Maintaining your pool is a vital part of owning one. Fortunately, it’s not as hard as many homeowners believe. Whether you’re looking to install a pool or just moved into a house with one, here are the fundamentals of pool maintenance that you should know.
Breaking Down the Parts of Swimming Pools
Modern swimming pools have four major components:
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 regulation that make pools safe to swim in.
Pools, of course, have a lot of water in them. The average 16 x 32 swimming pool, which is a standard size for homes, has more than twenty thousand gallons of water in it. At just one cent per gallon, that’s more than two hundred dollars to fill up 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 salt water pool, that maintenance process is actually slightly different. Read our salt water pool maintenance guide for more details.
Don’t know how much water is in your swimming pool? Use our pool volume calculator.
The interior of a pool includes the substance that holds the water in place. It should not be confused with any outer materials. Outer walls are usually just thin, cosmetic layers for the sake of appearance. Here are the most common 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 minimum. Many will last far longer.
- Fiberglass: Fiberglass pools are single-piece interiors driven to homes and lowered into a prepared hole by crane. Most of these are ready-made, so customized fiberglass pools are quite 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: Vinyl pools are mostly metal or plastic frames which are then lined with a thick, waterproof vinyl layer. Like fiberglass, vinyl deteriorates from sunlight and pool chemicals, with 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 cost over time. This is the second reason why proper maintenance is essential for pools. For a full breakdown on regular upkeep costs, read our swimming pool maintenance cost guide.
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, either, which may be too large to go through a filter system. Many pool owners buy automatic pool cleaners to scrub out any dirt that 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 unusually large pools.
System of Skimmers and Returns
Skimmers and returns are part of the filter system. The skimmer sucks water out of the pool and moves it into the filter, and the returns push it back into the pool. These usually work through a series of pumps, and they’re some of the parts most prone to failure in any pool. This is why the entire filter system is usually located to the side of the pool and accessible through some type of hatch or door.
Maintaining Proper Pool Circulation
Maintaining proper pool circulation means ensuring that your filter system has the right speed for the size of the pool you have. If it’s too slow, 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 often.
To help maintain this circulation, make sure you:
- 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
When pools are designed well and you have the right size pool pump, maintaining circulation is easy and only takes a few minutes every few days. Circular pools are the easiest to maintain, while rectangles and unusual shapes are harder to maintain.
Cleaning Your Pool Regularly
How often you need to clean your pool depends on the pool. It should always be safe to swim in, but exposed outdoor pools usually get dirtier than sheltered, indoor pools.
Otherwise, use the following steps to clean your pool:
- 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 help stop waste from getting into your pool and drastically reduce the need to skim them.
- Brush off the sediment from the sides and floor of the pool once per week. Try to get it to flow towards the main drain, where the filter system will remove it. Alternatively, you can use an automatic pool cleaner, which will filter the dirt on its own.
- 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.
- Use your pool’s pump daily. This maximizes the effectiveness of chemicals and ensures your pool remains safe to clean. See the manufacturer’s instructions for using your pump and always follow those instructions to the letter.
- Check the filter weekly to remove any debris there. You may need to backwash it occasionally to remove built-up grit. Most pools use sand, cartridge, or vertical grid filters to help clean water. As with the pump, follow the manufacturer’s directions exactly when cleaning filters.
- Test your pool water to measure the chemicals. Most chemicals are meant for daily use, while some are weekly instead. Apply shock treatments of chemicals as needed.
Maintaining Proper Pool Chemistry
We touched on this above, but the water chemistry of your pool 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.
However, this does get trickier if you have an unusual pool. Chemicals are usually measured by the size of your pool, so you may need to perform some complicated math to measure the exact shape of your pool and ensure that the chemicals get an even distribution. If they don’t, you may need to pay extra attention to some areas while manually cleaning them. 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.
Read our full guide on pool chemistry that goes into all the details on how to get your pool within the proper ranges. I touch on all these topics and more:
- Chlorine levels
- Total alkalinity
- pH levels
- Calcium hardness
- Clarifier and flocculant
- Metal sequestrant
- And several other sanitizers and chemicals
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Regularly Shocking Your Pool
No, this doesn’t involve electricity. Shocking your pool is the process of 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.
As with all components, follow the manufacturer’s instructions when shocking a pool.
Creating 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, and adding chlorine tablets and other chemicals and performing shocks as needed.
Done properly, cleaning the pool will become a habit for you. If your pool is unusually large, you can make it a family activity or rotate the duties, so nobody has to spend too much time, too often, on cleaning the pool.
Still sound like too much work? Consider hiring a pool service that will do it all for you.