A backyard swimming pool is a wonderful gift that just keeps on giving. Think of all the great memories you’ve made with your family and friends while floating around on lazy summer days. In order to keep making memories, though, there are a few things you need to do to keep your oasis pristine.
Anything involving the word “maintenance” sounds like a real bummer, so the phrase “pool maintenance” might send you into fits. I’m here to tell you, however, that taking care of your pool doesn’t have to be the Everest it might seem.
Pool Maintenance Basics
There’s an old adage that anything worth having doesn’t come for free. The same can be said about pool maintenance.
The good news is that mindful and regular pool care will pay dividends in the future. Stick with us to simplify and streamline your pool care regimen, keeping your pool sparkling clean and avoiding costly repairs down the road.
Before we get started, let’s take a minute to refresh ourselves on the components of your pool.
- Pool water
- Pool filtration system
- Interior wall (inground) or liner (above-ground)
- Pool pump, skimmers, and returns
Each of these elements has its own maintenance requirements to keep it in top-notch shape. As with most things, consistency is key here.
We’ve broken it down for you into the five essentials of pool care — the parts of your pool, how they work, and what you need to do to keep them at their best. Let’s go through it step-by-step.
The Five Essentials of Pool Care
You don’t need to become a professional pool expert, an engineer, or a chemist to learn how your pool works. We’re going to break it down for you and keep it simple with five easy-to-remember essentials of pool care.
Each one of these aspects is vitally important to keeping your pool in tip-top shape all year round.
Just as you need your blood circulating in your body to live, so too does your pool need proper circulation to be a healthy swimming environment. Stagnant water is a breeding ground for algae growth, mosquito infestations, and gross, cloudy water.
Your pool pump and filter are the keys to healthy pool water circulation. Circulating the water not only filters out any debris that might have dropped in, but it also boosts the effectiveness of your sanitizer (chlorine or bromine). Without proper circulation, it couldn’t do its job.
It would be great to be able to run your pump 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but… you don’t need me to tell you what that would do to your home energy costs. We can settle for a little less than that, though, while still running it daily to maximize circulation.
If you’re circulating your pool water, you’re filtering it too! Filtering is an essential part of keeping your pool nice and clean and you can’t do that without a functioning filter. Your filter works hard, removing debris from your pool as well as microscopic organisms that you didn’t even know were there.
Keeping your filter clean and clear is also an important part of pool water circulation. If your filter gets gummed up with the rubbish floating in your pool then it can’t do its job. A clogged filter is bad news all around, especially if you’re running your pool pump for half the day.
If your filter is clogged, the pool water isn’t circulating. And we all know what happens with slow-moving, stagnant water, right? In order to keep the good times flowing, it’s crucial to take good care of your filter. That means cleaning it at least twice per year. The first step to cleaning your filter is getting all the big stuff out.
Backwashing the Filter
The solution here is backwashing your filter. Never heard of it? No problem. The process of backwashing involves shifting your pool pump into reverse and letting the flow of water push out the gunk that’s gotten stuck there.
Although backwashing is the most common, there are other methods of cleaning your pool filter, depending on the type you have. Cartridge filters can simply be taken out and hosed off. Whichever method you use, this is an extremely important part of your pool maintenance regimen.
Once you’ve backwashed the filter, you’ll need to take the filter out and clean it by hand. Although backwashing gets out leaves and other floaties, it doesn’t remove calcium buildup, grease, or oils that may have collected there.
Pool Skimmers and Returns
Your pool’s filtration system doesn’t work alone, however. Its trusty sidekicks are the skimmers and returns. The skimmers are what suck the water into the filter and the returns push it back into the pool, all sparkly and clean.
It probably goes without saying that these important components need to be kept clear and free of blockages in order to do their job. I’m sure you can start to see how all of these pieces work together, which means that if one fails, they all break down. This is why it’s one of our five essential parts of pool maintenance.
So your circulation is good, your filter is clean, and the ducts are all free of obstructions. You have already made your job so much easier. If all of the automated functions on your pool are working smoothly, you’re not going to have to break your back cleaning it by hand.
You do, however, need to do a weekly once-over to keep your pool looking its best. Your bag of tricks here includes:
These practical items will help fight off algae and mold growth, keep the floor clear of leaves, and lower the risk of any kind of bacterial contamination in your pool. It’s a good idea to vacuum the pool and brush the walls once a week for best results.
Pro Tip: Use baking soda with the pool brush to clean an above-ground pool’s vinyl liner or the tile around an inground pool. Baking soda is inexpensive, safe, and won’t damage either surface when cleaning.
Testing your pool water is one of the most important things you can do as a responsible pool owner. Your pool doesn’t talk to you or tell you what it needs and it’s almost impossible to tell by looking… so you have to test it!
You can test your water at home with a testing kit and easy-to-use strips or you can collect some water and take it to your local pool supply store for testing. Either way, you should be testing your pool water 2-3 times per week.
There are several key indicators that you’ll be looking for: pH, alkalinity, and active sanitizer, which we’ll talk about more in the next section. When you get used to testing these regularly, you’ll start to notice important patterns about how products, usage, and the weather affect your pool chemistry. Speaking of which…
Don’t worry, we’re not going back to chemistry class for this one and you certainly don’t need to memorize the Periodic Table. Put away your lab safety goggles and your textbooks that barely fit in your locker. Pool chemistry is a breeze and so uncomplicated that you won’t even realize you’re doing it.
The only lab equipment you’re going to need today is your trusty water testing kit. You wouldn’t want to add anything to your pool without knowing what’s in the water first, right? This is where you get the baseline information that will tell you what’s in your pool water… and what’s lacking.
The three critical elements of pool chemistry are:
- pH levels
- Sanitizer levels
These are the first things you should always look for when testing your water.
This is the measurement of where your pool water falls on the scale from acid (pH 0) to base (pH 14). A completely neutral pH is right in the middle at number 7. The perfect range for your pool water to be is somewhere between 7.4 to 7.6.
The pH of your pool water may not seem like a big deal to you but just wait until you hear the horrors that await if your pH levels go too far in either direction! (Insert blood-curdling scream here).
Acidic pool water can cause serious corrosion to the metal elements and surfaces in your pool, limiting the lifespan of your pool equipment. Too far the other way and nasty, scaly buildup can occur, along with gross deposits, and cloudy water.
Think of alkalinity as a buffer for its incredibly sensitive best friend, pH. Maintaining proper total alkalinity in your pool will help to avoid big drops and spikes in the water’s pH. When testing for total alkalinity in your pool, look for a range of between 100 and 150 ppm (parts per million).
If the alkalinity levels in your pool are too high or too low, the pH of the water is going to bounce all over the place, causing the same disastrous effects as we mentioned above.
You may use chlorine or bromine in your pool to keep it nice and clean. Either way, these levels are one of the most important chemical tests you can do in your pool care regimen.
The exact levels of each are going to vary, depending on which sanitizer you use, but a good rule of thumb is:
- Chlorine: 1-3 ppm (parts per million)
- Bromine: 3-5 ppm (parts per million)
That being said, always refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines to determine the precise levels you need for your particular pool and the chemical formulation you’re working with.
Other Things to Look For
Once you get the hang of frequent water testing, you may start to look for some other indicators of the health of your pool water. The following aren’t strictly essential but they do help in keeping your pool water properly balanced and extending the life of your pool equipment.
Calcium Hardness: This is the measurement of dissolved calcium floating around in the water. The range you’re looking for here is 200-250 ppm (parts per million) for inground pools and 175-225 ppm for above-ground pools (with vinyl liners).
If the calcium levels are too low, you may notice etching in the plaster of inground pools or rapid deterioration of vinyl liners. If dissolved calcium gets too high in your pool, you’re going to see the telltale “calcium buildup” on pool surfaces and equipment.
Metals: Tap water, city water, groundwater, and rainwater are full of different kinds of metals that are bound to end up in your pool at some point. Keeping the amounts low, however, is key. The most common types you’ll find are manganese, iron, and copper. These metals will damage your pool, so using a stain and scale remover periodically will go a long way.
Time to Tweak
Now that you’ve got a handle on measuring the important chemical levels in your pool, you can start to add and subtract things and make more accurate adjustments. Make sure you do your research and read all instructions before adding any new chemicals into your pool so that you understand how they will affect the water and the swimmers in it.
Make a Simple Pool Care Schedule
Okay, so you might be feeling a bit of information overload right now. Don’t worry, that’s normal. There’s a lot that goes into taking care of a pool but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Once you start a maintenance regimen, it will all get easier, we promise.
The first step is to get organized. Make a pool care schedule and post it somewhere where you’ll see it every day or even set recurring reminders in your phone. This will ensure you don’t miss any important tasks and you’re on top of all the essentials.
Everyone’s pool is a bit different and you may want to customize your schedule, but in the meantime, here’s a cheat sheet to help you get started.
Once a Week:
- Vacuum the pool floor to remove debris, brush the sides of the pool with your pool brush, and use a little baking soda to polish up the tiles at the waterline.
Twice to 3 Times a Week:
- Empty the skimmer basket to remove organic matter from your pool.
- Use your test kit or test strips to check the water’s pH. (Remember, it should be between 7.4-7.6.)
- Test your sanitizer levels. (Free available chlorine should be between 1-3 ppm and bromine should be between 3-5 ppm.)
- It’s always good to have your pool water tested once a month by a pro, just to be on the safe side. Take a sample to a professional water testing service for a complete chemical analysis.
Twice a Year:
- Backwash and clean your filter to remove any debris, oil, and grease that may have gathered there.
Staying on top of these simple tasks will keep you ahead of the game when it comes to maintaining your pool, in both the on and off-seasons.
Don’t forget that actually swimming in your pool is an important part of pool maintenance! Stirring things up helps out your chemicals and your skimmer. Who knew that swimming in your pool actually helped to clean it?
Pool Perfection & Peace of Mind
Armed with your newfound understanding about how your pool works and what you need to do to keep your pool looking its best, you’re ready to get out there and get started! With a simple schedule, a plan of action, and maybe some help from the family, you’re more than prepared to get going.
Now you can enjoy your pool even more with the carefree satisfaction of having a maintenance routine in place.