areas hardly ever drain. You should be wary of purchasing used and refurbished hot tubs, always check for biofilm build-up within the pipes first so you can properly sanitize them.
What are Chloramines?
Chloramines are created when chlorine that is used to sanitize a hot tub comes into contact with ammonia producing substances like sweat, body oils and urine. It produces the familiar and strong chlorine smell many associate with chlorine and cleanliness, except its actually not chlorine, and it’s indicative of a not so clean hot tub.
An overabundance of chloramines could result from poor water chemistry and not having enough chlorine to break the bonds of chlorine and ammonia, or it could be indicative of a lack of routine replacement of the hot tub water.
Testing your water chemistry regularly for free chlorine (FCI) will help you to determine if chloramines are becoming an issue in your hot tub.
11 Steps for Cleaning your Hot Tub with Baking Soda
Now that you’re familiar with identifying a hot tub in need of cleaning and draining, we will dive into the list of 10 steps we compiled to make the process much simpler for you.
- Flushing Your Lines.
If it’s evident that your hot tub has a buildup of biofilm, you’ll want to consider flushing your lines first. Draining the hot tub and replacing the water doesn’t do anything if your lines are going to only re-introduce the same bacteria into the water once it is turned on.
You can also tell your lines need a good flush if your hot tub jets have lower pressure than normal, or the opposite way too much pressure. Flushing your lines is pretty simple. You can purchase a line flush product like SeaKlear Spa System Flush on Amazon.
To flush the lines, you’ll introduce the cleaner into the hot tub and run the jets for approximately 30 minutes allowing good and complete circulation of the water through the plumbing system. A lot of times this type of cleaner will help with any surface buildup as well.
Taking precaution with flushing your lines is important. If the biofilm is not controlled in your hot tub it could leave you and others who may use it susceptible to diseases like Legionella, Staphylococcus aureus, and E. Coli.
- Power Down
Now that your lines are flushed, you want to completely power down your hot tub before proceeding any further. Forgetting to power down could lead to the hot tub pump starting up when there is not enough water. This damages the pump and filters. It’s recommended to turn your hot tub off directly at the circuit breaker to assure it can not accidentally be turned back on during cleaning.
- Draining Your Hot Tub
You can drain your hot tub one of two ways, manually with a hose connected to the drain, or quickly with the help of a submersible pump. A pump will be the fastest route and you could expect a complete drain in under an hour. If you’re just allowing gravity to do its job with a hose connected to the drain of the hot tub, you could be waiting many hours for a complete drain.
You should always check your local area’s regulations and restrictions on what to do with hot tub water. Sometimes areas might permit the dumping of hot tub water, also known as “gray,” water directly onto the ground. Additionally, they could have issues with it being pumped into the sewage.
A lot of folks take a more creative approach with their hot tub water to try to be more environmentally friendly and conservative with water. They might hose down their car with the hot tub water, water their grass and gardens, dump the water into their pool, or drain it into a pet’s pool during the summer months.
- Cleaning the Surface
Now that your hot tub is empty it’s time to clean the outer shell of the hot tub. You can do this by using towels or with special hot tub cleaning mittens like the ones featured on Amazon here. These cleaning mittens will make it much easier for you to wipe down the surface of your hot tub and they are pre-moistened.
If you opt to use your own towels or cloths, make sure they won’t produce any scratches on your hot tub shell. They should be soft and easily wick away aqueous solutions.
Prior to wiping it’s common to spray the shell with a hot tub cleaner, white vinegar mixture or diluted bleach. This will help soften up algae and mildew that has built up on the shell over time.
- Dealing with Problem Areas
You might run into areas where the built-up scum or stains refuse to wipe away. You’ve tried various cleaners and solutions but they are fighting back vigorously. This is where baking soda will come in to help get rid of these problematic areas.
Creating a thick paste-like mixture of baking soda and water, apply the baking soda generously onto the problem areas. Allow the baking soda to sit for a few moments so that it’s cleaning properties can effectively work at battling the scum. Using your mittens, a damp cloth, or a sponge proceed to wipe away the baking soda mixture. If some of the gunk still remains, you can re-apply again and repeat.
Baking soda is a great household alternative to use because it is safe for your hot tub shell and safe for you without having to use harsh chemical cleaning agents.
- Cleaning the Filters or Purchasing New Ones
The hot tub filters have likely built up a nice layer of algae, bacteria, oils, and organic compounds. They need to be removed from the filter canister and properly cleaned for efficiency. We covered how to clean your hot tub filters in depth here.
Your hot tub filters won’t last forever so if it appears like your filters are becoming more and more difficult to clean, consider that it might be a good time to order new ones and replace them altogether.
If there isn’t much to clean off, many can get away with hosing them down and swishing them around in TSP solution. The recommended solution should be 1 cup TSP in 5 gallons of hot water. You’ll want to rinse them with a hose to remove any remaining chemicals. You can then allow them to dry. If they are much grimier, it’s usually best to let them soak in the solution overnight and then removing them to dry.
If your filters have a calcium build-up or mineral scale, try also soaking the filter in an acid solution for a few hours to help remove it. You can then follow up with soaking in the TSP solution, rinsing the filter thoroughly with a hose, and air drying.
Note the following:
- Never try to wash your filters in a dishwasher. Some claim this method works but it can do more harm than good.
- Do not use a pressure washer to hose down your filters.
- Do not use laundry detergent as a cleaning aid.
- Re-installing the Filters
Before re-installing your filters, check to make sure the filter canister on your hot tub is wiped down and cleaned. A lot of people tend to forget this area when wiping down their hot tub. If there is still water in the canister you can easily remove it with the help of a shop vacuum. Once the canister is completely cleaned you can proceed with reinstalling the filter cartridges.
- Refilling the Hot Tub with Water
The best way to refill your hot tub with water is to run the water through your filters first. Simply place your hose in the filter housing on your hot tub and let the water flow through the filters and directly into your tub. Filling your hot tub this way reduces the chance of hot tub airlock.
Hot tub air lock happens when the air becomes trapped in the hot tub and it doesn’t let the jets function right. This will eventually cause some unfortunate damage if it’s not fixed right away.
- Power Your Hot Tub Back On
When powering your hot tub on, it’s important to use your ears to monitor the performance. Your ears are going to immediately tell you if something is wrong with the pump or filters which signals improper installing during the cleaning process. Let the hot tub run for at least 15 minutes while listening to it.
- Treating Your Water with the Right Chemicals
Check the user guide for your hot tub for the proper way to chemically treat the water. More than likely you’ll need to shock the water in your tub, introduce chlorine or bromine, and check the pH balance. During this time, you’ll want to close the air valves on your tub because they can disrupt the chemicals. Allow 24 hours for your hot tub to circulate all of the chemicals and reach the appropriate temperature for comfort.
If you have a saltwater chlorination system, instead of shocking your water and adding chlorine or bromines, you’ll want to test the salinity of your water as tap water has some variable of salinity to it already. Then test your pH, alkalinity and calcium ranges to make sure they are all in a favorable range. Add in salt as needed. Your chlorination system once turned on will handle the rest.
- Maintaining your Hot Tub on a Regular Basis
You’re now ready to enjoy your hot tub, but there are many steps you can take moving forward to avoid having to completely drain and clean your hot tub out frequently. Consider practicing the following:
- On a weekly basis make sure your hot tub is being effectively sanitized by using chlorine and bromine additions to the water. Or in the case of a saltwater hot tub, test your water for chemical compatibility on a regular basis. Also, check that you don’t need to replace your salt cell.
- You should be washing your hot tub filters once a week. You can do this by simply removing them and hosing them down. You can also spray them with a cleaning solution for a more thorough cleanse. Allow them to sit for 15 minutes after spraying with the solution, and then hose them down again before putting them back into the hot tub.
Make sure you remove all traces of chemicals on the filters by hosing them down thoroughly. You do not want to introduce these chemicals into your hot tub water as they could affect your water chemical balance.
- To reduce the number of organic compounds and body oils from entering your hot tub, make it a habit to enforce showering requirements prior to anyone entering the hot tub. A quick rinse off can prove helpful in reducing a large build-up of these two culprits.
- Avoid drinking beverages in your hot tub aside from water. Spilling soda, alcohol and other beverages into your hot tub will hurt the chemical balance and require more cleaning later on.
- When not in use always keep the hot tub covered so falling debris, pollen, and other environmental pollutants do not overtake it. This will also keep small animals and insects like birds, squirrels, and mosquitos from trying to enter the water.
- If you find that pollutants are entering the water try to remove them with a pool skimmer as soon as they appear.
- Keep your hot tub cover clean on the outside. Your hot tub cover is going to protect your hot tub from environmental factors, but these also build up on the cover. After some time, if the build-up becomes too much, it can accidentally get into the water upon removing the cover.