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End-to-End Guide: How to Drain and Clean a Hot Tub Properly

Table of Contents Hot tub cleaning routineGuide to cleaning a hot tubWhy does a hot tub get dirty?How…

Almost everyone cleans their hot tub but if you are not doing it right, you are not just damaging your hot tub but also exposing yourself to dangers like skin irritation, infections and, in the most extreme cases, severe pneumonia and STDs.

A dirty hot tub is a perfect breeding spot for germs. Unless properly disinfected, the warm, aerated water, often exposed to sunlight and dust, quickly becomes contaminated. Improper cleaning is one of the four top risk factors for developing a disease when using a hot tub, along with not maintaining the correct pH range, and irregular changing of water or filters, as shown by National Institutes of Health/NLM.

In this guide, we lay down the principles of proper hot tub cleaning and disinfecting distilled from our interviews with two hot tub service technicians, two manufacturers, and healthcare professional. Additionally, we have analyzed 6 cases of hot tub-related infection outbreaks to figure out how they could have been prevented [1 – 6].

cleaning the hot tub shell

Source: Lamejorcompra

Hot tub cleaning routine

Here is a breakdown of things you need to do.

Routine frequencyThings to do
Daily maintenanceCover your hot tub when not in use
Weekly maintenanceTest the water; balance the chemicals, if required
Monthly maintenanceClean hot tub filters
Quarterly maintenanceDrain the hot tub, clean its parts and refill it
Yearly maintenanceThoroughly clean empty hot tub’s cover and pillows; replace filters, if required; winterize, if preferred

Guide to cleaning a hot tub

cleaning a hot tub with a brush

Source: Amazon

I will guide you regarding all aspects of cleaning a hot tub, but here is a rough sketch of what you will find in this guide:

  1. First, you will need to understand why a hot tub gets dirty.
  2. Once you understand that, I will walk you through the draining process. You don’t have to drain every time-draining once every 3-4 month is required. So, if you are going to clean without draining, just skip this step. If you are going for a quarterly and thoroughly clean, read along.
  3. Next, we will proceed to the chemicals that can be used for cleaning, oxidizing and testing the water.
  4. Afterwards, I am going to talk about cleaning different components of a hot tub, like the cover, pillows, and filters.
  5. From there on, we will read about natural ways of cleaning a hot tub and some chemical alternatives.
  6. Near the end, I will explain what biofilm is, why it is an issue and how to remove it.
  7. We will wrap the whole thing up with a little information on winterizing a hot tub, in case you are cleaning it to close it for winter months.

Why does a hot tub get dirty?

Unfortunately, by soaking yourself in a hot tub that has not been cleaned properly, you are exposing yourself to all sorts of nasty organisms. Before looking towards what you can do to clean hot tubs, firstly let’s review why hot tubs get so dirty:

Bathe:

People should wash off their sweat and all filth from their bodies before entering the hot tub. How many people do? A survey found that 70 per cent of people do not take a shower before entering the hot tub, and this will create bacteria to spread in water too.

Bleed:

Bleeding in water can be through wounds or menstruation. This will create multiple microorganisms, lead to dirty water and expose hot tub users to health risks.

Having sex:

When you are having sex in a hot tub, it may result in irritation or some infection. Regardless of that, many people continue to try it and thus they will be left with the aftermath.

How to drain a hot tub?

Replace your tub’s water quarterly as it gives you a chance to clean out shell and filters completely along with the front ends of Jacuzzi jets. This will ensure that your water will stay sanitized and look clean.

Before you drain, flush the lines:

Even if your sanitizer level is perfect, your hot tub can still develop a biofilm. That bacteria isolates itself from the chlorine and starts exposing other contaminants like legionnaires or Staphylococcus; these undesirable bacteria will cause health complications like intense stomach illness.

The very first step is to add a line flush product. This is a special cleaner and it is formulated to break down the biofilm. Once you have added this, let it circulate for a few minutes. As it started circulating, line flush may cause gross-looking foam; once this happens, it means that the product has started working.

Draining a hot tub – step by step:

Source: Amazon

This is a step-by-step procedure along with instructions on how to drain a hot tub. It is a quick guide for draining a hot tub so that you can have an idea of what needs to be done.

1. Turn the power off:

Before draining, it is important to turn off the power connection.

2. Drain water:

Firstly find out the main drain plug which is located at the bottom of the tub. If you manage to track the main drain plug, attach a garden hose and make sure that it is completely tight. The hose should be empty before draining.

Another thing you have to keep in mind is that storm drains are not a good place to drain as it harms the environment. Many people drain onto the grass; however, if you opt to do this, you will need to continually move the hose to prevent flooding.

Depending on the model of the hot tub, if it contains two drain plugs, you must use the primary one to drain water. The drain plug threads are made up of plastic and it may break if you start applying too much force. Once the primary plug has performed its function, then use the secondary drain plug to remove any water from plumbing.

  • Sump Pump (optional):

If you are facing any sort of difficulty while draining water or it is taking much time to get all the water out, you can use a sump pump. This product is amazingly designed to pump the water fast and efficiently and it will also make a process go much faster. If you are using this sump pump for the very first time, stay close to your hot tub so that you can turn off the pump when most of the water has drained out.

  • Wet Vac (optional):

Once you removed the majority of water, you can finish off the process with the help of a wet vac or shop vacuum. They are so amazing for getting every last bit of water out of the tub especially from those areas which are hard to reach, including hot tub jets.

  • Couplers and Valves:

Open the heaters fitted in the hot tub by loosening the plastic couplers. Each pump will have its own coupler and you have to loosen it one by one. This will take a while and there might be little water in the jet line. You can optionally use a dry hot tub vacuum to mop up.

3. Clean filters and shells:

When the water has completely drained out from the tub, it’s the time to give it a good cleaning. The estimated time you need to clean your hot tub should depend on how dirty it was. If you have been performing a routine cleaning of hot tub every week and are just executing a simple refill, you will spend less time and effort.

There is no other time to clean the filters and shells except when the hot tub is completely drained off. The very basic cleaning includes a wipe down of the shells and jets of hot tub. You can also go for the old-fashioned vinegar or bleach in a diluted solution. You have to be very careful and don’t use an excessive amount of cleaner, vinegar or bleach.

4. Start refilling your hot tub:

Once you have worked through all the draining process, cleaning and drying then you can fill it up and start using it once you have balanced the chemistry of water. I strongly recommend using freshwater filters as they will filter out all the impurities. Otherwise, it will harm water chemistry like bacteria, carbon, and impurities. Place the hose and fill it up to the recommended level.

5. Turn on the power:

Turn on the breaker and system and this will allow the system to start up. Water starts circulating and heating up.

6. Balance the water:

A baseline must be established and if you are adding saltwater as a hot tub sanitizer, you should take an interval until the water chemistry gets balanced. It is important to achieve balance with pH, alkalinity, and chlorine after a refill as you do in your regular hot tub maintenance routine.

Where to drain the hot tub water?

The rule of thumb would be to check with your local law on what is the best way to drain your hot tub. Generally, it’s safe to use your sanitary system connection. If you don’t use saltwater, and if you dechlorinate the water properly before draining, you can discharge your hot tub in your lawn.

Never drain your hot tub to a stream, a river, or a lake, as it will damage the ecosystem.

One more thing to be aware of is that a hot tub contains a lot of gallons of water so you must find the best spot that can take up all that water.

Chemicals needed in the cleaning process

Have you ever thought of the water chemistry? Owning a hot tub, you will become an expert at chemical treatments for balancing various values of water. I assure you that there are tricks that you will discover over time. Here is a list of some essential chemicals that you will need for hot tub or spa:

Sanitizers:

Sanitizers are everyday use of chemicals that help to kill pathogens such as bacteria, fungus, viruses, and others. You can go for bromine tablets or use sodium bromide which is commonly known as bromine booster. You can also add a small amount of spa shock which activates the salts in bromine.

I suggest not to use chlorine tablets as they can damage spa surface or equipment. There must be an active level of sanitizer because if it drops below the level, pathogens and algae will begin to grow.

Another important thing is that minerals will not completely sanitize your tub alone; you will need other chemicals as an aide. Minerals merely act as a supplement to those sanitizers. How much chlorine or bromine you need to add will depend on the mineral system.

When you are going to purchase a hot tub, there is a basic starter kit of chemical treatments with it. This kit usually comes with chlorine, bromine and anti-foaming agents. You can have the basic ingredients which are very helpful for routine maintenance of the hot tub. The two commonly-used sanitizers are bromine and chlorine:

BromineChlorine
Bromine treatments are very complex and it takes much time to dissolve in water.Chlorine treatments are easy to apply and you can have a quicker effect. This dissolves faster in water.
Bromine treatments are required less often.Chlorine treatments are required more often.
The initial cost of this treatment is higher.This treatment is cheaper.

Cleaners

There are some cleaning chemicals available for spa filter cartridges and conditioner for spa covers. In addition to that, there is a jet clean to remove biofilm from the plumbing lines. There are some polishing products available for your spa shells.

You can also go for the best natural hot tub cleaners to clean your hot tub. For instance, if you wouldn’t have bleach you can also other alternatives like vinegar; these products might not be as effective as commercial chemicals but will make your work easier.

Detergents

They are very helpful in removing sticky stains. When you start blending, it will bind all the dirt from the surface. This may include laundry detergents or dishwashing soaps.

Bases

This will also help to remove dirt and grease. Bases fall under the category of versatile cleaners.

pH level

Paying some attention to the hot tub pH level is also important. A neutral pH level of roughly 7.5 is good enough or at least it should be somewhere between 7.2 and 7.6.

pH < 7.2pH >7.6
Acidic waterFormation of scale
Irritation on the skin and in eyesIrritation on the skin and in eyes
Damage to equipmentSkin dryness
Stain on surfaceFilter calcification

Alkalinity

It is just like a safeguard for pH and it can neutralize the acid. So, adjust Total Alkalinity first, and then proceed with balancing the pH. The range of alkalinity should be 80-120 and once you get your correct TA levels, you will have a much easier time in maintaining pH levels.

You can have a lot of problems when the pH level goes high. You can use a pH reducer that brings it back to normal. Alkalinity and pH levels are the two important things to maintain a healthy spa. Numerous balancers are available to increase or decrease these levels. Alkalinity is basically a pH stabilizer and it should be adjusted before checking pH levels. If alkalinity is too low, you may suffer skin or eye irritation, but if it is too high you can have cloudy water in your hot tub.

Oxidizer – shock treatment

This shock treatment works much like a sanitizer. This treatment can be done as often as you use your hot tub. The major form of shock treatment is non-chlorine and it is oxygen-based; this is used for regular hot tub maintenance. This will oxidize old chlorine and dirt that can make your water smelly.

Ozone

It is an oxidizer and helps to reduce the work of sanitizer by lowering oxidizer level which is needed to clean the hot tub. This ozone process is performed with Ozonator and plays a significant role in the overall health of your hot tub. Ozone is compatible with chlorine, bromine and other minerals. It is best if you install Ozonator, as it is the most efficient sanitizing agent. It is completely safe and odourless and a little quantity is enough for hot tub cleaning.

Ionizers

There are numerous ionizers available in the market, some are passive and some are active.

  • Passive:

They are also known as “Mineral sanitizers”. They are usually available in cartridges which you can easily place inside your filter. In this way, the disinfecting minerals are gradually let out.

  • Active:

These active ionizers can be purchased in the form of solar floaters; some are silver ionizers while others are electric copper. They are installed as part of the circulation system.

Testing water chemistry

Before adding a chemical to your hot tub, it is very important to test the water chemistry. There are three common ways to test the chemicals in the hot tub.

  • Use spa test strips
  • Use a spa test kit
  • Get it checked professionally through any dealer

You can take a sample of your water and dip a test strip into a container. Test strips will help check chlorine, bromine, pH, and alkalinity; while liquid test kit will only check chlorine and pH. It is vital to test your water chemistry each time before you add chemicals to know the exact amount of chemicals needed for your hot tub on that particular moment.

Cleaning various components of a hot tub

an expert is cleaning hot tub parts and components

Source: Amazon

Various components of the hot tub need to be cleaned, at least once a quarter. To avoid the hot tub scum ring, there must be a regular water replacement and proper sanitation. You can go for prevention products which will help to prevent the build-up of oils and grease. Cleaning pads are also very beneficial to avoid any scratch on the acrylic surface of the hot tub.

Cleaning the hot tub cover

Always remember to keep your spa covered whenever it is not in use; regardless of whether it is placed indoor or outdoor. Cover care products must be used once in a month. You can find out the best one that has UV protection.

Vinyl cover cleaning

A hot tub cover is made with marine-grade vinyl. This material easily handles constant moisture and retains maximum heat. The cover is completely exposed and sun’s UV rays, rain, snow can affect your hot tub cover.

Here are some best ways to increase the lifespan of your hot tub cover:

  • Use a gentle cleanser like the one you will use for cleaning leather products.
  • Never use detergents, soap, alcohol products or bleach.
  • Use of oil-based products is prohibited.
  • Use an ultra-shine Vinyl cleaner or Spa Boss Restore.
  • Apply for UV vinyl protection three to four times a year.
  • Getting a hot tub cover lifter can be a good idea too.

Spa pillows cleaning

Have you ever noticed that your spa pillows have begun fading? This can be generally because of soaking in water and chemicals; unfortunately, this could be very frustrating. When you change the water in your hot tub, don’t forget to wipe your pillows with a mild cleanser which will make them look brighter and cleaner.

There are many tools which are used to clean your hot tub pillows. Most likely, you are having these tools in your own house, otherwise, you can buy them from any local hot tub supply store:

  1. Goggles (optional, but recommended)
  2. A pair of rubber gloves
  3. Detergent
  4. Bleach
  5. Soft brush or sponge
  6. Toothbrush

Once you remove the pillows, you can use a sponge or soft plastic brush to remove any sort of residue. Afterwards, dry spa pillows with a microfiber towel.

If you are planning to have a replacement of Jacuzzi pillows, then you need to be aware of the particular hot tub brand. The pillows vary as per the model and are available in different shapes, length, and width. Your replacement of spa pillows needs to fit in the moulded space.

Filter cleaning

Cleaning hot tub filter media by flushing it with a garden hose

Source: Amazon

Filter cleaning needs to be performed at least once every month. These hot tub filters must be cleaned thoroughly with a good specialized filter cleaner; I also advise users to replace them once a year; this will extend the lifespan of the filter up to several years.

Filter cleaning seems like a difficult job. Hot tub filters have their own set of parts inside. If you want to replace or clean the cartridge, you should know everything about them. With the passage of time and use, the ability of hot tub filters starts diminishing. It becomes necessary to thoroughly clean the filters every quarter. If your filters are clogged, very dirty or cracked, I would recommend replacing them immediately.

Regular cleaning of filters is even more critical because if they stop working, the water in the hot tub becomes dirty and bacteria also starts growing. I recommend you to change your filters once in a year. Good-quality and well-maintained hot tub filters protect your health as well as the wallet. There are three major components of a hot tub filter:

The media:

It is often in white and appears pleated in appearance. The hot tub water constantly filters through them and the media catches all the wreckage. The material which is used to make media is spun-bound polyester.

The core:

It is an internal structure of the filter. It gives strength from the force of water flow. If the core is not so powerful to maintain integrity, the water flow will be mitigated.

End caps:

They are made up of plastic which helps to keep the core intact. These caps can have many openings plus a threaded end or a slip like the attachment.

3 Methods of cleaning hot tub filters

Regularly cleaning filters is necessary for limiting bacteria growth. Following are some spa filter cleaning methods:

  • Quick Rinse:

The first step is to remove the filters from your hot tub. Give them a quick rinse with fresh water. Start spreading each pleat and rinse them well, so that all the dirt, hair or debris comes out. Then dry the filters properly before using them again in your hot tub.

  • Chemical Rinse:

Purchase a hot tub filter cleaner and put it in a spray bottle. Spray it on your hot tub filters and let them sit for few minutes. Wash and dry completely before reusing.

  • Chemical soak:

This is another amazing method for cleaning. All you need to do is to dilute the chemical with water as per the directions on the bottle. A lot of water is needed so that the filters will be completely dipped in. Clean, dry and reuse.

Natural ways of cleaning a hot tub

Vinegar and hot tubs

Vinegar is not just for cooking; it can also be used in your hot tub. Adding a few cups of vinegar in a hot tub will help in killing bacteria. This is a hydrotherapeutic method and it will never harm the hot tub. Additionally, this will stop itching and other skin related allergies.

There are no harmful chemicals added in the vinegar cleaning solution and it can help prevent clogs in hot tub jets. I must say that it is a good option as it eliminates all bacteria and cleans water spots. The acidic quality eats all oily residue and it will not harm any other working part of the tub. This can also be used to lower the pH level of water.

Bleach and hot tubs

No one desires to soak in contaminated water; before people started using hot tub cleaning chemicals, bleach was used as an old-fashioned cleaner. Bleach should not be used as a regular sanitizing agent; but if you do use bleach, you should add another sanitizer along with it for proper cleaning.

You have to be very careful because bleach can be harsh to the skin and the smell can be caustic as well. You can spray the bleach and run the pumps to let it circulate through all the pipes to remove any buildup; afterwards, drain, refill and adjust the chemicals accordingly.

Baking soda in hot tubs

Baking soda is quite helpful for hot tub owners. If your tub is fully tiled, you can add this item on your hot tub maintenance checklist. You can follow these easy steps to get the best results for hot tub cleaning with baking soda:

  • Make a thick paste by mixing baking soda and water.
  • Apply to your tiles and rub it with a sponge.
  • Let it rest for several minutes and turn on the hot tub.
  • With the help of a toothbrush, climb into the hot tub and attack on those grout lines with a circular motion.

Baking soda can have a minute effect on spa water chemistry, but you must check and balance once you are finished.

Decalcifying a hot tub

Calcium deposits are a common problem in hot tubs; this develops flaky chunks that will start floating around in the water as you soak in water. This is in the form of a light film which is known as limescale. Acid cleaners are very helpful, whereas the very best natural product to remove calcium deposit is white vinegar.

The first step is to mix equal parts of vinegar with distilled water and generously spray the hot tub shells with that mixture. This will loosen all limescale. If you have several stains, you can make a paste of baking soda with distilled water; apply it to the affected area with a brush to remove all the residue.

Chemical alternatives

Chemical cleaners are considered a superb option for hot tub cleaning as they an excellent job at cleaning and removing stains. There are many chemical alternatives; some are listed as follows:

  • Aqua Vinyl products:

AV2 cleaners are specially designed for draining pump of hot tubs. It combines natural oils with a powerful biocide that completely eradicate algae and bacteria.

  • Spa Choice:

Spa Choice cleaners are very safe if you want to use on a vinyl spa. It removes all the residue effectively that usually builds up after a regular spa. This process is very effective at removing the ugly dark ring of grime.

  • Nautical technology:

Although this technology is designed to be used on boats, it also works well on PVC hot tubs as well. It is a nontoxic method and removes all calcification residue.

Biofilm – a hot tub problem

There is something else which you should keep in your mind after draining – the biofilm. If you are leaving the hot tub empty, don’t forget to remove all water from the lines and plumbing pipes, otherwise, a new layer of biofilm can build up quickly. It is a hot tub plaque; it forms in the hard structure and starts reaching areas such as pipes and pumps. Biofilms are alive and have a complex structure – they can cause extensive damage to a running or empty hot tub.

It is very important to remove the biofilms from hot tubs otherwise it can have a drastic effect on water chemistry. This will also become unhealthy for someone to sit in. Chlorine and bromine are mainly used to get rid of the bacteria that form a biofilm.

Removal of biofilm from the hot tub

There are two ways to remove biofilms: manual or chemical. This can be done manually by using a brush, towel or other cleaners; but this method only works when biofilm is visible on the hot tub. When you are removing biofilm from the acrylic surfaces, make sure you are using a soft towel or brush.

Another method to remove biofilms is by using chemical cleaning inside heaters. There are many places where your towel and brush cannot reach. I suggest purchasing a plumbing and heater cleaner to remove biofilms. Regular oxidation will also prevent the buildup of biofilms.

  • Spa shock:

Lower the hot tub pH to 7.2 and then lower the temperature to an unheated state. In many cases, it is necessary to shock the spa more than the normal shock dosage of non-chlorine. It will kill all the bacteria and weaken the organisms.

  • Spa flush:

You can also use a spa flush product like Spa Rinse or Jet Clean; just pour in and circulate the spa and then drain it. Such type of products breaks the biofilm effectively.

  • Spa rinse:

This is another additional rinse and you can clear it with the hose. Drain the remaining water and begin with the sanitation and filtration. You can also replace your spa cartridge to get assured that bacteria is not hiding deep inside.

How to winterize your hot tub

hot tub winterized

Source: Amazon

Those who are living in chilly climates and want to stop using your hot tub during winter months, it is best to drain out all water and let it rest for those winter months too. In this way, you can protect your spa during winters and it will remain in excellent working condition.

Here is a little guide to winterizing your hot tub.

  • Gather hot tub cleaning products like a garden hose, vacuum, cover cleaner, propylene glycol.
  • Sanitize the spa water.
  • Turn off the hot tub.
  • Drain it completely.
  • Remove filters.
  • Add antifreeze.

Three most important places in a hot tub need to be protected during winterizing: pump hose, filter hose and the main pipe that distributes all the water. It needs to be completely vacuumed with a dry vac. When you see that all the moisture is out, take out the jet and put a funnel with a hose; finally, add a half-gallon of antifreeze.

Summing it all up

Cleaning and draining your Jacuzzi hot tub is not a big challenge. There are many things you should familiarize yourself to be sure that you are getting the best possible cleaning results. You should also be aware of the different parts of the hot tub for detailed cleaning.

Neglecting your hot tub can lead to costly problems. If you want to avoid such problems, check your hot tub at least once in a month. 5 minutes are all you need to test your water and keep it in an optimal state.

Sources Cited

1. Investigation of Spa Pools Associated with Lung Disorders Caused by Mycobacterium avium Complex in Immunocompetent Adults
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC492441/

2. Guide to Ship Sanitation. 3rd edition. Recreational water environments
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK310818/

3. Legionellosis Associated with Recreational Waters: A Systematic Review of Cases and Outbreaks in Swimming Pools, Spa Pools, and Similar Environments
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6121464/

4. Hot-Tub–Associated Mycobacterial Infections in Immunosuppressed Persons
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2730339/

5. Outbreaks Associated with Treated Recreational Water — United States, 2000–2014
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6048947/

6. Swimmer, Protect Thyself: Cleaning Up the Pool Environment
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2974719/

7. Center for Disease Contol and Prevention: Hot Tub/Spa User Information
https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/swimmers/hot-tub-user-information.html

8. Cruickshank, H. (2018, June 6). CDC Finds Pools and Hot Tubs Cause One-Third of Waterborne Disease Outbreaks. Retrieved from Health Line: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/cdc-finds-pools-hot-tubs-cause-waterborne-disease-outbreaks#1

9. Gardner, M. (2010, October 13). Maintaining spa water quality is easier than you think. Retrieved from Water Tech Online: https://www.watertechonline.com/maintaining-spa-water-quality-is-easier-than-you-think/

10. Lee, B. Y. (2016, May 30). The Dirt On Swimming Pools And Hot Tubs. Retrieved from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucelee/2016/05/30/how-to-recognize-a-dirty-and-dangerous-swimming-pool/#59e0df4842f5

11. Rabin, R. C. (2018, May 18). Sparkling Pool Water May Hold Disease-Causing Parasites. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/18/well/live/swimming-pools-bacteria-parasites-diarrhea-hot-tubs.html

12. Reynolds, K., Canales, R. A., Suppes, L. M., & Gerba, C. (2016). Cryptosporidium risk from swimming pool exposures. International journal of hygiene and environmental health.

13. Rossi, P. (2019, February 10). Hot tub health benefits. Retrieved from By Rossi: https://byrossi.com/all-hot-tub-health-benefits/

14. Stuever, H. (2003, January 31). Getting down and dirty in the hot tub. Retrieved from The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/2003/01/31/getting-down-and-dirty-in-the-hot-tub/bc07dcad-bc16-4b84-8d80-8e851fa6f69c/

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