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Chemicals used in Spas & Hot Tubs
I have heard from many chemical manufacturers about how their spa / hot tub chemicals are the best. I have heard from customers, that what was sold to them as "the best" does not seem to work properly. Keep in mind that the people that are selling you the chemicals are doing so to make a profit. Your best source of information may be from friends that have spas & hot tubs. Find out from them how their water behaves and what they use, combine that with what the dealer tells you, and then make your own decision.
Granular Chlorine (Di-chlor) ;
Granular chlorine has been used in spa water maintenance for years, this in combination with an ozone generator is what I use on my own spa. Chlorine is a fast acting short-lived chemical when used in hot water. It has 2.5 times the oxidizing potential of Bromine, and can be used as its own shock. When used properly it leaves very little odor in the water. The eye burn and strong smell that many people associate with Chlorine usage is primarily due to a buildup of Chloramines ( a byproduct of Chlorine and organic material) in the water. Chloramines can be removed by regular shock treatments.
The method I use is to add one tablespoon of high quality (99% active ingredient) granular chlorine after each use. (Which averages three-four times per week.) Then I check my pH three times per week, usually only having to adjust it once. I add a small amount of scale control chemical whenever I add water. I also add a double dose of Chlorine once a week as a shock treatment. I would estimate my annual chemical costs at $70 per year. About one half to one quarter the average. And my water is crystal clear.
An excellent , and well detailed di-chlor instruction can be found at: http://www.rhtubs.com/dichlor_vermonter.htm
Chlorine Tablets (Tri-chlor);
Tri-chlor tablets have a lower pH than granular Chlorine and can lead to equipment damage, if used improperly. I do not recommend the use of Chlorine Tablets in hot tubs.
Liquid Chlorine (Sodium Hypo chlorite);
Sodium Hypo chlorite has a very high pH, and when used in a spa can help the formation of calcium scale and make pH maintenance difficult. I do not recommend the use of liquid Chlorine in spas.
Bromine is a close chemical cousin of Chlorine, and in many ways acts the same. Bromine will tend to build up in a bank in the water that can be reactivated by shocking the water with a chemical like potassium mono per-sulfate, or potassium per-oxy monosulfate. Although Bromine is generally easier on the hair, skin and eyes, more people are prone to being allergic to it than Chlorine, and if water balances are not well maintained while using a bromine floater, the water can be more prone to mishaps. Like runaway Bromine level, (which can lead to equipment damage), or bacteria growth in the water which can lead to itchy skin or tub rash. Whenever using Bromine it is very important to test your water regularly and make the necessary adjustments.
Sodium Bromide (Bromine powder or liquid);
I have seen dealers that sell Sodium Bromide for spa sanitization. While it is more difficult to let the Bromine level in the water run away when using this system. It is also very expensive. Sodium Bromide is not stabilized like the Bromine you find in tablets, also it must be activated by a shock before it is effective. The only use I found for Sodium Bromide was to use it as an energizer to the Bromine Bank while waiting for tablets to melt. I would not generally recommend a Sodium Bromide two part system for the sanitization of hot tub water.
Scale and Mineral control Chemicals;
Chemical treatment for mineral in your source water is very important. Out of control mineral content can damage many of the components in the spa, and like other avoidable damage, this is usually not covered under warranty. There are many brand names of scale and mineral control chemicals. The majority of them have two components, one is an acid that helps to break up any calcium scale that has started to form. The other component is a polymer that coats the mineral in the water and keeping it from forming scale. Here again you get what you pay for, with so many mixes out there, there is a strength for every brand. I would talk to again, the dealer as well as friends who have spas or hot tubs. And decide from there.
Water's natural state is to be slightly hard. If you add softened water to your spa , the water will tend to draw mineral into itself, through osmosis. Where it finds this mineral, is your heater element and / or your pump seal. You can purchase calcium to harden your water if soft water is all you have available. If you are in doubt as to whether or not your water is hard have it tested, by either a spa and pool dealer, or in some instances of city water, your water company will test your water for you or be able to give you a reasonable estimate of the hardness of your source water. Water drawn from wells can be anywhere from soft to extremely hard. Here again if in doubt, have it tested.
Again I will recommend that you read the labels. I have seen the same chemicals packaged in two-ounce packages that sell for as much as six times the same chemical sold in 1 pound packages (on an ounce for ounce basis). Here is one case where marketing plays a big roll in price. I have seen the same chemical shock, in tablet form sell for much more than it does in powder form. DON'T BUY A SALES PITCH! Especially when you are buying chemicals.
The most common spa / hot tub shock treatment, is Potassium mono-per sulfate, or Potassium per-oxy-mono-sulfate, chemically these two are very similar, in their actions they are almost indistinguishable.
When using Bromine tablets in your spa / hot tub, it is necessary to shock the water with one of these non-chlorine shock treatments once a week.
Clarifying Agents , Clarifiers;
Clarifiers are, for the most part, a polymer, that goes into the water sticks the particles that cause the water to be cloudy together, making larger particles that the filter can more easily pick out. If over used or used with a tub that has an ozone generator, this flocking agent can cause a sticky brownish scum that can be difficult to clean off, so follow the directions, but keep in mind that with polymer based clarifiers less can be more.
I have tried other non-polymer clarifiers, that were billed as natural, but had no success with them. Most clarifiers are non-toxic anyway so I don't know how much of a benefit "all natural" is with them.
This system uses a Biguanide sanitizer with a Hydrogen Peroxide based shock. I have never sold these products, because the spa manufacturers I was carrying at the time voided portions of the spa's warranty if you used peroxide based shocks. Some spa / hot tub manufacturers still do. So read your warranty before purchasing this type of system.
I can tell you, that I did change a number of other people's customers to Chlorine after they had tried biguanide in their spas / hot tubs. The reasons that they were unhappy with it were.
In the last few years a new alternative sanitize has come on the market. These are billed as "natural" and contain silver ( a bactericide) and copper (an algaecide). With these systems it is recommended that you use a Potassium based shock or Granular Chlorine as a shock and to activate the mineral bed.
I have tried to use these systems on several different types of spas without any luck. I have had chemical customers that have used them with success, but to a one all had a pressurized canister type of filter as opposed to an open skimming type filter.
After calculating their chemical consumption and the replacement cost of the mineral bed I found this system to be more expensive than a regular Chlorine or Bromine system.
My best advice here is again talk to someone who is using the system in the same type of spa with the same or more severe bather load before purchasing such a system.
*** SPECIAL NOTE: Since first writing this article, I have seen a growing incidents of pieces of plastic housing from some mineral bed cartridges, getting sucked into the spa / hot tub water pump. This is a non-warranty nuisance, so if you use anything that goes into the filter area of your spa / hot tub be sure that you do not loose a piece down the plumbing , and into the spa / hot tub water pump. Super gluing that sucker together will usually keep it from coming apart in small enough pieces to go down the proverbial tube.
Liquid Minerals or Ions;
Coming into fashion are liquid forms of the Mineral based products mentioned above. The same advice and cautions can be applied in the case of these products.
footnote: The use of copper in some of these systems is falling from grace, as EPA regulations regarding the discharge of copper into the water shed get more stringent (Copper kills fish and algae). Silver and now zinc seem to be taking the place of copper for many water treatment programs.
Canada has a ban on many copper based water treatment systems for these reasons.
There are two types of ozone generator used in the spa industry, one is a CD or Corona Discharge, the other is a UV or one that uses an Ultra Violet light to generate ozone from the oxygen contained in regular air. I feel that either is as good as the other.
CD Ozonators will cost more. Last a little longer without service needs. And can generate more ozone, depending on size. But can be harder, or more expensive to service. If a dealer tells you he is selling you a CD ozonator make sure it says so on the ozonator.
UV Ozonators, the most common type in the spa business, are cheaper, last almost as long and are generally less expensive than CD units. And when sized properly to a spa are every bit as effective.
The way ozone helps purify the water is, when Ozone is introduced to an organic, it oxidizes it , or burns it up. This helps eliminate some of the contaminates you would normally overcome with a disinfectant / oxidizer.
Ozone is the most potent oxidizer that there is gram for gram. That is readily available (There is a Florien (sic) compound that is stronger)
It is not however, the miracle cure it gets sold as. Even with an ozone system it is still necessary to use some chemical sanitizer, as well as pH increaser or decreases, and mineral control chemicals. Ozone will however make your water better behaved and cut back the amounts of other disinfectants needed. I have found that it easily pays for itself in chemical savings and therefore is worth the investment. Average cost of an ozone system is $200.00, average life expectancy of an ozone bulb is three years. Average warranty on ozone bulbs 1 year.
It is a good idea to check you ozonator frequently to see if it is still working. They will usually have a window through which you can see a purple light, if the light is on the ozonator is working. When you are checking to see if your ozonator is working, make sure that your tub is in the proper mode. (Some Ozonators will only function when the tub is in "filter mode") Note, ozone bulbs can lose potency and should be replaced every 3 years even if they still light.
pH Increaser and Decreaser;
pH increaser is used when the pH of your spa's water drops below 7.2 to 7.4, it can also be used to increase the water's Alkalinity level. Most commonly, pH increaser is sold in a powder form which consists of Sodium Carbonate. Not to be confused with Sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda) which is commonly sold as Alkalinity increaser. Both Sodium Carbonate and Sodium Bicarbonate will increase your pH and Alkalinity, Bicarb will increase the Alkalinity in a higher proportion. Also sold in liquid form as pH increaser is Potassium Carbonate, which is generally more expensive than the powdered pH increasers. Although slightly stronger I do not think that Potassium Carbonate in the long term pays for itself.
pH decrease is used when your tubs water's pH goes above 7.8, it can also be used to lower the Alkalinity level. Sodium Bisulfate is the dry chemical sold as pH decrease. Sodium Bisulfate can also be found in liquid form. It is not a good idea to use Muriatic acid as a pH decrease in hot tubs, as that it is too strong for use in such a small amount of water.
You should always dilute or dissolve pH control chemicals in a pail of water prior to adding it to the spa. Always add chemical to water, not water to chemical, to reduce splash hazard. The chemicals should then be added near the center of the spa with the jets running.
If you add chemicals directly to the spa there is a risk that strong concentrations of chemical will be pulled into the equipment through the suction intakes.
NEVER ADD ANY CHEMICALS DIRECTLY TO THE SKIMMER OF YOUR TUB.
The NSF-50 guideline for pools, spas and hot tubs can be ordered from here http://www.nsf.org
**Note: I cannot in good conscious recommend a chemical system or alternative that is not recognized by the NSF-50
Filtration and ozonation: "The Mighty Circ Pump."
Alright wrap your brain around this: I have been looking into the effectiveness of the tiny circulation pump, for a friend that owns a hot tub manufacturing plant.
He wanted to know if they, the tiny circ pumps, lived up to the hype. Well here is what I found, I will let you decide.
The tiny circulation pump that I tested for him ran at a maximum of 7 gallons per minute, and as it was plumbed using the pump manufacturer's guidelines we achieved more like 5 gallons per minute. We also looked at the watts that is was supposed to use by multiplying amps drawn by volts supplied (120 volts .84 amps = 100.8 watts). Then to figure out how much electricity it would use in a day, we then took the number of hours and multiplied it by the watts drawn 100.8 x 24 (24 hours a day is common for this type of application) = 2419.2 watt/ hours or roughly 2.4 kWh per day, at a generous 10.0 cents per kWh this worked out to be 24 cents a day or about a measly 7.20 per month to filter! (not bad!) Then we looked at how many gallons per day it would move through the filter with optimum conditions. (5 gallons per minute x 60 minutes x 24 hours) We found an impressive 7200 gallons per day and for those of you with a mind for math (or like me a calculator) that's 0.000033 cents per gallon! Or to use real numbers about 33.3 cents to filter 10,000 gallons.
Then we looked at his current full sized pump, on low speed it moves about 35 gallons per minute, and has an amp draw of 1.8 amps on 120 volts (or uses 216 watts) The normal setting for them is 4 hours twice daily or 8 hours. So 8 x 216 = 1728 watt hours or 1.728 kWh) thus costing at 10 cents per kWh, 17.28 cents per day and using the same 30 day month, $5.18 ! A savings of almost 90 cents per month! But lets dig deeper.. at 35 gallons per minute x 60 minutes x 8 hours that's 16800 gallons per day or 0.00010 cents per gallon! Or 10.28 cents for 10,000 gallons.
Needless to say, he did not add the additional few hundred dollars to his spa line up to add a tiny circulation pump.
Now I have heard some numbers that make the circulation pump sound better then this, but no one to date has been able to show me in any thing resembling a scientific format how their numbers work. One emboldened salesman had numbers that made the spa pump generate more than 103 watts of heating, while it was pumping the water! This equates to a positive gain of energy! And if true breaks all of the laws of physics as we know them.
If anyone has any HARD scientific proof that contradicts what I have said here please send me a copy at webmaster email and I will gladly post it here, and pass it onto my friend that owns the spa company.
One salesman said to me "Yes that's all fine but how many gallons a day do you NEED to filter?" My answer was this.. "WHO CARES, I can do it cheaper per gallon!".
In the end it is another case of not much difference between your apples, but don't get sold on something just because a salesman makes it sound good. Do the math and you will always come close to the truth.
**Special note: The resent California Energy Commission regulations have made it tempting for "portable electric Spas" manufacturers to cheat you of proper filtering to make a tub that will pass the Energy Consumption Requirements stated in Title 20.
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