Here are some useful tips for maintaining your swimming pool or spa.
Get to to know your pool or spa
For the sake of convenience, many homeowners hire a service professional to take over the regular maintenance chores. But for those who are interested in doing the work themselves, here is a general guide to pool and spa care. Keeping a pool or spa in tip-top shape is a relatively simple task.
Before you tackle a cleaning routine, you should first familiarize yourself with your pool and spa’s equipment. Both pools and spas are equipped with operational systems that include motors, pumps, heaters, filters and plumbing lines. Let’s look briefly at the role each plays in the system — and what you need to know to keep them running smoothly.
Note: The following explanations are generic and can be applied to both pools and spas. Don’t assume, however, that each brand of motor or pump or any other equipment is the same. There are unique characteristics and design features to each make and model and you should always refer to your owner’s manual or check with your retailer or service technician if you have any questions.
Useful pool facts
One gallon weighs 8.3 pounds.
One cubic foot weighs 62.4 pounds.
One cubic foot of water contains 7.5 gallons.
Rectangular pool: length x width x average depth x 7.5 = gallons of water
Round pool: diameter x diameter x average depth x 5.9 = gallons of water
Oval pool: length x width x average depth x 5.9 = gallons of water
The pump is probably the hardest-working piece of equipment on your pool or spa. Its job is to keep water moving throughout the entire circulation system. The pump draws the water from the pool or spa, through the plumbing and on to the filter. It then pulls it through the heating process and pushes it back into the pool or spa. The pump also acts as a secondary sieve.
Pumps of all varieties have a strainer pot or hair and lint trap that catches any small debris that made it through the skimmer, main drain or gutter. By trapping this debris, the pump helps ease the burden placed on the filter, leaving it free to catch the smaller pollutants in the water.
This is just one part of a multi-step process to rid the water of impurities before it’s sent back into the pool or spa. Indeed, keeping the water circulating is one of the best ways to help keep your pool or spa clean. It also requires very little attention from you.
You need only program the system to automatically kick the pump on for a certain amount of time each day so all of the water moves through the filter at least once a day.
Generally speaking, a pool pump should run at least six hours a day and a spa pump — which in portable spas is part-and-parcel of the spa pack — should run for at least two hours a day when the spa’s not in use.
In the context of a pool or spa, the motor’s function is to drive the circulation system. More specifically, the motor converts electrical energy into mechanical energy, which is then used to operate the pump.
Unless you are a mechanic, you should not get involved in any hands-on maintenance of the motor. However, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with when it’s set to run, and to watch for any symptoms — such as grinding or other unusual noises — that may indicate trouble.
If the motor fails to operate properly — or at all — contact your retailer or a professional service technician for more information and assistance. As with any complicated piece of electrical equipment, troubleshooting and repairs are best handled by an expert.
In effect, we’ve now traveled through the pump and are on our way to the filter, which serves to remove dirt and other impurities from the water. There are three different types of filters available on the market today, each of which has its own unique advantages.
Diatomaceous Earth Filters are made of grids of extremely fine mesh that are coated with diatomaceous earth. The DE acts as an adhesive, trapping any small or microscopic dirt particles in the water.
Do note, however, that some municipalities or other environmental authorities have strict regulations regarding the disposal of DE. This becomes a concern when it’s time to clean the filter by backwashing it. For more information on what to do with the water that has been flushed through a DE filter, contact your local health department, pool/spa retailer or service technician.
Sand filters use — you guessed it — sand as a filter medium. Inside a sand filter is a certain amount of sand and gravel, which mix with water passing through, pulling out dirt and impurities. Small microscopic particles can escape capture in a sand filter.
To prevent this, you can use a flocculant to coagulate the particles into larger particles the filter can catch before the water is sent back into the pool. Every several years, you may also need to add new sand to the filter.
Cartridge filters, like DE filters, have a grid-like interior to catch pollutants. These types of filters can contain a number of grid cartridges. Spas usually require only one large cartridge while pools generally need either three large cartridges or up to 12 small ones.
These cartridges are made with a fine, pleated mesh material — and the pleats are the key to the filter’s operation. The tight pleats, or folds, allow a large amount of material to be used in a small container. The more material used, the larger the surface area available to capture unwanted dirt or debris in the water.
We won’t go into great detail here about heaters, but you should know that the filtered water passes over the heater before re-entering the pool or spa. As is the case with motors, heaters don’t need a lot of maintenance. You should, however, learn to recognize any unusual noises or other clues that may call for professional attention.
The best thing you can do for your heater — and indeed all of your equipment — is to keep the water properly balanced. Imbalanced water will dissolve metals from the equipment or cause a calcium build-up that can eventually cause heater failure.
No one wants to get in water that isn’t crystal clear. It’s hard to enjoy yourself if you have to dodge dead bugs, twigs, leaves and other such flotsam. Fortunately, keeping your swimming pool and spa clean is as easy as keeping your house clean — maybe even easier.
So how often do you have to clean your pool or spa? Generally, once a week should be sufficient — unless you have an unusually large number of swimmers or bathers getting in and out of the water. If that’s the case, then by all means clean it more often.
Of course, if you are not using your pool or spa often for some reason, you could probably push your cleaning to every other week. To give you some idea of what’s involved in caring for a pool or spa, let’s review the basic maintenance procedures you must follow, step by step.
STEP #1: Remove debris
There are some very obvious things that do not belong in your pool or spa such as leaves, branches, twigs and leftover pool toys. Most of these large objects can be easily removed with a hand-held skimmer. This is an essential tool in the cleaning process.
It’s nothing more than a net made of fine mesh attached to a pole. As you sweep the net through the water, it captures any large debris suspended in the water.
Once you’ve skimmed the water, you will need to check the pool’s skimmer baskets. First, to prevent injury due to suction pressure, you should shut off the pool pump. You can then simply lift the access lid in the deck and remove the skimmer basket.
Once again, empty the contents into a nearby trash bag or bin to prevent the debris from being blown or knocked back into the water.
STEP #2: Add water
This step is optional. You do not have to add water every time you clean, but you should always watch the water level — even if your pool and spa are equipped with an automatic fill device. Hint: Use a pool cover to reduce evaporation losses and refilling.
STEP #3: Clean the pump strainer
To keep the pump in proper working condition, you need to clean its hair and lint trap (or strainer pot) on a regular basis. Before you do anything to the pump, however, be sure to turn the power off first!
Because pumps do differ, refer to the manufacturer’s manual for the proper way to remove the lid and retrieve the trap. But no matter what type you have, you should always be careful not to damage the O-ring between the lid and the rest of the pump. A flat, round piece of rubber, the O-ring ensures a tight seal. Without that seal, your pump will lose pressure and stop working.
STEP #4: Check the filter pressure
You need to make sure your filter pressure is within an acceptable range. For specific pressure ranges, see your owner’s manual.
If the pressure is high — according to experts, anything 8 to 10 pounds above a “clean” pressure reading is considered high — then it’s time to clean your filter. In the case of cartridge filters, all you need to do is remove the cartridges and hose them off. To clean sand and DE filters, you will have to backwash them.
Backwashing is nothing more than reversing the water flow in the filter. Normally, water comes into the filter with debris, works its way through the filtering material and, finally, returns to the pool and spa, having left behind all its impurities.
What backwashing does is push the water into the return valve instead of the other way around in order to relieve some of the filter pressure that has built up over time with the accumulation of dirt. In this procedure, the dirt and backwash water are diverted to either run off into the city sewer or empty into some other designated area.
Each filter has its own backwash protocol that must be followed. The one exception is cartridge filters, which you can clean by simply removing and hosing off the cartridges. Generally speaking, you will have to clean or backwash your filter at least once every three to four months. (For more detail on when and how to backwash, refer to your owners’ manual.)
Every once in a while, however, backwashing just won’t be enough to bring the filter pressure back into an acceptable range. Your best bet here is to contact a service professional to disassemble the filter and give it a thorough cleaning. Not only can the procedure be complicated, but in some states you have to comply with some very particular disposal regulations.
STEP #5: Vacuum the pool and spa
Like the vacuum you use in your house to pick up dirt, dust and mites, a pool and spa vacuum sucks up dirt and other unwanted material that can get into the water.
Automatic vacuums and cleaning systems are very popular today and do most of the work for you. If your pool is not equipped with this sort of automation, you will need to do the work manually.
The vacuum consists of a vacuum head, wheels, a pole for your use in moving the vacuum and a hose that you must attach to the skimmer to pull suction power off the circulation system.
To get started, submerge the vacuum head with the hose attached and then sink the other end of the hose. This will fill the hose with water and displace all air. Once the hose is full of water, you can attach it to the skimmer’s outlet and turn the pump on to start the suction going.
Remember that the pump should still be off at this point in your maintenance routine. Never do any work with the skimmer while it is on or you may be injured.
The dirt that’s collected is usually sent straight to the filter, unless the plumbing has it directed elsewhere. The important thing to remember when vacuuming is to find the speed that’s right for your pool and spa. Sometimes slow is better. But sometimes your pool can handle a little more assertive vacuuming style.
No matter what your speed, use steady, gentle movements to minimize swirling the dirt that has settled onto the floor or walls back into the water.
STEP #6: Scrub the walls
Over time — especially if your water chemistry or water balance is off kilter — the walls and tile lines in your pool and spa can accumulate dirt, scum and oil. The best way to deal with this ongoing problem is to be proactive.
As part of your weekly maintenance routine, you should scrub plaster walls and tiles with a nylon-bristle brush attached to a T-pole. The most efficient way to brush a plaster pool or spa is to start in the shallow end, brushing from above the water line to the floor, working your way around the entire vessel until you reach the pool’s deep end.
Be sure, as you go along, to push all the dirt and other materials toward the main drain. By doing this, you’ve created a miniature vacuuming system. The drain, just by doing its job, will suck in some of the small debris and send it on to be removed by the pump strainer or the filter.
Sometimes, the accumulated dirt may be too much for the brushing alone to remove. If this happens, there are several tile soaps and cleaners available. Before choosing one, however, consult your retailer or service technician — some are not appropriate for vinyl-lined or fiberglass pools.
If you find you have a recurring problem with dirt on the walls or tile lines, you may have a problem with your water chemistry. Once again, you should confer with a professional to help bring your pool and spa water back into line.
STEP #7: Take one last look
You’ve made it! This is the last thing to do before you walk away from your sparkling, clean pool and spa to go put on your bathing suit. It’s very important to make a careful inspection of the area around the pool’s equipment, especially the motor and heater.
There should never be any standing water in the proximity. Remember that electricity and water do not mix safely!
If there is any standing water around the equipment pad, carefully check the designated drain to see if it’s clogged or blocked. If there isn’t anything prohibiting draining, then there’s more going on here and a professional technician or repair expert should be called in immediately.
Draining your pool or spa
Every once in a while, you may have to drain your pool and spa — in part or in full. Unfortunately, there isn’t any way to avoid this. Eventually, the water will reach a point where it can’t get clean by the regular routine, despite all your efforts. Fortunately, it does not happen often.
How often you drain your pool and spa depends on how much use it receives and how well the water’s been behaving. In many cases, you may not have to drain it completely: A partial drainage will usually work well in the case of pools. (Please consult a professional for help with this procedure.)
Generally speaking, a pool may not need to be drained for up to three years, depending on the pool’s use and location. As for spas, it is recommended that you drain all the water every three months or so.
The procedure is simple but will vary depending on the type of pool or spa you have. Please refer to the steps outlined in your owner’s manual or check with your local pool/spa professional. Once you’ve gotten rid of the old water, you should take the opportunity to scrub the walls with a recommended soap before you refill the vessel.
While draining does allow you to give the pool and spa walls a good cleaning, it does not guarantee they’ll stay clean for an extended amount of time. There is much more at play than just scrubbing and adding fresh water.
In fact, if you just add the new water without chemically treating it, you run the risk of exposing your pool and spa equipment to imbalanced and potentially damaging water. You may also unintentionally encourage bacteria, algae and other unwelcome guests to take hold in your pool and spa.
So when adding any large amounts of fill water to your pool and spa, always make sure you follow the start-up procedures recommended for your pool and spa by a local pool/spa professional.
Here’s a quick troubleshooting guide to a variety of problems that may arise with your swimming pool and spa. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to check with your local retailer, service technician or supplier for assistance!
Table 1: Estimated Swimming Pool Heating Costs and Savings (from the U.S. Department of Energy RSPEC! pool efficiency program)
|Short filter runs||A build up of dirt and other materials in the filter.||Backwash or disassemble and clean filter. Make sure there is an adequate amount of DE in DE filters.|
|Water imbalance. Check the chemicals section for more information.||Test and balance water.|
|Damaged O-ring.||Install new O-ring.|
|Short pump cycles||Motor isn’t working properly.||Check motor to make sure it’s working properly.|
|Breaker switch is off||Turn breaker switch on.|
|Baskets are dirty.||Clean baskets.|
|Damaged O-ring.||Install new O-ring.|
|Leak.||Follow leak detection procedures or have service tech check for leaks.|
|No vacuum suction||Vacuum head too close to bottom of the pool.||Adjust the wheels to bring the vacuum head off the floor slightly.|
|Air remains in the hose.||Disconnect the hose from the skimmer and submerge it again to displace the air.|
|Pump is turned off.||Turn pump on.|
|Tile scum||Oil and dirt build up.||Scrub the walls and tiles with appropriate brush and cleaner.|
|Water imbalance.||Test and balance water.
Drain water partially or completely, clean and refill pool or spa with fresh water.
|Heater failure||The water flow is impaired.||Check with a service technician on heater repair.|
|The pilot light is out.||Relight the pilot light.|
|Standing water near equipment||Blocked or clogged drain.||Clean and remove debris from the drain.|
|Leak.||Check with a service technician.|
For more specific advice — or if you have any questions — please consult a professional service technician or pool and spa retailer or supply store.
General maintenance tips
Daily pool care
- Empty skimmer baskets and pump basket.
- Run pool filter system at least 8-10 hours per day. If you do not have a pool timer you will need to remember to turn filter on manually everyday.
- It is essential add chlorine to your pool on a daily basis.
- Check the filter to be sure it is running at the recommended pressure.
- Keep pool area safe! Make sure all pool gates and fences are secured when pool is not in use. Keep all chemical containers closed after use.
- If you use a pool heater, be sure to turn the heater off at least 20 minutes before your filter system turns off.
Weekly pool care
- Backwash the filter. Check the pressure gauge on the filter.
- Skim the surface of the pool using a skimmer net or leaf rake type skimmer.
- Clean out the skimmer baskets of debris, dirt and insects. Also check baskets for small pool toys trapped in skimmers.
- Brush down the entire pool using a pool brush.
- Vacuum the entire pool.
- Clean out the pump basket. Turn off the filter open the pump lid and empty the pump basket.
- Test pool water Ph, Alkalinity, and Chlorine.
- Adjust pool chemicals following testing.
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