Clean up before you cool off

May 30, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Proper swimming pool maintenance can keep pools sparkling and swimmers safer all season long.

The National Pool & Spa Institute, the Alexandria, Va.-based pool and spa industry's trade association, suggests keeping a pool maintenance checklist handy and developing a maintenance routine. Sticking to that routine through pool closing time will make opening the pool the following swim season much easier because the condition in which pool equipment was stored in the fall will determine the amount of maintenance that motors and filters will need in the spring, said pool guru Frank Goldstein of Grasonville, Md., an NSPI instructor who wrote the educational curriculum used to license commercial pool operators in Maryland.

"If it was closed up properly, opening it up should be a snap," Goldstein said.

Pool operators who drained water out of the pool motor's housing when they closed the pool won't have to worry about that water freezing and causing cracks in the housing - a problem that will require professional help, he said. Correctly maintained motors can simply be reconnected to the pool's electricity supply, the hair strainer basket cleared of debris and inspected for cracks or breaks, and the wet end of self-priming pumps recharged with water, to get the pool's pumping system up and running again, Goldstein said.


Pumps circulate water through the filter and return it to the pool.

In addition to preparing motors and pumps, basic pool care tips on the National Pool & Spa Institute's Web site and's pool maintenance site include:

  • Check the filter. Of the three types of filters that remove oils, grease and dirt from pool water, the high-rate sand filter is the most common. It's cleaned by a process called back-washing that reverses the flow of water through the filter and pumps it out via a waste line. Also be sure to reinstall the water drain plug - which should be removed in the fall - at the bottom of the sand filter, Goldstein said. If cartridge filters are coated with oils and other grime, the cartridge should be replaced, he said. And diatomaceous earth filters won't work effectively if there are rips or weak seams in the internal fabrics, Goldstein added.

  • Remove debris from the pool deck and cover.

  • Place floating-type covers on a clean surface to avoid dragging debris back into the pool. Don't put used pool covers on nearby lawns, Goldstein added.

    "There are things that are on that cover from the pool, algaecides and such, that will kill the grass," he said.

  • Use a leaf rake and telepole to remove floating debris from the pool's surface, and empty into trash bag. Scrape the tile line, which acts as a magnet for debris, as you skim.

  • Squirt pool tile soap onto the water over the length of the pool to help remove dirt from the water's surface. The soap will spread floating scum toward the edges of the pool.

  • Clean tiles with tile soap and a tile brush. Never use abrasive brushes or scouring pads. Goldstein recommended using a nylon scouring pad. Experienced pool operators might try removing tough stains with a mix of one part muriatic acid to five parts of soap, but Goldstein urged caution for average homeowners.

    "I hate to recommend for a homeowner to use chlorine or acids - that's sometimes out of their ability level," he said. Instead, get help from a pool service technician.

  • Vacuum the pool at least once a week.

  • Add about an inch of water to the pool each time you service it to keep up with normal evaporation.

  • Use a test kit to test the water at the same time every morning or evening. Get samples from far below the surface. Goldstein recommended dipping the test kit to about elbow-deep and away from where fresh water enters the pool for the best reading. He also suggested buying a pool kit that will test for both free chlorine and total chlorine, the difference between which is the amount of combined chlorine. And it's important to test for total alkalinity; water that's too acidic will burn swimmers' eyes, Goldstein said. Pool owners who don't feel comfortable performing the necessary water tests themselves can take pool water samples to a nearby pool supply store for testing, he said.

  • n Add liquid, powder or tablet forms of chlorine or bromine to maintain a proper pH level of between 7.2 and 7.6. This pH helps chemicals disinfect the water, prevents scale from forming, and stops corrosion.

The National Pool & Spa Institute is on the Web at, and's pool maintenance site is at

Also, it's critical to inspect all pipe fittings coming into and out of the pool shell to prevent potentially fatal suction entrapment injuries, Goldstein said. Broken or missing fittings must be replaced immediately, he said.

"I've seen lots of home pools where the main drain grate was not there," Goldstein said. "This is very dangerous."

Finally, keep such safety equipment as a reaching pole and ring buoy beside the pool - and always supervise young swimmers.

"It only takes a second for a child, even a child who wasn't in the pool when you last looked, to drown," Goldstein said. "You have to be vigilant."

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