Most hot tub owners start out testing their water with simple paper test strips. Although they're cheap and easy to use, they are not the most accurate method available.
A more advanced option is to use a digital or liquid spa test kit. The main advantage these have over test strips is much greater accuracy.
Two of the most popular choices among pros are the LaMotte 2056 ColorQ Pro 7 and the Taylor K-2006 Chlorine/K-2106 Bromine FAS-DPD test kits. I actually own both of these, and have been using them to test my spa water for the past few years.
So, what's my opinion?
- Best for convenience: LaMotte 2056 ColorQ Pro 7 Digital Pool & Spa Water Test Kit
- Best for accuracy: Taylor K-2106 FAS-DPD Bromine or K-2006 FAS-DPD Chlorine Complete Test Kit
In this article, I go into more detail on my experience with each of these test kits. I compare them on ease of use, accuracy, and price, to help you decide whether a liquid spa test kit is the right choice for you (and if so, which one you should pick).
Why use a digital or drop test kit for your hot tub?
First, you might be wondering if there's any point in buying one of these expensive test kits. Are they really so much better than simple test strips?
The reason I decided to invest in a more advanced testing kit was because I initially had trouble getting my sanitizer levels to show up all on the test strips I was using.
As a new spa owner, it was very difficult to know if it was my spa levels that were wrong, or the test strips themselves.
I figured that having a more accurate reading would at least give me a second opinion, and help me verify if my test strips were working.
How digital and titration spa test kits work
Simply put, both of these test kits work by you collecting a small sample of your hot tub water. You then divide the sample (differently depending on the test kit), add certain reagents to it, and analyze the results. They both test all the common things you need to check on a weekly basis:
- Sanitizer (bromine in my case)
- Total alkalinity
- Calcium hardness
That's a very simplified description though. Let's have a look at how each one works specifically.
LaMotte 2056 ColorQ Pro 7
This is an extremely easy-to-use test kit that gives you a digital reading for each of the measurements you need to take when testing your water balance.
It works by using a colorimeter to analyze the color of each test tube that you insert into the reader.
First, you take a small sample of your hot tub water. Next, you fill a series of test tubes up to a marked line. Then, you add a specified number of drops of each reagent to each test tube, and insert each one into the machine to be read.
The test kit then gives you a numerical reading based on the color of the sample in the test tube.
There's my bromine reading a little high!
Taylor K-2106 Bromine FAS-DPD
This test kit is a little more involved. It also allows you to take all the same water balance measurements, but this time each test works slightly differently.
The Taylor kit is not digital, but is instead a titration drop test kit. This means you add drops of reagent to your water sample, count the number of drops added, and then multiply the number of drops by 10 or 25 when you observe the sample change color. You must mix the sample after every drop you add.
If you go with the Taylor kit, I highly recommend picking up the SpeedStir 9265 Magnetic Stirrer at the same time—it really helps to speed things up by saving you a lot of manual stirring.
It's not too bad once you have figured out how to perform each test and practiced a few times, but you do need to follow the instructions closely.
Which is the best spa test kit?
To answer this question, I'll compare the kits on the three things that matter to most people.
Ease of use
The clear winner here is the LaMotte ColorQ. Because the test process is essentially the same for each measurement, it's very quick and easy to repeat.
Taylor, on the other hand, involves using multiple different reagents for each test. You then have to count each drop and observe color changes, while manually mixing the sample after adding each drop. For the pH test, you have to visually match the sample to certain shade of red on a color chart, which can be tricky to get right.
The Taylor kit does include acid demand and base demand tests however, which will tell you how much acid or base you need to add when your pH is out of range.
If you like the sound of exact digital readings, and don't like the idea of having to determine your readings based on visual color matching, go for the LaMotte ColorQ test kit.
If you're looking for maximum accuracy, and want to know exactly what the readings are for your hot tub, you're better off putting in a little extra effort with the Taylor test kit.
It's designed to have more accurate readings (at the expense of being a little more tricky and time-consuming to use).
The LaMotte ColorQ hasn't been particularly reliable for me on the calcium hardness test specifically. The plastic test tubes it comes with also get scratched quite easily over time, which can affect the results. Luckily you can buy extras quite easily on Amazon.
If you're looking for an upgrade from paper test strips, but don't want to spend too much more, there's a clear winner on price here: the Taylor test kit is the cheaper of the two by quite a long way.
But for a cheaper price and greater accuracy, just know you'll spend a little more time performing each of the tests.
Overall, I'm actually pleased I own both of these test kits.
I find myself using the LaMotte ColorQ for my regular weekly checks, and the Taylor as a second opinion when I'm balancing my water the first time after a fresh drain and refill—or when I feel like something is off with one of my readings.
That said, if you're going to pick just one, the right choice for you really comes down to whether you are more concerned about price and accuracy, or speed and convenience.