The Ultimate Guide to Pool Maintenance

You’ve finally gotten your brand new pool. The crews are outta the yard, the sod is freshly laid, the water is crystal clear and perfectly balanced. Unfortunately, that won’t last forever. Not without a little work, anyway.

This is the Ultimate Guide to Pool Maintenance, 2021 Edition. We’re putting this together as a resource that will be consistently updated to reflect new technologies and techniques in taking care of your pool, equipment and entire outdoor environment.

Pool ownership is like a beautiful gold coin: it has two sides, one of which can kick your tail. When that coin lands heads up, you get to enjoy a crystal clear pool on a sunny day, not a care in the world but what you’re throwing on the grill for lunch. When it lands on tails, the walls and steps are fuzzy and green, the water is cloudy, and it seems like a runaway chemical train has left the station.

But with a little bit of elbow grease and the right information, tackling the pool maintenance monster is easier than you might think.

[ CIRCULATION / FLOW ]

Having proper pool flow and circulation is rule #1. Without moving and churning the water, all the skimming, brushing and shocking in the world will just be a band-aid to the problem.

I was in the Army, and during survival training, it was drilled into us that you never want to drink still, stagnant water. It’s a breeding ground for insects, bacteria, moss, mildew and loads of microscopic organisms. The same can be said for your pool. With improper water flow, you’re giving all these nasty critters a foothold in a nice, warm, sunny, still pool.

To know how to get the right flow, you first need to get familiar with the parts of your pool’s circulation system. And we’ll do it the best way I know how, by comparing it to the human body. Don’t get squeamish on me.

As with any good circulatory system, we start with the heart, or the main pump. There are several different kinds, and whether single-speed, variable-speed, feature pump, they all work the same: pull water from the pool, through the filter and back to the pool.

Next up in our pool’s body is the filter, which serves the same function as the liver. Water pulled from the pool travels through the filter, removing debris and small critters before pumping backing into the pool. There are 3 types of filters: Sand, cartridge and D.E., or diatomaceous earth. We’ll touch on how to care for each of these later on.

Mounted skimmers (not the net on the end of the telescoping pole) and main drains, along with all the plumbing to the equipment, act as the veins in our pool, pulling water and debris from the top and floor to the pump. Keeping the skimmer baskets and main drains clear will keep undue pressure off your pump, kinda like keeping your veins clear to prevent a heart attack.

The return jets and their plumbing act as the arteries, pushing filtered water back into the pool. The vast majority of return jets are rotatable for one simple reason: aim. By pointing all of the jets down toward the bottom of the pool and at a slight angle to the side (the nozzles will be at 7 o’clock if looking at the jet head-on) the water will be rotating around the pool while churning fresh water to the bottom which in turn pushes stale water to the top.

There are also in-line valves to close off or restrict flow to certain pieces of equipment or different features. Hopefully on your pool, these will all be labeled with proper directions. If not… well, have fun testing.

The last major component of a pool that affects circulation is the water features. They act a bit like a main artery in that they push a ton of water back to the pool. Not all pools will have water features, but the ones that do will need to take them into account when planning for flow rates.

Every part of the pool system works to ensure you have proper flow and circulation. Remember, if you don’t have water movement, your pool will become a stagnant breeding ground and cleaning will always be an uphill battle.

[ CLEANING ]

Now that we’ve covered the major pieces of the pool as a system, we’ll cover the second most important rule of pool maintenance: Cleaning.

These are typical pool rules, so they may be a little different based on your pool, your environment and the amount of time you’re willing to put in every day to proper cleaning.

We’ll break these down by how often you’ll need to do them, from most to least, and some tips on making them easier.

DAILY

Hand-skimming (with the net on the pole) should be done every day. This will keep as much of the surface-level debris out of the wall skimmers as possible. The wall skimmers will eventually pick up this debris, but if you have a lot of daily droppings from a tree or other landscaping, filling up the skimmer baskets will slow the flow of water from the pumps and cause undue strain on the system, filling up the filter and slowing down water flow back to the pool.

Speaking of skimmer baskets, clean them out daily. Just a quick dump into a flower bed or trash can is all you need to do here.

Ideally, after skimming the top, you should pop the net off, slip on the brush and brush the walls, steps and ladders off everyday. This is especially important if you have dead corners where water jets or features don’t move the water enough to clear out anything that settles on these places.

WEEKLY

On a weekly schedule, you should be vacuuming the whole pool. This can either be manually with a suction-side hand vacuum (cheapest equipment but most work), an automatic vacuum (moderately priced with low work) or, for the ultimate cleaning experience, there’s also a robotic vacuum (high cost, almost no work).

Like skimming gets all the debris off the top, brushing gets everything off the sides, vacuuming will get everything from the bottom of the pool to keep it out of the main drains.

AS NEEDED

The filters will need to be cleaned (or changed) as needed. There’s really no time frame on it since it depends on how often it’s used and how dirty your swimming guests are.

Filter housings will have a gauge that denotes how much water pressure is being put on the filter. In general, no matter what type of filter you have, if you see a 10-15 psi increase, it’s time to clean the filter.

For sand filters, you’ll need to backwash the media to clean. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to complete this process. And make sure that if you don’t have a designated backflow line plumbed into the sewer drain you’re not just letting the dirty water flow into your yard and back into your pool.

For cartridge filters, most can be rinsed out or soaked for a period of time in a cleaning solution, but sometimes, after a certain amount of cleanings, the whole cartridge will need to be replaced.

For D.E. or diatomaceous earth filters, you’ll backwash like a sand filter, but you’ll need to replace some of the D.E. that is washed away. This is some caustic stuff, so always wear glasses, gloves and a mask when handling it. And as always, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for how to backwash.

TIPS AND TRICKS

One of the quickest tricks to ease your cleaning burden is to cut back any overhanging trees or bushes that may be dropping leaves in everyday.

Another very easy thing that rarely gets done is to rinse off before getting in the pool, especially if you’ve walked through grass clippings barefoot. We all know how nice it is to jump right in the pool after mowing the yard, but it’s not the greatest for your water.

There are also these little floating wooly balls that will soak up sunscreen and oils that may clog your filter. If you don’t want to spring for the real ones, a clean tennis ball will do the trick as well.

Stretching some pantyhose on the bottom of the skimmer baskets will keep the fine debris from running through your pump and clogging your filter, and can be changed as needed.

If you just need a quick fix for cloudy water, adding a flocculant with the pumps off can help coagulate the gunk together at the bottom of the pool. Before swimming, you’ll need to vacuum the debris and flocculant up and rebalance the chemicals.

Which brings us to the final step…

[ CHEMICAL BALANCE ]

A lot of emphasis is put on the importance of balancing chemicals, but really it’s #3 in line for maintaining a clean and healthy pool.

Don’t get me wrong: proper chemical balance is important for safe water, but it shouldn’t be relied upon do to the heavy lifting of pool cleaning. That should be left to the actual cleaning processes.

But before you add any chemicals, you need to test your water. This is where a good testing kit will pay off in spades. It’ll be easy to read, with easy-to-follow instructions and make balancing very straightforward.

Test your water every week. Maybe twice a week if you use your pool often.

Balancing chemicals is not as stressful as it may sound. It can get complicated fast, but for the large majority of situations, there are two main things to be looked at:

pH, or acidity...

And alkalinity.

By keeping these in balance, 90% of the work is done. And these should be the numbers for any pool regardless of the sanitization type.

The pH of the pool should be between 7.2 and 7.6 on the scale, and the alkalinity should be between 100 and 150 ppm.

Balancing the sanitizer will depend on the pool.

For chlorine systems, keep the free chlorine levels between 1 and 3 ppm, preferably as close to 3 as possible. Any lower and micro-organisms will start to grow.

For bromine systems, keep it between 3 and 5 ppm.

And biguanide systems need to stay between 30 and 50 ppm.

Past the balancing, the pool needs to be shocked at least once a week, maybe more if you’re using it often and the water temperature keeps rising in the late summer.

Always shock the pool at night.

It takes a long time for the chlorine to dissipate, and an overnight shock gives it enough time to spread and dilute so you can rebalance everything before the next swim.

So as you can see, there’s an infinite amount of ways to keep your pool clean, clear and balanced. But if you can get the basics down, you’ll be able to keep your oasis beautiful and safe the entire season and for seasons to come.

Of course, I guess you could also just hire a cleaning company to do it for you...