Ultimate Fix-It-Yourself Manual: Large appliances--Whirlpools and spas


Whirlpool baths and spas have adjustable water jets that massage the bather with streams of air-entrained water. A pump and a motor force from 70 to 250 gallons per minute through the jet openings. Many whirlpools, and all spas, have in-line heaters that maintain the desired water temperature.

A whirlpool is essentially a modified porcelain or fiberglass bathtub; its preinstalled pump, motor, and piping are connected to the household plumbing and electrical systems. Typically designed for one or two people and located in bathrooms or master bedroom suites, whirlpools are filled with water for each use, then drained. Never let a whirlpool that’s in use run dry; you risk damaging the motor seals or, worse, burning out the motor. Before turning on the jets, fill the whirlpool to at least an inch or two above them.

Most manufacturers suggest that you minimize the use of soap and flush the whirlpool with clean water after use to avoid an unsanitary, hard-to-remove buildup of soap scum in the pipes.

A spa is a large fiberglass or tile-over-concrete soaking tub. It usually seats two or more people and is left filled with water for extended periods. (Because spas typically hold between 200 and 500 gallons of water, frequent refills are wasteful and expensive.) As in swimming pools, chemicals are used both to sanitize the spa water and to maintain a proper pH level. A spa may be installed indoors or out doors and is usually filled from a hose. Most spas have external thermostats, many have digital controls, and some have two pumps, which may be similar to pumps found in a whirlpool or a swimming pool.

above: Components of a whirlpool bath

Gaining access:

The access panel on a whirlpool or spa lets you get at the pump when it needs service. Some models have a factory-installed skirt with a pop-off front access panel. Other units are supported by a platform that is custom-built on site; it must have a removable panel large enough to allow easy access to the pump.


Keep units clean. Sanitize whirlpools monthly. Add 1 cup of bleach and 1/8 cup of liquid dishwashing soap to water; run jets 5 minutes. For spas, remove filter and hose off monthly. Soak it in degreaser for 24 hours every 90 days; then rinse with water.

Vacuum motor vents periodically. After long idle periods, spray motor and impeller with pump lubricant spray (sold by whirlpool and spa dealers). Don’t clean the tub surface with abrasives, Instead, use a mild liquid detergent.





Unit won’t start

Jets not working

Water too hot or too cold

Water level drops or leakage under unit

Jets surge or uneven

Water drains slowly

Spa water cloudy/smelly

Green corrosion on spa


No power to pump motor

Pump motor failure

Faulty electrical connections

Defective pump switch control

Blocked water intake

Broken jet

High-limit switch tripped

Thermostat out of adjustment

Failed heating element

Leaking pump union

Leaking pump seal

Leaking pump union

Drain clogged

Faulty water chemistry

Faulty water chemistry

Restore power (see Power off at outlet?).

Check pump and motor (see Maintaining a pump).

Repair broken wires, or loose or corroded terminals.

Control is non-electric device to turn pump on.

Have it serviced.

Clear the blockage.

Replace the jet.

Push high-limit reset switch.

Adjust thermostat setting

If problem persists, have serviced.

Test, and replace element if necessary.

Replace the union gasket.

Replace seal if worn or damaged.

Replace the union gasket

Remove clog (see Dealing with clogs).

Adjust chemistry (see Pools).

Adjust chemistry (see Pools).

[Degree of difficulty: Simple--- Average ---Complex --- Volt-ohm meter required]

Testing and replacing the heating element:

To test heating element, shut off power, then remove screws holding heater housing cover in place. Mark and disconnect element leads, set VOM on RX1, and clip probes to terminals. If meter doesn’t read low ohms, replace element.

To replace element, drain water. Disconnect wires; then remove high-limit switch and pressure sensor. Pull out old element and mounting plate, and any gaskets. New element is attached to plate; install and remount other parts.

Clearing a blocked water intake:

1. A water intake has a sieve-type cover that may become clogged with hair and particles. Remove it periodically to clean. Some intakes twist oft; others are held with a screw (close tub drain to avoid losing screw).

2. Clean intake cover by back-flushing strainer holes with water. If inside of strainer is gummy, scrub it with a tooth brush and powdered laundry detergent. Some covers are notched to indicate proper orientation.


Suction from the water intake and drain can entrap a bather’s hair, which may cause injury or drowning. Keep long hair pinned up or covered with a shower cap while using a spa or whirlpool bath. Never use a spa or whirlpool bath that has a missing or broken intake cover. Water that is too hot can be dangerous to children, pregnant women, and the elderly; anyone using medications; or anyone with heart disease or diabetes. Don’t set the water tempera ture higher than 104°F for adults, 98°F for children. Exposure to heated water for more than 20 minutes at a time is not recommended. If you are pregnant, have a medical problem, or are using medications, consult your doctor before using a spa or whirlpool. Leave the water immediately if you experience dizziness or profuse sweating.

Don’t drink alcoholic beverages before or while using a whirlpool or spa.

Keep all electrical appliances well out of reach. Locking covers on outdoor spas protect against unsupervised use by children and may be required in some areas.

Replacing a pump union gasket:

Pump unions are assemblies that join water pipes to the pump. To fix a leaky union, unscrew fitting and replace gasket. Whirlpools must be shut off and drained first; spas have valves that let you drain the union without draining the spa.

Replacing a jet:

Replaceable lets on some units let you vary the air/water stream (from narrow to wide, for instance). Simply twist out old jet and twist in new. Some jets require special wrenches for removal.

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