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How to Clean a Hot Tub Without Draining It

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Cleaning a hot tub is an essential part of its maintenance required to avoid skin irritations, rashes, and poor hygiene for anyone using it. However, draining all of the water to clean the inside just to fill it back up again can take a lot of time—not to mention a spike in your next water bill. 

Fortunately, there are ways you can still clean your hot tub without having to drain it; it all starts with hand-scrubbing the inside before treating the water. 

Scrub the Hot Tub Interior

While the water is in the tub, it is best to start cleaning the interior first. This step should take place before you balance and treat the water as dirt and bacteria will likely rub off the interior and enter the water. Allowing the dirty water to run through the hot tub’s filter first and treating it later will help eliminate any lingering grime and bacteria.  Especially if you’re cleaning a hot tub that’s been siting a while.

You’ll need to scrub down various parts of the hot tub interior, from the seats to the shell, though the cleaning process will be the same. 

How to Clean the Hot Tub’s Interior 

Using a soft-bristle brush, scrub over the hot tub’s inside shell. (It’s essential to make sure the bristles are not too stiff because it can scratch up the shell.) You may need an extension for your brush for the deeper parts of the hot tub so that you don’t have to submerge yourself underwater to do so. 

As mentioned earlier, any dirt removed from the shell will end up in the water. Your hot tub’s water filter will most likely be able to remove most of the smaller particles. 

However, keep in mind that throughout this process, your filter may clog if you solely rely on it to remove all dirt. With that said, it is recommended that you also use a skimmer or special vacuum to help pick up larger debris and particles.  


Note: Because you are not draining the water, it is imperative that you do not use any cleaning solutions inside of the tub as you scrub. Doing so will upset your water’s pH balance and pose a health and safety risk to users if some cleaner remains in the water. 

Remove and Soak the Hot Tub’s Jets

Cleaning the hot tub’s jets is essential because it prevents them from clogging up and reduces the strain put on the parts. It also allows the jets to work more efficiently, resulting in a more powerful stream. 

To clean the hot tub jets, remove them from your unit and soak them in a natural cleaning solution made up of 50% warm water and 50% vinegar. The jets should remain in the mixture for at least three to four hours. Doing this will help eliminate bacteria on the jets and break down any built-up dirt. 

After soaking in the solution, you should be able to use a small toothbrush to scrub any lingering debris off the jets. 

Scrub the Hot Tub’s Pipes

Traditionally, if you opt to drain the water from your hot tub, you’ll be able to first add a chemical to the unit’s pipes to dissolve any built-up debris before emptying it. 

However, if you want to avoid draining your hot tub, you can use a soft toothbrush to scrub the interior of the pipes after removing the jets. Although you will not be able to reach very far past the pipes’ entrance to clean, you can still remove quite a bit of dirt that builds up around the openings. 

You could also invest in a flexible cleaning brush to help you scrub further down the pipe if needed. 

Remove and Clean the Hot Tub Filter

Next, you’ll need to turn off the hot tub—if you haven’t already—and remove its water filter to clean it. (The filter may have already begun to clog from the dirt removed from the interior and pipes by this point.) You may need to unscrew some components of your hot tub’s water pump to reach the filter, depending on your model. 

With a water hose, spray down the filter. Make sure the water stream is gentle and not on full-blast to avoid causing damage to the filter. After, scrub any lingering debris, such as soft dirt, mildew, mold, or bacteria, away with a soft-bristled brush and rinse again with the hose.

For a more thorough clean, you can soak the filter in a chlorine cleaning solution or another alternative for a few hours before rinsing it thoroughly and putting it back in the hot tub.  

Wipe Down the Control Panels and Headrests

Cleaning the headrests and control panels is the easiest part of this process because they’re not submerged underwater. However, it’s also the easiest part to forget to clean. 

To clean these surfaces, any hot tub surface cleaner or disinfectant will do the job. Avoid using regular surface cleaners with chemicals as these may accidentally mix with the water, leading to skin irritation and rashes for users later. Spray down the parts and wipe them clean with a soft, damp towel. 

Treat the Hot Tub’s Water

Once you’ve finished cleaning all the components of your hot tub, you’ll then need to treat your water to eliminate lingering bacteria from the cleaning process and to make sure the pH is still balanced. 

To test your hot tub’s water pH, you’ll need to use testing strips. Ideally, you want your hot tub’s water to reach a seven on the pH scale, specifically 7.2 to 7.8. 

Treating Acidic Water

Anything lower than seven, and your water starts to become acidic. Low pH numbers can harm both the people in the hot tub and the hot tub itself. The acid in the water can cause erosion to plastic or materials that make up the unit’s inner shell, leading to long-term, irreplaceable damage. High acidity can also leave users with dry, itchy skin after hot tub use.  

To treat acidic water in your hot tub, you will need to use alkaline-based chemicals to increase the pH level. A common ingredient used to raise the pH level is sodium carbonate, also known as soda ash. Add as much as needed according to the product’s instructions based on your hot tub volume, then wait for approximately six hours before testing the water’s pH again. 

Alternatively, you could also add new water to the hot tub to help balance out the alkalinity, though this will only help if you have lost some water during the cleaning process. 

Treating Basic Water

With a pH higher than seven, the water becomes basic; at this level, chlorine is no longer as effective at preventing bacteria growth. A sign that your hot tub’s water is basic is if you see calcium buildup or white water mold, which looks like white flakes. You’ll usually see the buildup in the water or the sides of your hot tub’s shell, and it can lead to your filter and jets being clogged. 

To treat basic water and lower the pH level, you can add sodium bisulfate or muriatic acid to your hot tub. Similarly to treating acidic water, pay attention to the product’s instructions, only adding enough for your hot tub’s water volume. Wait a few hours before testing the pH again. 

Final Thoughts

While draining your hot tub may be the best solution for the most thorough clean, it still can be done without having to do so from time to time. The most important thing to remember when doing this is to take note of your water’s pH levels and make sure you don’t use any chemicals during this process.  

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