A comprehensive guide to maintaining your pool water
By Patti Plummer
Keeping a pool sparkling clean and swim-ready is not as difficult a task as you may imagine—but only if you keep one tenet in mind: once you attain crystal clear water, you have to maintain it. By following a few simple rules, pool owners can stop algae, debris, and other contaminants in their tracks and get a chance to fully immerse themselves in their pools.
The most basic way to manage your pool’s cleanliness is by using a pool cover. Covers control debris as well as retain heat, chemicals, and water levels, but not all covers perform the same duties. There are a number of different types, and your choice should be based on what you need the cover to do and what your budget will allow.
Solar covers are simple tools that float on top of the water and do as their names suggest: they bring water up to optimum temperature by capturing heat from the sun. And since they also aid in the retention of water and chemicals, they are great aids in maintenance.
Track-style covers are made of heavy-gauge vinyl and slide open and closed on tracks installed on the surrounding deck or under the coping. Available in manual, semi-automatic, or fully automatic styles, these types are easy to operate, prompting homeowners to utilize them more often—for safety and maintenance reasons. Track covers can be positioned anytime, even on existing pools.
Secured to the deck in multiple places around the perimeter of the pool, tie-down covers are either mesh or solid, and are primarily used to close a pool for the winter. However, since more manufacturers are producing lighter-weight models, some pool owners may opt to use these covers throughout the swimming season.
For safety and maintenance reasons, standing water must be removed from the tops of pools covers. Some automatic covers are equipped with built-in rainwater removal features while others can have standing water removed by an automated pool pump. Mesh tie-down covers catch debris and allow rainwater and snowmelt to drain into the pool.
So, what should you do if your pool is invaded by the likes of twigs, leaves, pollen, and dirt? The next line of defense is a cleaner. Some pool owners use their muscles to remove the flotsam and jetsam while others turn to automatic cleaners to get the job done.
An automatic cleaner can be a pool owners’ best friend. Cleaners come in three types: robotic, pressure-side, and suction-side.
Robotic cleaners are powered by a chargeable battery, solar power, or from a water-safe electrical cord that is plugged into a standard or GFCI-protected outlet. These compact machines roam the surfaces of the pool, sucking up dirt and debris along the way. Ideal for both small and large particles—such as pollen, sand, and tree detritus—many models use rotating brushes or rollers to scrub the walls and floor of the pool, as well as hard-to-brush corners.
Pressure-side cleaners have an opening of about 2 ½ inches in diameter, which makes them perfect for locations with lots of trees, leaves, and acorns. Using the power of water pressure, these cleaners roll across the pool surface, drawing up material into attached bags. Some styles feature a tail that swishes back and forth, swirling up fine particles for the pool’s skimmer or main drain to filter out.
Suction-side cleaners connect to the pool’s skimmer or to a dedicated suction line. Navigating the pool, they use the suction power of the filtration system to transfer sand, dirt, and other small items into the pool’s skimmer. Some models include their own filter bags so leaves and other large items do not clog the skimmer; others feature brushes to loosen algae.
Filters play a key role in keeping water circulating and prevent the growth of algae. There are three types: sand, DE (diatomaceous earth), and cartridge. Sand and DE filters require backwashing to remove built-up debris, while cartridge filter systems do not need backwashing—just the occasional spray from a garden hose.
Some filters provide an even flow of water through the entire cartridge, which allows for better filtration. They use more of the surface to inhibit the growth of bacteria mold and algae, and make it easier for the pump to bring more through the cartridge.
Once the pool is debris-free, the actual water needs to be cleansed of harmful substances. The only way to know if the water is safe is to test it on a regular basis—daily for best results. This is where testing systems come in with options such as test strips, digital test strip readers, and wet chemistry kits.
Test strips work on a simple premise: just dip and compare. Take a water sample, dip the strip for a specified number of seconds, and then compare the colors to those provided by the manufacturer. A digital test strip reader goes a step further by displaying on an LCD screen the water’s level of sanitizer, pH, and total alkalinity. For more specific testing, a wet chemistry kit is the way to go. By sampling the water and adding liquid chemical reagents, you will see what is going on by the color change in the sample. You can then compare it to the comparator block, determine the levels, and then choose a course of action.
For those with smart phones, there is an app that allows owners to photo-scan a pool and spa test strip, eliminating the need to visually determine slight color variations. In just seconds the program will analyze chlorine, bromine, pH, and alkalinity concentrations in the water and rapidly return a treatment recommendation.
There are a number of products that keep water sanitized. Chlorine products are common because they are both effective and economical. Chlorine also acts as an oxidizer or shock, meaning it can eradicate organic elements such as sweat, sunscreen, and cosmetics. Some homeowners choose to use a chlorine generator, which produces chlorine from salt. Using this approach, the water becomes smooth to the touch and prevents the formation of strong-smelling chloramines.
Bromine is gentle on skin and eyes, but it burns off easily in sunlight. This makes bromine most suitable for hot tubs and spas because they are covered when not in use. In addition, bromine holds up well in high temperatures and is effective at higher pH levels. Biguanide is more expensive than chlorine and bromine, but it makes water feel silky and smooth and is more stable in sunlight.
There are a few systems that work as supplemental sanitizers, which should be used with a compatible sanitizer mentioned above. Ozonators release ozone, a short-acting oxidizer, while ultraviolet light systems uses UV light to destroy algae and chloramines. Mineral cartridges fit into your filter and slowly release minerals into the water. Ionizers release silver, copper, or zinc ions that kill bacteria and algae.
Manufacturers are designing more devices to multitask, including products that not only circulate heated pool water, but which also mix chemicals at the point of injection, blend chemicals faster, and aid in the prevention of algae growth.
Photo courtesy of Classic Pool & Patio, Inc.