How to Winterize a Hot Tub in 7 Simple Steps

Hot tubs are fun to enjoy throughout the year, but they can get damaged when temperatures dip well below freezing. So I’ve wondered if I should winterize a hot tub and how to winterize a hot tub.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Winterizing a hot tub involves fully draining the tub, blowing the excess water from the plumbing lines, cleaning the spa, loosening the PVC fittings, and shutting down the power. But you can also use antifreeze to winterize if you want to avoid draining the tub.

But there’s a lot more to know and some specific steps to get into about winterizing your hot tub and if you even need to!

After all, done wrong, pipes can crack, pumps can break, and cracks in the shell can happen if you don’t properly prevent these issues.

If you want to know how to winterize a hot tub, you’re in the right place.

All you have to do is drain your hot tub, blow the lines, clean out the spa, and follow a few other steps that you’ll find at the end of the article.

Before we get into the step-by-step guide, it’s important to understand what winterizing actually refers to. Let’s check it out below!

What Does Winterizing a Hot Tub Mean?

Winterizing a hot tub refers to shutting down your hot tub and getting it ready for freezing temperatures.

Even if you live in an area that only gets to around 40 degrees Fahrenheit at night, it can still be a good idea to winterize your spa under certain conditions (which we’ll get into below).

Not only does it prevent damage, but you’ll also keep algae away from the water inside throughout the season.

It’s most common to winterize a hot tub in regions of the world that get far too cold. If there’s frost or ice on the ground in the morning, it’s time to start winterizing the tub. People who live in warm climates typically don’t have to do this, but it doesn’t hurt. They’ll also benefit from the cleaning aspect of it.

When referring to winterizing a hot tub, there are two primary methods.

The first method entails completely draining, cleaning, and sealing the hot tub. The second method refers to using antifreeze and following a few additional steps.

Unfortunately, quite a few hot tub owners don’t consider winterizing until it’s too late. If you’re on the fence about it or you don’t know that it’s actually necessary, proceed to the next section.

Do Hot Tubs Need to be Winterized?

For me, having owned 4 hot tubs in Texas, I have never once winterized my hot tub.

I truly enjoy using a hot tub in winter. Now it’s true that most of Texas does not get super cold in winter. But, when we lived in Dallas, it often got down in the 20s during winter there, and I still never had any problems.

There are really only 3 reasons you might need to winterize your hot tub:

  1. If your house is prone to frequent power outages – No power means the heater won’t work and the pipes could freeze
  2. You have a winter vacation home elsewhere and will be gone for weeks or months
  3. It gets super, super cold where you live – I’m talking below zero kind of stuff where you just aren’t likely to use your hot tub

However, there are a few ways to get around winterizing even if you live in a cold environment:

  • If your hot tub is indoors, you don’t need to winterize it. As long as the pipes, pump, and other pieces of the tub are in a temperature-controlled area, then you don’t have to winterize the tub.
  • Water freezes when it sits in one spot, but moving water is a bit less likely to freeze. If you’re always running the spa jets or the pump to circulate the water, then you might be able to get away without winterizing it.
  • Some spa owners use antifreeze. It works, but many other owners refuse to use it. For more information, refer to the next section of the article.

If you don’t winterize your hot tub (and you allow the water to sit still without circulating), you’ll quickly run into problems. Some of them might be small fixes, but you could also completely ruin your hot tub overnight.

But for me, I’ll keep using my hot tub all winter.

If you aren’t sure about hot tubs and winter and how much fun they can be, check out my recent article where I get into just that.

I even cover the best temperature to set yours too to keep the equipment running smoothly and to allow you to have the maximum safe soak.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Can You Put Antifreeze in a Hot Tub?

Yes, you can absolutely use antifreeze in a hot tub. It’s a good solution for those who don’t want to drain and winterize. It’s no secret that winterizing a hot tub can be a lengthy process, most of which can be avoided if you use antifreeze.

However, you have to make sure that you get the correct type of antifreeze. Most solutions are toxic, which is an obvious no-go.

Propylene Glycol Antifreeze/Non-Toxic Antifreeze is the way to go. Just click that link to see the best one on Amazon.

It’s non-toxic, and it won’t leave any harmful residue behind in your hot tub. There are plenty of companies that make it specifically for hot tubs.

There are a few reasons why a handful of hot tub owners refuse to use antifreeze:

  • Depending on how big your hot tub is, you might need to use quite a bit. Always refer to the label on the product that you’ve purchased.
  • Using antifreeze that’s designed for hot tubs is completely safe, but that doesn’t mean that a few spa owners are fine with it. You might think it’s odd or unsafe, but it’s not the same as automobile antifreeze with harmful toxins.
  • Once you put antifreeze into a hot tub, there’s no going back. You can’t get in the spa until you completely remove it, which means you’ll have to put more antifreeze in after you get out.

I get into more details about antifreeze and hot tubs in a recent article.

I even cover how to get your hot tub ready again after winter! After all, you don’t want to be soaking in antifreeze! Just click that link to read it on my site.

How to Put Antifreeze into a Hot Tub

  1. Start by turning off all of the jets and the main pump. You should also make sure that the spa chemicals have evaporated before adding it.
  2. Next, take a funnel and put it up to a nearby jet and slowly pour the recommended amount of antifreeze into the funnel. It’s a good idea to divide the amount of antifreeze between the jets and pipes of your hot tub. This process will allow the antifreeze to disperse and soak into the water much easier.
  3. Turn on the pump for a short amount of time to circulate the solution and then turn it off for the season.
  4. Shut the lid of your hot tub, latch it in place, and you’re all set!

How to Remove Antifreeze from a Hot Tub

Once it’s time to get ready to use the spa again after the freezing temperatures have passed, you’ll have to remove the antifreeze completely.

Although it’s non-toxic, you don’t want that stuff getting on your skin or getting into your eyes.

The best way to remove antifreeze is through dilution. Drain the water halfway and replace it with fresh, clean water from a garden hose. Removing all of the water would be the best way, but it’s not always ideal.

Next, use double the amount of bromine or chlorine that you’d normally use for your weekly treatment.

Let the hot tub run for a couple of hours and then drain it down all the way. Replace all of the water again with a garden hose, pour in the normal amount of chlorine or bromine, and let it circulate.

You’re then completely safe to use the hot tub as you usually would. Antifreeze is a great solution to use, but it definitely has more work on the back-end of it.

Can I Leave My Hot Tub Empty in Winter?

You can leave your hot tub empty in the winter, but you should treat it properly before you do so.

The winterizing process near the end of this article is the best method to follow if you want to leave your hot tub without any water in it throughout the season.

You wouldn’t want to simply drain your hot tub and leave it that way for months on end. This could cause hairline fractures along the pipes, algae wherever moisture was left behind, and it’s not too good for the pump.

When you simply drain a hot tub, some water is always going to be left behind. Whether it’s under the cover or pooled in the bottom of the tub, algae will find a way to grow.

You might end up opening the lid in the summer and find a colony of smelly, unhealthy algae all over the place. You’ll have to spend more money cleaning it out then you would’ve if you’d simply followed the process below.

To answer the question directly, leaving your hot tub empty throughout winter is actually the final step in the winterizing process. That being said, you should circulate the water, clean the tub, and blow out the lines before sealing it off.

How Do I Keep My Hot Tub Pipes from Freezing?

Keeping the pipes of your hot tub from freezing is one of the most important parts of winterizing.

As mentioned previously, frozen pipes can crack and break rather quickly. When they’re underground, you’re going to have an expensive time trying to dig them up and repair them.

Don’t worry though; there are a few easy ways that you can prevent the pipes from freezing when it gets cold outside.

  • Constantly circulate the water throughout the winter. Even if you’re not turning the tub’s temperature all the way up, moving the water inside will prevent it from freezing. Many hot tub owners don’t winterize at all because circulation works just as good.
  • Using antifreeze by following the steps listed above will prevent your pipes from cracking or losing durability. Antifreeze is used in vehicles, machinery, PVC, and all sorts of other applications. As always, don’t use toxic solutions.
  • Fiberglass pipe insulation sleeves are another great option. They wrap around all of your hot tub’s pipes to keep them nice and warm through the cold season. Insulation sleeves also prevent damage caused by excess heat exposure when it’s hot outside.
  • Similar to insulation sleeves, spray foam insulation offers protection from the elements. Simply spray in all around each pipe, making sure not to miss any gaps. Your pipes will be insulated for years to come.
  • You might also consider getting a timer for your spa pump to turn on during the night. Set it for 8-10 hours to keep the water circulating when the air is at its coldest temperature. This method is ideal for people who live in regions that only freeze at night.

So, How Do You Winterize a Hot Tub?

Countless hot tub owners put off or completely avoid winterizing their spa.

Whether or not it leads to damage is based on several variables, but why not avoid the problems altogether? Unless you plan on circulating the water throughout the winter, you should highly consider winterizing your hot tub.

The good news is that it’s very easy to do with this step-by-step guide.

You’ll only spend under an hour of hands-on work, although the draining will certainly take a bit longer. The simple peace of mind knowing that you won’t have algae or damaged equipment when you start it up again is worth every minute.

Without further ado, let’s dive right into the winterizing process for your hot tub.

Step 1: Remove all of the chemicals

Before you do anything, all of the chemicals in the hot tub need to be removed. Usually, the best course of action is to open the lid of your hot tub and let it sit for a while. You shouldn’t drain a hot tub right away because the sanitizers in the water are toxic to plants.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a quick step.

You’ll have to wait a few days for the water to lose all of its chemicals. While they usually evaporate from the sun in the summer, winter can be a bit of a different story. It’s best to winterize your hot tub in late autumn since you’ll still have the sunshine on your side.

Once all of the bromine or chlorine is down to zero on your testing kit, you can proceed to the next step.

Don’t try to speed up the process by draining at 1 or 2; it has to read a zero. Again, any trace amount of sanitizer left in the water can kill grass, trees, and other plants.

Want to dive deeper into hot tub water and whether it can kill nearby plants and trees?

I cover it in more detail in a recent article. I get into specific concerns about bromine or chlorine and their effect on grass and trees. But I also cover how you can drain yours quickly and safely in under 15 minutes!

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Step 2: Turn off the power

You can turn off the power from your hot tub’s interface, but there’s still electricity going to it. You need to completely remove electricity to the point that the interface no longer has any power, including the on/off switch.

There are two ways to do this: unplug the spa from the wall (if it’s a plug-in unit) or turn it off at the circuit breaker. Most homes have an electrical box that has pool and spa labels. If it’s a 220v/240v breaker, it should have a double switch.

YOU MUST turn off both switches. Otherwise, there will still be a slight current going to and from the hot tub.

Fortunately, a lot of breaker boxes have a switch binder to hold them together. If your circuit breakers aren’t labeled, call a licensed electrician or a local pool company to come and identify which is which.

Step 3: Drain the hot tub

This is the most important, and challenging part of the entire winterizing process. You’re going to need the following items:

  • A sump pump to remove the water (click that link to see my favorite one on Amazon)
  • Towels to soak up any small traces of water left in the hot tub
  • A garden hose and a fitting attachment (if you don’t have a sump pump)
  • Patience

Sump pumps are designed to be partially or completely submerged underwater. They remove water by using a small motor that’s usually about 0.25 HP to 0.75 HP. You’ll need a nearby electrical outlet or an extension cord to power it.

Unlike draining a hot tub just with a garden hose, which can take hours, this thing will drain it in under 15 minutes!

Hook the sump pump up to either a garden hose or a pump hose (the one I linked to comes with its own hose). You’ll have to set it on a step, seat, or something a bit raised up from the floor of the hot tub. Turn on the sump pump and let it drain the way out.

When the water reaches the bottom of the sump pump, place it on a lower step, drain it, and keep repeating the same process until the spa is drained. To know where you’re allowed to drain your spa water, contact your local city’s office.

Spa capacities range anywhere from 250 gallons all to way up to 600+ gallons. That’s a whole lot of water to dump on your lawn or down a sewer drain.

If you don’t have a sump pump, you still might have a good shot at successfully draining your hot tub. Many of them come with drains at the bottom.

Locate the drain and find a fitting and attach it to your garden hose. Drain it out to the designated area, detach the hose, and seal the drain back together.

Step 4: Loosen the Plumbing Unions on the Spa

Once you’ve drained the spa all the way, it’s time to loosen the unions on the pump, the filter, the heater, and any other part of your hot tub that has unions. The reason behind this step is the fact that unions can freeze.

Union is just a fancy word for the PVC pipe connectors.

When unions freeze, they can crack or become brittle. Unfortunately, they’re not very cheap in most cases. Even if you find unions at a good price, you’ll have to saw and glue the pieces back in place. Simply turning all of the unions about 45 degrees counter-clockwise will be more than enough.

When you’re about to start the hot tub up again after winter has passed, apply silicone lubricant to the rubber O-rings on each union before you seal them back together. An even better strategy is to have extras on hand and use this opportunity to replace them.

Cold air can dry them out, which will damage the O-rings quickly if you don’t reapply a lubricant.

In my experience, hot tub leaks are very frequently caused by worn O-rings. 

But there are other reasons a hot tub might leak also. Luckily, I cover all the reasons in a recent article and then show you step by step how to fix each kind of leak.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Step 5: Take out the filter cartridges and clean them

Most spas usually use paper filter cartridges, but a few might also have sand or diatomaceous earth.

In any case, you should remove whichever type of filtration system that you use but leave the actual filter tank in its place.

If you have filter cartridges, remove them and spray them with a hose.

Spray each cartridge down with water gently. Harsh water from a spray nozzle can damage and tear the pleats (aka the fins) as well as the bands. Use a hot tub filter cleaner (click to see my favorite one on Amazon), and follow the instructions. Then rinse them off thoroughly, and allow to dry.

Store them inside the house somewhere relatively cool and dry.

If you’re using a sand filter, all you have to do is backwash it, remove the sand, and wash out the filter tank. Unfortunately, it’s a very messy job. You’ll have to scoop all of the sand into 5-gallon buckets until it’s empty. After a full year or several months of usage, the oil and gunk that builds up are unsightly.

You might want to consider a pro service.

Finally, if you have a diatomaceous earth filter, you’ll have to remove each fin from the tank. Most of them come with eight fins (7 normal-sized and one small fin). Spray down each fin in a large garbage can to catch all of the old earth that comes off of it.

This job is a messy one as well, so you should consider a local pool and spa service if you can.

Winterizing could be a good time to change your filters too.

That way you just toss the old ones, order new ones, and have them waiting for when you start your hot tub back up.

But you don’t want to change your filters too often as that can be a waste of money. Luckily, I break it all down in a recent article; how often to change them, but also how often to clean them and how to do that correctly.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

Step 6: Remove excess water

There are two places that water will be settled in your hot tub; The pipes and the bottom of the unit.

To blow out the pipes, you’re going to need a shop vac. Turn it over to the blow mode and shoot air through each of the pipes and jets for about 15 seconds each. This time should be more than enough to move water out and dry the rest.

To get the extra water puddled in the bottom of the hot tub, take a few towels, and lay them on the puddle to soak. After a few minutes, you can remove the towels and wipe out the rest of the moisture from the bottom.

Step 7: Clean-up time

Once everything is drained and dried, it’s time to clean the hot tub. Use the five-step process below for the easiest and most-efficient method.

  1. Remove the lid from your hot tub. You’ll have to go back and clean it later, but you should start with the actual hot tub before you work on the lid.
  2. There are all sorts of hot tub cleaning sprays on the market. Find your favorite non-toxic solution and spray down the entire interior of the hot tub. Wipe it down with a non-abrasive sponge until it’s sparkling and clean. You can also use paper towels.
  3. Find all of the problem areas that aren’t budging. Typically, jets, corners, and other hard-to-reach places are the culprits. Get a soft spa brush and use the spray and a little bit of elbow grease to remove all of the grime around the edges.
  4. Spray down the lid of the hot tub with a garden hose. You can also use a little bit of the spa cleaning spray from the previous step to remove any extra residue. Any hot tub that sits outside in direct sunlight should also be treated with sun-resistant spray to prevent it from cracking or becoming brittle.
  5. Seal your hot tub properly after it dries all the way. Whether you’re using wind straps or buckles, make sure that it’s locked in place. Mice, rats, and snakes have all been known to find a home in an unsealed empty hot tub. If one of these creatures enters, you’ll be left to clean up the mess when you reopen the spa in the springtime!

Did I cover all you wanted to know about hot tubs, winter and how to winterize one?

While it’s not completely necessary to winterize a hot tub for many owners, it’s definitely a safe choice. That’s especially true for those in extreme climates or homeowners who head south for the winter.

Regardless of if you have plaster, acrylic, or any other material for your hot tub shell, it can crack and corrode from water and ice expansion.

Here are the three ways that you can deal with your hot tub through the next winter season:

  1. Use antifreeze to prevent the shell, pipes, and unions from getting too cold.
  2. Circulate the water frequently every day to stop it from freezing.
  3. Follow the winterizing process listed above to drain, clean, and secure your hot tub until next season.

Photo credits which require attribution:

Our Hot Tub by eileenmak is licensed under CC2.0

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is a husband, father, martial artist, budget-master, Disney-addict, musician, hot tub lover, and recovering foodie having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Whole Foods Market.

Recent Content