10 Reasons Why Your Spa Water is Cloudy
Why is my spa water cloudy? If we've heard that question once, we've heard it a thousand times. It may be the number one water problem plaguing spa owners.
There is a lot of misinformation out there about cloudy spa water, such as "Bromine will make your spa cloudy," or "Metals in the water cause cloudy hot tub water." There's also the ever-present sales pitch - if you just had this super-special-magical water treatment, all of your spa water problems will disappear! Right...
While the right chemicals will help correct the underlying issue, hot tub water problems usually require a bit of diagnosing and troubleshooting first. If your spa or hot tub water is cloudy, hazy, milky or turbid, your problem is likely one of these situations below. It could also be a combination of more than one.
1. High Calcium Hardness, Total Alkalinity or pH
Your spa water chemical balance may be to blame. Take an accurate reading of your calcium hardness, alkalinity and pH levels. In areas where hard water is common, calcium can easily come out of solution and cloud the spa water. If your calcium hardness levels are greater than 300 ppm, use a chemical balancer to lower the pH, calcium and alkalinity levels in your spa. This will help to keep your spa water clear and prevent scaling and cloudy hot tub water.
If your test for total alkalinity shows high levels in excess of 150 ppm, excess carbonates can come out of solution and make the spa cloudy. High TA levels will also make it hard to control your pH and keep it in range. Use pH decreaser to lower TA to around 100 ppm. If your spa pH level is outside of the range of 7.2-7.6, adjust accordingly for easier control of cloudy water.
TDS, or total dissolved solids, is not usually a concern in spas and hot tubs. But if you have not drained your spa in a very long time, you could have a very high level of dissolved solids in the water. When water reaches its saturation point, which means it can't absorb more solids, frequent bouts of cloudy water to be expected. If your TDS reading climbs higher than 1500 ppm, it's time to drain and refill the spa.
2. Low Spa Sanitizer Levels
Some people are sensitive to bromine or chlorine, and try to operate the spa with as little as possible. That may be OK if you have other sanitizers working, such as an ozonator or a mineral cartridge, and your water chemistry is balanced, particularly the pH level.
Otherwise, spas should always have a level of 2-3 ppm of bromine, or 3-5 ppm if using chlorine. When the sanitizer level drops below 1.0 ppm, foreign particles in the water run rampant, and organic contaminants grow at a faster rate than they are being destroyed.
A proper sanitizer level should destroy the particles that induce cloudy water. To give your sanitizer a boost, shock the spa water regularly. Be sure to shock the water after a several people have used the spa, or if sanitizer levels have suddenly dropped to very low levels. If a chlorinated spa shock is clouding your water, try using non-chlorine MPS shock instead.
3. Cloudy Fill Water
Maybe the problem is not with your spa, but in your fill water. Nonetheless, balanced and sanitized spa water with proper filtration should be able to self-correct, and you'll have clear water within a day or so. A spa clarifier can help coagulate suspended particles for easier filtration. In most cases, it may be better to use a spa pre-filter to remove particulates that cloud up spa water. Just attach it to your garden hose when adding water or refilling your spa or hot tub.
4. Air in the System
Small particles of air or tiny bubbles can make the spa water appear cloudy. If your spa has bubbles coming into the returns, but your air blower and spa ozonator are turned off, you may have an air leak on the suction side of the pump. The suction side is anything before the spa circulation pump. A loose union fitting before the pump or a loose pump drain plug can pull air into the system.
Low water level in the spa can also bring air into the spa, giving the water the appearance of being cloudy or hazy. Inspection of the pipes and equipment before the spa pump can reveal the source of the air leak, which can then be fixed with sealants or lubricants.
5. Spa Filter Problems
This is a common cause of cloudy spa water. A spa filter cartridge may be positioned incorrectly, allowing for water to bypass the filter cartridge. Make sure the cartridge is fully seated on both ends to force the water to go through the pleated spa filter material.
A spa filter cartridge won't last forever, and each cleaning reduces its efficacy a little bit more. After about 15 cleanings, replace the spa filter and you'll notice an immediate improvement in water clarity. Depending on how much the spa is used and how much is asked of the filter, you should replace the spa filter every 12-24 months.
Spa filter cartridges can also become gummed up with oils or minerals, drastically reducing their filtration ability. These substances can be very difficult to remove with a garden hose alone. Spraying or soaking a cartridge with spa filter cleaner before cleaning will break down greasy or crystallized deposits and restore full flow to your filter.
DE filters are more commonly used on inground spas, and if a DE filter grid develops a hole, it will allow DE filter powder to come into the spa. This will cloud the water and leave deposits of a light brown powder on the seats and floors of the spa.
6. Spa Pump Problems
There are a number of pump problems that can lead to cloudy spa water, the first being the amount of time the spa filter is running each day. You may need to increase the amount of time that the spa pump operates, to increase your daily filtering time. Running a pump only on low speed can also contribute to ineffective filtration. Run it on high for at least 2 hours every day.
Another issue could be with the spa impeller. It could be clogged full of pebbles, leaves, hair or any number of things. The vanes on a pump impeller are very small and can clog easily, which will reduce the flow volume considerably. Another possibility is that the impeller is broken. The pump turns on, but the impeller is not moving, which will reduce flow rates to zero.
If you have no flow from your spa pump, there could be an air lock, especially if you have just drained and refilled the spa. To fix an air lock, shut off the pump and loosen a union on the pump and allow air to escape, tightening it when water begins to leak. If the pump doesn't turn on at all - well, there's your cloudy spa water problem. There could be a tripped GFCI button, loose wires, bad contactor or relay, or another control problem.
Air leaks before the pump, as discussed above, also makes the pump less efficient by reducing the overall water volume. Water leaks after the pump are also a problem, in that your water level will soon drop below the skimmer intake, begin to take on air, lose prime and stop pumping your water through the filter.
7. Biofilm Problems
Biofilm is a slimy bacteria that coats the inside of pipes and fittings. In extreme cases, it will cloud the water, and you may notice slimy flakes floating on the water, or have severe issues with spa foaming. Biofilm forms quickly in a spa that has sat empty and idle for some time. If you suspect a biofilm contamination, lower the pH to 7.2 and use spa shock to raise the chlorine level above 10 ppm. Follow this up with a treatment of Jet Clean to remove biofilm deposits. To prevent future buildup of biofilm in your pipes, try adding an enzyme product to your hot tub maintenance regimen.
8. Salt System Problems
Salt systems are becoming more popular with spa owners, although they are much more prevalent in swimming pools. The issue with salt systems is that it is possible to place too much reliance on them, and never check your chlorine level. Spa salt cells need occasional cleaning to maintain chlorine output.
Adding salt to your spa when needed may cloud your water temporarily, until the salt becomes fully dissolved. When adding salt, be careful not to overdose. Run the jets on high for greater agitation of the water.
9. Biguanide Problems
If you use a non-chlorine, biguanide sanitizer in your spa and have difficulty with cloudy spa water, you are not alone. This is the main complaint of using a PHMB sanitizer. You may find relief by draining and refilling the spa, then changing the spa filter, which is probably gummed up with residue. Using spa chemicals with any amount of chlorine, or using algaecides or any other non-approved chemical will not only cloud the water in a biguanide spa, it can also create some wild colors, too!
10. Soaps, Lotions, Cosmetics and Hair Products
This problem is common to just about every spa, unless you shower well before using your spa. Everything we put on our body and in our hair can end up in the spa, bringing oils, phosphates, detergents and a hundred other undesirable chemicals into the water. These can consume sanitizer, clog spa filters and make the spa water cloudy and foamy. If your spa has a high bather load or is used as a giant bath tub, you can expect issues with water clarity. Adding spa enzymes can help control greasy gunk and reduce sanitizer demand and clogging of your spa filter.
Cloudy spa water is not so difficult to find and fix, but remember that you may have more than one of these issues working against you. Consider each cause of cloudy spa water carefully. If you're dealing with cloudy water in your hot tub, it's likely one or more of the situations above. Draining the spa regularly is one more piece of advice to prevent cloudy water. Depending on how much the spa is used, draining it every few months is a good way to keep your spa water from becoming cloudy in the first place!