Pool Water Basics: Pool Care Info and Tips


There’s nothing like a swimming pool to turn a basic backyard into the ultimate staycation destination. Of course, if you want to keep your swimming pool beautiful, clean, and healthy, you’ll need to know how to care for a pool.

New to swimming pool care? Wondering how to take care of a pool? No worries. Read on for the basics of proper pool maintenance.

Pool Water Testing for Beginners

To keep your swimming pool clean and avoid future issues with algae, corrosion, and buildup, it’s critical to test your water regularly. A good rule of thumb is to test your pool water two to three times a week during the summer, and once a week during the winter.

If you choose to test your pool water yourself, a good testing kit is essential. Look for easy-to-use strips that allow you to test the following:

pH – This is the measure of acid and base in the pool water, and it’s important to maintain just the right balance: If the pH of your swimming pool water drifts too far toward the acid side of the scale, corrosion of pool surfaces and equipment can occur. If your pH is too far toward the base side, your pool can be at risk for scaling, deposits, and cloudy water. Ideally, you want to maintain a pH of around 7.5. You can use a chemical increaser or decreaser to adjust your pool’s levels as needed. Be sure to follow the label directions for the proper amount of the products to add based on test results and pool size.

Calcium Hardness – This is the amount of dissolved calcium in the pool water. Low calcium hardness levels can cause plaster finish etching and shorten the life of vinyl liners. High calcium levels can result in calcium deposits on the pool surfaces as well as equipment. The proper range for calcium hardness in pool water is 200- 250 parts per million (ppm) for concrete pools and 175-225 ppm for vinyl pools. Your pool professional can advise you on the best method for treating your pool if you encounter high calcium hardness.

Total Alkalinity - To ensure that your swimming pool’s pH remains stable, you should maintain a total alkalinity of 120-150 ppm. Low total alkalinity can not only result in pH bounce and fluctuations but it can also encourage corrosion and staining. High total alkalinity also can cause the pH to fluctuate; it can also cause cloudy water and scaling. To lower total alkalinity, follow the directions from your pool professional. To raise total alkalinity, an alkalinity booster is recommended.

Metals – The most common types of metals that appear in pool water are copper, iron, and manganese. The presence of these metals can stain your pool’s surfaces and discolor your swimming pool water. If metals are present in your pool, use a stain and scale remover on a regular basis. You should also try to determine the source of the metals –your pool professional can probably help you identify some likely culprits.

Test Range
pH 7.2 - 7.6
Total Alkalinity 120 - 150ppm
Calcium Hardness 200 - 250ppm (Concrete Pools)
Calcium Hardness 175 - 225ppm (Vinyl Pools)
Free Chlorine 1 - 3ppm
Free Bromine 3 - 5ppm
Metals: Copper 0ppm
Metals: Iron 0ppm

Above Ground Pool Maintenance for Beginners

Have an above ground pool? There’s not much difference when it comes to pool care. You’ll still need to maintain your filter and test your water. Because above ground pools are usually smaller than their in-ground counterparts, they take a little less time to keep clean. One thing to consider: If you have decking around your above-ground pool, you’ll likely need to do some basic maintenance to keep it looking its best.

Pool Chemicals for Dummies

Being new to swimming pool water chemistry doesn’t make you a dummy – but if you’re looking for a beginner’s guide to chemicals, start here.

Chlorine - A true workhorse of pool maintenance, this pool cleaner chemical breaks down bacteria and sanitizes your pool water. Stabilized chlorine products are protected from sunlight degradation and are an ideal means to keep your pool clear and clean. Most stabilized chlorine products are available in a variety of forms, including chlorinating tablets, skimmer sticks, and granules. Your pool professional can determine the best form and type of sanitization program for your particular needs. A free chlorine level of 1-3 ppm should be maintained in the pool at all times.

Meet Hot Water’s Best Bro(mine)

Bromine, which packs the same bacteria-killing punch as chlorine, performs better in hot water. If you’ve got a pool or a spa, or if your pool water gets exceptionally hot, consider this chlorine alternative to keep your pool clear and clean. To utilize bromine effectively, consider installing an automatic brominator.

Shock Treatments - Shocking your swimming pool on a regular basis is an important part of keeping the pool water clear and clean. Swimmers and the environment add waste and debris to the pool that must be eliminated in order to prevent problems such as algae and cloudy water.

Algaecide - Preventing algae is the key to an enjoyable pool. Algaecides act as a backup to your normal sanitization program and prevent algae from starting and growing in the pool. Algaecide should be added after every shock treatment.

Pool Pumps Keep Things Moving

One of the most important parts of your swimming pool is the pump. The pump is what keeps your swimming pool water moving, pushing it through the filter to remove dirt, leaves, and debris.

The great thing a pool pump is that, for the most part, it doesn’t require a lot of work: All you have to do is turn it on and let it run. Most pool professionals recommend that you run the pump for one hour for every 10 degrees of temperature – but this can vary depending on other factors, like the size of your pool, the size of your pump, and how much you use your pool.

Running your pool filter regularly will keep your water clean and clear – and it’ll help prevent labor-intensive maintenance later on.

Filters Keep Things Clean

The job of the filtration system is to remove any undissolved dirt and debris from the pool water. There are three types of swimming pool filters:

Sand Filters – Inexpensive and easy to operate, sand filters remove dirt and debris through a process called “backwashing,” which basically means flipping a switch to reverse the water flow. All you have to do is check the filter’s pressure gauge. If the gauge indicates a 7- to 10-pound increase over normal operating pressure, it’s time to backwash.

A few things to keep in mind if you’re considering a sand filter:

  • Sand filters are more efficient when they are slightly dirty, which means you shouldn’t backwash more than necessary.
  • Sand filters should be cleaned at least every season with a filter cleaner.
  • You should completely replace your filter sand every five years or so.

Cartridge Filters – Although a cartridge filter costs a bit more upfront than a sand filter, many swimming pool owners feel that it’s worth the extra money. Cartridge filters remove more dirt and debris than sand filters, and they don’t require backwashing. Instead, you simply remove the cartridge when it becomes too dirty and hose it off.

Pro tip:

To achieve peak efficiency, allow your filter cartridge(s) to dry completely before use.

Here are a few tips to get the most out of your cartridge filter:

  • At the minimum, you should expect to do a deep cleaning twice a year. Depending on pool size and usage, you might want to do it more often. Check with your local pool professional.
  • To avoid 12 hours of filtration “downtime,” consider buying a second cartridge so you’ll have a spare when it’s time for cleaning.

Diatomaceous Earth (DE) Filters – DE filters are similar to sand filters and operate in much the same way. Like a sand filter, a DE filter requires backwashing when the pressure gauge rises. However, unlike sand filters, DE filters only need to be backwashed a few times a year. What’s more, DE filters are also the most expensive of the three – but they also offer the best filtration capabilities, superior to both sand and cartridge filters.

Additional care and maintenance considerations include:

  • To remove build-up, you should deep-clean your DE filter grids at least once every season using filter cleaner.
  • Once a year, you should disassemble your DE filter for a deep cleaning and inspection to look for damage such as tears or rips in the grids.

Most pool filtration systems include skimmer baskets designed to collect larger debris, such as leaves, twigs, and more. In general, it’s a good idea to empty your skimmer baskets once a week – but you might want to check it more often, say, after a storm (think debris, leaves, and the like) or after a week of heavy use.

Maintenance for Saltwater Pools

One of the best things about salt water pools is that they require a bit less maintenance than a chlorinated pool. That said, even a saltwater swimming pool requires some basic care. For example, saltwater pools are equipped with salt chlorine generators, which are responsible for converting salt into chlorine (a process called “salt chlorination”). Salt chlorine generators should be cleaned and inspected every few months to make sure they’re in good working order. It’s also a good idea to test your saltwater pool regularly – if your water balance is off, you might need to adjust the settings on your salt generator.