Make Pool Maintenance a Pleasant Experience
These Tips From The Pros Can Help You Keep Your Pool Sparkling
By Merry Wise
Pool season is here! The weather is warm, and it’s time to enjoy the pool once again. Use these useful professional tips to take the struggle out of pool maintenance and make it the fun experience it is meant to be.
First of all, invest in a good home test kit and buy fresh, new reagents or strips for it annually. There are two basic types of kits for home use – the kit with liquid reagents and a test tube device; and the kit with dip strips you dip and then compare to a color chart to judge the chemistry of your pool. For routine maintenance, you should test your water about once a week or more often if the water looks cloudy or green or if algae is starting to grow.
The most important tests are for chlorine, or sanitizer, and pH. Even if you have a saltwater pool, you do not have a chlorine-free pool. Salt-generating systems make hypochlorous acid, or a liquid form of chlorine, in your water using salt. However it is still chlorine, and you need to keep it at the proper level to adequately sanitize your pool. Your test kit will recommend you keep the sanitizer level at 1.5 – 2 ppm. In the greater Houston area, you may need to keep it higher to avoid algae growth. Our hot, humid climate punctuated with bursts of heavy rain will demand more than the minimum the test kit specifies.
The acceptable level for pH is 7.2- 7.8, with ideal range 7.4-7.6. The term pH refers to the scale we use to measure the active acidic or basic nature of water. If the pool water becomes too acid, it causes a burning eye sensation for swimmers and can be corrosive to the pool equipment and surfaces. If it is too alkaline, it can also cause eye irritation and cause a scale buildup on pool surfaces and equipment, much like the way lime can build up in your coffee pot.
Keep up with your chlorine and pH levels weekly with your own test kit. However, I HIGHLY recommend forming a relationship with a good pool and spa specialty store in your area that offers free in-store professional water testing to help you with the other essentials of pool water balance.
Get your water professionally tested about once a month, and if a problem develops, by all means get it tested at the specialty store even more often. They are set up to accurately test for such aspects of water balance as calcium hardness, total alkalinity, stabilizer (also called cyanuric acid or conditioner), total dissolved solids, metals, nitrates and phosphates and salt level for salt generating pools.
Many will give you a printout of your results and recommend what you need to very specifically keep your pool water in proper balance. It is great insurance for your pool.
One of the best devices ever invented that revolutionized and made easier home care of a pool is the automatic pool cleaner vacuum. There are a number of different types, and there are also in-floor cleaning systems that are installed when the pool is built. That type features pop-up heads that are set on timers and blow debris into a large receptacle for emptying.
Some automatic cleaners work on a separate pump, have a dedicated line built into the pool, or work off an existing inlet. These are pressure-side cleaners, pushed by water returning to the pool via the pump. Another type are suction side cleaners, with the device plugging into a skimmer and suction generated by the existing pool pump.
Most pool pros will tell you that an automatic pool cleaner is the best investment you can make for ease of maintenance for your pool. Some professional pool cleaning companies will only accept pools for their route equipped with an automatic cleaner. It is analogous to opting for a dishwasher in your home: we all know how to manually wash dishes, but most of us have come to consider a dishwasher in our homes to be a necessity.
At the beginning of pool season, it is a good idea to make sure your automatic cleaner is working properly. If it features a bag, it’s a good idea for you to get a spare in case the original gets a hole in it from some stray sweet gum ball or just wear and tear. If it has a a tail scrubber, you might want to pick up an extra, too. If the cleaner is having problems, many professional pool stores fix it for free and charge only for replacement parts, and most sell rebuild or tune-up kits if you wish to fix it yourself.
It’s also a good idea to empty your pump basket, inspect the rubber o-ring and lube it, or replace and lube it, check your o-rings and gasket in your pump, and inspect your pool equipment for any leaks you might notice. Sometimes those are simply the result of a worn o-ring or gasket and can be easily replaced yourself. Pool stores sell a special lubricant for o-rings, and it is important to always use that for a good seal and to protect the o-ring. Be sure you have the brand name and any other information on your pump and filter written down when you head to the store due to the vast number of them available.
Cleaning the filter is also a good idea at the beginning of pool season. There are three types of filters: sand, diotomaceous earth and cartridge. Sand filters are cleaned by periodically backwashing them. Every few years they may need to have the sand and chat media replaced. Diotomaceous or “DE” filters are cleaned by backwashing and adding new DE each time you do this. If there is blowback into the pool, check to see if any of the DE elements need to be replaced for a DE filter, or laterals in the case of a sand filter. There is also a product that can be flushed through a sand filter to refresh the sand. Cartridge filters are cleaned by removing and cleaning the cartridges, then replacing them.
None of these routine maintenance operations are particularly hard for the average handy homeowner to do, and your local pool store pros will gladly step you through them, but you can also hire a pro to do any of these chores. Fortunately you don’t usually have to do these routine checks on a properly operating pool more than once or twice a year, except the backwashing function on pools that require that.
Check your skimmer baskets and replace any broken ones, and make sure the little flaps at the opening to the skimmer are intact and working. Also make sure you have pole, leaf rake net and brush all in working order.
A little time spent on basic maintenance early will assure your pool is sparkling and ready to enjoy all season!
Merry Wise spent more than 40 years as a swimming pool pro and is the author of Cruising Through Pool Care the Wise Way, a basic pool care guide for pool owners.