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All About Enzymes

Adding enzymes to hot tub maintenance can reduce labor, costs

Hot tub water is full of organic contaminants like perspiration, oils and lotions that transfer from users to the water. Justin Bonds, marketing manager at All About Spas and Leisure Living in Roswell, New Mexico, says these organic substances have a cascading negative effect on hot tub filters, requiring regular chemical cleaning to prevent clogging.

“As a filter becomes saturated by these substances, the flow of water through the filter is reduced, sometimes causing the hot tub heater to turn off due to low flow errors,” Bonds says. Traditional chemical compounds may fall short on cleaning these contaminants out of hot tub water effectively, which is why many hot tub retailers have starting using and recommending enzymes as part of a regular water care regimen.

“Enzymes naturally breakdown organic substances,” Bonds says, “ and make hot tub maintenance more convenient for hot tub owners.”

how enzymes work
Sanitizers oxidize the entire molecule of hot tub water contaminants, essentially burning the molecules away. Alternatively, enzymes (living organisms) break contaminants down molecularly in the water via complex chemical reactions. The organic waste is metabolized until it’s nothing but water and carbon dioxide, says Joe Koch, National Swimming Pool Foundation instructor and owner of Blue Wave Hot Tubs in Audubon, New Jersey.

“Nonliving organics or oils are ripe for this type of catalytic reaction,” says Jarred Morgan, president of Orenda Technologies in Fairview, Texas, manufacturers of the CV-600 Catalytic Enzyme Water Cleaner. “As the carbon bond in the oil breaks apart, then the oil does not exist as that oil molecule anymore, and continues down the cleaving path.”

This does not, however, mean you no longer need to use sanitizers in the hot tub water. “Enzymes are not meant to replace sanitizers or balancers, only to help enhance a hot tub program to its maximum potential,” says Jamie Novak, brand manager for NC Brands, the parent company for Natural Chemistry, which manufactures hot tub enzymes and many other products.

industry resistance
While there are certainly believers in enzyme use for hot tub water care, the industry as a whole isn’t fully on board just yet. Spa retailers tend to focus on water balance and sanitation first, Novak says, which leaves enzymes an afterthought, if thought of at all. “We feel that the resistance to enzyme use in the industry is because people don’t understand the full scope of their benefits or capabilities,” Novak says. “There is a lot of misinformation out there in the marketplace — that all enzymes are the same, that enzymes are detergents, that they don’t actually do anything — we work each day to clear [this misinformation] up.”

Many people want instant gratification and simple explanations, which keeps them from seeing the benefits of enzyme usage according to Koch. “Enzymes require consistency and are more complex than the unsophisticated approach of ‘Chlorine is good, chlorine kills, I like chlorine.’ ” he says. “A savvy professional knows that there is more to clean. Healthy water is more than just a satisfactory sanitizer level.”

tried and true benefits
“A lot of spa retailers don’t realize the amount of work they can reduce for their spa owners by incorporating enzymes into their program,” Novak says. “When enzymes are used in weekly maintenance, spa owners can often reduce the frequency with which they shock the hot tub.”

Thomas Rosander, owner of California Custom Hot Tubs in Sonoma, California, says using enzymes means the hot tub water “smells better, looks cleaner and feels cleaner.” It also means less maintenance and no water lines. “Yes, sanitizers are still needed, but now chlorine can focus most of its attention on killing bacteria instead of oxidizing waste,” he adds.

A properly maintained sanitizer level is required with any body of water, but especially with hot tubs, according to Debra Leclerc, CBP and co-owner of The Hot Tub Doctor of Rhode Island. “The enzyme cleaner helps the sanitizer stay in the water longer to do its job, resulting in clearer and safer water to soak in.” She adds that enzymes help the filter to remain cleaner for a longer period of time.

Koch has also seen an improvement in water conditions with enzyme treatment. “Many people remark that water treated with enzymes feels better or softer on their skin, often without the knowledge that enzymes have been introduced.”

Essentially, says Novak, enzymes make a hot tub professional’s job easier. “They can spend less time on the job site because the enzymes are doing a lot of the work for them,” she says. “By incorporating an enzyme maintenance product into their routine, service pros won’t have to spend time scrubbing unsightly scum lines or manually cleaning filters.”

possible drawbacks
Some enzyme products are, in fact, limited in their capabilities, according to Novak. “For example, manufactured products often contain high concentrations of few enzymes, which limit their ability to break down a variety of nonliving organisms,” she says. “Therefore, it is ideal to use a broad spectrum enzyme, which has the capability of creating thousands of reactions.”

Morgan says sometimes excessive use of enzymes can result in an overdose, which can lead to foaming or bubbling in the water with high aeration or flow. So he recommends following the directions on the bottle and avoiding the mentality of ‘if a little is good, then a lot is better.’

Additionally, large debris will still need to be vacuumed or filtered out. Bonds agrees that enzymes do not replace sanitizers but do help them work more effectively. “Other balancers, such as pH, total alkalinity and calcium hardness will still need to be maintained using separate products.” Enzymes do no work well in environments with extremely high levels of sanitizer and they work best when utilized on a regular, consistent basis, Koch explains.

Hot tub users may need to change the water more frequently when using only enzymes, says Jake Boyles, vice president of sales and marketing for Crystal River Spas in Carbondale, Colorado. “Any time a customer is using a less aggressive sanitizer, we always recommend that they use a shock once a week,” he says. “This is if they’re using only enzymes for the most part — I have a certain number of customers who want to use as little traditional sanitizer as possible. We can help them get away from traditional sanitizers to some degree with enzymes. We also know that nasty bacteria can easily develop in warm water, so we recommend a weekly shock treatment and frequent draining and refilling for them.”

added expense
Boyles says the most prominent customer concern about enzyme usage is higher cost. Natural and alternative care solutions in all product categories have a higher price point, much like eggs from free-range chickens, Boyles says. “The further away from chlorine you get, the greater the cost of the product,” he says. “Our customers expect it. Natural water-care solutions can get non-hot tub people in the hot water.”

“I think hot tub owners are always looking for ways to lower the amount of maintenance products needed and simplify the maintenance tasks,” Bonds says. “Product education is essential to help hot tub owners overcome the question of what the return on investment is for them.”

Given the benefits, the cost of using enzymes is not that significant, Bonds says. “The typical hot tub will only use one fluid ounce per week. The use of enzymes may also lessen the need to use clarifiers, foam dispersers, and surface and filter cleaners. The hot tub owner may actually save money using enzymes.”

Leclerc says it’s easy for her company to sell the benefits of enzymes. “New customers are provided with a bottle of enzyme cleaner with all new spa deliveries as part of their chemical kit,” she says. Customers are also given a weekly maintenance sheet that includes enzyme cleaner as part of their weekly routine. The idea is to get them to accept enzymes as a part of regular hot tub maintenance right from the start.

The justification of the cost really comes down to a higher standard of customer service. “Service retailers who incorporate these high-performance products into their program can deliver superior water clarity and exceed their customers’ expectations,” Novak says. “This consumer satisfaction translates to positive reviews for their business and quicker maintenance visits, thereby justifying the small additional cost.”

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