Nobody wants to share their swimming pool with bugs.
Not only do they look pretty disgusting, but they also bite. You’d be amazed at how quickly a few small bugs can turn into a huge problem for your pool.
Luckily, there are some basic measures you can take to prevent water bugs from making your pool their home.
In this article I’ll go over the exact steps to take in order to remove and prevent water bugs from taking your swimming pool hostage.
Unsurprisingly, given the name, water bugs are insects that live in water.
They look a bit like cockroaches with their flat, oval-shaped bodies and antennae, so people sometimes get them confused.
Fortunately, there are a couple of ways to tell them apart. Cockroaches are a normally lighter brown color, but water bugs are very dark brown or black, as well as having less prominent antennae.
Water bugs are also normally larger than cockroaches, often 3 times as large. American cockroaches can be a similar size to water bugs, and you can identify the American cockroach from the figure-eight pattern on the back of its head.
There are a few different types of bugs that people commonly refer to as ‘water bugs’, but the two most common types to find in your swimming pool are:
This one is sometimes known as a skimmer bug, because of the way they skim across the water, and it feeds on any algae in your pool.
Like all good vegans, they don’t tend to bite other living creatures, so your fleshy parts are probably safe. Still, you don’t really want them living in your pool like it’s some kind of hippy commune.
Named for the way that they swim on their backs, backswimmers have large eyes that take up a lot of their head.
This one is a carnivore, and loves to chow down on its poor little vegan cousin, the boatman – and any other water-dwelling bugs that are unlucky enough to get in its way.
They don’t generally like to bite humans, but they can sometimes bite in self-defense, and it can be painful. So yeah, you don’t want one of these getting stuck in your swimming shorts.
The water boatman might sound fairly harmless, but both types of water bug are bad news to have in your pool. Besides looking unsightly, they will breed and multiply if left unchecked until your pool is practically unusable.
Having water boatmen in your pool will attract the backswimmers, who will happily snack on the water boatmen like an all-you-can eat buffet. The worst thing is that backswimmers can bite, and then your relaxing swim can quickly turn into a very unpleasant experience.
There are a few methods that can rid your pool of a water bug infestation, and these are some of the most commonly recommended:
If you’re a pool owner you’re likely to be familiar with how to do this. I recommend using Calcium Hypochlorite because it’s both cheap and effective. To address the bug problem, a double-shock is a good idea, so for every 10,000 gallons of water in your pool, add 2 x 1 lb. bags of chlorine shock.
Don’t forget to check the chlorine level is at or just less than 3ppm before swimming.
Make sure to add the chlorine shock when it’s dark outside. If you do it in the daytime, you risk the sun burning off the chlorine too quickly, making it a waste of time.
It kills the algae in the pool. No food for boatmen (or other algae-eating water-dwelling bugs) means no food for the backswimmers either. The bugs won’t lay eggs if there’s no algae and without food they’ll eventually die off. Brush and vacuum the pool after to make sure you’ve removed any algae residue.
This is a good way to clear the algae out of your pool, and get the water back to how it needs to be to prevent the bugs in the first place, so I recommend always doing this first. Removing their food will deter the bugs, and no algae means nowhere to lay eggs.
Unfortunately, they can live up to 4 weeks without food, so this method won’t work on its own to clear your pool immediately. You will also have to do something to kill and remove any bugs stubborn enough to hang around.
Tip a good amount, roughly 1/8 cup of dish detergent per 10,000 gallons in the middle of the pool. Leave it for a day or so, then clean out the pool filters and skim the water. You should see that the bugs are all dead and you are easily able to skim them.
Don’t worry- it won’t make your pool all bubbly. You’ll barely even be able to tell the dish detergent is there just by looking, and because it’s so diluted you could even still use your pool if you wanted- although I don’t recommend it until the bugs are cleared.
What it is doing, is preventing the water bugs from breathing. They normally come up for air on a regular basis, and their bodies are designed to trap tiny air bubbles when they do so, that they then use to ‘breathe’ when underwater.
When the air bubbles run out, the bugs resurface to repeat the process. The dish detergent creates a film on the water that stops them being able to trap the air bubbles and they drown.
This is always a good method to use, but I recommend using it after shock chlorination to kill the algae. The dish detergent method will kill the bugs, but without first solving the algae problem that attracted the boatmen in the first place, you will have to do this repeatedly to keep your pool clear.
There are two schools of thought on this one. Some recommend pouring oil into the pool, forming a layer on top of the pool. The other way to use oil, is to get a large bucket of pool water, and add a layer of oil to that.
When you skim the bugs out of the pool, tip them in the bucket and close the lid when you are done. Leave them in there at least 24 hours and they should be dead and ready for you to bury in the mass grave of your choice.
It works in the same way as the dish detergent by stopping them breathing. Be warned though, if you choose to add it straight to your pool it will make an oily mess of your pool!
This is a very natural method to use, but I don’t recommend adding the oil to your pool because of how hard it is then to clean afterwards. The oil in the bucket method requires a bit more manual effort than letting the dish detergent and pool filters do the bulk of the work, which is why, overall, I’d recommend sticking to the dish detergent method.
To decrease the ‘curb appeal’ of your swimming pool for water bugs, take away their food source. Nobody wants to live too far from the nearest food joint, and water bugs are no different.
Use an algaecide weekly in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions to keep the boatmen away. That way, the backswimmers will take their party elsewhere, probably somewhere there are plentiful, delicious, water boatmen snacks.
Skim the pool every day to keep it clear of algae and debris, to avoid attracting any new bugs. Brush and vacuum the sides and the floor of the pool after you clean it. Swimming pool covers can also help, and if you do spot any individual pool invaders, spray them with a little soapy water and skim them out the next day.
If water bugs are plaguing your pool, there’s no need to panic.
A chlorine shock plus the dish detergent method will safely get rid of them and have your pool pristine in no time.
Regular use of an algaecide and good pool hygiene can keep them from ever coming back.