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Above ground pool maintenance is a lot like car maintenance, in a "pay me now, or pay me [more] later" kind of way. If your cleaning, chemistry, or circulation is off-target, you can develop water problems and pool liner issues, which can be expensive to correct.
Above ground pools with small or ineffective filter systems leave little room for error, especially in situations where frugality trumps water quality. A perfect example of this is if the pump doesn't run long enough each day in the interest of energy savings, or if required chemical adjustments or sanitizers are not added and a water problem goes unresolved.
To avoid algae and other pool problems that are costly and time consuming, you've got to perform certain tasks on a regular above ground pool maintenance schedule. Below, you'll find a checklist for above ground pool owners, including a schedule of essential daily, weekly, and monthly pool maintenance tasks. Here's how to care for and maintain an above ground pool:
On a daily basis, your pool pump needs to run for at least 8–12 hours (or longer when the water becomes warm), to push the water through the filter and prevent stagnation. The amount of time should be enough that all the water in your pool passes through the filter at least once per day. Make sure to keep the water at a level that's about halfway up the mouth of the skimmer. A water level that's too high will result in water waste as the water splashes out of the pool, while too low of a water level can put your pump at risk of cavitation and permanent damage.
From the moment you open the pool, it needs to have a constant and adequate chlorine level to sanitize the water. A complete test kit, such as the Taylor K-2005, or AquaChek 7-Way Test Strips, can be used for your day-to-day pool water analysis. Another option is to use the Taylor Troubleshooter test kit for pH, Free Chlorine, and Total Alkalinity, and AquaChek test strips for your Calcium Hardness and Cyanuric Acid tests, which don't have to be tested as frequently.
Chlorine is very pH-dependent, and as pH levels rise, the killing power of chlorine is dramatically reduced. Add pH Increaser or pH decreaser as needed to maintain pH levels in the range of 7.4–7.6. Total Alkalinity (TA) has a direct impact on pH stability, so adjust TA levels first if they're not within the ideal range. You can use pH balancers to adjust TA levels, or you can use Alkalinity Increaser to raise levels if pH is only slightly low or close to ideal. Calcium Hardness and Cyanuric Acid levels are also important to keep an eye on, but you should only need to increase levels at startup with a freshly-filled pool, or after diluting the water. If using chlorine tablets as a primary sanitizer, they'll add a small amount of Cyanuric Acid to the pool for you. Just remember, small adjustments are much easier to make than large ones. Keep up with water chemistry to avoid a water balance yo-yo effect. Most pool owners won't adjust chemistry daily, but be sure to check the water balance at least 2–3 times per week minimum, so you can be quickly alerted to issues with pool water health.
Last, but not least, there's your chlorine levels. Keep your tablet dispenser filled (if applicable), and shock the pool about once a week. Which brings us to our next section...
To clean your above ground pool, you'll need pool cleaning tools, like a telescoping pool pole, skimmer net or leaf rake, pool brush, and a vacuum head and hose made for vinyl pools. Brushing is important to remove films, algae spores, and dust particles from surfaces, so they can be filtered out of the water.
Maintenance doses of algaecide and clarifier are very important for above ground pools, which can quickly turn swampy if chlorine or filtration suffers. Algaecide acts as a backup to such situations, and clarifiers help small filters immensely in preventing cloudy water and algae blooms. Other chemicals like enzymes are optional, but can help your chlorine work more efficiently and eliminate oily residues in your filter and at the waterline. Specialty chemicals like phosphate removers or stain and scale preventatives may only be needed if you're dealing with those issues, or if you have high levels of phosphates, metals, or calcium in your water.
Add enough chlorine tablets to raise the chlorine level into the 2.0–4.0 ppm range, and strive for consistency. Most above ground pools use 2–4 of the 3" chlorine tablets per week in a floating chlorinator. In addition to your tablets, it's important to shock the pool weekly to keep both living and non-living organic contaminants under control. The general rule of thumb is to shock the pool about once per week, but you only really need to shock the water whenever your Total Available Chlorine (TAC) is at least 0.3 ppm higher than your Free Available Chlorine (FAC) level, whenever FAC levels dip below 2.0 ppm, or after some sort of contamination incident — a storm, party, algae bloom, or someone having an "accident" in the pool. It's best to shock the pool in the evening, with the pump running.
If chlorine levels are within the recommended ranges, a chlorine-free shock will help keep your chlorine working as efficiently as possible, for as long as possible. While it won't increase chlorine levels in the water and it won't kill germs or algae, it will still oxidize all the non-living organics in the water, allowing your chlorine to focus in on the living contaminants. If immediate sanitization is required, or if your chlorine levels are low, use a chlorine shock to treat the water. Always follow product label instruction for application guidelines and recommended wait times after shocking before returning to the pool. With non-chlorine shock, you can often swim just 15 minutes later, while chlorine shock will take quite a bit longer. Sometimes with a vinyl liner, it's best to pre-dissolve the shock in a bucket of water before adding it to the pool. To do this, pour the shock into a 5-gallon bucket of water, and stir for 1 minute to dissolve. Pour around the edge of the pool, and brush up any granules, to prevent vinyl liner bleaching. When in doubt, always check the shock label, which will always have the correct information for your pool. In most cases, you'll use 1–2 pounds of shock per 10,000 gallons of water, depending on the situation.
Moving on to the pump and filter system, it's important to keep the pump strainer and skimmer baskets free of debris. Check these a few times a week to make sure your plumbing can still flow freely. We suggest using a permanent marker to write your clean, starting filter pressure (with the pump turned on) on the filter tank, or directly on the pressure gauge lens. That way, you'll always know the clean pressure reading. This helps you know when to backwash or clean the filter, which is usually when the pressure rises 8–10 psi above the clean or starting pressure, or whatever the filter manufacturer recommends. The gauge should always show "0" when the pump is off. If it doesn't, replace your pressure gauge. While you're near the equipment, listen to the pump for any odd noises, such as squealing or rattling, which can indicate a problem.
Calcium Hardness is a measurement of the hardness (or softness) of your pool water. Though it may not seem as crucial for above ground pools (when compared to inground pools), water that is too soft can make it easier for vinyl liner stains to appear, may cause your liner to become brittle, can cause foaming, and may even interfere with proper sanitation. Add Calcium Hardness Increaser if below 150 ppm. It's easier to raise levels than it is to lower them, so use caution not to increase the levels too much.
It's important to brush the pool on a weekly basis to keep algae spores in check and keep your liner from looking dirty. But at least once a month, it's important to do a "deep cleaning" of the pool, to make sure you hit all those hard-to-reach areas, like behind steps and ladders. If there are any problematic areas popping up, give them a little extra attention with your pool brush.
We also suggest using a mild vinyl cleaner and a soft sponge to clean the waterline area, to remove oil, dirt, and scaly buildup. Keeping the inside of the pool wall skimmer clean will reduce the amount of gunk that forms at the water line.
Above ground pool maintenance schedules are important to keeping your pool clean and clear, as well as to avoid struggles with algae, cloudy water, or unsafe swimming conditions.
Make your own checklist for above ground pool maintenance! Whether you do it, or someone else does it for you, it's got to be done. Invest the time and money to take care of your pool properly, and you'll save time and money all summer long!
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