Curious About Chlorine

In pandemic, customers once again exploring traditional water treatment

The global pandemic has placed a glaring spotlight on the importance of zapping viruses with extra sanitizing. While sanitizing questions are the norm in the hot tub world, dealers are seeing an uptick in questions about effective water chemistry techniques.

“Consumers have become aware of the need for proper sanitization in general as a result of the COVID pandemic,” says Alicia Stephens, education and training manager at BioLab, Inc. “They seem to be more invested in making sure they get it right, whether that means properly sanitizing a body of water or using precautionary sanitizing methods in their homes. The dialogue of sanitization is very active in today’s world and we see that spilling over into pool and spa water care.”

Curious Customers

Previously, the industry trend in sanitizers for hot tubs had customers opting for less chlorine and bromine, and looking for more green or natural sanitizing options. More than a year into the pandemic, dealers are seeing there’s no need to convince customers that chemicals like chlorine are the best way to keep hot tubs clean and safe.

“There has definitely been an increase in water testing and questions about how the chemicals work,” says Melissa Deverell, co-owner at Cambridge Pool Supplies in Ontario. “I was surprised to have conversations with pre-existing customers who were unaware of how balancing the pool/spa makes a difference on how effective the chlorine works as a sanitizer. There were many questions about what level the chlorine should be.”

She adds: “More people were asking questions about how the chemicals work to fight off bacteria and were taking it more seriously. I believe in the past, people assumed just throwing chlorine in the spa would be sufficient. However, that is not the case.”

Dealers and manufacturers are finding it’s easier to sell sanitizing products while having a conversation about healthy water chemistry, even with those customers who dislike the smell of chlorine.

“Over the years, we’ve found people are trying to find a natural sanitizer,” says Susan Dolnik, director of global sales and marketing at SilkBalance. “There’s a disconnect with [people thinking of] the chlorine and bromine being harsh. We noticed over the last year, particularly with the COVID virus, there’s an easier way to have a discussion with people to use chlorine or bromine with water conditioners. Some people want to use something other than chlorine. They may not know how important it is. We’ve had an easier way to talk to them about it.”

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Human Health and Services recommend hot tubs maintain chlorine or bromine levels continuously. It’s believed that using adequate levels of these chemicals can inactivate the coronavirus, according to the CDC’s COVID-19 FAQ website.

“With the state of the world we’re living in, people are understanding a bit better why they should use a CDC-recommended sanitizer in their hot tub,” Dolnik says. “People are used to sanitizing their hands. Same idea when you’re adding the sanitizer to your hot tub.”

Kathi Belcourt, manager of Aqua-Tech Pool & Spa, changes out a hot tub filter in her showroom in Winnipeg, Canada. Photo: Aqua-Tech Pool & Spa

Educating New and Old Users

While some individuals prefer a natural hot tub treatment, Dolnik says there’s no getting away from needing an approved residual sanitizer. Customers, she says, are accepting that more frequently now. More customers are asking about how to better treat their hot tubs and learning that even salt systems still use chlorine, she says.

Customers want to know more about the water chemistry process right now and Dolnik believes it’s a perfect opportunity to educate them.

“People are extra diligent about their cleaning products,” she says. “They’re using products that are killing bacteria and viruses. That’s what chlorine and bromine are for.”

Dealers are finding that extra education is especially important for individuals who don’t buy their hot tub from a typical spa retailer.

In Deverell’s Ontario store, she saw a ton of customers who had purchased their spas from big-box stores lean more heavily on her water-care experts. They bought spas without any further training — a disaster waiting to happen in the sanitation realm.

“We had a lot of customers purchasing spas elsewhere and coming to us for advice on sanitizers,” Deverell says. “They came to us and learned the importance of it all. I think COVID had an impact for sure on those customers to make sure they were safe.”

Brian Johnston, owner of Atlanta Hot Tub Center in Georgia, says he’s noticed an increase in customers asking more water chemistry questions, too. He attributes it to the surge in spa sales and use overall.

“You have a lot more people using their hot tubs,” Johnston says. “A lot of customers who haven’t regularly used it are now coming in and getting chemicals and sanitizing more.”

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Even for those who use a water conditioner like SilkBalance — which Johnston recommends for all his hot tub customers — he still reminds them that they can’t skip out on the chlorine or bromine. He also shares with them that regularly using a water conditioner alongside those necessary virus-killing chemicals can reduce the potential unwanted scent. 

Johnston also directs customers to his YouTube channel, Hot Tub University. He posts twice weekly and answers questions about water chemistry, sanitizers and more. He says it’s been an effective marketing component and also provides in-depth answers for customers about sanitizing properly in a pandemic era.

Softer water is easier to maintain, he says, and that’s where he starts with educating customers on reducing their need for chlorine. Marketing a CDC-recommended sanitizer alongside a water conditioner is the best way he’s found to connect with customers who want more “natural” hot tub water.

Myth Busting

Dealers and manufacturers are finding out — sometimes in an unnerving way — that customers don’t always realize sanitizers like chlorine and bromine are a must. Even customers who prefer natural water need a reminder or in some cases, a re-education.

“I think it’s all in how you deliver the information to the customer,” Dolnik says. “Give it to them in a way they can process it. Salt systems have become big in our industry. But they’re not natural. They still have chlorine in them.”

Some customers are savvy, dealers say, but not all.

Deverell says she’s also noted customers with salt or UV systems buying chlorine pucks in addition to their active sanitizer systems. For customers looking at replacing their sanitizer machines, she also noticed a trend of more opting to switch from salt to chlorine systems.

Sarah, an Aqua-Tech team member, shows SpaGuard products to a visiting customer to the Aqua-Tech Pool & Spa store. Team members have been regularly fielding questions and discussing the importance of hot tub maintenance and sanitation methods during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Aqua-Tech Pool & Spa

Kathi Belcourt, manager of Aqua-Tech Pool & Spa in Winnipeg, Canada, says the increased interest in traditional chemicals has brought awareness to some educational blind spots in the industry.

In particular, saltwater spas come to mind.

“There is so little education in our industry as well as so few resources for self-serve or independent research customers,” Belcourt says. “So many of these folks are believing that if they add salt to their water then they have sanitizer — no salt generator needed — just the salt itself. We are petrified by how many people out there may think this is the case that we don’t have the opportunity to re-educate.”

For her, educating customers about using SpaGuard and balancing water has been an eye-opening experience. She relates water chemistry to nutrition to drive her point home. Everyone agrees spinach is healthy, she says, but if that’s the only food a person ate, ever, there would be nutritional deficiencies long term.

She tells customers the same goes for hot tubs. There has to be a balance, she says, and chlorine and bromine are part of that balance.

“Water chemistry is the nutrition of your hot tub,” she says. “We need to ensure all your chemistry choices are well balanced to use as little chemical as possible and have wonderful water that is safe for your body and your hot tub for many, many, many years to come.”

Education Moving Forward

Right now, dealers have a captive audience, making it that much easier to correct misinformation and teach proper treatment techniques. Spa owners want their water clean, clear and safe to use. But it’s up to dealers to show them exactly how it’s done in a way that never jeopardizes health and wellness.

“These changes mean we can expect a more engaged consumer when it comes to the importance of sanitization in general; however, we could do a better job as an industry explaining how the same principles apply to water care,” Stephens says. “Proper water balance, including maintaining a residual of sanitizer, has always been incredibly important. We just now have a more attentive audience in consumers. We feel it’s important that spa professionals use this opportunity to not only educate the consumer but also to brush up on the topic of water care themselves.”

Deverell agrees the mindset change into stronger sanitization practices will only continue to grow as a trend. “I believe,” she says, “people are going to continue safer protocols for sanitizing everything, including their pools and spas, well past COVID-19.”