If you are a newbie (our congrats!) all these hot tub chemicals, starter kits, and water balancing must make your head spin. We figured out that most of the startup kits are designed to make money from naive customers and include BS products that you most likely won’t need (or at least in the first 6 months). Moreover, many of them don’t include some essential items like test strips.
For this reason, we categorized the products into three main categories to help you save money so that you buy only what you need. The first is the basic category — a list of the most essential products that you will require to get started and maintain your hot tub at a basic level. The second category is an extended list for those who want to get the best out of their hot tub experience and the third category — an all-in-one package for those who wouldn’t want to buy all the items separately. As a bonus, here’s what chemicals you should buy if you have kids.
So, how did we prepare our lists? We recently conducted research based on the experience of hundreds of hot tub owners and came up with our lists of necessary chemicals while also taking into account all the health risks involved when using chemicals.
Let’s jump right into information about hot tub chemicals so that you, as a customer, can be better informed.
Why do I need to use chemicals?
Hot tub water that has been properly cared for
Whether you have an indoor or outdoor hot tub and regardless of the model you have, there is a set of chemicals that you should use to clean the water. According to investigations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Center for Biotechnology Information, hot tubs can be a spot for breeding bacteria such as Legionella and Pseudomonas which lead to skin rashes, eye, and ear infections. Hot tub chemicals are aimed at making your hot tub a safe place after bathing by killing germs and contaminations that remain in the water. Nothing can be as effective in dealing with bacteria as chemicals.
Also, regular usage of chemicals will prolong your hot tub’s life and save your money. Germs accumulated on hot tub parts (such as filter, pipes) and poor water balance can lead to corrosion of metal surfaces and early problems with hot tub hardware.
Why buying a pre-packaged hot tub start-up kit is usually a bad idea
What can be easier than buying the whole chemicals kit in one click on Amazon? But, are all these products required to start your hot tub? Will they be useful? Our team analyzed hundreds of customer reviews and came to the following conclusions.
Buyers point out some problems with the starter kits:
- Unnecessary items (that helps the seller to make more money). Defoamer and a metal remover are frequently a part of starter kits.
Foam remover: As its name suggests is aimed at removing foam from the hot tub’s water. Firstly, let’s figure out why you have to deal with foam. Foam appears due to two reasons: you either used toiletries such as sun lotion, deodorants, etc before using the spa or you did not rinse the hot tub parts (filter, shell) with water thoroughly after using chemicals. To prevent the water from foaming, we advise taking a shower before using the hot tub and rinsing the hot tub parts with water before refilling the hot tub. And that’s all, you won’t need a defoamer.
Metal remover: Scale and calcium build-up on surfaces can appear due to the high concentration of metal particles in the water. A metal “remover” is aimed at preventing the scale and calcium build-up. It is important to keep in mind that the metal remover isn’t really removing the metals altogether, it just mixes them with other chemicals and prevents them from accumulating on the pipes. The problem with this is that you are adding unnecessary chemicals and these can pose a risk to your health. If you have hard water in your area, you’re better off investing in an inexpensive pre-filter that will actually remove the metals rather than just mix them with chemicals- you can use that for your lawn too!
- Too large packages (but again, the seller makes more money). In start-up kits, manufacturers put products with the same volume, but you are not going to use them all equally. For example, in most cases, people will require more pH decreaser and they will need a pH increaser quite rarely.
- There is no sanitizer in a starter kit. Most of the sets don’t include a sanitizer (chlorine or bromine). Sanitizing is an essential part of the hot tub maintenance routine and it is recommended to add sanitizers in the water after each hot tub use.
- Lack of test strips. Water balancing is key in hot tub maintenance. To check the chemicals level and factors that affect water quality (pH, total alkalinity, level of chlorine/bromine), you will need to use test strips twice — before and after each hot tub session. Hot tub owners advise customers on ordering an additional set of test strips pretty soon after the starter kit purchase.
Therefore, if you choose not to invest in a pre-packaged starter kit and choose to buy items separately, you will be able to get the right products that suit your needs. This will save you money and you will know that all the products will be useful.
On the other hand, if you plan on buying a pre-packaged kit, our section with all-in-one packages will help you. We’ve been scouring the Internet for the best starter kits.
How did we research?
To come up with a list of chemicals you need for the hot tub, our team conducted extensive research:
- Analyzed hundreds of customer reviews to figure out what problems you as a newbie, can face when picking up and using hot tub chemicals;
- Opted necessary items for both chlorine and bromine sanitizing systems (excluded unnecessary products and those with negative reviews);
- Analyzed 3 types of research to help you make your hot tub a safe place for you and your family [1, 2, 5];
- Selected 2 manufacturer starter kits, which will suit best.
1. The saver’s package
The saver’s package includes only the most essential products, that are enough for a comfortable hot tub use. These items are affordable and top-quality also with the highest customer rating. You will not pay extra, just for “branding”.
Before you buy hot tub chemicals, you should choose a sanitizing system — chlorine or bromine and then pick their related products as mentioned below. To choose between a chlorine or bromine system, jump to the section with hot tub chemicals basics.
- Test Strips: for chlorine sanitizer hot tub or bromine sanitizer hot tub
- pH Decreaser
- pH increaser
- Total Alkalinity Increaser
- Sanitizer: Chlorine or Bromine
- Spa Shock: Chlorine or Non-Chlorine*
- Flush Line Product
- Filter Deep Cleaner
*You can choose any shock product irrespective of the sanitizer type
To find details on these products and their frequency of use jump to the section with explanation.
2. The savorer’s package
How about an extended list of products to provide the best bathing experience? Our team came up with the second starter kit for hot tub owners who would like to get the most out of their hot tubs and make their spa routines healthy, relaxing, and of optimum comfort.
- Test strips: For a chlorine sanitizer hot tub or for bromine sanitized hot tub
- pH Decreaser
- pH increaser
- Total Alkalinity Increaser
- Sanitizer: Chlorine or Bromine
- Spa Shock: Chlorine or Non-chlorine*
- Flush Line Product
- Filter Deep Cleaner
- Hot Tub Water Cleanser
- Filter Cleaner
- Cover Cleaner
- Jet Cleaner
- Hot Tub Shell Cleaner
- Chemical Floater
*You can choose any shock product irrespective of the sanitizer type
To find details on these products and their frequency of use jump to the section with an explanation.
3. All-in-one package
If you don’t want to buy the products separately (and only in this case), here are two pre-composed kits that you might need. We selected them based on:
- Whether they include everything you’ll need to run the hot tub safely;
- Provided they are not overpriced (after all, they’re just chemicals);
- Easy to use packaging;
- Whether or not they include unnecessary items.
Manufacturer starter kits have their pros and cons. Buyers claim that the following starter kits are easy to use and have everything required for a beginner, although there are people who said that they required more test strips and would have preferred a larger product size.
Also, keep in mind that starter kits do not include products needed for quarterly maintenance such as flush line product and a filter deep cleaner. Also, note that the chlorine starter kit does not have a chlorine spa shock product.
Chlorine Starter Kit
Bromine Starter Kit
Hot tub chemicals basics
This is the bare minimum that you should know about hot tub maintenance — this will save you money and save you from unnecessary hassle.
The main aspects of hot tub maintenance are associated with water balancing, sanitizing, and oxidizing. These complex terms mean simple things.
- Water balancing. Maintaining correct water balance is an important part of hot tub maintenance. Poorly balanced water causes skin irritation and results in scale build-up and green foamy water. Also, it reduces the sanitizer efficiency, so you end up adding more sanitizer to keep the hot tub free from germs.
How do I know the water is balanced? Before and after each hot tub use, you should check the water balance with test strips (there are test strips for chlorine-based and bromine-based systems) to make sure the water will be comfortable and is safe for the skin. Test strips will show the pH level, total alkalinity, and the bromine or chlorine level. If you find that the pH level is too high (over 7.8) or too low (less than 7.2), you should add a pH decreaser or pH increaser accordingly. If you also notice that the total alkalinity level is unsuitable (beyond 80-150 ppm), add a total alkalinity increaser to raise the total alkalinity level and a pH Decreaser to make it lower. Chlorine and bromine levels shouldn’t be higher than 3-5.
- Sanitizing (chlorine or bromine). The purpose of a sanitizer is to kill germs in the water. You should add a sanitizer after using the hot tub to purify the water and make it bacteria-free.
A hot tub maintenance routine revolves around the type of sanitizing systems. The most common types of sanitizers are chlorine and bromine, you should choose one of them and stick to it. We categorized these systems based on their advantages and disadvantages to help you pick the right one for your needs.
|Germs killing ability||Effective in killing bacteria and eliminating wastes||Less effective in eliminating wastes|
|Longevity||Chlorine evaporates with time||Tablets slowly dissolve in water to maintain the desired bromine level|
|Odor||A foul odor; can cause skin and eye irritation||Does not produce a chlorine-like odor|
|Price||One of the cheapest sanitizers||More expensive than chlorine|
- Spa shocking / oxidizing (chlorine or non-chlorine). So-called oxidizing is the same as shocking, i.e. a large dose of chemicals is aimed at breaking down organic compounds like oils and sweat in the water. We advise you to use a shocking product (oxidizer) once per week.
There are two types of shock product — chlorine and non-chlorine. You can use any shock product regardless of the type of sanitizer that you use. For instance, if you use a bromine sanitizer for your spa, you can still use a chlorine shock for it.
That’s the bare minimum; your starter kit must include products that will help you achieve the goals described above.
Explanation: What are hot tub chemicals & how to use them
Here we’ll consider in detail the purpose of hot tub chemicals and their frequency of use.
|Type of sanitizing system||How often to use||Is it necessary|
|Chlorine Test Strips||Bromine Test Strips||Before and after each hot tub use||Yes|
|pH Decreaser||When pH is over 7.8||Yes|
|pH Increaser||When pH is less than 7.2||Yes|
|Total Alkalinity Increaser||When TA is below 80 ppm||Yes|
|Chlorine Sanitizer||Bromine Sanitizer||After each use, if needed||Yes|
|Chlorine Spa Shock*||Non-Chlorine Shock*||Once a week||Yes|
|Flush Line Product||Quarterly (before draining)||Yes|
|Filter Deep Cleaner||Quarterly (after draining)||Yes|
|Hot Tub Water Cleanser||Weekly||No|
|Jet Cleaner||Quarterly (before draining)||No|
|Hot Tub Shell Cleaner||Quarterly (after draining)||No|
*You can choose a shock product irrespective of the sanitizer type
- Test strips. Well-balanced water is the key to safe spa procedures. Test strips are an essential tool used in water balancing. Thanks to them, you can figure out what kind of chemicals (e.g. pH decreaser, pH increaser, TA increaser) you need to add to make the water clean and safe. If you face water problems like different colored water (green, yellow, white) or foaming of the water, test strips will help to find a reason that you can deal with.
Besides checking the main factors that affect water quality — pH, total alkalinity, and total hardness, test strips also show levels of chlorine or bromine (depends on the type of strips). You should buy test strips depending on the sanitizer that you use. We found two test strip sets for chlorine and bromine hot tubs.
- pH Decreaser. The pH level reflects how acidic or alkaline the water is. As evident from our research, hot tub owners are more likely to encounter too high pH levels (over 7.8) rather than too low (less than 7.2), so they will need a pH decreaser in a high volume bottle. Moreover, you will need a pH decreaser to balance high total Alkalinity (over 150 ppm).
A pH level that is too high will reduce sanitizer efficiency and cause cloudy water in the long run. This will result in scale formation on the hot tub’s surface and will require a filter replacement. A high pH level is a cause behind many skin and eye irritations; since it reduces the sanitizer’s efficiency. Remember, contaminated water that is full of bacteria can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea too.
- pH Increaser. This product should be added when the pH level is less than 7.2. A pH level that is too low is dangerous for your health and hot tub’s condition. A low pH level makes the skin dry and causes eye irritation. Both high and low pH levels do not allow a sanitizer to work at its full potential and lead to germs accumulation. As for the hot tub’s condition, a low pH level can result in corroded metal parts (e.g. pump, heater).
- Total Alkalinity Increaser. TA is a measure of the number of alkaline substances (bicarbonates, carbonates, hydroxides) in hot tub water. TA and pH levels are tightly interconnected. Low or high total alkalinity leads to rapid fluctuations in pH. It is difficult to adjust the pH level without proper TA. If you cannot stabilize the TA and pH level for a long time, it is better to drain and refill the water.
You should use test strips (chlorine or bromine) to check the TA level. When the TA is below 80 ppm, you need to use an alkalinity increaser in small doses. Too low alkalinity will cause corrosion of metal parts (pump, heater) and green colored water.
TA should not be higher than 150 ppm. It will lead to cloudy water and will make the sanitizer less effective. There is no TA decreaser to balance TA, so use a pH decreaser.
- Sanitizer (chlorine or bromine). Sanitizer is a crucial component of hot tub maintenance. Intense use of your hot tub and high-temperatures pose challenges to keeping your hot tub a safe and bacteria-free place. The purpose of a sanitizer is to kill bacteria and purify the water.
- Spa Shock. Shock dosing your hot tub water involves adding a large dose of oxidizer to get rid of organic contaminants (e.g. oil, sweat, dead skin) and enable the sanitizer to work better. There are two main types of spa shocking products — chlorine and non-chlorine. You can use a chlorine spa shock if you use chlorine sanitizer and a non-chlorine shock if you stick to a bromine sanitizer. There are no hard and fast rules. You can add a chlorine shock once per week even if you use bromine tablets as a sanitizer since chlorine is more effective in eliminating contaminants.
- Flush Line Product. Water to your hot tub runs through pipes, so the pipes must be clean. If not, they will become a bacteria accumulation epicenter and will affect new-refilled water. Due to dirty pipes, water can turn red-yellow and can cause a foul odor. A flush line product will eliminate any contaminants in the pipes and will keep your hot tub a clean and safe place.
- Filter Deep Cleaner. Filters need a lot of attention as their purpose is to protect the hot tub from bacteria and make bathing safe. A deep cleaner is an essential item for filter maintenance, as it will help to get rid of bacteria accumulated on your filter and will prolong its life. A clean filter is essential to get crystal clear water, free from germs.
- Hot Tub Water Cleanser. A cleanser is used to remove minor particles and dirt from the water that a sanitizer cannot deal with. It also prevents scale formation on the surface of your hot tub and makes the water crystal clear. Using this product, you will need to add less sanitizer and hence it will save you money too.
- Filter Cleaner. We highly recommend using a filter cleaning product because it will get rid of any contaminants and bacteria in the filter and this will prolong the life of the filter. Filter rinsing with the cleaner will prevent germs from accumulating into your hot tub’s water. Unlike a must-have filter deep cleaner, this product is not as concentrated and can be used for monthly filter maintenance.
- Cover Cleaner. A cover cleaner is a long-lasting product that will be especially beneficial if you put your hot tub outdoors. The cover cleaner will eliminate dirt from the surface of the cover and will protect the hot tub cover from damaging UV rays.
- Jet Cleaner. Dirt can accumulate on hot tub jets due to continuous use. Jets are not easy to clean, it takes time to scrub all the dirt out of them. It’s much easier to use a product specifically made for this purpose. This will ensure that the jets run effectively and will also cut down on the cleaning time of the hot tub’s surface. You can then enjoy your hydromassage with a peace of mind that there are no germs in your jets.
- Hot Tub Shell Cleaner. A hot tub’s shell can contain a lot of dirt, especially in hard to reach places such as the footwell. Therefore, it is better to use a specifically designed product to get rid of contaminants and have peace of mind that the refilled water will run into a clean tub shell. Do not forget to rinse the shell with water before refilling it to prevent water foaming.
- Chemical Floater. Last but not least. A chemical floater is not a chemical. It’s used to make the hot tub maintenance process easier. It will be particularly useful if you are a busy person since it will help you stick to an easy sanitizing routine. How does it work? You put chlorine or bromine sanitizing tablets in a floating chemical dispenser, then you drop the floater into the hot tub and the tablets slowly release and dissolve into the water.
Now that you are aware of the main hot tub chemicals and their purpose; it’s worth mentioning a set of hot tub cleaning procedures, the topic of chemicals and cleaning are closely interlinked. Cleaning is an incredibly important process if you want a hot bath to last a long time and you want to ensure that you have no health problems. To find more information on the cleaning routine, read our article.
Using hot tub chemicals if you have kids
Kids having fun in the water
Spending time in a hot tub is the favorite way for children to have fun on a summer day. But having used sanitizer, shocking products, and other chemicals, you may worry about the effect of the chemicals on your child’s health. And yes, there are some concerns to keep in mind.
According to the research of the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids are likely to have chlorine sensitivity. Symptoms include red eyes, breathing problems, chest tightness, wheezing, a stuffy or runny nose, and sneezing. Doctors recommend taking a shower to eliminate mild symptoms. There are also corticosteroid creams and antihistamines which can help deal with chlorine sensitivity but always consult with your pediatrician first .
Besides chlorine sensitivity, there are other serious health concerns caused by chlorine. US Medicine National Institutes of Health researched to figure out whether there is a connection between chlorinated hot tubs/ swimming pools and pre-school asthma onset. A dose-response relationship was indicated, although with limited statistical power .
Taking into account scientific evidence, we would recommend that you stick to the bromine sanitizing system if you have children.
From our research, we also derived some important safety considerations for parents using the hot tub for their children. The following rules are based on recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, US Medicine National Institutes of Health and The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals (APSP) [1-4]:
- don’t allow children under 5 years to use the hot tub;
- check the water temperature before entering a hot tub. It shouldn’t exceed 104°F or 40°C;
- check the sanitizer level before entering the tub. Poorly sanitized water can cause rashes and ear infections;
- observe time limits for kids — from 10 to 15 minutes.
How to store hot tub chemicals?
The option for chemicals storage
At first glance, it might seem that storing chemicals is pretty straightforward. I mean how hard could it be right? — Perhaps you just put the chemicals where there’s free storage space and take them from there when needed. However, it’s not that simple. If not stored properly, hot tub chemicals can lose their efficiency and pose serious risks for your health.
According to the CDC, in 2003-2012, the median estimated number of people visiting hospitals for chemical–associated injuries per year was over four thousand. Injuries were caused due to several reasons such as improper ratios and unsafe chemical storage .
Here we provide you with information on how to store hot tub chemicals properly.
- Maintain the right temperature. Hot tub chemicals can be damaged by extremely high or low temperatures. The best temperature for storing hot tub chemicals is 55-70°F (12-20°C).
- Keep chemicals in a dry place. Hot tub chemicals can react to moisture in the environment, so make sure you pick a dry year-round place to store them.
- Avoid storage in direct sunlight. Direct sunlight will reduce the effectiveness of spa chemicals.
- Keep chemicals out of the reach of children. There are many cases of chemical irritants inhalation. If a child swallows or inhales certain chemicals like chlorine, it can cause serious poisoning. Prevention is better than cure. Ensure that all chemicals are out of the reach of children.
- Store hot tub chemicals separately. Never store liquids above the dry chemicals. This rule also applies to store spa chemicals and household products separately to avoid mixing and mistakenly using the wrong product.
As you have learned, chemicals are an important part of a hot tub maintenance routine; not only will they keep your spa safe and germs-free but they will also protect the parts and prolong the life of the spa, enabling you to get the most out of your spas. To get started, opt for the basic list of essential products and you’ll soon be on your way to a comfortable, clean, and contaminant-free bathing experience.
What chemicals should be included in a start-up kit?
The most important chemicals are a sanitizer, products to balance the water (pH Decreaser, pH Increaser, and Total Alkalinity Increaser), shock product, flush line product, and a deep filter cleaner. You will also require test strips to control the water balance.
Is it a good idea to buy a pre-package start-up kit?
In most cases, no. The manufacturers usually fill start-up kits with unnecessary items such as a foam remover or metal remover. Essential products (that we described in our article) are not included.
What is the best chemical start-up kit?
We highly recommend buying all the items separately (as we described in our article), however, if you decide to buy a pre-package start-up kit, we have picked packages for chlorine and bromine tubs that will be worth your money.
What are the unnecessary products in the pre-package start-up kits?
Pre-package start-up kits often include a foam remover and metal remover but you will hardly ever need to use them.
- Andersson, M. (April 11, 2018) Early life swimming pool exposure and asthma onset in children – a case-control study. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5896097/
- Dr. Karlovits Hot Tub Safety. Kids+ pediatrics: Doctor’s Notes. Retrieved from: https://kidspluspgh.com/doctors-notes/hot-tub-safety/
- Puetz, J. D. Understanding Hot Water Chemistry. Retrieved from: https://www.apsp.org/Portals/0/PDFs/Advantis%20Spa%20Chemistry%20Book%20-%20ENGLISH.pdf
- Islam, R., Md. Faysal, S. (October 23, 2017) Assessment of pH and Total Dissolved Substances (TDS) in the Commercially Available Bottled Drinking Water. Journal of Nursing and Health Science. Volume 6, Issue 5. Retrieved from: https://www.iosrjournals.org/iosr-jnhs/papers/vol6-issue5/Version-9/E0605093540.pdf
- Korioth, T. (June, 2015) Pool health: Recognize signs of recreational water illnesses. American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved from: https://www.aappublications.org/content/36/6/36.6
- Ulane, V. (January 5, 2004) Soakers beware: Those hot tub warnings may be overstated. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2004-jan-05-he-themd5-story.html
- Taisuke, S., Morimatsu, S., Nagahori, H. (March, 2003) Free Residual Chlorine in Bathing Water Reduces the Water-Holding Capacity of the Stratum Corneum in Atopic Skin. National Library of Medicine: National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12692355/
- Pool Chemical–Associated Health Events in Public and Residential Settings — United States, 2003–2012, and Minnesota, 2013. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6319a3.htm