How to Prime a Pool Pump

Written by Michael Dean
October 5, 2023

close up image of a pool pump

A pool pump is the central piece of equipment that runs your pool filtration system – it keeps the water moving so that dirt and debris can be filtered out and your pool chemicals can do their job effectively. To keep it running correctly, you must prime your pump every once in a while.

Below, I cover everything you should know about how to prime a pool pump, including why you should do it and how to troubleshoot. Let’s get started.

Main Takeaways

  • Priming the pool pump involves blowing the air out the lines with water.
  • You should prime your pool pump as operating a dry pump will lead to mechanical failure and can possibly cause damage to surrounding fixtures.
  • If your pool pump isn’t working at the start of the season, try adding more water to the pump basket, try adding water through the skimmer, and look for leaks.

How Pool Pumps Work

A pool pump uses a motor to continuously move water through your filtration system. It is designed to be filled with water at all times. If the pump is operated dry, it will burn out the motor and cause you to have to replace an expensive piece of pool equipment.

If a pump is allowed to operate dry, it will build up heat that will melt the pump and possibly surrounding plumbing fixtures. The more damage it does, the more likely you will have a large repair bill.

You can avoid running the pump dry by making sure to prime it before use.

What Does it Mean to Prime a Pool Pump?

A pool pump often gets pockets of air trapped inside. Anytime it is not operating full of water, such as when the pool is closed down or re-opened for the season, there is a potential to get air inside the pump.

Before you can operate a pool pump with air in it, you will need to blow out the lines with water to get rid of any air and replace it with water. This process is priming the pump. Priming is also an important step in cleaning your pool pump.

Why You Should Prime Your Pool Pump

Most pool pumps cost several hundred dollars. It is an expense necessary to maintain a swimming pool, but not one that you would want to invest in frequently or unnecessarily. Priming your pool pump is a prudent step that you can take to make sure you are not accidentally operating the pump dry.

Operating a dry pump will undoubtedly lead to mechanical failure for your pump and possibly cause damage to surrounding fixtures. A pool pump should only run when they are full of water.

Without a functioning pool pump, your pool water will quickly become stagnant. Water bugs and mosquitoes will likely start flocking to your pool, and algae will flourish. The result is green, murky water that is unappealing to swimmers and pretty unpleasant to look at.

Steps to Prime Your Pool Pump

Priming your pool pump is important, but a relatively simple task.

  1. Turn off the pump. Although your pump is probably already off if you need to prime it, make sure that the power button is truly in the off position or that power has been disconnected to the unit. Anytime you work with water and electricity, take additional safety precautions before beginning your task.
  2. Switch to recirculate. The multiport valve on your pump can be set to recirculate the water. This will bring water directly into the pump and recirculate it back into the pool. In the recirculate setting, the water bypasses the filter and goes directly into the pump to ensure that there is, in fact, water in the pump.
  3. Release air. Relieve excess air pressure in the lines by opening up the air relief valve on top of the filter.
  4. Clean out the pump basket. Remove any debris collected in the basket and rinse with a hose. Inspect for wear and tear and replace parts like o-rings as needed.
  5. Fill the pump basket. Use a garden hose to fill the pump basket slowly and put the lid back in place.
  6. Once the pump basket is filled and tightened, ensure the air release valve is open and turn the power to the pump on.
  7. Check the water flow to your pump. Water should be consistently flowing within thirty seconds. If you do not have a consistent flow, turn the pump back off and repeat the previous steps. Thoroughly check all of your hardware for wear and tear.
  8. Once the water is constantly flowing, close the air pressure release valve.

Troubleshooting Pool Pump Problems

Anything rarely works on the first try. If you are experiencing problems getting your pool pump going shortly after installation or at the beginning of the season, you might try a few things. You can also head to my guide on what to do if your pool pump isn’t working for more tips.

Try Adding More Water to the Pump Basket

If water is not flowing into the pump consistently, try adding more water. Sometimes it is the easiest fix that solves the problem. Turn the power off to the pump, remove the lid to the filter basket, and add more water.

Hopefully, the only problem was that there was not enough water in the system to create good suction, and adding more water has solved your problem. The trick to solving most problems involving pool pump priming involves water or not having enough of it.

Your pump needs an adequate water supply to create enough suction to get things moving. Low water levels in the filtration system, either from a leak or insufficient fill, are typically the cause.

Try Adding Water Through a Skimmer

Maybe you cannot get your pump system going because you have pockets of air trapped further down the line. Instead of adding more water directly to the pump basket, try adding water through a skimmer.

Look for Leaks

If you have added water to the pump basket and through the skimmers and still have no luck, a leak may be the culprit hampering your suction. Inspect your pump thoroughly for wear or damaged parts. If the housing is cracked or there is other visible damage, it is probably time to buck up for a new pump. Most pool pumps last three to five years.

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The Takeaway on Priming Your Pool Pump

The pump is a necessary and often expensive piece of pool equipment that moves the water through the filtration system to filter out debris. It is necessary for a clean and hygienic swimming environment. While this equipment can be a bit pricey, costing pool owners $300 – $800 on average, it is very important.

Priming your pool pump removes any trapped air and ensures it is filled with water before operating the pump. Failure to properly prime a pool pump will quickly burn out the pump motor. Pool owners must take the time to safely and properly prime their pumps before operating them.

The process is pretty simple; with the pump powered off, you will remove as much air as possible and fill the system with water to replace it. If you encounter any trouble getting the pump primed, the first solution is always to add more water. You can add water directly to the pump basket, which is the most efficient and recommended.

Or, you can add more water through a skimmer, the way the pool was designed to operate. If you have exhausted all options and the pump will not prime, it might be time for a new pump. Check out my research on the best pool pump brands for specific recommendations.

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