15 Common Pool Maintenance Mistakes

As a proud owner of a swimming pool, you probably never miss your regular cleaning and testing routine, right?

Sure, you’ll say. Nobody has to know that you haven’t emptied the filter in three weeks or the dead mouse that was floating in the deep end last night because you forgot to use the pool cover. We’re all human. We make mistakes.

Let’s help you avoid some pool maintenance mistakes that everyone occasionally makes.

Common Mistakes When Cleaning

Here are some of the common mistakes you can make when cleaning your pool.

Mistake #1: Backwashing Your Pool Filter Too Frequently

We’re not talking about that gross act of spitting half your drink back into a cup and handing it off to your friend. Backwashing, in this context, is quite essential for your pool’s integrity.

Over time, debris builds up inside your pool’s filter media. It cleans the dirt ingrained on the surface by pushing pool water through the media (typically diatomaceous earth or sand) and exiting through the drain port of your filter’s backwash valve.

Backwashing is a fundamental bit of pool maintenance, but you don’t want to make the mistake of overdoing it.

Solution:

Watch your filter tank’s pressure gauge. After proper backwashing, the pressure gauge should read between ten to 15 PSI (Pounds per Square Inch). If the gauge is flirting with 20 psi and higher, you may have a little problem.

It may surprise you, but the filter will actually function better with a bit of gunk, but only up to a level. More junk in the filter helps capture smaller particles. Still, you lose that advantage once the gunk raises the pressure reading to about ten psi over baseline.

Once the pressure of the filter tops ten PSI over the recommended range, it’s probably time to empty it of debris. Clear the excess goop, give it another backwash, and watch the pressure return to optimal levels.

Mistake #2: Failing to Brush Your Pool

All pool owners know it’s crucial to vacuum the pool. Vacuuming the pool has become a zen-like pastime like mowing the lawn. It’s important to vacuum often to keep grime and algae from accumulating in the pool water.

However, the same way you need to brush and floss your teeth, your pool needs regular brushing to stay in top condition. Always follow vacuuming your pool with a thorough brushing.

Solution:

For quick and deep cleaning, use an extra-wide, heavy-duty aluminum pool brush with curved edges. Be sure to cover the difficult-to-reach spots. Problem areas include crevices and corners, stairs and steps, behind ladders, and the waterline. Brush at least once per week or multiple times if the pool is heavily used or quickly develops grime.

Mistake #3: Removing Algae With an Automatic Pool Cleaner

When you’ve got an algae build-up, pool ownership can sometimes feel like a drag. Many people try to snatch back their precious time by firing up an automatic pool cleaner. While pool cleaners are useful, they’re not perfect.

Many automatic pool cleaners push debris and algae via a mesh net but don’t remove it from the pool. The mesh bag will clog with gunk, and algae fast, and then the goop will launch around your pool.

Tackling the problem in that way is like dealing with an ant infestation by kicking over the anthills. With a robotic pool cleaner, you’re only spreading the problem around.

Solution:

The simple solution is probably not what you want to hear:

  1. Clean your pool manually.
  2. Use a manual pool vacuum and brush to clear the pool of debris and algae.
  3. While vacuuming, make sure to switch the filter to “waste” mode or take out the drain plug to clear out the algae-filled water.

Chemistry and Testing Errors

When it comes to chemicals and testing, there are plenty of mishaps that you can make.

Mistake #4: Not Maintaining Alkalinity and pH Levels

A balanced pH is just as critical for your pool as it is for the health of plants and people. A high pH is acidic, while a low pH is alkaline. Excess of either can be bad news.

A low pH, highly acidic pool sounds like a win since algae and other critters will find it challenging to live in acidic water. However, highly acidic water can harm your equipment.

Acidic water may affect the pool’s heater, solar blanket, vinyl liner, pump and filter, and other devices such as automatic pool cleaners, chemical feeders, and maintenance equipment.

Solution:

The best practice is a delicate balance of alkalinity and acidity. Even a handful of fallen leaves can throw your pool’s pH out of whack, so be sure to check your water pH levels often.

You can adjust your pool’s pH levels with an alkalinity increaser, a pH increaser, and a cocktail of other chemicals available in pool supply stores. Read our guides on how to lower alkalinity levels and how to raise pH levels for more information.

Mistake #5: Not Maintaining the Calcium Hardness of Your Pool Water

Balancing your pool’s calcium hardness is as essential as balancing the pH. Too much calcium can make your water cloudy, but with just the right amount, the hardness will keep your pool clean, safe, and pretty.

Appropriate calcium hardness will help maintain many pool elements, like fiberglass, concrete, plaster, filters, and vinyl liners.

Solution:

Suppose your pool’s a bit too soft. In that case, you can mix some calcium hardness increaser into the water, which will bring the calcium hardness to the recommended range of 175 to 225 parts per million (ppm). Note: The recommended levels for plaster & concrete pools are 200 to 275 parts per million.

Add the calcium hardness increaser when you open the pool for the season. Check the levels regularly because evaporation and splashing water out of the pool can drop your calcium levels below what’s ideal.

If you’re using calcium hypochlorite shock, you’re already adding some calcium to your pool, which is excellent for extending the pool equipment life.

Mistake #6: Failing to Test Your Pool Water Weekly

Owning a pool is a huge privilege, and testing your pool’s water weekly should be seen as a sacred ritual rather than a chore, so don’t skip it! Stay on top of issues while they’re still manageable and affordable by testing at least once per week.

Solution:

We recommend testing your pool at least once per week, using a liquid test kit or test strips. Each week you should check your pH, alkalinity, and free chlorine levels, as these are the most critical elements of clean, safe pool water.

Bring your pool water sample to the nearest pool supply store for in-depth analysis at a minimum once per month.

The primary levels you’re testing for are:

  • Alkalinity & pH
  • Calcium hardness
  • Total dissolved solids (TDS) and salt levels
  • Cyanuric acid (chlorine stabilizer)
  • Iron & copper

Mistake #7: Thinking A Strong Chlorine Smell Means Your Pool Has too Much Chlorine

If you smell chlorine, it means your pool needs more chlorine, not less. When contaminants in your pool are oxidized, they create chloramines, which give off a chlorine smell.

Solution:

If you smell chlorine, test your pool’s chlorine level and add more chlorine until the water gives a reading between three and five ppm.

Mistake #8: Not Adding Winterizing Chemicals When You Close Your Pool

When shutting down the pool for the cold seasons, it’s critical to balance the water chemistry. While the pool is closed, algae can accumulate and spoil the water.

Also, if you don’t add a metal sequestrant, you may end up with metal staining.

Solution:

When you close your pool, add algaecide to control algae growth. Include metal sequestrant to manage metal staining and apply enzymes to protect your pool from organic staining and line scum.

Your Pool Filter

Here are the most common mistakes to look out for with your pool filter system.

Mistake #9: Running Your Pool Filtration System Less Than Eight Hours Daily

What good is a pool’s filtration system if you never use it? The more often you run the filter, the fewer bugs and gunk you’ll have to remove later.

Solution:

Turn on your pool filter and pump for at least eight hours a day (any less, and you won’t see much progress). Larger pools may need more time than that, but eight hours should be enough for all water to circulate through the filter system.

Mistake #10: Not Cleaning Your Pool Filter Often Enough

If you don’t clean the pool filter often enough, it can wear down your equipment faster. The filter will clog and increase PSI, meaning it becomes less effective and puts too much pressure on the pump.

Solution:

Replace sand filters every three to six months, and change filter cartridge after six to 24 months.

Shocking Your Pool

Watch out for these common mistakes when handling pool shock.

Mistake #11: Adding Pool Shock Into Your Skimmer (Never Do This)

Making the mistake of adding shock chemicals to a skimmer can cause your pool’s filter system to explode!

What happens when you combine chlorine and calcium hypochlorite pool shock? You get a toxic gas. Automatic chlorinators add chlorine to your filtration system. When you put shock chemicals in there, the shock combines with the chlorine and develops deadly gas in a tight space.

Solution:

Make sure your shock chemicals and skimmer are far apart. Make sure you add shock according to the manufacturer’s directions, and always wear proper safety gear.

Mistake #12: Adding Shock to Directly Into Your Pool Water

Adding too much “pool shock,” which is mainly concentrated chlorine, directly into your pool will bleach anything you put inside the pool. The shock chemicals can ruin clothing, for example. If the chlorine concentration is too high in your pool, it may turn white clothes yellow or black clothes pink.

Luckily, while too much chlorine can ruin fabric colors, you cannot over-shock your pool. But there’s one exception: adding shock directly to a pool with a vinyl liner can destroy the liner. The granules of chlorine will seep into your pool liner. The bleached liner will become brittle and weak, causing it to leak.

Solution:

Protect your pool liner by pre-dissolving the shock chemicals in a separate container, like a bucket. Once the chemicals have spread evenly in the container, you can safely add the mixture to your pool.

Always fill your container with water before adding the chemicals to avoid splashback. Trust me; you don’t want that stuff on your clothes, definitely not in your eyes.

Using warm water will allow the shock to dissolve more quickly. However, you’ll need to use protective eyewear, a chemical mask, and chemical-resistant gloves. In truth, it’s necessary to follow these precautions even when using cold water in your prep bucket.

If any of the shock (calcium hypochlorite) settles to the bottom of your pool, use a brush to disperse the chemical evenly.

Mistake #13: Shocking Your Swimming Pool in the Daytime

When chlorine attaches to particles in the water, it leaves traces of chemical compounds called chloramines. Because these compounds irritate the eyes and skin, you don’t want that stuff floating around in your pool.

Regularly shocking your pool will eliminate chloramines, knocking your pool’s chlorine levels down to a safe and pleasant three parts per million (ppm).

The rub is that shock chemicals include unstabilized chlorine, and the sun’s radiation will burn away one ppm per hour. The result is a diluted chemical mix, less effective cleaning, and a significant drain on your finances.

Solution:

To give your pool time to stabilize:

  1. Shock at night.
  2. Shock your pool at least once per week, using roughly one pound (.5 kg) of shock chemicals per 10,000 gallons (37,854 L) of water.
  3. Test and add a bit more shock until the pool reaches near the target three ppm.

Final Mistakes to Avoid

Home stretch! Avoid these mistakes too.

Mistake #14: Wearing Street Clothes in the Water

I know we’ve all had that moment after too many martinis where all our friends are egging us on, “Do it, jump in! It’s just clothes, who cares, we’ll hold your phone and wallet!”

Ok, just once, for the YOLO memories, if you must. But never rock your streetwear in the pool for long periods, as it floods your pool with all sorts of contaminants that can throw off the water’s chemical balance. Also, the pool water could ruin your clothes.

Solution:

Wear a swimsuit in the pool. Besides, there’s plenty of fashionable swimwear out there, if you know where to shop.

Mistake #15: Neglecting to Service Your Pool Heater or Pump

If your heater breaks, your pool will be cold year-round. When the pump malfunctions, the pool’s entire system also shuts down. Neither of these outcomes is desirable.

Your pool pump and heater are among the most heavily used parts of your pool, so they wear down quicker.

Solution:

Service your pool equipment at least once a year for top performance and significant savings.

Need Some Maintenance Help?

We partner with HomeAdvisor to help you find the best swimming pool maintenance and cleaning services in your area. Compare quotes for free from fully vetted pool professionals.

Have Fun and Don’t Overthink Pool Care

We’re all bound to make mistakes and some disasters (like your neighbor’s kid stopping a few yards short of the toilet while swimming in your pool).

You get a pass, as you’re human, and water chemistry can get wonky. Stay ten steps ahead of disaster by reading your instruction and care manuals, watching online tutorials, and saving this guide in your bookmarks folder.

Have questions? Let us know!

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