Winterizing a spa or hot tub if done properly is a
complicated procedure. Winterizing should be done by a spa /
hot tub service center, that will guarantee that you will not have a
freeze up, or if you do that they will repair all damages done by the
freeze up at no cost to you. A frozen spa can be very pricey to fix.
With that in mind here are some basic winterizing tips.
Keep in mind however that not all spas or hot tubs are plumbed the same,
so please refer to your owners manual and the dealer you purchased your
tub from before attempting this.
What you will need:
- A wet /dry (shop vac) vacuum.
- 1 to 3 gallons or RV antifreeze (nontoxic, used in Recreational Vehicles water tanks)
- Channel lock pliers (16" works best for most tubs)
- A funnel or turkey baster
- Time, expect two to three hours.
Now that you have those
- Drain the spa
- Vacuum all of the
jets and injectors, until there is
no more water coming out.
- Remove your filter and vacuum at the filter plumbing. (Make sure not to vacuum any O-rings up)
- If you have an air channel, turn power
on , and make sure the pump (s)
are NOT running. (sometimes this can only be accomplished by
unplugging the pumps from the control box) then turn your air
blower on until water no
longer comes out of air holes. Then turn the power back off.
- Loosen the plumbing connections at your pump and at your heater. Vacuum any water that comes out.
- Reconnect the plumbing to the heater, and the lower of the two connections on your pumps.
- Add RV anti-freeze to the pump using your funnel. Most pumps will take approx. 4 oz.
- Reattach your pump unions.
- Add approximately 1oz. of RV anti-freeze to each of the jets. (use funnel or turkey baster)
- Add RV anti-freeze to the plumbing that is attached to your filter until it runs out of the intakes in the
foot well of the spa. (This is not possible in all spas)
- Add anti-freeze to the air channel / air injectors, this can be tedious but is worth the effort.
In climates that get heavy snows it is a
good idea to place some 1/4" plywood over your cover to help reinforce
Then cover the spa with a tarp, and strap
the tarp down, this will help keep winter winds from getting to your
In the spring, or when you
are ready to start the tub back up:
- Make sure that all fittings are tight.
- Fill with cool water
- Turn the power on.
- Run the jets on high speed for 15 minutes.
- Several times during the 15 minutes that
you are running your pump, turn your air blower on and off. This will purge the air lines.
- Drain the spa / hot tub
- Put your filter in the spa / hot tub.
- Refill and treat the spa / hot tub water
chemically like you would
during a water change.
More Info on Winterizing Your
From top to bottom, inside and out, spas need extra loving
care to prepare for the cold conditions and months of non-use that hard
winters can bring. The reasons may seem obvious.
"If you left a spa filled with water and did not properly
winterize it, it would be totally destroyed," said Tom Esser, sales
manager for Alpine Pools Inc. of Alison Park, Pa. "The spa would not even
be repairable in the spring."
"As the water froze, it would break the plumbing apart,
crack all the fittings and explode the pump. Even the stainless steel
heating elements would expand to the point where you wouldn't be able to
get a proper seal," he said.
"We've had some cases where folks have left the Spa filled
with water, where the whole spa froze like in a big ice cube tray," he
added, "and it actually ripped the top edge of the spa."
To prevent this extensive damage spa retailers and service
professionals advocate performing a variety of winterizing procedures.
While each firm takes a somewhat customized approach to winterizing based
upon customer needs and regional demands, the basic procedures remain the
Prepare the water
Before emptying the spa of its water, many technicians say
they treat it with a dose of several chemicals. This prepares the water
for its next stop - most of it will be dumped on surrounding soil, but a
few drops may remain in in the system all winter.
"We pre-treat the water," said Michael Charles, owner of
Maximum Comfort Pool & Spa in Vail, Colo. "We shock it with chlorine so
that the little bit of water left has some chlorine residual, and then we
leave some wintertime algaecide in place so that the water that does stay
has some kind of protection in it."
Drain the vessel
The most important step in the winterizing process
involves removing as much of the water from the spa system as possible.
Technicians use a blower vacuum, shop vacuum or specialized drain kit to
quickly blow or draw all of the water out of the main tub as well as from
the jets, pipes and plumbing systems.
"We go through a procedure of removing all the water from
the recirculation lines and from the tub itself ... by pumping, vacuuming
or blowing it out - whatever it takes to remove the water," Charles said.
Then, "if the spa has a
blower," Esser said, "we turn
it on after the spa has been totally
drained, to force any residual water out of the blowing loop or air
Some technicians have found success incorporating
equipment that they typically use in other aspects of their business.
"We do vinyl pools also, so we have a special vacuum, a
Mighty VAC, that we use that sucks our vinyl liners and also has a
reversing action that blows out the water in the spa," said Terry LaDue,
owner of Sparks, Nev. based Sun Leisure Inc. "It seems to work very well
because it is compact, and packs into the truck easily."
Wipe it clean
Once the water is emptied, technicians suggest doing a
quick once-over cleaning of the spa surface, paying close attention to any
stained or scratched areas. "Generally, if the spa is going to be down for
the winter," Esser said, "we recommend if it is an acrylic spa to clean
the surface and put acrylic wax on the spa."
Disassemble the equipment
Next, the hot tub's equipment receives special attention.
After completely draining the spa of all water, technicians pull the
drains on the pumps and the main drain.
The goal, said Charles, is to "disassemble all of the
things that you can disassemble to allow breath-ability, venting and
drying. Usually, you take drain plugs out of filters and pumps, remove
lint pots and disassemble union fittings so that you can open the piping,
so that any water that might be in there can drain out."
"Most heaters," added Esser, "have union ends on them or a
bolt-on flange that holds the element into it that we loosen to let the
water flow out."
"Then, we generally drain the
filter area," he said. "If it's a
pressure-style filter, it generally has a drain plug on it. If it's a
vacuum-style filter, you generally have to use a shop vac on it to get any
residual water out of it.
As to the cartridge, "we would normally remove the
cartridge for the fitter and clean
it," just like normal, Esser said. "I would probably leave it out of
the spa for the winter."
Take the time, the technicians say, to thoroughly remove
all of the water. There are no shortcuts here; if you rush the process,
excessive water could remain and the pipes could freeze - causing
"Do it systematically, going from pumps to heater to jets,
and then other circulation components," said Ken Leonard, president of
Indianapolis based Carefree Spas Inc.
"When you start with a system, you stay with the system
until it is finished. You never start doing one then go to another and
then come back to the first one," he said. "This way, you are assured that
the water is completely out of the system."
When taking the equipment apart during the draining
process, technicians take extra steps to ensure that the pieces remain
grouped together, saying that this saves time and aggravation in the
spring. "We wrap them up and put them inside the spa so that they aren't
lost," said Leonard.
"In some cases, if we take a drain pipe off, we will take
a rubber band and fasten it to the pump so that it is right there,"
Charles said. "Sometimes you take all the miscellaneous parts and put them
in the skimmer basket and put the skimmer basket in a protected area so
that it is all kind of kept together."
antifreeze - if you wish
Technicians offer differing points of view on the value of
filling the plumbing with antifreeze as part of the winterizing process.
While many say that if you drain the spa thoroughly, it should not be
necessary, others advocate its use, saying it provides a safeguard against
"If you continue to use the vacuum and continually use
both the push, and pull features," Leonard said, "you should empty it
completely. Since all the water is out of the spa, there is no need to add
any more antifreeze. The most you'll have is just a mist in the spa,
nothing that can hard-freeze on you.
"If we know the spas and have worked with them before, we
are pretty confident that all the water is out," Charles said. "If you
know that there is a low fitting or a low line that may not drain out, the
better or more experienced technician knows where that is and how to get
If a technician determines that all of the water cannot be
removed a given unit, however, many sources say adding antifreeze becomes
a discretionary call. For others, a dab here and there or a good fill-up
remains standard procedure.
"We add a little bit of antifreeze, probably about a pint,
inside each of the outlets, jets, returns and any suction appliance,"
LaDue said, "to make sure the spa is protected if we didn't get all the
water out for some reason.
Stewart Couch, owner of Hotteras Realty in Avon, N.C.,
where crews winterize about 170 spas each fall, has developed an
innovative technique that takes the fill-'er-up approach. He has rigged up
his own antifreeze funnels, using a 3-foot tube that has a plunger with a
stop valve on one end and a 5-gallon drywall bucket on the other.
"You don't go inside the spa, you just put the plunger cap
over the intake valve and move the whole thing so the antifreeze is sucked
through the system," Couch said. "When it spits out pink, you know that
the whole plumbing system has the antifreeze.
Esser says he simply pours the fluid in, choosing a
nontoxic, biodegradable product such as that available recreational
vehicles' water systems.
"The antifreeze used in the car is poisonous," he said.
Although does make every effort to remove antifreeze in the spring,
there's no reason to risk exposing future bathers to the propylene ethanol
in standard antifreeze. "Spa users could accidentally drink it or it could
be absorbed through the skin," he said.
Guard against corrosion
One final equipment-related precaution can bypass such
springtime problems as corroded electrical contacts and rotten 0-rings.
"The only time that we see customers have problems in the
spring is if they haven't lubed things up enough," Esser said.
To prevent dry rot in O-rings and fittings, he recommended
applying a nonpetroleum-based lubricant or any other silicone- or
Teflon-based product. Petroleum would cause the 0-rings to expand or
deteriorate, he said.
Technicians also suggest paying attention to the spas'
electrical contacts. Exposure to humidity and moisture could lead to the
formation of a white, salt-like powder, an oxide, that can interrupt the
spas' normal operation.
"In the winter, the contacts undergo a weathering
process," Esser said. "Once you turn the spa off, the spa reaches the same
relative humidity level as the outside air. While there is no protective
that won't burn off the contacts right away, techs must be ready to deal
with them in the spring.
"If they do get corrosion, they'll have to use a contact
cleaner on it, come springtime," Esser said. "On some of the contacts,
it's as easy as spraying oil on a contact cleaner. However, on some of the
units, you actually have to use a fine sandpaper and run it between the
Give the cover a boost
Some firms include care and maintenance of the vinyl spa
cover with the winterizing package. Others offer this option at an extra
cost. After applying a conditioner or
protectant to the
vinyl, most technicians advocate securing the cover with tie-down straps
or placing an additional covering - either plywood or a tarp - over the
spa to help it stand up to the winter ahead.
"After we winterize, we put the cover back on the spa and
then we put two pieces of half-inch exterior plywood on top," Esser said.
"The plywood helps us distribute the weight of the snow."
"We still recommend to our customers during the winter
that if they start getting a half-foot or more of snow, they should shovel
the top of the cover," he added. "If they are doing it on a standard
cover, they should use a broom to sweep off the snow, but since we place
plywood down, a shovel works nicely."
"As an alternative, we put the cover back on and wrap it
in Visqueen, a thick heavy-duty plastic that comes in rolls," Leonard
said. "You take some duct tape and tape it down."
In regions where the snow remains exceptionally heavy,
technicians strategically place supports in the spa to help keep the cover
from sagging under the weight of the snow.
"There are two means that we'll use to do that," Charles
said. "We'll put in supporting-lumber, like cross members, to help hold up
the cover, or we'll use these little tables - called Fun Time tables -
that you can put in the spa."
"We'll cut them to a level in which they'll help support
the cover from snow weight," he added. "The tables have suction cups on
the bottom so they won't scratch up the bottoms of the spas. We also use
these tables in the winter to hold up the covers when the spas are full
Oil the skirting
During their final inspection of the spa area, technicians
may also check the spa skirt for needed repairs and signs of rot or
peeling stains. By fixing these problems early in the season - and
preparing the wood for the exposure ahead - they prevent moisture from
seeping in and the wet winter from causing additional damage.
"The spa skirting or any type of wood should be
moisturized," Esser said. "The manufacturers generally have
recommendations on that but we use boiled linseed oil or tung oil."
"It should be done, depending on the type of wood, either
quarterly or at least once a year," he added. "The harder the wood, the
more moisturizer you have to keep on it."
Keep out critters
Before leaving the spa to the elements for the winter,
technicians do their best to keep nesting rodents at bay. "Most of our
spas are skirted," Esser said, "So underneath the spas, we generally put
moth balls, which help to keep rodents from nesting."
The distribution of mothballs depends on the style of spa,
retailers say. For full-foam units, techs recommend putting mothballs
around the equipment area. Spas without full-foam. insulation will need to
have mothballs scattered through out the inside of the skirting.
Once technicians undertake these steps, they wait for
spring, confident that they have staved off the winter elements - and that
their satisfied customers will call for start-ups, ongoing service and