With summer fast approaching, you’re probably already dreaming about jumping into the backyard swimming pool (and if you aren’t, your kids certainly are!). Getting your pool ready for those hot summer days isn’t just a matter of filling it up and dumping in the chlorine though.

Keeping your swimming pool refreshing and crystal clear requires a proper balance between pH levels and alkalinity. Before you head to the store to buy a chemistry textbook, let me assure you that maintaining your pool’s water quality isn’t as difficult as it sounds.

This article will explain what pH and alkalinity mean and how they affect the water(and the people who swim in it). You’ll also learn how you can fix problems with pH levels yourself so you can avoid a potentially expensive repair bill.

pH and alkalinity: the science of swimming pools

Simply put, pH is a measure of how much acidity is present in a water solution. Low pH means the water has a high amount of acidity, while a higher pH means the water is more alkaline.

Alkalinity is a measure of how well a water solution neutralizes acids. Pure water is neither acidic or alkaline and has a pH of 7. However, the water in your swimming pool is not pure; everything that goes into the water can affect both these levels, including chlorine, debris, and lotions.

You may be wondering why it’s essential to maintain a proper pH level. High pH levels reduce chlorine’s effectiveness, meaning it cannot disinfect the water fully. Swimming in a pool with high pH can cause red, irritated eyes, dry skin and can even cause increased wear and tear to bathing suits and goggles.

A low pH level means the water is too acidic, which can be damaging to the pool, swimmers…and your wallet. Acidic pool water will cause dry, itchy skin and cause stinging in your eyes and nose. But the most damage done by low pH is to the pool itself.

Acidic water is extremely corrosive and will cause rusting in ladders, railings, light fixtures, and even the metal parts of the pump and filter. It will also cause grout, plaster, concrete, and stone to deteriorate faster and long-term exposure to low pH will make vinyl brittle and lead to cracks and tears. Finally, low pH levels will reduce the amount of chlorine in the water, resulting in cloudy water and increased algae buildup.

It’s easy to see that maintaining a proper pH level in your swimming pool is essential to protecting not only the pool and its equipment but also the people who swim in it. In the next section, you’ll learn about sodium bicarbonate and how this chemical is used to fix problems with pH.

Sodium bicarbonate for pools

Admittedly there are dozens of products available on the market that can raise or lower pH levels. However, these products typically carry a hefty price tag and are full of other unnecessary chemicals.

For years, pool management companies have been using sodium bicarbonate as a non-toxic and cost-effective solution to low pH levels. Sodium bicarbonate is the scientific name for a very common item you probably have in your house right now: baking soda.

As we mentioned, you can find dozens of products that can raise pH levels, and some of them are even marketed as being bicarbonate for pools.

The downside to using these products is not only the higher cost but also the risk these chemicals can pose to both people and animals that may come into contact with the water. It is much cheaper and safer to simply head to the grocery store and stock up on baking soda when you start to have pH problems.

Another advantage of using this form of generic sodium bicarbonate is that it also raises the alkalinity level of the water, which results in a more stable pH level and is especially helpful if the water in your pool has become cloudy.

Testing the water

Don’t assume that just because you’ve noticed some cloudy water or rust on the pool ladder that it’s time to run out and buy all the baking soda in your local grocery store. It’s very important to test the water in your swimming pool regularly (most pool management companies recommend doing this at least once a week) with a testing kit.

You can purchase one at any pool supply store, and it’s a simple matter of taking a sample of your pool’s water and placing a test strip in the sample. The strips are color-coded to show if the pH is too high or too low.

Generally, it is recommended that you add 3-4 pounds of sodium bicarbonate for every 10,000 gallons of water if the pH is 7.2 or lower, and 2 pounds per 10,000 gallons if the pH is 7.2-7.5.

A pH level higher than 7.5 is in the normal range, and you don’t have to add anything to the water. Make sure you allow the pool’s filter system plenty of time to circulate the baking soda throughout the water and don’t allow anyone to swim until the water is clear.

Maintaining your swimming pool’s water quality may seem like a lot of hard work, but thanks to sodium bicarbonate, it doesn’t have to be expensive as well. Using simple baking soda or a sodium bicarbonate pool chemical ensures that you and your family will always have a refreshing, crystal clear swimming pool.

Josh Hurd

Josh Hurd has been freelance writing since 2006. He attended the University of Akron, graduating with a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing.
Josh Hurd
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