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Tools for Your Pool
Maintaining your swimming pool can become a simple routine when you have the proper set of equipment on hand.
By Nicole Janda
From the health and cleanliness of the water to the condition of the structure itself, keeping your swimming pool well maintained will help to prevent bacteria growth, postpone the need for repairs, and extend the life of the pool. While cleaning and maintaining your pool doesn’t have quite the same allure as swimming in it, having the right maintenance equipment at hand makes the process easy to manage. Here are the essential tools that keep swimming pools sparkling clean:
Unless your pool is located indoors, it is regularly exposed to Mother Nature and all of her elements whenever it is uncovered. Debris like pollen, dirt, leaves, and twigs frequently invade the pool, polluting the water. A pool cleaner/sweeper removes these objects and helps defend against the build-up of dirt and grime along the walls and floor of the pool.
Manual pool cleaners are the most affordable and allow you to clean most visible patches of dirt; however, automatic options—including suction-side, pressure-side, and robotic systems—will save you some time.
Suction-side cleaners use the suction power of the filtration system to navigate the pool’s surface and remove dirt and debris. They are especially effective at removing fine particles such as sand and dirt because they suck the material right into the pool’s filter.
Pressure-side cleaners attach to the return side of the pool’s circulation system and roll over the surface of the pool using the power of water pressure. Debris is vacuumed into a bag attached to the top of the unit. These cleaners have an opening of 2 ½ inches in diameter and are great for removing large leaves, branches, and acorns. Some models have their own booster pump motor with a dedicated water pressure line to power the cleaner and a tail that stirs up the water as it moves along the bottom of the pool.
Robotic cleaners move themselves around the pool using a chargeable battery, solar power, or a water-safe electric cord that is plugged into a standard or GFCI-protected outlet. Robotic cleaners are the only type of pool cleaner that can be used when the pool’s circulation system is turned off. They have rotating brushes that scrub the pool’s surface and typically have two intake ports with a combined 11-inch opening to accommodate varying sizes of debris.
The filter is responsible for keeping the pool water clean on a regular basis. As the pool’s pump circulates the water, the filter sifts out any floating matter before the water returns to the pool. The three types of filters are sand, D.E. (diatomaceous earth), and cartridge.
Sand filters use sand to trap debris and prevent it from circulating back into the water. When the filter becomes plugged with materials, you must run the pump in reverse to dispose of the waste water. (This process is called backwashing.)
D.E. filters operate in a similar way to sand filters; they use D.E. powder to coat grids in the filter tank. As water passes through the grids, dirt and other debris get blocked by the powder. D.E. filters also require backwashing to remove built-up debris.
Cartridge filters are another option and use a pleated polyester filtration material, called media, to catch dirt and other substances as water flows over it. These cartridges are shaped like cylinders and inserted into a designated section of the filter. Unlike sand and D.E. filters, cartridge filters require no backwashing, which makes them low maintenance and eco-friendly. To clean a cartridge filter, simply spray it with a garden hose and, if needed, brush the media with a soft brush once the cartridge is dry.
Sanitizers eliminate organics such as sweat, lotion, and other germs from the pool water. Chlorine is extremely effective and the most commonly used sanitizer. It can be added to a pool in the traditional forms of granules (dichlor) or tablets and sticks (trichlor), which are used in floating chemical feeders or filter baskets.
Saltwater pools are also sanitized with chlorine, but the benefit is that you do not have to handle or store the chlorine; instead, you will add several bags of salt to the pool. A chlorine generator contains a catalytic cell that converts the salt (sodium chloride) to chlorine. After the chlorine sanitizes the water, it reverts back to sodium chloride. Because most of the water contains saline rather than chlorine, it becomes smooth to the touch.
Non-chlorine sanitizers like bromine and biguanide are also available and do not have the characteristic odor associated with chlorine pools. Bromine is commonly used for hot tubs and spas because it holds up well in high temperatures and high pH levels. Though it easily burns off in sunlight, this is typically not a problem since hot tubs remain covered when not in use.
Biguanide is more enduring in sunlight and makes the water feel silky and smooth. Since it cannot be combined with chlorine, bromine, or mineral sanitizers, biguanide is often sold as a set (a sanitizer, shock, and clarifier) that must be used together. Biguanide pools are incompatible with monopersulfate and chlorine shock so they must be oxidized with hydrogen peroxide. While more expensive than chlorine and bromine, biguanide does not irritate the eyes and will not cause swimsuits to fade.
Supplemental sanitizers can be used in addition to chlorine and bromine. 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, while ozonators release ozone, a short-acting oxidizer. Ultraviolet light systems use UV light to destroy algae and chloramines. While these sanitizers cannot be used on their own, they often decrease the amount of chlorine or bromine your pool will need.
While your pool water might look great, you need to check the chemical levels at least once a week to ensure a safe swimming environment. There are a number of ways to test your pool and spa water. Test strips are relatively inexpensive and easy to use. Simply dip the strip into the water for a specified number of seconds and then compare the colors to those provided by the manufacturer; this will tell you the water’s current levels of sanitizer and pH. A wet chemistry kit involves adding liquid chemical reagents to water samples and observing the color change. The results are then compared against a comparator block to determine the levels.
Other options include digital test strip readers that display the level of sanitizer, pH, and total alkalinity in the water on an LCD screen. For iPhone users, there is an app that photo-scans the pool or spa test strip, analyzes the various chemical concentrations in the water, and provides a treatment recommendation.
For pool owners living in seasonal climates, a cover is necessary to close the pool for the winter. However, pool covers can be used on a regular basis to keep your pool clean. Not only do they create a barrier that prevents dirt and debris from entering the pool, they also prevent heat, water, and chemicals from escaping. There are many different types of pool covers, and the one you choose will depend on your needs.
Solar covers float on top of the water and resemble a giant sheet of bubble wrap. Their tiny air pockets transfer heat from the sun into the swimming pool to warm the water. Used on a daily basis during the swim season, these lightweight covers can also help retain water and chemicals.
Track-style covers, made of heavy-gauge vinyl, slide open and closed on tracks installed along the side of the pool. These covers come in manual, semi-automatic, and automatic styles. This makes it easy for homeowners to cover their pool after every use, which aids in maintenance.
Available in mesh and solid styles, tie-down covers are anchored to the deck by straps around the perimeter of the pool. While typically used to close a pool for winter, tie-down covers can also be utilized during the swim season. In addition, these covers can be used for safety if manufactured according to ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) standards for safety covers.
The pump plays a central role in the maintenance of a swimming pool. It works in conjunction with the pool’s filter to remove dirt and debris by circulating the water. This also prevents stagnation and the growth of bacteria, as well as helps disperse chemicals and heat throughout the pool.
Keeping your pool pump in good working order is important for a clean and healthy swimming environment. Follow these maintenance tasks to ensure proper pump function:
• Prime the pump.
If the water gets too low, the pump can “lose its prime.” This means that the pump is running, but no water is being pumped through it. Dryness can damage the pump and/or its motor if left for a period of time, so be sure to monitor and maintain the pump’s water level on a regular basis. If the pump lid is removed or reinstalled during cleaning, make sure the pump is filled with water up to the top of the inlet before restarting.
• Inspect the pump lid.
A cracked pump lid will let air in and cause the pump to run dry.
• Check the O-ring.
Examine the pump O-ring for cracks or dryness, which could cause an air leak. Make sure the O-ring is cleaned and well lubricated when reinstalling. Be sure to clean the surfaces of the pump and lid before replacing to create a tight seal.
• Clean out the skimmer baskets daily.
A skimmer basket that is clogged with debris can restrict water flow to the pump, leading to damage and ineffective filtration.
• Clean out the pump basket regularly.
The pump basket catches any debris that escapes or bypasses the skimmer basket before it enters the equipment and causes damage. For most swimming pools, this can be done on a weekly basis.
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