In the last post, one of the questions I asked the spa tech with a sludge-like spa water nightmare was “What is your calcium hardness reading?”
A proper test kit should contain a calcium hardness test mechanism. Calcium hardness tests were once just for swimming pools–but we’ve discovered that it is also important for your backyard hot tub. The reason to test for calcium hardness in pool water is because a low calcium hardness reading is destructive to the pool’s plaster. (Priced plaster replacement lately? Think second mortgage to pay for the replacement.)
All tap water has variable calcium hardness readings. In that same seam, low calcium hardness in a hot tub is not only corrosive, but also interferes with disinfection, and low calcium hardness can also cause your water to become foamy.
Spa and pool owners often think that they have a lot of minerals in their water and equate that to calcium hardness. WRONG. Calcium hardness is a different measurement apart from total hardness (and that also has little to do with TDS) .
So, the reason I wanted a calcium hardness reading on this sludgy spa was: 1) to determine the effectiveness of the disinfectant and; 2) to determine if this was adding to the ‘green sludge’ disaster–in that it could cause the water to foam.
Maintaining your spa’s water can be like maintaining your own skeletal health, but this low-calcium hardness business can destroy your spa or pool’s skeletal well-being. If your calcium hardness reading is below 250 ppms, then prepare for funky water, and a visit from your spa’s doctor for an expensive repair to the heater, pump seals and possibly more.
Raise calcium hardness with calcium chloride. You can pick this up at your local pool and spa store.
In the spirit of keeping our economy going, we’re going to blog a near-live time problem. Here’s today’s email from a Midwestern spa tech. Her job is on the line. Can the Pool and Spa Master help her keep her job? We’ll see.
“I stumbled on your website trying to find a solution to an icky mess of a problem I’m having with a spa at my current job.I say current because I am afraid if I don’t figure this out it may not continue to be my place of employment!I work at a shop that sells spas and what not, chemicals, blah, blah…SO I believe I may have caused the pH to go wacky or something on a couple of different occasions.I used to think there was no way I could have caused these problems.I had been listening carefully to what I had been taught about chemicals, following directions on the bottles and so forth.But there have been a couple of occasions where it seems that by my trying to adjust the balance, the chemistry has gone nuts.The water stinks like halitosis, has a green sludgy look and gets a bit foamy as well.
This has occurred after adjusting the pH, waiting a bit and adding sanitizer.It seems at first like it will be okay and then it just…turns.Like it’s rotting or something.After about a day, I added some shock.Didn’t help.In fact, it just caused the sanitizer level to read off the charts, the water to get greener and stink worse!Man, I don’t want to lose my job.No one else seems to know what exactly I could have done to cause this problem and how to fix it.Can we fix it without having to dump it out?This would be the 4th time we’ve had to empty and refill a tub! (in 4 months)Awful, I know.Please help me!I need a paycheck!”
Clearly, the Pool and Spa Master needs more information, so here’s my reply to our frazzled spa tech:
“A few questions first,
1) What is the TDS (Total Dissolved Solids)?
2) What is the Total Alkalinity reading?
3) What is the Calcium Hardness reading?
4) What is the chemistry of the fill water and the makeup water (from the spigot)?
5) What is the source of that water?
6) What kind of disinfectant are you using in the spa?
Our spa tech got back to me, and noted that the tub was drained when she got back to work.
However, let’s discuss the reasons why I asked some of the questions.
TOTAL DISSOLVED SOLIDS AND YOUR UNRULY TEENAGE MOMENTS: TOTAL ALKALINITY & pH
If you’re a pool or spa dude, there’s nothing sexier than asking, “What’s your spa’s TDS?” It’ll rope ‘em in every time. I mean, talk about an ice-breaker!(How do you think I met my wife?)
BTW, TDS is leftover minerals from your spa’s evaporation process.Remember distilling water in high school chemistry?Your local water will have a natural TDS to begin with.As your use your spa, not only are hard bits and pieces left behind, but the tub is distilling as well—AKA TDS.
Now take an 8-ounce water sample to your local pool and spa shop, and ask them to test it for you.
High Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)—which is any reading over 1500 ppm–will interfere with your sanitizer’s ability to perform as designed.If your spa’s water reads over 1500 ppm, dump the chump.Trust me; it’s your only alternative.
“But the guy at the spa shop said my water was only 800 ppm, and my spa’s water still looks and smells like a rank pond.”
So, cross off TDS as a contributor, and move on to my next question “What is your total alkalinity reading?”
Why?If your total alkalinity is unbalanced (not within 80-120 ppm) it’s likely that your pH is off the scale and not under control.This scenario, again, affects your sanitizer’s ability to perform.Sanitizers work best in a perfect world.
A pH fluctuation by 2/10 of a ppm can make your disinfectant 70-80% less effective.
Remember those unruly teenager moments?Just think of your spa’s unruly total alkalinity and pH as a teenager that needs measured control.Always, always, always balance your total alkalinity FIRST (between 80-120 ppm).Once your total alkalinity is perfect you will then balance the pH (between 7.2 to 7.6 ppm).
Yes, like teenage moments, you may have to use a LITTLE bit of sodium bicarbonate, sodium carbonate and sodium bisulfate to get your total alkalinity and pH balanced, but it is the first step to preventing all the calamities that our friend with her job-at-risk experienced.
Roger from Los Angeles asks, “I read your piece about chlorine-free pools.What about my hot tub?Can I have a chlorine-free hot tub and not get the heebie-jeebies?”
Answer: Roger, if you don’t breathe LA’s air (just kidding), and if you don’t use tea tree oil, crystals, prayer or no disinfectant at all, yes you can use chlorine-free alternatives.
That said, my first question is, are you ready to perform more maintenance on your hot tub’s water than you do using either chlorine or bromine (bromine is chlorine’s kissing cousin)?If you are not interested in micro-managing your spa’s chemistry, then stick with the forty-year-old technology.
Some of your chlorine/bromine-free options are:Ozone, UV, biguinide, or minerals.Regardless of your alternative choice, you absolutely must maintain a perfect chemistry balance, a clean filter, and drain the spa when necessary.Check your local pool and spa store, see what they stock, then email me with your choices and I’ll go into more detail.
Sally in Portland says, “My hot tub cover stinks.What can I do about it?”
Answer: Sally, is mold growing on the north side of your spa as well?I mean, you are in Oregon and it can get a tad moldy there.Fortunately, that has nothing to do with a smelly hot tub cover.Give your cover the following test:
1)Is it heavy when you lift it?If so, your cover is waterlogged and you need to replace it.Once it is waterlogged it no longer can offer the same insulation it did when it was new.
2)Is your cover slimy on the underside?This is a simple fix.Wipe it down with a ¼ cup of bleach mixed with 2 gallons of water.Be sure to remove the cover from your spa while cleaning the slimy beast.
3)Still got gag?It could be that the foam core’s plastic envelope and the covering inside the cover have mildew or mold. You can probably fix this by, folding the cover in half, unzip the cover at the fold, remove the foam core in its envelope, turn the cover inside out, and spray both the envelope and the inside-out cover with the same bleach mix as above.Let it sit for 20 minutes, and then thoroughly rinse the cover off.Let it dry, reassemble, and gag-maker should be bleached away.
4)If these ideas fail, I can get some clothespins for your nose—real cheap too.
….Okay kids, go ahead shoot me those questions…and yes, Bill, I will answer your question about the safety of luv in da tub!
It’s warm in some parts of the country today. And soon enough we’ll all be complaining about the unbearable heat, and we’ll be ready to jump into the swimming pool.
The biggest complaint about swimming pools: Chlorine. Is it safe? As opposed to no disinfectant in the pool, I’ll take chlorine. But I don’t like it and I’m highly sensitive to it. So, my personal job became to find something that actually disinfects pool water without chlorine.
Disinfecting without chlorine is tricky business because you are fighting wind, rain, and organic material (including what our bodies leave behind), that daily alters pool water chemistry. So, earth-friendly ideas like using green tea, bacteria eating bugs, and salt water are a huge failure AND likely to INFECT you with pseudomonis, eye and skin irritation, ear infections, and digestive complications–for starters.
So, you must disinfect with stuff that kills bacteria. That leaves you with bromine (which is chlorine-based), and a plethora of chlorine alternatives already on the market. (But do you really like orange film on your water?)
Ozone is not a bad idea, but it was originally designed for drinking water, not water that we sweat in and muck up. Ozone’s disadvantage is it is a gas and it wants to leave the pool water and not stay in the pool water. The only effective way to use ozone in the pool is a series of contact chambers that compress and force the O3 ozone gas to mix with the pool water before it gets back to the pool. Got lots of money???
Collodial silver is another alternative. It is packaged under a variety of names. Collodial silver does disinfect pool water. This will require, copious amounts of shock, and algaecide. Particular attention must be spent on your water chemistry.
So, now I’ll flip into blatant self-serving advice–the Riptide Pool Sanitization System–my system. It is computerized, and once it is set up for your unique pool needs, and the filtration durations are maintained along with balanced water chemistry, clean filters, and a simple once a week oxidizing, the Riptide Pool Sanitization System takes care of disinfection and algae-stat simultaneously.
It requires little space and is an easy retrofit for most pools.
More blantant self serving news: You can buy it off my website www.riptidealchemy.com and I’m always available for your questions.
Thanks for reading this. Questions about spas arrive in email box daily, and I’ll have them posted asap.
Here are a few questions I was recently asked about spas and pools:
Question. My spa won’t get any hotter than 105 degrees.It’s not hot enough.The company I bought it from refuses to adjust the thermostat to make it reach 108 degrees.I’m very disappointed.
Mary in New Mexico
Answer. Mary, your spa dealer has done you a favor by not adjusting the thermostat.Here’s why:As a consumer protection, hot tub safety experts have determined that water temp over 105 degrees is dangerous.It raises your blood pressure, and could cause you to faint in the hot tub.That’s not a pretty picture. Following the inevitable wrongful death lawsuits that would likely (or have been) filed against spa manufacturers, the industry has set the 105-degree standard.
Personally, I’d recommend 102 to 104 degrees as optimum water temperature so that you can comfortably enjoy your hot tub’s hydrotherapeutic features for a longer length of time.
Question. Why do I cough when I turn the jets on my spa?Ross in Nevada.
Answer.Ross, when was the last time you changed your hot tub’s water or checked the full range of your hot tub’s chemistry?If you have to pause to answer this question, that’s the red flag.This tells me that your chemistry or total dissolved solids (TDS) is off the charts.
First check the TDS.You probably don’t have a meter for this, so take at least 8 ounces of your spa’s water to your local pool store and ask for the TDS test.If the TDS reads over 1500 ppm, dump your water and start all over again.
If your TDS is below 1200-1500 ppms, then check your total alkalinity and pH.Get your total alkalinity to 80-120 ppm.Then bring your pH to 7.2-7.6 ppm.Also OXIDIZE (‘shock’) your water.
Next, Ross, enjoy a good long soak with lots of jets and no coughing.
Question.Why does my skin itch after being in the hot tub?Carlos in Chicago.
Answer.Carlos, there are several reasons why your skin itches after a hot tub soak.1) dirty filter, 2)chemistry imbalance, 3) old water (high TDS), 4) too much disinfectant, 5) too long of a time in the hot tub, and 6) you may just have sensitive skin.
So, troubleshoot the cause by running thru this list.Let me know what happens.
Finally, a pool question from Marsha in Phoenix:“Why am I adding chlorine every couple of days and still getting a low chlorine reading?”
Answer.Marsha, Marsha, Marsha, first of all, you are in Phoenix.It’s hot there.UV is chlorine’s worst enemy.You can buffer that UV action by testing your chlorine-stabilizer reading (cyanuric acid).This keeps UV from breaking down the chlorine.You want between 40-50 ppm of stabilizer.
Also what kind of chlorine do you use?If it’s liquid chlorine, it is about 6 to 8-percent available chlorine.(How do you spell weak chlorine??)Liquid chlorine is also without added stabilizer.I’d recommend “stabilized chlorine” (with cyanuric acid) as well as, the available chlorine ranges between 90 to 100-percent available chlorine.This will make your pool, test kit, and YOU much happier.