When you first decide to get a pool, you’re thinking about the fun you’ll have: pool parties, kids frolicking, swimming laps in the morning. Unfortunately, once you fill your pool up with water you can’t just “set it and forget it.”
Pools tend to grow algae and get dirty from the chemicals and skin cells from all those swimmers, plus debris and other natural contaminants can also cloud the water and create an unswimmable, bacteria-infested environment. The last thing you want is to go for a pleasant dip and find that the water is too dirty and might even make you and your friends or family ill.
Sometimes it seems like you need a degree in chemistry to make sure your pool chemicals are perfectly balanced. Not true. It doesn’t have to be hard to make sure your pool is always clean, safe and ready for a good time. Once you understand the basics of pool chemicals and maintenance, it becomes easier and less time-consuming to make sure your pool is balanced and swimmable, especially if you have a smart water monitoring system to help.
It’s important to check your chemicals often and to perform regular maintenance. Why? One: You won’t have the long-term issues like algae blooms or bacterial infections that might create health issues for you and your swimmers. Two: You’ll avoid issues that might require draining and refilling your pool, or even more serious repairs that are expensive and will have your pool out of commission for a long time. Three: Your pool will always be ready and waiting for you to dive in and enjoy.
This overview of pool chemical basics will help any new pool owner as well as those with years of experience owning and maintaining their pools. The basic chemicals you need to monitor and adjust are:
● Pool Sanitizers: Chlorine and Bromine
● pH Balancers
● Alkalinity Balancers
● Hardness Balancers
● Pool Shock
Don’t worry! It may seem like a lot to manage but we make keeping track of your pool’s chemical balance simple and easy.
What are pool sanitizers and why do you need them?
What do pool sanitizers do?
Pool sanitizers combine with bacteria, viruses, algae and other natural contaminants in your pool to neutralize (destroy) them. The two most popular pool sanitizers are chlorine and bromine. Sanitizers are the most important pool chemical, but it’s important to know that they work best when all of the other levels in your pool — alkaline, pH and calcium hardness — are balanced as well.
What is the difference between chlorine and bromine?
Chlorine neutralizes bacteria and viruses by attaching to them and changing their chemical profile. Once this happens, the chlorine is no longer effective, but the contaminants are gone.
Chlorine comes in a granule form which you can drop right in the pool. Granular chlorine has to be added to your pool and tested almost daily so it’s a little more time-intensive to manage.
Chlorine also comes in 1-inch or 3-inch tablets which can be administered using a floating chlorine dispenser, through the pool skimmer, or through an automatic chlorinator. These methods guarantee a more consistent distribution of the pool sanitizer and are also less labor intensive, especially if you have a smart pool monitor that will send you alerts about your current chemical levels if and when they get out of balance.
● The ideal target balance for chlorine is 3ppm (parts per million). If you are under 3ppm, your pool is probably starting to become a petri dish. Anything more than 3ppm, and you probably need to dilute the chemicals in your water.
● Most brands of chlorine are pretty similar. If you’re looking for a reason to buy one over another, check the “active ingredients” list which is what actually works to destroy the bacteria.
● Weekly pool shocks are required with chlorine to clear the pool.
Bromine is similar to chlorine, but it tends to work better in pools, spas and hot tubs that run at warmer temperatures. Bromine is a great option for people whose skin is sensitive to chlorine, although it is actually chlorine-based, in case you have anyone who is allergic to chlorine.
Bromine can be more expensive than chlorine; however, bromine actually ionizes the bacteria and viruses and then continues to work, unlike chlorine, so it does last longer. Bromine comes in tablets and must be administered using a chemical dispenser.
● The ideal target balance for bromine is between 3ppm (parts per million) and 5ppm.
● Weekly pool shocks are required with bromine to clear the pool.
● Bromine does not add cyanuric acid or chlorine to the water.
● Bromine is less stable than chlorine when exposed to the sun, so you need to make sure you are constantly checking your pool chemical levels.
What are algaecides and why do you need them?
What do algaecides do?
If, or when, you see your pool looking a little cloudy and green (green pool water is a warning sign, but it can also be yellow, blue, or black) it’s time to worry about algae. Sometimes you can spot an algae outbreak before it shows in the pool water by checking the water line, the corners of the pool and stairs for discoloration. It’s important to keep an eye out for algae in your pool as it can cause bacterial skin infections or even injuries due to slips and scrapes from a slimy surface. You want to jump into a crystal clear pool, right?!
There are several types of algae that can infest your pool; green algae is the most common and black algae is the hardest to remove. Algaecides stop algae from growing in your pool and prevent outbreaks from happening. It’s much easier and more efficient to use the right pool chemicals during regular maintenance to prevent an outbreak rather than to try to use algaecides to cure an algae outbreak in your pool. Most algaecides are based on copper sulfates or copper chelates which stop the algae from growing. Copper-based algae treatments may stain your pool — so make sure to check before you purchase.
● Monitor your pool’s chemical levels constantly. A smart pool water management system, like pHin, can help you make sure that your chemical levels are balanced to help avoid an algae outbreak.
● Make sure that your pool circulation is functioning correctly: Stagnant water is a breeding ground for algae.
● Brush the waterline of your pool regularly to make sure that algae isn’t breeding at the surface of your pool.
● Shock your pool. Shock your pool. Shock your pool. This should be a weekly ritual if you want to ensure healthy, swimmable water for you, your family and friends.
● Mustard and black algae are not impacted by chlorine so you will need an algaecide to treat those conditions.
What are pH balancers and why do you need them?
What do pH balancers do?
pH balancers maintain a healthy pH range in your pool, critical to its overall health and functionality. If your pH gets too high or too low, swimmers will experience eye irritation or other skin discomforts. It can also corrode your pool tiles and damage your pumps and other expensive pool systems. Plus, if your pH is not within the correct range, your pool sanitizer and other chemical levels will be less effective.
A pool’s pH level is extremely sensitive. Anything that comes in contact with your pool — leaves, bugs, popsicles, sunscreen, beer, kids — will affect it. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to maintain your pH levels with consistent monitoring. Keep a pH increaser and a pH decreaser in your stockpile of pool chemical management tools.
pH balancers 101:
● To keep your pool at the best, most effective pH level, readings should be between 7.2 to 7.6. Use a smart pool monitoring device that checks these levels constantly every day and sends an alert to your mobile device letting you know if you need to make any adjustments.
● Alkalinity and pH are yin and yang. You need to make sure they’re both in the right zone in order to maintain your overall pool chemistry.
● 7 is a neutral zone for your pool’s pH. Anything below 7 will be acidic. Anything over 7 indicates that it is too alkaline. If your pool is over or under, you’ll need to add acid or alkaline to get back in balance.
What are alkalinity balancers and why do you need them?
What do alkalinity balancers do?
Alkalinity balancers are used to maintain a safe total alkalinity range for a comfortable swimming experience. Alkalinity acts as a buffer or a shield for pH levels so if your levels are off, you need to adjust for the alkalinity first and sometimes the pH will correct itself.
● The recommended level for alkalinity is 125 ppm, but anywhere in the 100 - 150ppm range should be acceptable.
● Make sure you have an alkalinity increaser in your chemical kit just in case. There is no such thing as a chemical decreaser but a pH decreaser will lower both pH and alkalinity.
What are calcium hardness balancers and why do you need them?
What do calcium hardness balancers do?
You’ve heard of hard and soft water, right? The “hardness” of your water is based on how much calcium is in the water. This is totally dependent on where you live and what source you use to fill your pool. If your calcium level is too low, it can corrode your pool systems, equipment and plumbing. If the calcium level is too high and you have a plaster or tile/mason pool, it will damage the interior of the pool. Either way, nobody wants to replace expensive pool infrastructure because they didn’t monitor the calcium hardness level of their pool so it’s an important chemical level to check regularly.
Calcium Hardness 101:
● The ideal targets for calcium are 80-150ppm in a vinyl pool and 150-200ppm in a concrete, plaster or tile pool.
● If your calcium levels are off, check your alkalinity first, then address your pH levels. If those adjustments don’t fix the issue, there are some more advanced tools and chemicals you can use to correct the calcium hardness.
● Check your calcium levels regularly. This is one of the easiest, yet most overlooked, steps to extending the longevity of your pool.
What is a pool shock and why is it so important?
What does a pool shock do?
Pool shocks clean your pool when its sanitizer (chlorine or bromine) is overworked and needs to have the remnants removed from the pool, which is why regular pool shocks are so critical. You may want to shock or superchlorinate your pool after specific events as well like a heavy rain storm, a big pool party, or a few small children who may or may not have accidents! Shocking your pool on a weekly basis with non-chlorine shock eliminates bacteria without shifting your chlorine levels and goes a long way towards keeping it balanced.
Pool Shock 101:
● Shock your pool every week. EVERY WEEK. A smart water monitoring system will remind you to shock your pool so it’s always ready and waiting for you to have fun.
● Pool shock chemicals aren’t stabilized, so it’s best to shock your pool in the late afternoon or evening. Make sure to run the pump for several hours to make sure the chemicals are spread evenly and working.
● If you use a chlorine-based pool shock, make sure you know how long the manufacturer recommends to wait before allowing swimmers into the pool.
Pool chemical testing and why is it so important?
So, you’re not a chemist — although you might be starting to feel like one! But you are a pool owner. Now that you know the basics of pool chemicals, balance and the importance of keeping your pool at the right chemical levels, you know that measuring chemical levels is the first and most important step. If you don’t know the status of your pool’s chemical levels, you won’t know how to correct and get back in balance.
You can use test strips at home, or take a water sample to your local pool store to determine what you need to adjust at any given time but that can be time-consuming, annoying and frustrating. There are now digital pool test kits like pHin that will automatically check your pool water 24/7 and send you alerts if anything needs to be adjusted so all you have to do is fix what’s broken... and enjoy your pool!