Maintaining a Portable Spa

By Rob Andersen from Pool and Spa Poppits
Thursday, 30 May, 2013

Maintaining a Portable Spa

For some clients, it comes as a rude awakening that a portable spa, regardless of all of the amazing features available, must be maintained by humans. Sometimes people are suddenly overwhelmed by the thought that they are, in fact 'that' human being, yet they have never owned a spa before. But not to panic! Maintaining a portable spa is very similar to the routine required to manage or care for a swimming pool and armed with some basic knowledge, you can help your clients understand the simple processes involved.

The excitement and pleasure of a brand new portable spa is very special. Whether purchased for therapeutic or social reasons, there are few items that can claim to promote health and wellbeing while providing luxury, fun and genuine exhilaration.

Like all things of value, a portable spa requires regular maintenance. Everyone appreciates that a motor vehicle doesn't look after itself and needs regular servicing and that a home requires ongoing maintenance or it deteriorates and impacts the value. Well so too does a portable spa need regular care.

It is really not difficult to maintain either a pool or spa when we break down the tasks into the five basic areas to consider:

  • Balancing the water
  • Sanitizing the water
  • Oxidizing the water
  • Clarifying the water
  • Filtering the water

The important thing to keep in mind is that what we want to achieve is clear, sparkling and safe water to relax in.

Balancing the Water

Much has been written on the subject, and pool shop professionals will generally agree that this is the area that most people wrestle with most of the time.

Balancing the water is actually maintaining a balance between pH, total alkalinity and the level of calcium in the water. I sense that some clients will begin to become anxious at the very thought of this fundamental step. So perhaps understanding why it is necessary is as important as how to achieve it.

The key thing is that we all want to bathe in water that is comfortable for our skin and that won't irritate our eyes. Not surprisingly that means achieving a pH level that is close to that of our skin and eyes.

Now while the pH differs between people based on age, gender and skin type, broadly speaking that range is between pH 7 and pH 7.8. The pH scale actually runs from 0-14 or acidic to alkaline and therefore 7-7.8 is considered neutral.

To help to keep the pH in the neutral zone, it's important to stop the pH from rising above or dropping below these levels. Generally the things that are added to the water (contaminants, if you like) will push pH up. To stop this from happening requires a buffer, which maintains alkalinity at a point that stops uncontrolled rising of the pH.

Traditionally this has required careful measuring and the addition of pH increasers if pH is low, or pH decreaser when pH is high, balanced with a 'buffer' product.

The heat of the water affects the pH, as does the number of people using the spa, how long they stay in the water and the impact of other contaminants entering the spa water.

Sounds complex? Indeed it can be. However, the good news is that recently developed chemical products (such as the Poppits One Step Water Prep) allow spa owners to set pH and alkalinity at the preferred zone with a single dose. The water stays in that zone for 3-4 months and remains fresh until the spa needs to be drained and refilled.

Sanitising the Water

Balancing the water means that it is not going to irritate the skin or be harsh on the spa and just as importantly, it is now in the range where the sanitiser will work most efficiently.

Sanitiser aims to achieve three goals -

  • Kill all dangerous bacteria, fungus and other health threatening contaminants
  • Oxidise the things that it kills
  • Provide a residual to prevent instant re-infection of the water

Spa sanitisers need to be registered with the Australian government agency -APVMA (Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority). The APVMA has approved four products for this use - two of which are chlorine in nature (lithium and bromine) and two that do not contain chlorine (baquacil and hydrogen peroxide). Only two of these products achieve all three goals listed above: lithium, which is chlorine based and must be added daily; and hydrogen peroxide, which is free of chlorine.

There is also a non-chlorine hydrogen peroxide that also contains silver (Poppits Sanosil Spa Sanitiser) which is endorsed by the Asthma Council in Australia as the recommended product for people with asthma and allergies. Being a liquid product it can also be automatically dosed which removes another maintenance worry.

Oxidising the Water

We mentioned oxidising in the sanitising section - but what does it mean?

In layman's terms, oxisidising is like 'burning up or dissolving' organic matter such as hair follicles, skin flakes, make up and body fats etc. While a quality sanitiser will do this - there are occasions when the amount of organic matter is higher - for example after a party, or heavier than normal use. On these occasions it is advisable to use an oxidiser. Once again, there is a chlorine free oxidizer, which is recommended as it is not advisable to over-dose with chlorine.

Oxidisers should be added to the spa in doses of 30 grams per 1,000 litres and circulated for at least two hours with the cover of the spa removed.

With average use (two to three people using the spa for 20 minutes two to three times per week) it should only be necessary to oxidise about every two to three weeks - unless using a sanitiser that does not oxidise in which case it will be necessary to use an oxidiser at least weekly and possibly more often.

Clarify the Water

Sometimes the spa water can become dull and slightly cloudy. This can result from a number of things such as heavy use, dusty weather, insufficient filtration and inferior sanitisers. On other occasions it may be that the water has become contaminated with phosphates, which are airborne and unfortunately all too common these days.

If the problem is only simple dull and dusty water, then a dose of clarifier is in order, however if phosphates have invaded the spa, normally causing the sanitiser to be used up overnight, then it is important to take more action. There are super clarifiers and phosphate starver products available for this task. These generally require multiple doses over about a ten-day period and need to be used in combination with other products.

Filtering the Water

Finally there is the maintenance that should be occurring every day without any activity on the part of the spa owner, and that is filtration.

The filter is the rear guard for us all and it is critical that your filter be working a minimum of four hours per day - EVEN WHEN THE SPA IS NOT BEING USED. It stands to reason that with higher use and larger spas such as swim spas, the filtration cycles need to be extended.

If the water is hard water or bore water then it is advisable to step up the filtering time and frequency.

The maintenance task with filters is that, as you can understand, the better they do their job - the dirtier they become - and hence they MUST be cleaned.

Don't be fooled into thinking that simply hosing them off will clean the filter cartridges. Imagine just hosing off the dishes or pots with oils and fats on them - it just won't work.

There are products especially designed to loosen the 'soils' that accumulate in the filter cartridges and these should be used weekly in hot water. Remember: Always add chemicals to water and not the other way around!

There is also available a chlorine-free filter cartridge cleaner - and of course it makes sense to use that so that if you are wanting to have a chlorine free spa - you can. One of the products available even has an ingredient that stops the "soils" from re-attaching to the filter cartridge as it is removed from the bucket or trough that you clean the cartridge in. This saves time and water as you rinse the cartridges.

Another tip is to let the filter cartridges dry before returning them to the spa. Or have a spare set.

There are a number of specific areas that we could address, however that is for another time.

Meantime, should you have any questions, it is advisable to keep in contact with truly professional pool and spa people that you can trust to give you good and accurate advice.

Enjoy your spa - and stay healthy!

About Pool & Spa Poppits

The company, initially known as Pool Poppits, was founded following the Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1984. It was relaunched in August 2002 as Pool & Spa Poppits, and now provides specialist, chlorine free solutions to the pool and spa industry in Australia and New Zealand. The Poppits sanitising systems have been endorsed by the National Asthma Council in Australia and the Asthma Foundation in New Zealand as the 'Sensitive Choice System'. No other system has been endorsed in either country. Poppits products are all designed and carefully formulated to the highest standards and come with a money-back guarantee. Customer service plays a vital role in the Poppits operation, with a seven day a week helpline in Australia, plus email support to end users and retailers outside Australia.

For more information visit

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