spa water testing
spa water testing

Hot Water

How retailers test water on-site and in-house

If there’s one activity as important as sanitizing a hot tub, it’s water testing.

While it’s ideal for hot tub owners to do home water testing at least twice weekly, not every customer is disciplined at the practice. Whether customers are unmotivated or too busy, spa retailers can step up by offering water services that keep customers’ hot tubs clean and clear, with consistent water testing strategies and an understanding of action needed from the results.

Offering a Much-Needed Service

Some retailers, like Dan Lenz, vice president of All Seasons Pools & Spas, Inc., in Illinois, have offered the at-home service for years.

“Hot tub owners tend to be a bit lazy and not on top of water balancing,” says Lenz, who has offered monthly at-home water testing for the last 20 years. “We always emphasize how improper balance will damage the hot tub and its equipment, and those damages are not warrantied.” He’s recently started offering it as a free service to new customers: After a hot tub is installed, his team follows up with a monthly water testing service to show the customer how essential it is. Depending on the package the customer purchased with their hot tub, the service lasts between four months and a year.

Once the free maintenance is over, Lenz finds most of his customers continue purchasing the monthly water testing service for convenience. Lenz prefers to use LaMotte’s WaterLink Spin Touch for consistent results.

To the naked eye, test-strip interpretation can be subjective because each person sees colors differently, Lenz says. With a spin lab as backup, it confirms a tech’s prescription more accurately.

“By using [the Spin Touch] to analyze water, we never have to worry about each of the techs interpreting color differently,” Lenz explains. “We also use their WaterLink cloud software, which allows me and our retail store manager to set up all of the recommended treatments. When our techs spin up a test, it connects to the WaterLink app on their phone and from those results, essentially I am telling them how to treat the water by the way we set up the software.” 

Each visit also includes free filter cleaning. He sells an extra filter with the spa purchase, then swaps it once a month and brings the dirty one to the store to be chemically cleaned. Then they deliver the next month and swap it again.

Other retailers also offer in-house testing for customers who come in.

“In some cases, we’d like them to do this more because it makes it easier to diagnose and recommend treatment,” says Jamil Toubassi, owner at Flint Hills Spas in Wichita, Kansas, who uses a spin lab tester in stores. “But while it’s trending up, the percentage of customers who bring in water samples is still low.”

For customers who are too busy to test their own water, though, a weekly or monthly service from a spa retailer provides major convenience. Joe DeFuria, director of brand development at Taylor Technologies, sees water testing as a great way to meet customer needs while also increasing revenue.

“With how far out most tub manufacturers are with new orders, focusing on after-market opportunities could be a way for the retailers to increase revenue while waiting out the production delays,” he says.

Testing Strips and Spin Disks

As for favored methods, each retailer has preferences, but all will agree consistent testing is the No. 1 priority.

5 WAY TEST STRIPS: Pricing varies by dealers; Tests for free chlorine, total bromine, pH, total alkalinity and total calcium hardness
WATERLINK SPIN TOUCH: $969+; Fill with less than 3 mL of water and all vital tests are done automatically in 60 seconds
ALEX WATER TESTING: Pricing available to BioGuard retailers; Offers step-by-step instructions for start-up, closing and maintenance to maintain water quality and integrity
Taylor Technologies
XPRESS FLEX: Pricing varies by dealers; Performs up to 11 tests in one minute

“I think there’s a place for all of it,” says Alicia Stephens, education and training manager at BioLab, Inc., of strips, kits and spin disks. “Definitely the best results [come] from the spin disk, but the strips certainly have a place also.”

She says strips are a simple way to have homeowners test at home without feeling overwhelmed by the water chemistry aspect.

“We want homeowners to test at home,” Stephens says. “Hot tubs should be tested multiple times a week to make sure that you’re holding things in balance. To do that at home, strips are fine. They may not be as accurate as things we have in pool stores and at spa retailers’ locations. Day-to-day, that is OK.”

On a monthly basis, Stephens says spin testing is a must. She recommends BioGuard’s ALEX water testing software for the full picture.

In light of COVID social distancing practices, other companies are fans of strips for testing and offer balancing recommendations.

“A full-on lab test is amazing, but in the days of COVID we advocate using a five-way test strip,” says Kathi Belcourt, manager of Aqua-Tech Pool & Spa in Winnipeg, Canada, who uses BioGuard’s 5 Way Test Strips. “[Test strips have] everything a client needs to make their own correct decisions, or even better, email us a photo of the test strip and we are happy to send a prescription via email.”

Best Practices

When it comes to testing water in the field, there are a few dos and don’ts experts recommend.

For one, test strips are always a good idea to have on hand for every service visit.

“We’ve always found the test-strip method to be sufficient for an in-the-field spa treatment, and when necessary, we bring a water sample back to the store for more thorough testing,” Toubassi says.

Belcourt has a checklist of questions her staff asks for the most sufficient water testing. Asking customers when the last water change occurred, along with the last chemical treatment and filter cleaning, are top of the list.

“So many spa folks are missing a programmed approach or may have just added product right before taking a water test,” Belcourt says. “This is guaranteed to yield poor results.” And before getting elbow-deep — the recommended dip level for testing — customers and techs should let the water “breathe” for about 15 minutes, Stephens advises.

That, along with always having the correct products on hand for customers after writing a prescription, ensures hot tub water testing success, she says.

“It’s not difficult,” Stephens says of water testing. “Making sure you’re getting an accurate water sample is key.”

Above all is ensuring to never treat a spa like a pool, Stephens says, and to remind customers of the same. 

“It’s not just a little pool; the chemistry is different,” she says. “The chemicals may be similar, but don’t expect it to react like treating a pool. It’s a different approach.”