Using salt systems in spas

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Since 1990, HydroTher Hot Tubs have been the #1 choice of architects, consultants, designers and facility operators for commercial aquatic applications.

Saltwater systems and chemical automation have been evolving for almost 30 years. Newer, more modern systems are the result of miniaturizing technology which has been available for pools and larger spas for decades. This technology allows users to add salt to the water, and through the process of electrolysis, sodium chloride is split into low levels of sodium hydroxide and chlorine.

Once the chlorine has sanitized the water, it combines again with sodium to revert back to salt and re-cycles through the system. Today, salt chlorine systems are also available for small hot tubs and spas—either inline or as drape-over units. Not only are these units easy to install, but they also make spa maintenance easier, require a minimal amount of salt, and simplify water care to ensure client loyalty and additional revenue for businesses.

How they work

Unlike traditional chlorine and bromine treatments, which lower alkalinity and pH, salt chlorine generators for spas use a process that increases the pH of the water and ultimately protects equipment against corrosion. This is vastly different from earlier systems which required 3000 to 5000 parts per million (ppm) of salt—making the water highly corrosive. Now, certain systems only require 1500 ppm of salt, which is almost considered fresh water. It is also helpful to keep water hardness at 250 to 300 ppm for salt levels from 1500 to 2000 ppm, and 300 to 400 ppm for salt levels from 2000 to 3000 ppm, to help protect against corrosion.

As most service professionals know, salt chlorine generators make very pure chlorine and truly improve the spa soaking experience. Traditional chlorine and bromine products contain compounds which build up and inhibit the chlorine’s ability to oxidize and sanitize the water. As a result, service professionals will frequently need to drain these spas to keep the water clear. Any additional minerals present are also processed through electrolysis. Without draining, the water produces conditions which can lead to cloudy water, skin rashes, dry and itchy skin, or worse. With salt chlorine generators, the only mineral subject to electrolysis is pure salt, which helps ensure optimal sanitation and gentle effects on the skin. Not only do salt chlorine generators provide better water for users’ health, but they also reduce the use of expensive chemicals, so spa and hot tub owners will spend less, use less water, and be more satisfied with their purchase, as well as more loyal to their spa service provider.

Jason Minor of Spatacular Hot Tubs in Medicine Hat, Alta., says his company started looking for sanitizing alternatives about two or three years ago, when the use of bromides was banned in Canada. Through this search, he discovered the ease and convenience of the salt chlorine generator.

“This product is easy to sell and install,” says Minor. “We really cannot recommend the old chlorine pucks in a dispenser to anyone, as it feels like suggesting horse-and-buggy technology. Not only do you have to load the dispenser once a week, but as the pucks dissolve, cyanuric acid is released into the water, which builds up and makes the water’s pH go way down. Then you find yourself fighting low pH, trying to keep the water chemistry balanced, which is a time-consuming, never-ending battle.”

Kevin Brakebill of KNS Hot Tubs in Redmond, Ore., had a similar experience when he sought out substitutes for traditional chlorine at the onset of the recent chemical shortage. Brakebill has always had concerns about using chlorine and bromine floaters in spas, because they make water caustic and do not measure its need for additional sanitizer.

“I find the bromine tablets cannot keep up with demand, while the chlorine tablets keep adding chlorine, even when the spa water does not need it,” he says. “The salt chlorine generator not only generates chlorine using regular table salt, but it also measures the chlorine levels in the spa water and turns off automatically and stops making chlorine once the spa water has enough chlorine sanitizer.”

Easier maintenance

Salt chlorine generators benefit spa and hot tub owners because they make water maintenance much easier between service visits. In most cases, a saltwater hot tub can be maintained with just salt for sanitation, white vinegar for pH control, and a phosphate remover. Service professionals who install salt chlorine generators on spas will find their maintenance visits will run smoother, and the spa itself can be left unattended much longer between service visits. The system will ensure the water remains clear for weeks with little to no attention.

Hot tub maintenance with a salt chlorine generator simply requires a pH adjustment once a week, as well as a monthly inspection of the cell to help prevent scale buildup. If scale is present, it is recommended to soak the cell in white vinegar for 20 to 30 minutes. Muriatic acid should not be used, unless it is diluted with 10 parts of water per one part of acid, or the cell will be damaged.

Salt chlorine generators can be especially helpful when installed on spas and hot tubs in semi-private rental homes, says Brakebill. Rather than scheduling frequent professional service visits, homeowners can leave a note for renters to hit a button on these intuitive devices at the end of each day—a much more realistic option than asking them to test the water and add chemicals to make sure there is enough sanitizer.

Simple installation

Installing a salt chlorine generator on a spa or hot tub is a simple operation. With an inline system, it is possible to use a compression fitting to install the cell in the filter compartment, which keeps it out of the way while making it easy to inspect and service. Connecting a drape-over system involves draining, refilling, and adding salt plus a small amount of liquid chlorine and acid or white vinegar. It will be necessary to get power to the unit, which is often taken from the spa pack or by installing a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet.

Minor’s company sells and installs salt chlorine generators for new and existing spa and hot tub owners. He says the systems are easy to mount to the side or a nearby wall, plug in, and place the probe into the water.

“In fact, the unit is so easy to install, we even have some clients buy the units off our shelves to install themselves.”

When determining the best system to sell and install, the first element to consider is a “boost” function. This feature will help bring chlorine levels up after use, as needed. Another important component is an automatic chlorine detection feature, as it will help prevent over-chlorination of the spa or hot tub water. Brakebill explains most spas typically need about six cups of salt added to the water.

“The salt chlorine generator has an easy-to-understand panel with indicator lights, so users know when to give the spa water a boost after heavy use,” he says. “It also indicates when table salt needs to be added to the water, so the device can generate chlorine.

“I like to warm up the water, add the salt, drape the cell into the water and watch it start to work. It is interesting to see the process in action.”

Customer satisfaction

Building customer loyalty is important for specialty retailers and service professionals. Businesses can set themselves apart from their competition by selling and installing salt chlorine generators on spas and hot tubs. The goal is to make clients happy with their purchase by minimizing the maintenance, so they can maximize their relaxation and hydrotherapy.

“We spend time talking to our clients to help determine the best system to help them maintain their spa water,” says Minor. “We find some clients are really savvy when to comes to testing and maintaining balanced spa water, while others really do not want to be testing every week.   This latter customer is the perfect candidate because the system generates chlorine, has sensors to test the level of chlorine in the water, and makes automatic adjustments.”

Clients also want to feel like their spa or hot tub is a good investment, rather than an expensive money pit to maintain. Brakebill ensures he explains the additional cost benefits of salt chlorine generators.

“I have been around a long time, so I know which systems require too many expensive replacement parts or require expensive chemicals,” he says. “I can buy a 50 lb bag of table salt for $10 to be added to the spa, making it an affordable and easy-to-use water maintenance system. My clients appreciate that I am providing a great system which is also affordable and good for the environment.”

Service professionals and retailers looking for a product to help build customer loyalty should consider these simple salt chlorine generators for spas, as this technology will simplify the maintenance of the spa water while providing spa clients with amazing water quality.

By Scott Lenney - Pool and Spa Marketing 

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