Cover Care

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After purchasing a hot tub, consumers are more likely to be worried about keeping the right balance of chemicals in the water than keeping the cover clean and well preserved. It is necessary for retailers to stress the importance of cleaning and conditioning a cover, however, because years of sun, rain and varying temperatures can wreak havoc on an uncared-for cover β€” and can have confused and disappointed consumers demanding answers from retailers.

Consumer Care

"When a spa is not in use, which is the majority of the time, the spa cover really is the most visible part of the spa," says Barry Driks, vice president of marketing and general manager of Jack's Magic. "And it's got a functional aspect, because it's protecting the water in the spa from contaminants in the air, such as dust, rain, pollen or any number of things."

Because of the spa cover, these contaminants don't make their way into the spa water, but they will most likely settle on the top of the cover. If the cover is not cleaned periodically, over time these contaminants can stain and discolor the cover.

Neglected covers can also fade or become dry and crack or tear.

"[Homeowners] just let the dirt and dust accumulate and it gets to a point where it's exposed to the rays of the sun, which will lessen the life of the cover (by yellowing and cracking it)," says Driks. "If they have a discolored spa cover, they're going to say, 'This doesn't look good anymore,' and be faced with a several hundred dollar investment to try to clean it up." In a worst-case scenario, the spa cover might have to be replaced.

Unfortunately, says Driks, many spa owners don't properly clean and condition their covers because of the perceived inconvenience β€” sometimes a half hour or more approximately every 90 days or once each of the four seasons. However, says Sue Sherman, national sales manager for Sunstar, if homeowners take the time to keep covers cleaned and conditioned, they largely eliminate the risk of the cover discoloring, drying or tearing. Cleaning a cover is actually quite easy for homeowners, and can be even easier with the right products.

Mike LaPlante, president of Panorama Cabana, says his company offers a cleaner and conditioner that can make the cover look brand new.

If used regularly, he adds, the cover will remain in good condition for a number of years.

Most spa cover manufacturers recommend using both a cleaner and conditioner when maintaining a spa cover. This is because the two have different purposes: the cleaner penetrates deep into the cover to remove contaminants, while the conditioner helps to protect the cover from harmful UV rays and other outdoor elements.

To clean a cover, loose dirt or dust can be removed with a garden hose, says Michael Moore, vice president of marketing for Advantis Technologies. For heavily soiled covers, he says Advantis, which is Leisure Time's parent company, recommends using a soft-bristle brush and mild dish washing detergent for a thorough cleaning. The cover should then be dried with a terry cloth towel and then a cleaner and conditioner formulated specifically for spa covers should be applied. This is important, says Moore, because these products have been developed for this application, taking into account the type of vinyl used on spa covers and the environmental conditions.

For those homeowners who simply don't have the time or energy to use separate cleaners and conditioners, retailers may want to look into providing cleaning and conditioning spa cover wipes.

Driks, whose company offers wipes called Spa Cover Stuff, says the pre-moistened wipes eliminate the long process of cleaning and conditioning a cover. "It's a one-step application," he says. "You don't have to prep the spa cover, whether it's a very light dusting of dirt or if it's very heavy. You pull the wipe out, it has the formulation on it, and if [the cover's] not real dirty, one or two wipes will take care of an entire spa cover."

Moore also says wipes offer the convenience many homeowners are looking for when cleaning and conditioning spa covers β€” the wipes clean, condition, offer UV protection and feature fresh scents that appeal to many homeowners. And, he says, "The spa cover wipes today offer the professional spa dealer another opportunity to offer a unique product while generating a good profit margin."

"You want to make it easy," says Driks. "Because if it takes just a matter of minutes, more people would do it more often. It it's an arduous task, they're probably going to put it off for a while."

Chemistry Lessons

Just cleaning the outside of a spa cover doesn't necessarily mean that the cover will have a long-lasting life, however. Homeowners must also maintain the underside of the cover, and this means keeping water chemistry balanced.

"A lot of times if people aren't using their spa through a certain season, they don't always remember to maintain that water chemistry," says Sherman.

An improper chemistry balance can lead to many spa cover problems β€” and the more problems, the more time the homeowner will have to spend with that cover.

Moore says high sanitizer levels (above 10 ppm) can cause the cover to bleach, fade or become brittle.

Covers can also grow extremely heavy and unmanageable if the wrap that seals the foam inserts has been breached, which most often occurs due to a chemical burn, or an imbalance of pH, says LaPlante. The wrap will burn, become brittle and eventually shatter like a piece of glass. Once moisture expands in the foam, LaPlante says, there is no way to reverse the damage and the foam will continue to gather water. If the water stays trapped inside the cover and becomes stagnant, it can mildew.

"If they don't have enough chemicals, they can run into mildew problems," agrees Sherman. "If they exceed chemical recommendations, then they can get into harming the underside of the cover."

Although it doesn't look great and it smells worse, mildew can be treated with common household items, and Sherman advises retailers recommend that homeowners try to rid the cover of the mildew before resorting to purchasing a new one.

Panorama Cabana suggests the following recipe for killing mildew: mix one cup of bleach, a teaspoon of dishwashing soap and one gallon of water after removing foam cores from the vinyl encasement. With a soft-bristle brush, scrub the inside of the encasement thoroughly with the solution. Then take a washcloth and wipe down the foam core. Rinse both thoroughly, and place the encasement in the sun and foam cores in the shade to dry. (Putting foam cores in the sun can melt them.) Once everything is dry, spray the cores and encasement with a mildew inhibitor like Pine Sol. Allow all to dry completely, then reassemble.

To help prevent mildew and other complications, Sherman also suggests homeowners float a blanket in the water to provide another form of insulation. "It separates those chemicals from the underside of the cover, so it will help maintain the life of the cover."

Need A Lift?

Even if homeowners keep their water chemistry balanced and clean their covers every 90 days as instructed, they still run the risk of damaging the cover if it's not attached to a cover lifter.

"It's being pushed and tugged and pulled and slammed and dragged" β€” especially, says LaPlante, if it's only one person trying to move the cover on and off the hot tub.

"I've had so many people tell me that they get so tired of dealing with their spa cover that that's how they use their spa β€” they flip it half open and they just get in and leave the cover in place because it's so much of a problem to deal with it," he adds.

The purpose of a cover lifter, which has gained popularity in the last five years, is to make it easier for homeowners to move the cover and enter the hot tub. Most lifters hang to the side of the spa or behind and above the spa, eliminating the possibility of homeowners throwing the cover on the ground or hanging it on a rusty nail in the fence.

"You're not running the risk of picking up stones or dirt from the yard," says Sherman. "It's just being handled a lot less if you're utilizing a lifter."

And when a cover lift is available, more people are apt to remove the cover when balancing chemicals, thus prolonging the life of the cover, says LaPlante. "If they don't have a cover lift, what a lot of people will do is flip the cover half open" and the other half will absorb the chemicals, he says.

Unfortunately, says Mike Genova, president of Leisure Concepts, because cover lifters are gaining such popularity, many dealers are essentially giving them away in package deals. This is causing two problems that go hand in hand, he says.

He likens this phenomenon to that of ozonators, which he says 15 years ago could be marketed and sold separately from the hot tub. "Everybody started trying to reduce the price of what an ozonator cost to a dealer," he explains. "What happened was they got the price down, but all of a sudden now the retail value slid with it. So then they started giving them away."

Genova suggests retailers sell the hot tub first, and once that price is agreed upon, try to sell accessories during the final write-up β€” similar to the practices of an automobile dealership.

He adds that not only are dealers losing money by not selling cover lifters separately at the end of a hot tub sale, but they're giving away cheap lifters that quickly break, leaving a bad impression with homeowners.

"Spa retailers are looking to pay less for things this year than last year," he says. "The reality is consumers are not expecting to pay less for covers or lifters or spas. We're killing ourselves with the mentality that says, 'spas or spa accessories should be going down in price or need to be price sensitive.' The only person that's winning with this mentality is the consumer, and maybe the consumer isn't winning because in the quest to get things to be less money this year than last year, the only thing compromised is the quality."

Everybody agrees, however, that having a reliable cover lifter is beneficial to both the spa cover and the user. "If a homeowner starts off with a lift, then they're encouraged to use it the right way from the very beginning," says LaPlante. "So they're using the spa, they're enjoying the spa, they're buying chemicals and they're telling their friends and neighbors about a positive experience."

Not A Cover Up

Overall, if dealers stress the importance of cleaning and conditioning a spa cover, the cover can remain in fairly good condition for many years. If a cover lifter is added to the purchase, not only are consumers benefiting, but the dealer's bottom line is as well.

Says Driks, "You want to protect [the cover] against the UV rays of the sun, protect it against contaminants in the air such as dirt, dust and oils, you want a cleaner that will deep clean and you want it to repel dust and dirt. You want to protect and prolong the life of a spa cover and you want to make it easy. If it's a simple process, people will do it more often."

Design Differences

Although each spa cover is designed to keep dirt and debris out of hot tubs and each cover lifter is made to make it easier for the homeowner to lift the spa cover, each product is manufactured with different materials and available options. Use the following pages to compare what items will work best in your showroom.

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