Swimming pools are a fun way to cool off, but if the pH balance is off, they can also be a source of irritation, sickness, and financial strain. If you recently tested the pH level in your pool and found it too low, I can help. In this article, I’ll walk through how to raise pH levels and maintain them in the proper range to keep your pool safe.
What Is the pH in Your Pool?
pH is the measure of hydrogen ions in a liquid, like the water in a swimming pool. pH is measured on a scale from zero to fourteen, with one end (zero) representing an acidic solution and the other (fourteen) representing a basic solution.
A perfectly neutral solution, like pure water, falls in the middle of the scale at a pH of seven. Pool water is mixed with chemicals, primarily chlorine, to kill bacteria and maintain sanitary swimming conditions. Since pool water contains chemicals, it will not be a perfect neutral. An ideal target for optimal pool water is a pH of 7.4, which is slightly basic.
Why Your Pool pH Balance Is Important
Swimming pool water is treated with chemicals to disinfect and oxidize. An optimal pH balance is essential to maintain sanitary swimming conditions and the longevity of pool equipment. Although some other chemicals have been introduced into the market, chlorine is the most common chemical used to treat swimming pools.
Chlorine works in two ways:
- It disinfects the water by killing bacteria and algae that cause waterborne illnesses. Bacteria in pool water can cause swimmers to suffer from diarrhea, swimmers, ear infections, and skin infections.
- Chlorine also oxidizes (or neutralizes) dirt and debris particles that come into the water from swimmers and the environment.
Maintaining an optimal pH is important because it can impact the effectiveness of the chlorine and ultimately lead to unsanitary swimming conditions. In addition to health, it is also essential for swimmers’ comfort – the optimal pH for swimming pools is the same as the human eye and mucous membranes. Unbalanced pH can lead to itchy and irritated skin and eyes for swimmers.
And if the health, safety, and comfort of swimmers are not enough, pH balance is essential for the longevity of the pool facilities and equipment. Overly acidic pool water is corrosive and will lead to the breakdown of equipment like pumps, ladders, and diving board structures. Unbalanced pH levels also wear down the pool liner and will require more frequent replacements.
What Causes Low pH Levels
Low pH levels lead to several issues from maintenance headaches like premature erosion of grout and corroded fixtures like ladders and diving boards. Low pH causes pool liners to become brittle and crack. It also causes discomfort for swimmers, like burning eyes and itchy skin.
In most cases, low pH levels are caused by natural factors like a heavy rainstorm, overuse, and improper use of chemicals. Natural rainwater has a pH of 5 – 5.5, so it is naturally acidic. A substantial amount of rainfall can alter the pH of pool water to become more acidic. pH levels might also be low after a large party.
Dissolved bodily fluids can lower pH levels, so if you have had a lot of swimmers in your pool recently, overuse could be the culprit. And, sometimes, despite our best intentions, all of the concoctions on the market to try and manage pH levels can do more harm than good. It is easy to get pH levels out of balance when trying to DIY a solution to a pool water problem.
How to Raise pH Levels in Your Pool
Maybe you noticed something off with your pool water, or it was just time to test the water. You run the test, and the pH is low. You retake it to be sure – and again, it is low. What steps can you take to raise the pH level and get it back in balance?
- Check your Reagents
- Add Soda Ash
- Check Alkalinity and Add Baking Soda
- Aerate the Water
You can try several things to correct the issue and raise the pH level in the pool. Before you go to the trouble of adding products and additional testing, double-check your reagents. Your test strips should be replaced at least once per year; if there is a chance that these are out of date, buy a new test kit and test again.
As I dive into my advice below, pull up my pool pH calculator to help you follow along.
Add Soda Ash
Soda ash is a strongly alkaline material that dissolves well in water and leaves behind a minimal trace. Adding a strongly alkaline material will raise the pH level of the water and reduce acidity. When adding materials to the water to balance the pH, it is easy to overdo it and go from a low pH problem to a high pH problem.
Step One – Calculate how much sodium carbonate is needed. Do not exceed two pounds per 10,000 gallons of water.
Step Two – Make sure the pump is working to circulate water.
Step Three – Distribute the soda ash evenly across the entire surface area of the water.
Step Four – Allow the pool to circulate water for at least one hour before retesting.
Pool Mate makes pH Plus, which is just a fancy name for soda ash (sodium carbonate). I've used this product a lot, and it's very effective.
Check Total Alkalinity and Make Appropriate Adjustments
Total alkalinity is the sum of all basic materials in the water. Low total alkalinity can cause significant and random fluctuations in pH levels. If you are still having trouble with a low pH reading and have the appropriate amount of soda ash, check your total alkalinity.
Sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda) is similar to soda ash. It is used in swimming pools to raise the total alkalinity (you can also use other products around your house to clean your pool). Add 1.4 pounds of sodium bicarbonate per 10,000 gallons of water and allow the pool to circulate before testing again. Use my total alkalinity calculator to figure out the exact amount.
Aerate the Water to Raise the pH
When adding alkalines does not work, aerating the water will. The process takes much longer than an hour, sometimes even days, but it does work. Aerating the water can be done by turning on water features, pointing jets towards the surface, or adding aeration pipes above the jets.
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.
Low pH Is an Easy Fix
Raising the pH level of a swimming pool is as easy as adding more alkaline materials. Soda ash and sodium bicarbonate are two common alkaline products that can be used to raise pH levels in a pool. Remember that optimal pH levels for a swimming pool are between 7.4 – 7.6! If you overshoot it and need to bring your levels back down, read my guide on how to lower your pool pH level.
Questions? Shoot me a note!