Written by Fran J. Donegan
Swimming pools provide hours of fun, but they do require a certain amount of attention to keep the water clean. Most maintenance is simply a matter of common sense. Just remember to do the little things on a regular basis to avoid big problems later. Here’s a suggested maintenance schedule to help you along the way.
At Pool Opening
Balanced water means that things like the pH level of the water, the alkalinity, dissolved solids, calcium levels and the like are all within comfortable ranges. Balanced water is crystal clear and has a pleasant feel on the skin. If you do decide to open the pool yourself, at least take a water sample to a pool supply company for testing.
- Use a long-handle skimmer to remove any floating debris from the pool.
- Clean out the pool skimmer baskets. When the pool’s pump is turned on, it pulls water from the pool into the skimmers and then on to the filtration system. If you have leaves, grass clippings or other debris floating in the pool, chances are that some of it ended up in the skimmer basket.
- Check the water level. Pools lose water through evaporation and normal splashing and swimming. The water should be above the skimmer level, or you could burn out the pump.
- For above ground pools that use a daily chlorine tablet for sanitation, add chlorine.
- Use a home test kit to test the water for pH and sanitizer, such as chlorine. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, but in general, rinse testing materials with the pool water you are going to test, not tap water. You should also run the circulation system for about 15 minutes before testing the water.
- Remove debris from the pump basket.
- Vacuum the pool. You can find vacuums for both in ground and above ground pools. In ground pool owners usually rely on automatic systems, while both automatic and manual systems are available for aboveground pools.
- Clean off any dirt and scum that may have accumulated at the water line using a brush designed to clean pools. This keeps dirt out of the filtration system and helps to remove algae before it takes hold.
- Hose down the pool deck.
- Check the pool’s filter. There are three types of pool filters: sand, cartridge and diatomaceous earth (DE), which is fossilized skeletons of plankton. They all require regular maintenance. Basically, they all need to be cleaned when the operating pressure rises about 10 pounds per square inch (psi) above the normal operating pressure. Normal pressure will vary, but usually it is around 9 to 12 psi. The rise in pressure means that dirt is beginning to clog the filter medium. Once you know the regular pressure of your filter, write it on the unit in permanent marker as a reminder.
- Sand and DE filters need to be backwashed, which means you turn a dial and water runs through the filtering medium backwards. The backwashed water exits through a waste port. Be careful where the water drains, because chlorine in the water can harm any surrounding plants.
- DE filters tend to be trickier to maintain than sand filters, because you must replace the DE that is lost during backwashing. Follow the filter’s manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
- To clean cartridge filters, remove the cartridge and hose it down.
- If you notice that the filter’s pressure is below the normal operating pressure, it means there may be a clog or obstruction somewhere in the line.
Take a water sample to a pool supply company that does water testing. As mentioned above, the company tests for a wider range of variables than you can at home. It is a good way to make sure that your pool water stays balanced. In many cases, the test is free.
The most rigorous maintenance plan can be upended by a few days of heavy rain or a heavier-than- normal bathing load. In those cases, the water will contain a large amount of organic matter that throws the water balance out of whack. To set things right, you will need to “shock,” or superchlorinate, the water. Some experts believe that weekly shock treatments are necessary, which may be true for pools that get a lot of use, but in general the frequency will depend on the bathing load. If you are unsure, have the water tested and ask for advice at the pool supply company.
If you do add shock chemicals, be sure to read the instructions carefully. With many shocks, you should stay out of the water for 12 to 24 hours to give the chlorine levels time to return to normal.
Closing the Pool
As mentioned above, even if you plan on performing the maintenance yourself, it is a good idea to have a professional pool service open and close the pool. A pool closing involves these steps:
- Give the pool a final cleaning and shock the water one last time.
- Lower the water level to about 18 in. below the skimmer. Don’t empty the pool entirely – the freezing and thawing of the ground around the pool exerts pressure on the sides of the pool, and water helps equalize that pressure.
- Drain all of the piping. Follow the pump, filter and heater manufacturers’ recommendations for closing down the equipment.
- Cover the pool. All covers will keep debris out of the water. A safety cover that meets specific requirements can support the weight of a child to prevent accidental drowning. It is also a good idea to check the condition of gates and fences that surround the pool to make sure they are in proper repair.
If your pool maintenance routine is vigorous and well-planned, you’ll reap the rewards all season long. To read more about pool safety, you can view AHS’s Pool Safety Guide here.