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Swimming Pool
Frequently Asked Questions

Swimming Pool Frequently Asked Questions


Quick Links


Acrylic Cracks

Q. My main question is that my acrylic steps are getting small cracks in it. Is there a way to coat them. I think they are causing my leak.

A. The gel- coat on fiberglass or acrylic steps can 'craze', but this isn't the cause of your water loss. Check with your local boat store for fiberglass paints and gel- repair kits, the small cracks in the gel- coat allows pool water to breakdown the fiberglass resin.

Air Bubbles and Solar Heaters

Q. I'm getting air bubbles in the pool. It started when the solar heater was installed. The solar man says air can't get into the solar because it's on the pressure side of the pump. There were no air problems until then.

A. Your pump is probably undersized for a solar system. If original and typical, it was the smallest pump capable of filtering your pool as it was contracted and built. Solar systems require at least one step- up in pump size to push water to your roof. The increase in pressure causes an equal increase in vacuum. There's not enough room to do the explanation justice, but the solar system is the cause of your air leak. You can try greasing the filter basket "O" ring and if your suction- side piping is 1.5" you can up- size the suction piping to 2" between the valves and the pump, but you'll probably have to get a larger pump to get rid of the air.

Q. I've got three bids here for solar heat. All the companies are legitimate, but one bid is 25% lower than the others. It almost seem "too good a deal". The one system is smaller, but the salesman says his system is adequate. The other two salesmen say the cheaper system is too small. Whom do I believe?

A. You're right in being suspicious of the low bid. The biggest mistake made with solar is buying an under-sized system. Adequate for whom? You'll notice that none of the salesmen can guarantee a certain rise in temperature. They'll 'suggest', but a 'guarantee' lies just beyond our ability to control the weather. Cheaper prices sometimes guarantee a sale and have little effect on the temperature of the water. While you're figuring expenses, don't forget the larger pump you'll need to get the water to the roof and maintain your present flow rate.

Alternate Sanitizers

Q. You claim most alternate sanitizers are a rip- off. But, every pool store I walk into sells them.

A. The most endearing feature of alternate sanitizers is their amazing profit margin. Hawaiian vacations are a common and popular sales incentive for dealers who make their quota. Do they work? Well, they don't 'not work'. In our society, something has to be proven to 'not work' to be fraudulent; "FTC vs Caribbean Clear Ozonator".

Bugs eating the above-ground liner?

Q. Our above ground pool started leaking about 2 months after we got it. Its always leaked at the same rate. That is, it didn't start out leaking a little and work up to this leakage rate. I had to pay some guy (sub-contracted by the store) to come out and look at it. He said bugs are eating the liner. Have you ever heard of such a thing???

A. Sure have. Now the question is: Should the bugs have been eradicated as part of the installation?

Most installers treat for bugs, most instructions call for a non- petroleum based pesticide and herbicide treatment before an above ground pool is erected. I'd have some sympathy for the installer if you'd been offered an optional bug treatment and refused it, but they're supposed to be the pros here. You paid for a professional installation and didn't get it. I'd say they owe you a new liner and a refund on the leak finders fee.


Q. My pool recently has become infested with some sort of very tiny bugs. They are almost invisible to the naked eye. at first I thought it was an algae. But when you get up close to them the are very definitely bugs. I have shocked the pool, increased the chlorine setting, run the skimmer on high, run the pump 24 hours a day, and nothing stops them.

A. You've come to the right place; whether it's bugs or plants, we can deal with it !

Have seen two types of such infestations; one is tiny insects that grow to about 1/8" with fins on either side of its body and the other looks and acts like teensy 'fleas'.

I'll assume you're talking about the fleas.

What makes eradicating them tough is the habit they have of clustering on the waterline tile, just out of the water. Can't use a poison on them. Oil based insecticides will eventually do to you what you are trying to do to them.

The bugs go into the water for only a limited time so you've got to hit them hard when they do. Many interpretations for the term 'shock'. Most people don't realize that it takes chlorine readings of 8.0 and above to kill things; anything less only makes them goofy.

Shock your pool with 4 of the 2.5 gallon containers of liquid chlorine (sodium hypochlorite) sold in a pool store or 10 (or more) of the gallon jugs if you buy your chlorine at the home supply store.

All readings will be off the chart for a day or two. Check again in three and hopefully everything will be back to normal, and bug free.

Cleaning Screens

Q. My screen is covered with leaves and pine needles. It's too high to brush and the hose just makes them wet and too heavy to move. How do I clean my screen?

A. Can try a pressure washer, but this is usually ineffective against pine needles. One clever homeowner made a 'needle scraper' with a pool pole and an old ice scraper (used on auto windshields, for some reason). This cuts the top of the needle off and the rest simply drops. There are also screen cleaning companies that employ smaller people to scurry all over your screen cleaning up the debris.

Cleaning Silt

Q. How do I clean silt?

A. You have a lot of silt/mud in my vinyl pool from not properly covering it this winter. You have most of the leaves out, but can't filter the water clear. You've already used 12 pounds of shock and algaecide in two weeks. When you vacuum the silt, within a minute dark brown water shoots out of the return jet. I've backwashed numerous times. Is there a silt vacuum you can get? Or, do you have to drain the whole thing (20000 gallons) and scrub by hand? you don't mind the work, but that's about $500 of new water you had rather not buy.

With a layer of silt problem on the bottom, you should bypass the filter and vacuum to waste. Take your time; trying to rush the job will only stir up the silt and take longer to finish. With a vinyl liner pool, I wouldn't take out more than a foot of water at one time.

Dark Slippery Spots

Q. The deck has dark spots that are slippery. What am I doing wrong?

A. You've got 'bird baths', standing water that allows mildew to grow. Pour a little liquid chlorine on the spots and broom it around. That will kill the mildew for the time being. If you can drill a small hole ( a 1/8" will do ) through the slab with a masonry bit, you'll get rid of the small amount of water that causes mildew spots. Slant the hole toward traffic or sitting areas and it will be almost invisible.

Dull Metal

Q. I have noticed that the white metal side topping that surrounds the pool isn't as bright and white like it once was. How do I clean it?

A. The metal is aluminum and will eventually oxidize like just about every other metal around pool water. You can find aluminum polishes and waxes in any R.V. or boat supply store.


Q. The Fiberglass is peeling from the tile line of my pool. The job is only two years old and the warranty is for twenty- five years but company won't come back to fix it. They say they've just purchased the franchise and aren't responsible for my pool. Also, the pool leaks.

A. Fiberglass franchises seem to get sold every few years or so. I honestly don't know if this is a paperwork shell game or is, in fact, new owners stepping into a mine field but 'new companies' typically refuse to back the 'old companies' warranty. Backing someone else's work can be one of the pitfalls of buying an established franchise, or it can be an interesting way of getting out of your own warranty, depending on the situation. I assume you have a concrete pool and have always recommended only cement surfaces on cement pools and only fiberglass surfaces on fiberglass pools. Fiberglass is no guarantee against pool leaks. Read the "Excerpt" on leaks and if that doesn't help, go to the Help Desk, fill out the information requested and we'll solve it together.

Frog Ponds

Q. I've got a concrete pool that looks like a frog pond. The vacuum won't work more than a minute or so before the filter clogs. Now what?

A. With a concrete pool, I'd rent a sump pump for about $20 and drain the thing. Run the water into your grass, green water is excellent fertilizer. When it's empty, sprinkle the walls and floor with about 3 gallons of liquid chlorine diluted 1: 1 with water and run the water into the street (The results are shown below). The remaining algae should pretty well negate the sanitizing effects of chlorine, but don't put it directly on your lawn. Unless you have an extremely high water table, draining the pool and immediately refilling is safe without well- pointing.

Q. I've got calls out to a few pool leak repairers. The one that called back tonight said the leak repair involves a diver at 150.00 an hour with NO GUARANTEES OF FINDING ANYTHING!! That's not an option I want to hear and this was over the phone, without looking at the pool at all. I hope your advice will do it for me. I'm frantic about this!

A. People who charge $150 and don't offer a guarantee, aren't 'leak repairers', just expensive swimmers. They want the income without the responsibility; the glory without the grief. Scuba divers here get $25 an hour (2 hour minimum) and without an obligation to get results, is about all they're worth. Just install the foam the way I described (draining the pool is up to you) and you'll fix your own leak with less than $5 in materials.

Leaking Pool Lights

Q. The pool light bulb was just changed. It works, but now it's half- full of water. Do I need a whole new light?

A. Turn the light breaker off, water and electricity is a bad mix. When you change a bulb, you need to change the lens gasket. Pull the light apart again and remove the rubber seal from the glass lens. Take it down to your pool store for an exact fit. If the light's still working, you haven't done any permanent damage.

Imperfect Surface

Q. We just had the pool Diamond Brited and when the lights are on at night the surface looks rough and lumpy. It feels smooth to walk on and looks fine in the daytime. If I hadn't noticed the lumps and gouges, I would have believed the pool was perfect. thanks.

A. Throwing a little light across a surface will illuminate every imperfection (try a flashlight across a counter top) that you could never see otherwise. It's true of any pool surface, but less noticeable in say, a commercial pool, where multiple lights soften shadows. As long as it isn't rough to touch or walk on, this won't affect the service life of the surface.

You have two options:

Soften the light by using a smaller wattage bulb or a color cover over the lens


Aim the return 'eyeballs' up and have the system run at night during the hours you're likely to be out by the pool. When you ripple the water, imperfections in the pool surface disappear.



Is it a Light Leak?

Q. My light doesn't fit snugly into the wall, it's loose at the bottom. Could this be the cause of my leak?

A. Pool lights are water cooled; that is, they rely on water circulating into and around the niche to keep the light from cooking itself. Your leak could be in the niche or the conduit that carries the light cord out the back of the niche. Light area leaks are both the easiest to repair and 'least likely to be done properly' leak site.

It's important that you don't seal the fixture into the pool wall. People who seal up the light cord with pool putty aren't doing you any favors, either.

You can secure your light by loosening the top screw; catching the bottom hook and re- tightening the top screw.

Marcite Pits

Q. The marcite surface on my pool has pits and large grey areas showing through. The pool is not leaking yet, but how long do we have before we have to re-surface?

A. You should never 'have' to resurface. Pool surfaces are an aesthetic coating, a pleasingly consistent backdrop for the water. Constructed properly, the pool will hold water without any surface at all. Watch for leaks around the fittings, but when you re- surface is entirely up to you.

Marcite checking

Q. I'm so mad I could spit. After the pool was Marcited, it wasn't filled until the next day. We discovered many checking cracks which were filled at a later time. I am wondering if we should demand that the contractor do the job over. We intend to keep the house for a long time and need to make the right choice.

A. Not immediately filling the pool was unfortunate (dumb), but is rarely fatal. Have no idea what you mean when you say the 'check cracks' were filled in. Surface checking disappears when the pool's filled with water.

Was once filling a pool when the owner asked 'When will you make the surface blue?' Thinking he was kidding, I joked about the 'underwater paint' we applied just as soon as the pool was filled. Next morning he came out and seemed genuinely disappointed that the pool was already blue. "I wanted to see the diver work". He was even going to keep the kids home from school to watch us paint the surface underwater.

Only damage that may have occurred is delamination (pop offs) that won't become evident until much later and on a new pool (marcite applied to gunite), is unlikely. Only way to find out is to drain the pool and 'tap them out', but don't be surprised when the 'checking' reappears and the surface turns white again.

As the questions keep pouring in, our collection of helpful FAQ's keeps are the latest. If You can't find what you're looking for in either our excerpt archives or in the FAQ's below, please contact us using the online help page. Also, you can now look in our new "Contractor's Corner" for tips and tricks by other pool pros.

Patching Under Vinyl

Q. The material used to build the sloping sides and bottom of the pool, looks like cement, but isn't, has two large holes in it where it was crushed. I'm replacing the vinyl liner and when I removed the old one, the holes were there. What is typically used as a surface material for vinyl lined pools and is there any trick to doing the repair myself.

A. What you see is probably a mixture of cement and vermiculite or perlite. The material is typically only about 2" thick and you can repair it with a bagged cement and sand mixture. Remove any broken pieces and dig out the ground so that your repair is at least an inch thicker than the rest of the floor. Mix the cement to the consistency of peanut butter and sponge the repair smooth.


Q. The surface on my pool is in good shape except for two "pop- offs" . The Realtor says this will have to be repaired before she'll show the house. Re- surfacing is so expensive, what can I do?

A. If you can safely drain the pool, you can patch the spots with sanded tile grout matched to the 'true' color of your surface. You're writing from Florida, so be careful with the water table when you drain the pool. 'Pop- offs' in the pool are no problem compared with 'popping' the pool.

Resurfacing Material

Q. Just a gunite pool that needs resurfacing badly, is 'Diamond Brite' the best material to use?

A. The best material to use is the strongest material the crews in your area are capable of applying. In Central Florida, 'Diamond Brite' is a highly respected, but tricky material and requires some hard- learned experience. You don't want to be anyone's' "guinea pig'" even the best material will fail if it isn't properly applied.

Resurfacing and Leaks

Q. We just signed a contract to have our pool marcited. The rep told us it would solve our leak problem, but now I have doubts.

A. Resurfacing the pool will repair most interior leaks; when a breakdown of the surface is the problem. Sign of an amateur when a pool guy makes a statement, but offers nothing to back it up. If he thinks his material will repair your leak problem, then he must know what the problem is. He should have temporarily plugged the leak to put you at ease.

Sand In My Pool

Q. I'm getting sand in my pool. It's coming out of the water jets going into the pool. Is this a leak?

A. You didn't mention losing water, so it's not a leak. On the Pool Poll you indicated that you currently have a D.E. filter and I'd guess the sand you see is actually filter powder. If you've had the grids re- skinned recently, they weren't re- assembled properly. If you haven't re- covered the filter grids in the last seven years, I'd say it's a rip in one of the grids. Check with your local pool store about re- skinning the filter grids.

Silicon Caulk

Q. A leak was repaired at the beginning of the summer and it's leaking again. The company used silicon caulk to repair on the steps and they say it needs to be replaced because my water messed it up. They won't do anything unless I pay them. Does this sound right to you?

A. Sounds like a great idea if you own the pool company. Silicones aren't generally made for underwater application and typically loosen after a month or so. I know of only one silicon caulk sold through marine supply stores that might work on your pool. A better choice is 3M- 5200 marine sealant. Applied like a caulk, this stuff will hold underwater. If the company won't back their work, call the BBB and find someone who will.

Slipped Liner

Q. The liner seems to be slipping in the shallow end. This has caused a wrinkle on the bottom of the pool and a ten foot section of the top has pulled loose. Is there any way to correct this without draining the pool and restretching the liner?

A. No, water weighs too much to move the liner without draining the pool. I'll bet the liner pulled loose before the wrinkle appeared. If the floor support isn't built up high enough at the radius (where the floor and wall meet); or the radius has eroded, the liner can't support the weight of the water by itself. Check the depth at the radius and build it up with builders sand, if necessary, before you re- attach and refill the liner.

Stains on Quartz

Q. I had one of the quartz finishes put on my pool about six months ago. Now there are little BB sized rust stains all over. The contractor said it's stains from a tree in the back corner of the yard. I don't think so. For one thing the stains are growing and they're evenly spaced.

A. When I talked to one of the quartz material sales reps, he mentioned that they sieve all materials that go into the product. At the time, it sounded like 'fluff' and I didn't pursue it. An engineer mentioned it later and I asked him about it. What you've got is a metallic contaminant, probably iron and probably brought in with the lime in the cement. It's evenly spaced because it's evenly distributed throughout the material.

Don't think harshly of your contractor. Your rust spots are probably as much a surprise to him as they are to you. Material manufacturers can be incredibly creative with the SideStep when it comes to the 'Warranty Dance' and chances are when the contractor repairs the problem, he'll be doing it out of his own wallet.

Rebar and Rust Stains

Q. The rebar on my in ground spa is showing through (rusting) and staining the walls. I tried using a primer and also paints the spa but nothing last for very long. I am looking at fiberglassing the spa. Is this a good idea ? Is this something I can do myself ? I am quite handy around the house. Is the idea itself worth pursuing?

A. Rebar (or the wire used to tie rebar intersections) rusts through when it's less than an inch from the surface. If you've got just a few rust spots, I'd consider cutting them out. Takes a concrete cut- off (handheld) saw and hammer & chisel. Dusty, but homeowner do- able. Repair with gray masonry cement and cover with any material you like.

Except fiberglass. One writer pointed out that a major fiberglass installer uses snarling Doberman pinscher dogs as a trademark. Said she didn't appreciate the symbolism until she asked for warranty work.

If you want a surface that will truly (the Romans did it) last forever and something a homeowner could do, I'd tile it. Use 'penny' tile, 4"X4", 1"X 1", doesn't matter. Go slow, in small sections, while you learn the routine. Start with the floor and the leg- high wall. Use thin- set to stick it to the walls, wait a day and use sanded tile grout to grout it in, meld in the fittings. Didn't mention the size of your spa, but $400- $500 should cover all the costs.

All procedures are in the book. Sounds like an interesting project.

Diamond Brite Stain?

Q. I had 'Classic' Diamond Brite put in my pool and there's a three foot dark spot at the bottom of the steps in the shallow end and around the main drain. The contractor wants to drain the pool and acid wash the dark areas. Will this stain be permanent?

A. Diamond Brite is finished with an acid wash which takes the 'haze' off the surface. I'll bet the 'darker spot' is actually where the Diamond Brite is fully visible while the lighter areas still sport the haze. Have the contractor drain the pool but ask him to first try lightly acid washing the lighter areas of the surface.

Tile Cracks

Q. I've got a crack through the tile on one whole side of my pool. The pool is a few years old and it doesn't seem to be getting worse, but it looks so terrible. What can I do?

A. The crack you describe is actually a deck problem. The edge of the deck is on top of your pool wall and the tile covers this joint. When the deck settles, usually in the first year or so, it causes a crack in, or just below the tile line. As long as the settlement's stopped, you can either fill this crack with grout colored to roughly match the tile or pool surface or knock off the old tile and replace it. Assuming, of course, that matching tile is still available.

Tile Repair

Q. A tile is chipped and I'm worried about one of the kids getting cut. Nobody will come out for one tile and I have no tools.

A. For an emergency repair, you can mix a little 2- part pool putty and carefully form it onto the broken tile. After the putty sets, use a crayon to color the repair.

Water Jets

Q. How do you get the water jets working in the shallow end?

A. If this is an older pool (1960's or early 70's) and the jets are in the seating area, this was a first attempt at the 'spa effect'. There will be a valve on the return line at the equipment that controls them. If the jets are not valved and run constantly, you may need to put smaller eyeballs in the deep- end returns to increase water flow at the shallow end.

Worn Fiberglass and Irritation

Q. Kids think the pool is giving them a rash. I ran my hand over the surface and it feels like a bristle brush. It's five year old fiberglass, what gives?

A. At about five years the fiberglass gelcoat begins to dissolve, especially where it gets full sun. The hair you feel are strands of glass that were once protected under gelcoat. It's vital that you move quickly to either repair the gel or cover it with an epoxy paint; pool water will destroy the resin bonding the glass. If you can't find your dealer for warranty, don't forget the most experienced fiberglass repair people are found in boatyards and autobody shops.

Swimming Pool Filter

Filter Types

Q. You said the D.E. filter is better, my builder tells me that the cartridge filter is better. Who's lying?

A. Nobody in the pool business lies. 'Better' is a relative term and both statements are true. The cartridge is easier to take care of and cheaper to install, so it's definitely better for the contractor. The D.E. requires occasional trips to the pool store, a little instruction and costs more, but it filters bacteria, algae spores and other material out of the water that goes right through the cartridge. The D.E. filter is better for you and your pool.


Swimming Pool Heater

Gas Heater Broken

Q. I've got a gas heater on my pool. It will cost almost as much to repair the old one as it would to buy a new one. What do you recommend?

A. You've got an old pool, gas hasn't been used to heat a pool since the Nixon administration. I'm assuming we are talking about a pool and not a spa, where gas is still a viable choice. Look at the heat pumps. That's what I chose and haven't regretted it.

Swimming Pool Pump

Pump Leak

Q. I've had a constant leak at the top of my pump. The male adapter's been replaced three times. It works for a while and then it leaks again. What's up?

A. Assuming that you're using PTFE tape or paste on the threads, I'd guess you've got stress on the fitting. If the pump and filter can't be be secured to the pad, get a PVC Union fitted with a male adapter. The rubber seal will absorb a small amount of stress and keep the fitting water- tight. If that doesn't work, re plumb the piping between the pump and the filter. Also, make sure the pump is picking up the prime right away. A dry- running pump will cause enough heat to melt this fitting.

Pump Not Working

Q. My skimmer is not skimming the surface very well and my vacuum isn't working very well either. Is this a problem with my pump? I just bought the house last week, and the pump looks kind of old.

A. Have seen some old looking pumps move a lot of water. Turn the pump 'off', open the strainer basket on the pump and check for debris. Then place a hose in the basket and fill the strainer. Bump the pump 'on' for a moment and the water should disappear instantly. If not, you've got either a clogged filter or pump impeller that will greatly affect the pumps performance.

Q. My problem is the motor on my Sta-Rite pump. It wants to turn on but won't. It had been doing that 3 or 4 times then finally turning on. What will happen is it hums for 10 or so seconds then kicks off when it gets to hot I guess. It was turning on but not anymore. What can I do?

A. Sounds like bad capacitor. On Sta-Rite, the capacitor is a 1" diameter, 2.5" long black cylinder under the metal cap on the back of the motor. Turn the pump 'off' at the breaker, remove the cover and touch the two leads on the capacitor with an insulated screwdriver to dissipate any residual electricity. It's a $10 part at your local pool store or 'Radio Shack'.

Swimming Pool Skimmer

Skimmer Clogs

Q. My skimmer line is clogged in a twenty year old, screened- in pool. The main drain works fine. I've tried everything to un- clog it. Do I have to dig up the skimmer line or is it worth fixing?

A. Even in a screened in pool you'll get material floating on the surface, which the skimmer removes. If your skimmer valve is original, I'd replace it. Chances are it's one of the brass boiler valves and twenty years is more service than I'd expect on a pool. If you have a brass valve on the main drain or cleaner line, replace them at the same time.

Skimmer Leaks

Q. The water level stops about two inch below skimmers. I can't see anything at this level that could leak.

A. Take a look at your skimmer and see if the inside lip (where the plastic meets the tile) isn't two inches below the tile line in your pool. Splash a little water into the skimmer from the pool and 'dye check' this lip. It's a common leak site repairable with 2- part pool putty.



Swimming Pool Water Chemistry

Q. "As a pool owner, I have a general idea of how to keep my pool water clean. But frankly, I’m not sure I’m doing it right. How can you help me?"

A. Surprisingly, most pool owners don’t really feel confident about the way they maintain their pools. That’s why we wrote this FAQ Sheet.

Q. "Well I’m afraid some of my questions are pretty dumb…"

A. Pretty common, is more like it! Look, a swimming pool is a sophisticated piece of equipment. Nobody expects you to know everything about it without asking questions or you'll find yourself with a messed-up pool.

Q. "O.K., then. Let me ask you this: exactly what is a ‘properly maintained’ pool, anyway?"

A. A properly maintained pool is one that is visually and biologically clean.

Q. "I can tell if it’s visually clean just by looking at it. But how do I tell if it’s ‘biologically clean’?"

A. By using a test kit, and measuring your pool’s chlorine, Alkalinity and pH levels. (This is a very easy procedure and your pool supply dealer will be happy to show you how it’s done.) So, if you maintain the proper chlorine and pH levels, bacteria and algae will be killed, and your pool will be "biologically" safe.

Q. "I’ve heard of chlorine before, but I’m still not really sure what pH is."

A. "pH" refers to the acidity/basicity level of your pool water. The reason it’s important is that unless your pool is within a certain pH range, your chlorine can’t chemically interact with the bacteria and algae it’s supposed to kill.

Q. "In other words, unless my pH range is properly adjusted, chlorine won’t help keep my pool as clean as it should be?"

A. Exactly. Most pool owners don’t realize how important the pH level is. The proper range is 7.2-7.8, ideally 7.6.

Q. "Since it is so important, how do I maintain it?"

A. That’s easy. All you have to do is: 1: Measure your pool’s current pH level 2: If the level is too high (your test kit tells you how to determine that), add "pH MINUS" 3: If the level is too low, add "pH PLUS."

Q. "Where do I get this ‘pH minus’ & "pH plus’?"

A. Your pool chemical dealer has it. It’s not expensive, but it is critical.

Q. "O.K. now that my pool’s pH is balanced what do I do?"

A. You add chlorine. The idea is to maintain a Free Residual Chlorine level of 1.0-1.5ppm.

Q. "That’s a new one for me. Just what does ‘Free Residual Chlorine’ actually mean?"

A. ‘Free Residual Chlorine’ is the amount of chlorine that remains available to kill bacteria and algae as they occur in your water.

Q. "O.K. how can I be sure I always have enough ‘Free Chlorine’ in my pool?"

A. Simple. Just ask your pool chemical dealer for a test kit that measures the ‘Free Chlorine’ level. It’s easy to use and you should use it daily.

Q. "That sounds easy enough"

A. It is.

Q. "But aren’t there different types of chlorine?"

A. Yes, but basically we recommend just one type.

Q. "Which one?"

A. Any chlorine ( either granular or in tablet form ) that is what they call a "Stabilized Tri-chlor" type.

Q. "Why?"

A. Because it’s very effective in fighting bacteria and algae, it’s very easy to use, and it lasts up to 4 times longer than liquid bleach, shock or calcium hypochlorite.

Q. "C’mon. Is there really a difference?"

A. Yes. A Stabilized Chlorine may cost a little more initially, but will save you money in the long run. It protects the chlorine from the sun's damaging rays.

Q. "I guess I can see the advantages of Stabilized Chlorine - tell me more.

A. The sun will cause liquid bleach or shock and calcium hypochlorite to lose their effectiveness after 4 hours. But if you use a chlorine with a built-in-stabilizer, it will keep working for over 24 hours. More chlorine is left in the water to do the job of sanitizing, and less is wasted - being burned off by the sun. A smaller amount of Stabilized Chlorine will last you longer than 2-3 times as much unstabilized chlorine.

Q. "O.K. I’m convinced that Stabilized Chlorine is better than the others. Now what do I do?"

A. You have a choice of either Stabilized granular chlorine or Stabilized tablets. For most applications, we usually recommend using the 3" slow dissolving "hockey puck" style tabs.

Q. "OK, but say I did select the granular. How do I use it?"

A. Easy: Once your pH is balanced, simply add 2 ½ ounces of most brand's granules for every 10,000 gallons of water. However, be sure to check the label of the brand you choose.

Q. "How often?"

A. You do have to add it every day unless otherwise indicated by your test kit. This is this disadvantage of a granular product.

Q. "Do I just sprinkle it right into the water?"

A. No. You should mix it with water in a bucket first. This will ensure that you don't stain your pool bottom. Remember, always add chemicals TO water, not water TO chemicals.

Q. "Sounds easy, but I think the tablets would be easier. Am I right ?"

A. Yep. Simply place the tablets either into your skimmer basket or, if you have one, your chlorine feeder. Usually only once per week !

Q. "How much?"

A. The same as with the granules: 2 ½ ounces per 10,000 gallons is typical, however be sure to check the label of the brand you choose.

Q. "How can I tell how many gallons my pool holds?"

A. There is a chart on our Web Site, go back one page to the main Pool & Spa Tips Information Directory and you'll see it.

Q. "You make it out to sound pretty simple. Basically, it seems like all I have to do is keep my pH balanced and my chlorine level up."

A. You’ve got it! The only other bit of routine maintenance you need to know about is vacuuming, super-chlorinating, and maintaining total alkalinity.

Q. "Vacuuming I know about: once a week I vacuum the bottom and sides and then backwash my filter. But what’s super-chlorinating, and how often do I do it?"

A. Super-chlorinating is just what it sounds like: Instead of putting in 2 ½ ounces of chlorine per 10,000 gallons, you put in 5-10 times that amount.

Q. "Wow! That’s a lot!"

A. True, but you do it only when needed, usually after a heavy rain, a very hot weekend or when the pool’s been heavily used. Before swimming, you must wait until the free residual chlorine has returned to below 3 ppm.

Q. "Got it. Now what’s total alkalinity, and why do I have to test for it?"

A. This is the water’s ability to resist changes in pH. The same conditions that produce the need to Super-chlorinate may also affect your water’s total alkalinity. A simple test kit will help you keep total alkalinity at the proper level of 80-120ppm. Your pool chemical dealer can supply the test kit and the chemicals you need.



Water Basics

Water is generally classified into two groups: Surface Water and Ground Water. Surface water is just what the name implies; it is water found in a river, lake or other surface impoundment. This water is usually not very high in mineral content, and many times is called "soft water" even though it usually is not. Surface water is exposed to many different contaminants, such as animal wastes, pesticides, insecticides, industrial wastes, algae and many other organic materials. Even surface water found in a pristine mountain stream possibly contains Giardia or Coliform Bacteria from the feces of wild animals, and should be boiled or disinfected by some means prior to drinking.

Ground Water is that which is trapped beneath the ground. Rain that soaks into the ground, rivers that disappear beneath the earth, melting snow are but a few of the sources that recharge the supply of underground water. Because of the many sources of recharge, ground water may contain any or all of the contaminants found in surface water as well as the dissolved minerals it picks up during it's long stay underground. Waters that contains dissolved minerals, such as calcium and magnesium above certain levels are considered "hard water" Because water is considered a "solvent", i.e., over time it can break down the ionic bonds that hold most substances together, it tends to dissolve and 'gather up' small amounts of whatever it comes in contact with. For instance, in areas of the world where rock such as limestone, gypsum, fluorspar, magnetite, pyrite and magnesite are common, well water is usually very high in calcium content, and therefore considered "hard".

Due to the different characteristics of these two types of water, it is important that you know the source of your water -- Surface or Ground. Of the 326 million cubic miles of water on earth, only about 3% of it is fresh water; and 3/4 of that is frozen. Only 1/2 of 1% of all water is underground; about 1/50th of 1% of all water is found in lakes and streams. The average human is about 70% water. You can only survive 5 or less days without water.

Hard Water

Q. What is hard water?

A. Hard water is the most common problem found in the average home. Hard water is water that contains dissolved hardness minerals above 1 GPG.

Q. What are hardness minerals?

A. Calcium, manganese and magnesium are the most common.

Q. How do you Measure Hardness?

A. Parts per million or grains per gallon are the most common. One part per million (PPM) is just what it says: out of one million units, one unit. Grains, or grains per gallon (GPG) is a weight measurement taken from the Egyptians; one dry grain of wheat, or about 1/7000 of a pound. It takes 17.1 PPM to equal 1 GPG.

Q. Why Should Hard Water Concern Me?

A. For many uses, it would not matter. For instance, to put out fires, water your lawn, wash the mud off the streets or float your boat, water would have to be pretty hard to cause a problem. But for bathing, washing dishes and clothes, shaving, washing your car and many other uses of water, hard water is not as efficient or convenient as "soft water." For instance, you use only 1/2 as much soap cleaning with soft water because hard water and soap combine to form "soap scum" that can't be rinsed off, forming a 'bathtub ring' on all surfaces and dries leaving unsightly spots on your dishes. When hard water is heated, the hardness minerals are re-crystallized to form hardness scale. This scale can plug your pipes and hot water heater, causing premature failure, necessitating costly replacement. The soap scum remains on your skin even after rinsing, clogging the pores of your skin and coating every hair on your body. This crud can serve as a home for bacteria, causing diaper rash, minor skin irritation and skin that continually itches. For many industrial uses, the hardness minerals interfere with the process, causing inferior product.

Q. Who Will Test My Water for Hardness?

A. If you are connected to a municipal supply, call the water Superintendent, or City Hall. They can either provide the answer, or direct you to the proper individual. Remember the conversion factor: it takes 17.1 PPM to equal 1 GPG. In other words, if your water has 171 PPM calcium in it, divide 171 by 17.1 to get the answer in grains. This example would be 10 grains, or GPG.

If you are on a private supply, you could contact your county extension agent: collect a sample in an approved container and send to the city or state health department for testing: find a testing lab (try the yellow pages): call a water conditioning company. By the way, if you are on a private well, YOU, AND YOU ALONE are responsible for the safety of the water you and your family drink. You should test your supply for bacteria at least once per year and other contaminants at least every three years -- more under certain conditions.

Q. My Water is Hard, Now What?

A. If your water tests over 3 GPG hard, you should mechanically soften it. Softening water that is less than 3 GPG, while it makes your shaving and bathing more comfortable, is considered a luxury due to the fact that the cost is more than your savings. Over 3 GPG, you will save enough to pay for the cost and maintenance of a water conditioner.

As of this writing, the most economical way for you to soften your household water is with an ion exchange water softener. This unit uses sodium chloride (salt) to recharge man made plastic like beads that exchange hardness minerals for sodium. As the hard water passes through and around the plastic like beads, the hardness minerals (ions) attach themselves to the bead, dislodging the sodium ions. This process is called "ion exchange". When the plastic bead, called Resin, has no sodium ions left, it is exhausted, and can soften no more water. The resin is recharged by flushing with salt water. The sodium ions force the hardness ions off the resin beads; then the excess sodium is rinsed away, and the resin is ready to start the process all over again. This cycle can be repeated many, many time before the resin loses it's ability to react to these forces.

Q. Which Water Conditioning Company should I call?

A. As in any purchase, talk to your friends and neighbors -- who do they use? Are they happy with them? Check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints. The BBB can't prevent shady business, but they can and do keep a file of complaints filed by people who have had dealings with them.

Ask at least two to come to your home to look at your plumbing and then give you a quote on their equipment. Have them explain all the features of the unit, as well as the warranty.

Q. What Should I look for in a Water Conditioner?

A. Make sure the unit has enough resin to treat all the water you and your family will use. As of this writing, the average usage per day, per person (including children), for inside the house is 87 gallons. You should also be shown two or three ways to initiate recharging the unit.

The oldest way is by a time clock, i.e., your water usage is calculated and the frequency of recharging programmed into the timer. On the appointed day, at the appointed hour, the unit recharges. If all went as calculated, ok. If you were gone -- too bad -- you just wasted salt and water. If you had extra company -- too bad -- you ran out of soft water. You must pick a unit that will treat one days supply of water and still have about 40% of the resin in the recharged state. This will provide you with the most efficiency for salt and regeneration water.

A second way to initiate recharge is by electronic sensing. By electronically checking the resin, these units can determine when the resin needs to be recharged -- this is a great help when your water hardness changes, when you have extra company or when you are gone for a few days. These 'sensor' units can save you up to 42% of your salt and recharge water as well as keep you in soft water when you have extra guests.

A third way to initiate recharge is by using a meter. These units have a meter installed in the water line and simply measure how many gallons of water you actually used. The unit is set according to your water hardness, and will recharge when the gallons used approach exhaustion of the resin bed, saving you a high percentage of your recharge salt and water.

Many variations of these methods are on the market. Some use computers to calculate in advance, when to recharge the unit; some have two resin beds (tanks), and switch back and forth between the two, keeping you in soft water all the time, at the highest efficiency. These systems are most effective in high-hardness waters, i.e., over 10-12 GPG, and over 4 people in the family. Low hardness water and smaller families do not require the extra expense of these options.

Q. I Have a Water Conditioner, Now my Water Feels "Slimy"

A. When the hardness minerals are removed, soap no longer forms a soap curd, or "bathtub ring" on your skin, plugging your pores, clinging to every strand of hair. You are now truly clean. That slick, slimy feeling you feel is your natural body oils -- without the soap scum. The old saying that you get "squeaky clean" is a myth; that feeling was caused by the soap scum on your skin. By the way, that soap scum provided an excellent place for bacteria to hide and grow, causing numerous minor skin ailments.



Water that Smells

Q. My Water Stinks! What can I Do?

A. First, you must learn a little about your nose: Once you smell some things, your sense of smell is dulled for a short while, and you can't make accurate judgments of smell. For instance, if I blindfold you, let you smell gasoline, hand you a piece of onion to eat and tell you it is an apple, you can't tell it's not because your nose isn't working properly!! (Your sense of taste isn't working either -- smell and taste are closely related and affect each other!)

So, to correctly analyze your problem, you need to become a detective. The best time to locate the smell is after you have been away from home for a few hours -- this allows your nose to become sensitive to "that smell" again. With your 'sensitized' nose, go to an outside spigot -- one that the raw, untreated water flows from. Turn it on, let it run a few minutes, then smell it. If it smells -- we found it. If not, we must look further. (Many, many smells are not in the raw water at all, they are introduced into the water inside the house.) Go to a cold, treated water spigot inside the house, turn it on and let it run a minute; then smell. If this water smells, and the outside, untreated water didn't -- you must have a device (cartridge filter, water softener, etc.) in the water line that needs to be cleaned and sanitized.

If it is a cartridge, or 'string' filter, replace the element and sanitize the housing. If you have a water conditioner call the Company where you bought the unit for advise on how to sanitize the unit. If you rent the unit, just call! You can sanitize the unit by pouring Hydrogen Peroxide or Chlorine Bleach in the brine well of the salt tank, and placing the unit into regeneration. Check with the seller, or, if they are no longer in business, any Professional Water Conditioning Dealer for how much to put in your particular unit.

If the cold, treated water inside didn't smell, turn on the hot water and let it run a few minutes -- does it smell? If it does, chances are you have a sacrificial anode inside your hot water heater that is "coming apart at the seams" and throwing off a "rotten egg" odor. This obnoxious smell will drive you right out of your shower! The only solution is to remove the anode from the heater, voiding your warranty, or replace it with a new one made with aluminum alloy. This anode is placed in a (glass lined) hot water heater to seal up any cracks in the glass lining and prevent corrosion of the heater tank. You will find the anode on the top of the heater; remove the tin cover and insulation -- look for what looks like a pipe plug -- about 3/4 inch in size with a 1 1/16"fitting. Turn off the heat source and the water; have someone hold the tank to prevent it from turning, and unscrew the "plug". You will find that the 'plug' has a 30 - 40 " long pipe (or what's left of one) attached to it. Hopefully, most of the rod is still attached -- just corroded. If so, replace the plug with a real pipe plug and throw the anode away. If part of the rod has corroded off, and fallen into the heater, you may have to try to fish it out. Either way, before you plug the hole, pour about 2 pints of chlorine bleach into the heater first. This will kill the smell left in the heater. If, after a week or so, the smell returns, you must fish out the rod that is in the bottom of the tank. Good Luck!

Q. OK, It's my Raw Water That Smells -- Now What?

A. First, you must determine what is causing the smell, and how strong it is.

Minor, musty smell - If it is a minor, or low-level smell, you MIGHT be able to solve it with a small, point-of-use carbon filter. You can place these types of filters on the water line going to the cold water where you draw you drinking water. Or, you might solve it with a whole-house filter on your incoming water line to filter all of the water inside your home.

Because carbon removes smells by Adsorption, i.e., the smell "sticks" or "adheres" to the carbon particles, you must be careful not to exceed the manufactures recommended flow -- some filters even have a flow restriction built in them. If you run water through them too fast, you will not remove the smells. Whenever you place a carbon filter in your water line, you must be sure to replace the element and sanitize the housing on a regular basis. Carbon filters remove organics from water, and the bacteria found in water like to eat organics -- the carbon filter is a nice, dark place, just full of food for them to grow and reproduce in. Regular and routine replacement will help prevent any buildup of bacteria in the cartridge.

Strong, rotten-egg smell - Strong, rotten-egg odors in the raw water is usually the result of the decomposition of decaying underground organic deposits. As water is drawn to the surface, hydrogen sulfide gas can be released to the atmosphere. In strong concentrations, this gas is flammable and poisonous. It rapidly tarnishes silver, turning it black. It is toxic to aquarium fish in sufficient quantities. As little as 0.5 ppm hydrogen sulfide can be tasted in your drinking water.

Strong, musty smell - If you are unlucky enough to have this problem, you should look for a company that has local experience in dealing with this problem. There are three basic ways to solve this problem for homeowners.


Installation of a whole house filter loaded with a media that is specific for hydrogen sulfide removal is successful many times. These types of filters must be recharged with chlorine or potassium permanganate. The removal capacities of these types of filters are usually fairly low, and must be sized to contain enough media to prevent premature exhaustion, and subsequent passage of the smell to service. It is also typical that the amount of hydrogen sulfide can fluctuate rapidly, causing great difficulty in sizing the unit. In addition, potassium permanganate is extremely "messy", and will leave stains that are very difficult to remove.


Feeder systems consist of a small pump that injects small amounts of chlorine (usually) into the incoming water. The water must then be held for a short period of time to allow the hydrogen sulfide to precipitate out of the water. This tank should be designed in such a manner that the water that enters it will mix thoroughly with the water in the tank, to assure complete reaction. The water then should pass through a filter to remove both the precipitated matter and the chlorine remaining in the water. You should be aware, however, that whenever you mix chlorine with organic materials (remember where hydrogen sulfide come from!), the chances are very high that trihalomethanes (possible cancer causing carcinogens) will be formed. Also, feeder maintenance is high, you should be prepared to "play" with the unit frequently.


Aeration consists of breaking the incoming water into small droplets (spray) into the air, drawing fresh air through that spray, collecting the water into a storage tank, repressurize the water, passing it through a particulate filter to catch any particles that might be carried out of the storage tank. The air drawn though the spray must be vented outside the house -- remember, it is toxic and explosive. Although this system necessitates another pump to repressurize your supply, you are not adding any chemicals to your water, which makes it attractive. This system is low maintenance and no chemicals to purchase. Initial cost may be higher, however, and space requirements may be greater.

Water that Stains

I have Red Stains in my Sinks and Other Fixtures -- Help!

Red stains are normally caused by iron in the water. You must test to determine the amount and the type of iron you have. Some types are: oxidized, soluble, colloidal, bacteria or organic-bound. All are a problem! It only takes 0.3 ppm to stain clothes, fixtures, etc.

  • Oxidized
    This type of iron is usually found in a surface water supply. This is water that contains red particles when first drawn from the tap. The easiest way to remove this type of iron is by a fine mechanical filter. A cartridge type filter is usually not a good solution, due to the rapid plugging of the element. Another method or removal is by feeding a chemical into the water to cause the little particles of iron to clump together, and then fall to the bottom of a holding tank, where they can be flushed away.
  • Soluble
    Soluble iron is called "clear water" iron. After being drawn form the well and contacting the air, the iron oxidizes, or "rusts", forming reddish brown particles in the water. Depending on the amount of iron in the water, you may solve this problem with a water conditioner, or a combination of softener and filter. You may use an iron filter that recharges with chlorine or potassium permanganate, or feed chemicals to oxidize the iron and then filter it with a mechanical filter. You can sometimes hide the effects of soluble iron by adding chemicals that, in effect, coat the iron in the water and prevent it from reaching oxygen and oxidizing.
  • Colloidal
    Colloidal iron is very small particles of oxidized iron suspended in the water. They are usually bound together with other substances. They resist agglomeration, i.e., the combining together of like substances forming larger, heavier, more filterable ones, due to the static electrical charge they carry. This iron looks more like a color than particles when held up in a clear glass, as they are so small. Treatment is usually one of two: Feed chlorine to oxidize the organic away from the iron, thus allowing agglomeration to occur, or, feeding polymers that attract the static charge on the particles, forming larger clumps of matter that is filterable.
  • Bacterial
    Iron bacteria are living organisms that feed on the iron found in the water, pipes, fittings, etc. They build slime all along the water flow path. Occasionally, the slimy growths break free, causing extremely discolored water. If a large slug breaks loose, it can pass through to the point of use, plugging fixtures. These types of bacteria are becoming more common throughout the United States. If you suspect bacteria iron, look for a reddish or green slime buildup in your toilet flush tank. To confirm your suspicions, gather a sample of this slime and take it to your local health department, or water department for observation under the microscope. This type of iron problem is very hard to eliminate. You must kill the bacteria, usually by chlorination. You must use high amounts of chlorine throughout your plumbing system to kill all organisms. You may find it necessary to feed chlorine continuously to prevent regrowth. A filter alone will not solve this problem.
  • Organic bound
    When iron combines with tannins and other organics, complexes are formed that cannot be removed by ion exchange or oxidizing filters. This iron may be mistaken for colloidal iron. Test for tannins; if they are present, it is most likely combined with the iron. Low level amounts of this pest can be removed by use of a carbon filter, which absorbs the complex. You must replace the carbon bed when it becomes saturated. Higher amounts require feeding chlorine to oxidize the organics to break apart from the iron and cause both to precipitate into a filterable particle.

I Have Blue or Green Stains on my Fixtures -- Help!

You either have copper in your water supply, or you have copper pipes and corrosive water. Test for copper in your water. Test the pH, total dissolved solids content and the oxygen content of your water.

Copper can be removed by ion exchange, i.e., a water softener. The removal rate is about the same as it is for iron.

Copper pipes and corrosive water. If your pH is from 5 to 7, you may raise it by passing the water through a sacrificial media. By sacrificing calcium carbonate into the water, the corrosively will be reduced. If the pH is below 5, you will need to feed chemicals into the water.

If the corrosively is caused by excess oxygen, the hot water will be much more corrosive than the cold. Treatment is by feeding polyphosphate or silicates to coat and protect the plumbing, or to aerate the water to release the excess oxygen.


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