How To Clean Pool Tile

Written by Michael Dean
October 5, 2023

cleaning pool tile

Pool tile is a classy type of finish used in concrete pools. Clean and sparkling pool tiling forms the backbone of the decor of your pool. If maintained well, your pool tile can go a long way in keeping your pool looking new. This article will go over the types of build-up on pool tiling, how to clean stained pool tiles, and steps to prevent staining.

Main Takeaways

  • Two common types of calcium build-up are calcium carbonate and calcium silicate, both of which manifest as white residue on tiles.
  • Build-up usually occurs due to excessive levels of calcium in the water and high levels of heat.
  • Methods of cleaning calcified deposits range from scrubbing with a pumice stone, scrubbing with a brush, using cleaner solutions, and working in batches for areas with heavy build-up.
  • You can prevent the worst of such issues with properly balanced water chemistry.

Types of Build-Up On Tile

Build-up on pool tiles occurs for various reasons, such as excess calcium, hard water, and scaling. What all of these have in common is that they stem from the calcium levels in the pool being too high. Calcium build-up manifests itself in two ways in pools: calcium carbonate and calcium silicate.

Calcium Carbonate Build-Up

Calcium carbonate causes white “scaling” on the pool tiles. This phenomenon occurs when water with high calcium levels evaporates naturally, leaving behind a chalky coat on your pool tiles. It builds up in layers as a residue on your pool tiles and, depending on the level of build-up, can be tricky to remove if left untreated.

How To Fix It?

Fixing calcium carbonate build-up generally involves using a pumice stone or a hard-bristled brush to scrub off the mineral deposits. If you catch the build-up early, removing it shouldn’t be too difficult. However, you’ll have to put some elbow grease into it if you let the deposits get out of control.

Calcium Silicate Build-Up

On the other hand, calcium silicate occurs due to hard water and results in a sharp, crystallized residue. This can also be caused by overly high pH or alkalinity levels in your pool water and is considered to be more difficult to remove.

How To Fix It

Calcium silicate is more difficult to remove generally, so you’ll need to use a combination of scrubbing and using household or commercial cleaners to remove it.


Staining is a completely different animal than calcium buildup and usually occurs due to a general chemical imbalance, an algae infestation, an accumulation of metals in the water, or an accumulation of organic material such as dirt, leaves, or other debris left unchecked in the pool water. There are many different causes of staining on your pool tile, and each type of stain requires different removal methods.

How To Fix It

To fix staining on your pool tile, you’ll need to use different methods depending on the type of stain. Check out my article on removing pool stains that will walk you through removing stains depending on the cause.

Step-By-Step: How To Clean Pool Tile

Here is my step-by-step guide for tackling calcium carbonate and silicate buildup on your pool tile.

Supplies Checklist

  • Pumice stone
  • Toothbrush
  • Scrubbing brush
  • Baking soda
  • Rag or handkerchief
  • Vinegar
  • Magic eraser
  • Tile cleaner product (optional)

Step One: Assess The Damage

Scrap a sample of the residue or build-up from your pool’s tiling and consult a professional on the nature of the sample. Depending on whether it is an early sign of algae infestation, calcium carbonate, or calcium silicate, you can decide what steps to take next.

Step Two: Lower The Water Level

If needed, lower the water level until you reach the pool surface’s stained area.

Step Three: Scrub The Buildup With A Brush

Before you get down and dirty with your pumice stone and chemicals, use a hard bristled brush to scrub the pool tile build-up. This can help loosen up the hardened deposits and may be all you need for small stains. I also recommend using a toothbrush to brush the corners, cracks, and other hard-to-reach spots.

Step Four: Use A Pumice Stone

Get a product specifically sold for pool tile cleanings, such as a soft stain eraser or wet pumice stone. Rub the pumice stone or stain eraser gently over the build-up in circular motions. Removing calcium silicate is best done using this method. Work in small sections and remember that while using a pumice stone might be inexpensive, it is pretty labor-intensive and tiring.

Step Five: Use A Cleaning Solution

A pumice stone should help remove a lot of the calcium silicate, but if there are some leftover deposits, you should use a rag with a cleaning solution. You can use household chemicals like vinegar, dishwashing liquid, and baking soda to scrub the deposits. I recommend making a paste by mixing a small amount of water with baking soda and applying the paste to the mineral deposits using a rag. You may also consider using a magic eraser for this step (just don’t use a magic eraser to clean up algae in your pool).

Step Six: Use A Commerical Tile Cleaner

If you have put your blood, sweat, and tears into cleaning your pool tile and you still can’t manage to entirely remove the calcium, I recommend investing in a commercial cleaning product. I generally use one that contains sulfamic acid crystals, as these products are very effective at removing deposits. Use caution when using sulfamic acid as it is a hazardous substance that can burn your skin and eyes, and the fumes can cause lung and throat damage. Always wear proper PPE when handling strong acids.

There are some acid-free pool tile cleaning products that can be used as calcium releasers. My recommendation is LayorCare’s Heavy Calcium Remover.

Other Methods To Clean Pool Tile

Of course, using a pumice stone and vinegar are not the only options to clean your pool tiles. There are plenty of other solutions that may also be suited to help you get rid of those pesky stains.

Pressure Wash

Opt for pressure washing for a cleaning method that is easily applicable over a mass area. But remember that this is best done by a professional team since incorrectly applied pressure can damage or cause cracks in pool tiles.

Acid Wash

Try acid washing for excessive staining, general discoloration, and algae build-up. To acid wash, apply a diluted muriatic acid solution on the pool surfaces. Make sure you wear proper protective gear when handling acid. And always ensure that you dilute the acid by pouring the acid into the water, and not the other way around. I have an entire article on cleaning pool tile with muriatic acid if you’d like more detailed instructions.

Keep The Pool Clean Of Debris 

The best way to clean your pool tile is to prevent it from staining in the first place. You should have a pool maintenance schedule that involves cleaning your pool, testing your water chemistry, and keeping it free of debris daily. This will lessen the chances of accumulation on pool tiles. It’s also good practice to thoroughly deep clean the pool every now and then to keep it in pristine condition.

Brush Your Pool Regularly

Another prevention method is brushing your pool regularly. Brush the entire surface of your pool from top to bottom, shallow to deep, in uniform strokes towards the drainage area of the pool. Regular brushing of the pool’s surface discourages most forms of build-up in your pool.

Tips For Keeping Your Pool Tile Cleaner For Longer

The best way to keep your pool tile clean is to prevent calcium from building up on the tile in the first place. Here are my top tips for keeping your tile clean for longer.

Test Your pH Frequently

Your pH and alkalinity directly affect your pool’s calcium levels. If your pH and alkalinity levels are high, calcium scaling will occur, and mineral deposits will begin to form on the surfaces of your pool. Test your pH and alkalinity levels frequently and lower them if needed.

Use A Commercial Tile Cleaner At Least Once Per Season

Commercial tile cleaners are very effective at cleaning tile and removing minerals. Sulfamic acid is the perfect tile cleaning product as it is able to clean off the minerals without damaging the ceramic. You shouldn’t have to use a commercial tile cleaner often, but I recommend using it on your water line if you see significant calcium build-up 1-2 times per season.

Lower Your Calcium Hardness Level If Needed

Keeping your calcium hardness levels at bay is necessary to prevent calcium buildup and, therefore, keep your pool tiles clean. Test your calcium hardness level often, and if needed, lower it. Check out my guide on lowering calcium hardness for more on this.

Be Vigilant When You See Build-Up Forming

If you notice mineral deposits beginning to form on your pool tile, don’t snooze on cleaning them! The longer you wait and allow the deposits to form, the more difficult they will be to remove. Small minor calcium deposits may easily scrub away with a brush or pumice stone, but larger ones may take hours of work to completely remove!

Tips For Cleaning The Waterline

Most staining on your pool tiles will occur on the waterline. So, here are my top tips for cleaning the waterline if you’re having particular trouble dealing with this issue.

Clean Regularly

I cannot stress this enough. Cleaning is essential to prevent issues from occurring in the first place. And as soon as you notice any kind of staining or discoloration on the waterline, clean it! It is better to clean small levels of build-up rather than a large amount of scaling, which may require an acid wash. As a general rule, clean your waterline once every month or, at the bare minimum, clean the tiles at the beginning and the end of the pool season.

Brush Tiles

When cleaning the pools and dealing with calcium carbonate, use a stiff brush to clear the build-up. Brush in quick, circular motions. And in smaller areas, use a toothbrush or a pumice stone to scrub away the layers. While it may be time-consuming, work in small sections and ensure each area is thoroughly cleaned.

Use Patch Tests And Protective Gear

When using harsh and acidic products, do patch tests on a small area of the pool’s walls or consult an expert before cleaning the waterline to be safe. Wear protective gear and test the water’s chemical balance before using the pool again.

When To Call A Professional

Nine times out of ten, cleaning your pool tile is something you should be able to DIY. That said, if the waterline has been neglected for a long time and the calcium deposits have gotten out of control, you may consider hiring a professional for the job.

Heavy-duty tile cleaners can be hazardous, especially those that contain sulfamic acid, so if you are uncomfortable working with a corrosive chemical, it may be better to call in a pool cleaner.

The final reason to call a pool professional is if you notice chips or cracks in the tile. Retiling a pool is a specialized job that is difficult to DIY, so I recommend leaving this to professionals. Expect to pay $40-$110 an hour for a tiling expert to fix your pool tiles.

Get My Free Pool Care Checklist

Download my free, printable pool maintenance checklist to help you accomplish regular pool care tasks for any type of swimming pool.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How long does pool tile last?

Pool tile longevity depends on the make and model. But generally, most pool tiles will last somewhere between 5 to 10 years. And as with most other pool materials, the lifespan of your pool tiling also depends heavily on how you look after it. To ensure the longevity of your investment, look after your pool tiles by regularly cleaning and brushing them. And make sure to use acid washing as a last resort.

Can you use vinegar to clean pool tiles?

Yes, vinegar is a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly solution for simple build-ups and mild staining. You can use it as a way to maintain your pool tiles or when you are dealing with mild build-up or staining. It’s a great way to keep your tiles free of bacteria and keep them clean and sparkling.

Can you clean the pool tile without draining the pool?

Yes. Most build-up on pool tiles will occur on the waterline. So, more likely than not, you will not need to completely drain your pool to scrub those stains. However, to really get rid of those stains and discolorations, you may need to drain your pool a bit. With that said, if you are dealing with stubborn stains and a lot of build-up, I recommend acid washing your pool, which does require you to drain your pool beforehand.

More questions? Let me know.

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