On a searing summer day, a swimming pool is a welcome respite from the heat. But before you can dive into its cool blue water, you have to perform all the maintenance drudgery that prolongs its crystal-clear perfection. This often makes a backyard pool more of a burden than a blessing.
In the interest of spending more time in the pool than maintaining it, we went for advice to William Sodergreen, chief technician for Shoreline Pools Service Inc., in Connecticut, a guy who has the weekly cleaning ritual down to a science. He can skim, vacuum, clean, and chlorinate in under an hour, not much more time than it takes to suit up, slather on sunscreen, and get out the inner tube. Here are some of the techniques he uses to speed up the process and create a safe, refreshing oasis.
Get Rid of Debris
Skimming the surface of the pool for floating debris and emptying the skimmer basket takes just a minute or two. Dispose of this waste away from the pool so it can't blow back into the water or be tracked back into the area.
If you have trees and bushes nearby that shed pollen, blossoms, and leaves into the pool, consider trimming them back, replacing them with less messy varieties, or using more hardscaping around the pools.
Set Up the Vacuum
Direct the nozzles of the return jets on the pool sides downward to quiet surface ripples so you can see the bottom clearly.
After connecting the vacuum to the hose, prop up the pole with the vacuum head suspended over the water. Then use one of the jet nozzles to fill the free hose end until the water pours out the vacuum.
When full, submerge the vacuum head and clamp a hand over the hose until you connect it at the skimmer.
Vacuum the Pool
The average pool requires 30 minutes of vacuuming. Move slowly across the water in overlapping parallel lines, like mowing a lawn.
If the pool is too wide for one pass, vacuum half at a time.
Watch for a floating hose, which indicates a hole in the line, or diminshed suction due to a full filter.
Complete the cleaning by brushing any algae off the pool sides with a nylon brush on the vacuum pole. For concrete use a stainless steel brush.
Adjust the Chemicals
Test and correct pool chemistry weekly. Adjust pH first—with muriatic acid if it's above 7.6 or with soda ash product if it's under 7.4.
If the chlorine is below 1 part per million (ppm) or alkalinity is less than 90 ppm, "shock" the water: Dissolve chlorine and/or alkalinity increaser (baking soda works in a pinch) in a bucket of water and toss in.
Tip: Opt for lithium-based chlorine, which dissolves easily, leaves no residue, and won't jar pH.
Backwash the Filter
Turn the filter valve to "backwash" to redirect water flow.
Most pools use one of three kinds of filter: sand, diatomaceous earth (DE), or cartridge. In a sand filter—no longer used in new construction—sand blocks dirt and oil; the backwash directs the dirty water to a waste line leading to the ground or a storm drain. With a DE filter, the claylike remains of marine organisms do the filtering and the backwash directs the dirt into a filter bag (empty every other week and replace every few years). Replenish the DE by sprinkling it into the skimmer well. A cartridge filer is a removable unit that you hose off and reinsert. Consider replacing sand with a DE or cartridge system; both clean better, save water, and are better for the environment.
Clean the Pump Filter
Clean out the hair/lint catcher in the pump next. First, shut the system off, then close the skimmer valve in front of the pump to hold the water in place so the system won't need repriming when it starts up again.
Unscrew the trap's cover and remove the basket, emptying it into the garbage.
Add Chlorine to the System
If you have a chlorinator, a tubelike tank next to the filter, it's a great way to introduce chlorine—in the form of slow-dissolving sticks—into your pool.
You can also use a floating container, but it can be a danger if small children get their hands on it.
Read the packaging and calculate the number of sticks needed for the pool based on the water volume. Add more in hot weather, when the heater is on, or when the pool is in more frequent use.
Finally, check the pool's water level, refilling if it's less than half way up the skimmer well mouth.
Need help with home maintenance? Read our in-depth reviews on home warranty providers.