Why Does the Hot Tub Make Me Cough?

Jennifer Rhodes

By Jennifer Rhodes · Updated

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There are many different chemicals that go into keeping a hot tub clean. Occasionally the balance of chemicals can irritate your lungs and sinuses if you breathe them in strong concentrations or for an extended period of time—or in fact if there's not enough sanitizer present.

If you have the urge to cough when you get in a hot tub, this is usually due to an imbalance in sanitizing chemicals. The cough is usually harmless and should subside once you get out of the hot tub.

It's certainly not relaxing to sit in the hot tub and have a coughing fit, so it's helpful to figure out ways to stop this from happening so you can enjoy your hot tub.

When do hot tub chemicals cause you to cough?

When you first take the cover off your hot tub, you may get a strong whiff of chemicals, along with a rush of steam from the heat.

This could be due to the chemical levels being too high, but if your hot tub noticeably smells like chemicals, it's actually much more commonly due to the sanitizer being too low. And the smell? You can thank chloramines or bromamines for that.

Chloramines and bromamines are compounds are formed when your chlorine or bromine reacts with sweat, oils, and other organic matter in the water, and releases into the air.

When you don't have enough sanitizer present, these compounds off-gas into the air which is what causes that chemical or 'swimming pool' smell everyone knows.

For some people, chloramine gas is irritating to the lungs and sinuses. You might experience temporary coughing, sneezing, or nose and throat irritation as a result of exposure to the gas.

What should I do if I start coughing in the hot tub?

Cut your hot tub session short

If you notice that you are coughing while you're in the hot tub, the best thing to do would be to get out. While it is most likely not causing any serious issues, you will probably stop feeling the urge to cough once you are out of the hot tub and able to breathe fresh air.

It's also a sign you might be bathing in unsanitary water, so take this chance to get out and check your chlorine or bromine levels.

Let the hot tub air out

When you want to enjoy a nice hot tub session without coughing, consider airing out the hot tub for a few minutes before getting in. You can do this by lifting the cover off completely 10-15 minutes before you plan to go into the hot tub.

Opening the cover will allow any gas or chemical fumes trapped inside to dissipate before you get into the hot tub. When you do this, you may be able to enjoy the hot tub without coughing.

Turn the jets down

Steam, splashing, and gases are typically worse when the water is being agitated by the jets. Turn them down to a less powerful setting or just try relaxing in still water for a while to see if this makes a difference.

What can you do to minimize coughing in the hot tub?

Of course, you want to be able to enjoy your hot tub without coughing. The good news is that there are some things you can do to minimize or even prevent any future issues with coughing in the hot tub.

Make sure your water is properly balanced

One of the biggest reasons for the release of irritating gas is inappropriate sanitizer levels. You especially want to keep your chlorine or bromine levels in check to avoid breathing issues and coughing.

Here's the basics of what you should be doing:

  • Shock and sanitize your water properly:
    • If using chlorine as a sanitizer, it should stay between 1.0-4.0 ppm
    • If using bromine, you're looking for 2.0-6.0 ppm
  • Keep your filter clean with a regular cleaning schedule.
  • Maintain a healthy water balance:
    • pH between 7.2 and 7.8
    • Total alkalinity between 80 and 140
    • Calcium hardness between 150 and 250

If you're new to hot tub water chemistry, I put together a detailed guide for exactly what chemicals you need and how to use them.

It's not always enough to just add the right chemicals your hot tub. Every 2-4 months you should also be completely draining your hot tub and replacing it with new, fresh water. Keeping fresh water in your hot tub makes your water easier to balance, reducing the risk of bacteria growth and other things that may cause respiratory problems.

I also have a free printable hot tub maintenance schedule which you can download to remind you of exactly what to do and when.

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