Pool Care For Dummies
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If you’re going to be responsible for an expensive investment into your staycation wonderland, you’re going to want to know how to keep your swimming pool clean, and how to keep it safe and protected.

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A pool isn’t a self-sustaining environment with an ecosystem and natural water chemistry to keep it in check. It takes a bit of work to keep it nice and clean, and to make sure it’s safe to swim in.

You want your pool to be fun and safe. When it comes to pools, safety comes in two forms:

  • Using caution when dealing with chemicals
  • Providing a safe swimming environment

Proper pool maintenance

Pool problem prevention is always less expensive and more effective than correction. Pool cleaning and maintenance, including keeping the water chemistry well balanced, will prolong the life of every part of your pool.

If you clean often, you filter will last longer. If you balance your water, literally every piece of equipment in your pool, whether rubber or metal, will last longer. If you keep up on algaecides and shocks, you can prevent a costly algae bloom from forming. The list goes on and on — proper maintenance will save you money in the long run.

Putting off weekly maintenance might mean having to spend extra time and money cleaning up a cloudy pool. When you have limited days in which to enjoy your pool, you want to be able to use the pool whenever you want.

You don’t want to risk using up good pool days cleaning because you let the upkeep slip. Create a good maintenance schedule and stick to it.

This article gives a good overview of pool maintenance. But for all of the details on how to maintain a pool, including the nitty gritty on chemicals and cleaning, check out my book Pool Care For Dummies.

Discovering your inner chemist

Chemistry is essential to swimming pool maintenance, and it's my favorite subject! Your pool chemistry is what will keep you and your pool safe from long-term damage. There’s a little bit that goes into the balancing of all those chemicals, and figuring out how all the parts relate to each other will be the biggest hurdle. Chemicals are used to sanitize and balance your pool’s water.

For pool chemistry to make sense, you must be familiar with the concepts related to what each chemical is supposed to do and how they react with one. Don’t look at the long chemical names and become overwhelmed. Look at what that chemical does to your water to make it a safer and more comfortable environment for bathers.

Keeping your pool clean and clear

Sanitation is what you do to keep your pool water clean. You add chemicals to your water to kill bacteria and other contaminants and to help keep the water nice and clear — and safe for people to swim in. When you’re picking a way to keep your pool clean, you have three major types of products to choose from:
  • Chlorine: This is the most common and usually least expensive way to sanitize a pool. It is highly efficient because of its aggression on bacteria and other contaminates, but that also makes it known for being slightly more aggressive on surfaces of the pool and on skin and eyes. It is used as a maintenance sanitizer through tablets or powder and also can be found in a liquid form which is more for shocking (oxidizing).

Saltwater pools are becoming very popular. Some people don’t realize that saltwater pools still require chlorine. These pools use a salt-to-chlorine generator to create chlorine gas by splitting the sodium chloride (salt) molecules.

  • Bromine: Most commonly used in hot tubs, this chemical is very similar to chlorine in a lot of ways because it’s also a halogen-based sanitizer (chlorine and bromine are grouped together on the periodic table). For pools, bromine is most commonly found in a tablet form and used in a similar way to chlorine tablets as a maintenance sanitizer. It can be found in a powder form but that is most commonly seen in use for spas.
  • Bromine has two major flaws in the pool world:
    • It breaks down in sunlight: Bromine doesn’t hold up well in the sun. UV light destabilizes it and breaks it down, so the numbers drop quickly in a pool sitting in direct sunlight.
    • It costs a pretty penny: Over the past few years, bromine has become extremely expensive, costing almost double the amount of chlorine.
  • Biguanide: This bromine- and chlorine-free sanitizer was originally created to be a less aggressive hand sanitizer for scrubbing in as a surgeon. Biguanide has become a popular choice for people who want a pool that’s completely halogen free. It tends to be on the more expensive side, and it certainly has a learning curve to it. But if you have money, and dedication required to use this system, you’ll never want a different one because it is so soft on your skin and your pool will be looking brand new for decades.
All of these products come in a liquid form with very simple dosing. You use the same amount every week of the same chemicals for maintenance. If you run into a problem, like algae or water mold, just use higher doses of the products you use weekly.

For a recommended weekly pool maintenance checklist, see "Pool Care For Dummies Cheat Sheet."

The importance of balancing pool chemicals

Balancing your pool chemical levels is more important than almost any other thing when it comes to pool maintenance. Your pool water balance is made up of your total alkalinity, pH, calcium hardness, temperature, total dissolved solids (TDS), and cyanuric acid (CYA). All those pieces fit together like a puzzle to keep your pool from basically eating itself from the inside out.

When I say “balance your water,” I’m referring to the process of getting your water to not be scale-forming or corrosive. Those two water states can quickly lead to a disaster in your system, on your surface, and on the surrounding pieces of equipment. Essentially, your goal is to make sure that the water in your pool craves no extra minerals that it doesn’t have or need.

Water will always try to reach some sort of equilibrium, and to get there, it requires a certain amount of minerals in its balance. If it’s lacking them, it will take those minerals from anything it touches. And if it has too much, it will deposit them on all those same things.

Another important part about water balancing involves making sure the sanitizer that’s killing bacteria and preventing illness remains efficient. Your pool chemistry’s cause and effect will change the way the water wants to go. For example, if your acidity level is very high, the water lands on the scaling side and could create actual physical scale on the inside of things that are in your pool system.

It also directly affects the speed and efficiency with which your sanitizer reacts, especially chlorine. If you have a bunch of chlorine in the pool, but it’s only 8 percent efficient because of the poor balance of the other chemical components of the water, then the chlorine in the water isn’t doing you much good.

How to use pool chemicals safely

A pool and pool chemicals probably seem different to you than a science lab filled with beakers and chemicals, but they’re both equally as dangerous. Chemical handling is the most overlooked part of owning a pool because it’s assumed that if you can buy the chemical at your local discount supply store, it must be perfectly safe to handle. Unfortunately, that really isn’t the case.

Getting chemicals on your skin or in your eyes can cause irritation and even injury. And mixing chemicals incorrectly can result in fires, explosions, and death. These chemicals are no joke: Always handle your pool chemicals with care and never put them in the hands of a child.

Keeping your pool area safe

Keep the people and pets who will be using your pool safe. Pools have hazards that require having safety procedures in place. Here are a few points to keep in mind:
  • Create a list of safety rules for guests to follow and post them near the pool.
  • Be sure to have a secure fence either around your yard or around the pool itself.
  • Make sure safety equipment, such as a life ring, is easy to access.
  • Install equipment such as drain covers and safety covers to prevent injuries.
By taking preventative safety measures, you can guard against accidents.

How to keep a swimming pool clean

If there’s one part to this whole maintaining-a-pool thing that you can totally handle, it’s cleaning. Trust me when I tell you it’s one of the most relaxing and rewarding parts.

One thing you have to keep in mind, though, is that cleaning a pool is sort of like cleaning your house: You do it at your own pace and to your own liking. There’s no real weekly schedule; it’s all based on when the pool needs it and when you have time to do it. But, it typically ends up that weekly maintenance on routine cleaning is the way to go. A tidy pool is a more enjoyable experience.

If you leave some things on the pool floor, such as leaves or dead animals, they can cause staining. Remove those items quickly to prevent that possibility. You want to remove them for safety and cleanliness reasons too.

There are times and environments where you should, or may need to, clean more often. Yards that have a lot of trees, neighbors who have a lot of trees, well-manicured lawns, a yard of mostly dirt with a few patches of lawn trying to survive — you get it. All of these things can end up playing a part in your regular cleaning regimen.

Manual cleaning

When it comes to cleaning your pool by hand, there are three major parts you want to pay attention to:
  • Bottom
  • Walls
  • Water’s surface
To clean these areas of the pool, you'll need to vacuum, brush, and skim. Some tools can take care of more than one cleaning need; other tools are more useful for certain types of cleaning; and some tools you can use on only certain surfaces. The best strategy for cleaning your pool involves starting with the floor and working your way up.

Manually vacuuming is typically done by using your pool’s pump for suction and having the dirt, leaves, and dead worms go into your pump basket or filter. For the most part, manually vacuuming is done very similarly in all types of pools, whether it’s above the ground, below the ground, or just a blow-up pool.

Photo of swimming pool vacuuming equipment ©Kristine Blanchard
Tools needed to vacuum a pool: a vacuum head, hose, telescopic pole, and vacuum plate.

Automatic pool cleaners

The world of automatic pool cleaners is where the party gets started — nothing better than not having to clean but reaping all of the cleanly benefits! There are three different types of automatic pool cleaning vacuums (also referred to as APCs):
  • Suction-side cleaners
  • Pressure-side cleaners
  • The ever-so-popular robotic cleaners, including solar skimming robots

All automatic pool cleaners, regardless of type, are meant to keep a clean pool clean. They’re not designed to carry heavy loads or clean algae blooms. Do all initial vacuuming by hand when opening the pool. And after the pool is pretty clear and clean, you can use your automatic cleaners to maintain it that way.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Kristine Blanchard started working with swimming pools when she was just 5 years old. Her professional pool care career started when she was a teenager. Now over a decade into her career as a pool pro, she’s serviced pools in the field, performing pool openings, closings, weekly maintenance, and repairs on all types of pool equipment. She’s also worked in a pool supply store where she’s shared her knowledge in classes for new pool owners and employees.

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