Swimming Pool Maintenance 101: How to Take Care of Your Pool

Maintaining your pool is a vital part of owning one. Fortunately, it’s not as hard as many homeowners believe. Here are the fundamentals of pool maintenance that you should know if you’re looking to install a pool or just moved into a house with one.

Parts of a Swimming Pool

Modern swimming pools have four major components: the pool water, the pool interior, the filter system, and the skimmers and returns system. Let’s walk through each one.

Water

The most significant and most visible part of any pool is, of course, the water. However, when people talk about the water in a pool, they’re usually talking about a combination of chemicals and temperature regulations that make pools safe to swim in. Keeping your pool water balanced and clean also helps improve the longevity of your pool.

Pools, of course, have a lot of water in them. The average 16 x 32 swimming pool, a standard residential pool size, has more than twenty thousand gallons of water. At just one cent per gallon, that’s more than two hundred dollars to fill a pool. Naturally, most homeowners want to replace the water as rarely as possible, which is part of why cleaning it is so important. If you have a saltwater pool, that maintenance process is actually slightly different. Read my salt water pool maintenance guide for more details.

Don’t know how much water is in your swimming pool? Use my pool volume calculator.

Interior

The interior of a pool is always touching the pool water. So, keeping it clean and clear of algae, debris, and other harmful substances is very important to your pool’s health. Here are the most common pool interiors:

  • Plaster: Plaster is a reasonably durable material that companies often paste on top of concrete, which is exceptionally durable and porous enough to support a proper pool. This material usually lasts 15 to 26 years when maintained properly, and the concrete can be replastered at any time.
  • Alternatives: Alternative finishes for concrete include pebble aggregates, tiles, stones, and anything else durable enough to last underwater. These are usually installed for aesthetic purposes, and lifespans vary but should be at least ten years. Many will last far longer.
  • Fiberglass: Fiberglass pools are single-piece interiors driven to homes and lowered into a prepared hole by a crane. Most of these are ready-made, so customized fiberglass pools are rare (although not impossible to get if you have the money). Fiberglass typically deteriorates after 10-15 years and will need to be replaced because recoating it is impractical.
  • Vinyl liner: Vinyl pools are mostly metal or plastic frames lined with a thick, waterproof vinyl layer. Like fiberglass, vinyl deteriorates from sunlight and pool chemicals, most lasting 10 to 18 years. Vinyl is better than fiberglass for custom shapes, so homeowners with non-standard pool shapes often use this material.

Replacing pool interiors is expensive, so proper maintenance can significantly reduce the long-term cost. This is the second reason why proper maintenance is essential for pools. Read my swimming pool maintenance cost guide for a full breakdown of regular upkeep costs.

Filter System

The interior and water areas are the most visible parts of the pool, but the filter system is what keeps the water clean and safe. Filters vary by pool type, but fundamentally, they exist to suck water in, remove debris and contaminants, and return the water to the main body of the pool. Circulating the water this way helps inhibit bacterial growth.

There is no such thing as a perfect filter system. However much we wish there were, some dirt and debris will inevitably settle on the walls and floor of the pool. That’s not counting larger debris like acorns, which may be too large to go through a filter system. Many pool owners buy automatic pool cleaners to scrub out any dirt the filters can’t get.

Some pools have multiple filter systems. This is rarely necessary for smaller pools, but it could be more efficient for huge pools. If you’re looking for a new unit, read my research on the best small and large pool filter systems for every type of pool.

Skimmers and Returns System

Skimmers and returns are part of the filter system. The skimmer sucks water out of the pool, moves it into the filter, and returns push it back into the pool. These usually work through a series of pumps, some of the parts most prone to failure in any swimming pool. This is why the entire filter system is typically located to the side of the pool and accessible through some type of hatch or door.

Now that we’ve covered the main parts of a pool, let’s cover your main focuses for pool care: proper water circulation, regular pool cleaning, and balanced water chemistry.

Maintain Proper Pool Circulation

The most important key to maintaining proper pool circulation is ensuring that your pool pump and filter system is the right speed and size for your pool. If your pool pump can’t generate enough power to adequately cover the volume of water in your pool, the water won’t get clean. If it’s too fast, parts will break down more often than they should, and you may even need to replace the pool water more frequently.

Once you get your pump size and speed figured out, properly running it is the next step to good water circulation. So, how long should you run your pool pump each day? Running your pump for the entire day is ideal, but that’s unrealistic! And it will cost you way too much money on your electricity bill. I recommend running your pump and filter system for at least 8-12 hours per day to keep your pool water circulating, distributing pool chemicals evenly, and keeping your pool clean.

Here are a few more tips to help pool water circulation:

  • Keep the pool as free of all debris as possible
  • Have your return jets spin the pool water in a circular motion to push it towards skimmers
  • Have at least one jet pointed towards the bottom
  • Use an automatic cleaner or a brush at least once per week

Maintaining circulation is easy when pools are designed well, and you have the correct size pool pump. It only takes a few minutes every few days! Circular pools are the easiest to maintain, while rectangles and unusual shapes are harder to maintain.

Clean Your Pool Regularly

Once you have proper water circulation, establishing a regular pool cleaning schedule is the next step to keeping your pool clean.

Below is a basic pool cleaning schedule to get you started. You’ll need a pool brush, net skimmer, and pool vacuum to accomplish everything.

  • Skim off leaves and larger debris. A long-handled skimmer can help you get out leaves, insects, and anything else that’s landed in the water. You should do this daily because the sooner you get rid of debris, the less contamination it will cause. Covers can also help stop waste from getting into your pool and reduce the need to skim them.
  • Brush the sides and floor of the pool once per week, then vacuum. Try to get debris to flow towards the main drain, where the filter system will remove it. After brushing your pool, you can use an automatic pool cleaner to suck up the rest of the dirt and debris.
  • Clean your skimmers daily. Larger debris may get trapped in these systems, so you’ll need to ensure they remain clear and open. The water level should be about halfway up the skimmer. If your pool gets full after rainfall or similar events, empty some water until it’s back at the proper level.
  • Check the filter weekly to remove any debris. You may need to backwash it occasionally to remove built-up grit. Most pools use sand, cartridge, or DE filters to clean water. Follow the manufacturer’s directions exactly when cleaning filters.
  • Test your pool water chemistry and make sure it’s balanced. Check your pH, chlorine, muriatic acid, and calcium hardness levels twice weekly. Apply more chemicals as needed.

Maintain Proper Pool Chemistry

Your pool’s water chemistry is vital to its safety and longevity. Pool chemicals stop the growth of algae and bacteria, reduce residue buildup, and otherwise keep pools safe to use. In most cases, following the manufacturer’s directions and using the appropriate tools to measure the chemicals is all you need to do.

Use a test kit to measure the chemical levels in your pool right now – it will help you get a good baseline and know what you need to add to balance everything out.

You can read my full guide on pool chemistry for more information on this topic. I cover how to balance your pool water, ideal chemical levels, and more. Here are the three main things you need to remember:

  • pH levels: How basic or acidic your pool water is. The ideal pH range for swimming pools is 7.2 to 7.8.
  • Total alkalinity: Counteracts pH and helps it stay balanced. For most pools, shoot for 80 ppm to 120 ppm (parts per million).
  • Chlorine levels: The primary sanitizer for most pools. Ideal chlorine levels should be around 3 ppm. The recommended level will vary for unique pool types like those with mineral systems. Some pools also use other sanitizer types, like bromine or biguanide.

I also cover the topics below in my pool chemistry guide (and have some separate articles on a few topics that deserve more commentary):

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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Regularly Shock Your Pool

No, this doesn’t involve electricity. Shocking your pool is adding additional chemicals to your pool to break down the chloramine in it. Chloramine is a chemical compound formed when chlorine mixes with contaminants like sweat and creates a more substantial molecule. Adding additional sanitizers breaks down these compounds and lets the pool flush them out.

Or, to put it in simpler terms, shocking the pool is a stronger cleaning treatment when the chemicals are getting out of balance. In most cases, shocking the pool requires adding at least three times as many chemical cleaners as usual, then waiting at least eight hours before doing your next chemical test.

You should shock your pool regularly, especially after big pool parties or rainstorms. As with all components, follow the manufacturer’s instructions when shocking a pool.

Create A Regular Maintenance Schedule

Pools sound like a lot of work at first, but the truth is that most maintenance only takes a few minutes per day. That’s easy to fit into any schedule, but consistency is the key to overall performance. Set a weekly and daily schedule for yourself that includes cleaning the pool at set times, measuring the chemicals with a water testing kit, adding chlorine tablets and other chemicals, and performing shocks as needed.

Appropriately done, cleaning the pool will become a habit for you. If your pool is huge, you can make it a family activity or rotate the duties, so nobody has to spend too much time, too often, cleaning the pool.

Still, sound like too much work? Consider hiring a pool service that will do it all for you. Be sure to avoid the most common pool maintenance mistakes too.

Questions? Let me know!

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