Swimming Pool Cleaning FAQs
The Pool Janitor's SWIMMING POOL CLEANING FAQS
My pool has a bathtub ring...
Floating oils, dirt & waste can combine to form a scum line around the pool; this is why tile, an easily cleanable surface, is placed at water level around the perimeter of the pool. There are many tile cleanser products available which are applied with a scrubbing pad or brush and a little elbow grease. Abrasive cleaners work well, but should be avoided in vinyl lined pools, or pools using products such as Baquacil. On vinyl pools use a Tile & Vinyl cleaner and on Biguanide treated pools, use a cleanser made without chlorine.
Cleaning the scum inside of the skimmer frequently will help to keep the tile cleaner, as scum sticks itself to clean plastic. Using enzyme products can reduce or eliminate the amount of attention to the scum line as the work to "eat" scum producing substances. Using enzyme products can help prevent a bathtub ring around the tiles during summer, and on the walls during winter.
My pool is covered in leaves and debris…
Put on your back brace, heavy leaf removal can be hard work. At this stage, vacuuming through the skimmer or using automatic pool cleaners can be ineffective methods; both clogging up too quickly. The method of choice for the pool janitor is using a Leaf Rake attached to a telescopic pole. Slowly push the leaf rake along the floor, scooping up leaves into the bag. Work the pool in sections, trying not to create leaf-stirring currents. It takes practice and a strong back, but is the most effective way to remove large volumes of leaves.
Another method is the use of a Leaf Master, a product by Jandy. Attached to a telescopic pole and a garden hose, the Leaf Master, or its many copycat Leaf Eaters use venturi action to suck leaves up into a large attached bag as you roll the unit over the leaves. It's slow going, but you won't have to stop to empty the bag too often, and works faster with high water pressure from the garden hose. If you have a Polaris or other pressure side pool cleaner, with an adapter in the wall you can use your booster pump to power a Leaf Gulper or Leaf Bagger. There is also a jumbo sized, 5 ft tall leaf bag available, for those heavy jobs.
My pool always has debris floating on top...
Firstly, you want to check the influent valves before the pump. The pool janitor recommends that the skimmer pull in about 75% of the total flow into the pump. For example, if your pool has two influent valves, a main drain and a skimmer, close the main drain halfway while leaving the skimmer valve fully open. If your pool has an attached spa, crack the spa drain valve open slightly, or leave it closed altogether.
If you haven't purchased a Leaf Rake, or a "drag bag", as I sometimes call them, and are holding on to that flat "dip & flip" net that your builder gave you; you are creating your own problems. I strongly encourage the purchase of a nice leaf rake. There are also chemical products which are used to keep surface tension high, moving small debris to the sides of the pool. Another possible problem could be the condition of the Weir in the skimmer; you know, that flapper gate thing. Make sure it is operating properly so that it creates a draw or "waterfall" into the skimmer basket. Also check that the water level is not so high that it is above the opening of the skimmer.
Lastly, you may need to trim some of those trees and bushes near the pool. My pool, for example, was specifically built with no trees within wind shot!
What about automatic pool cleaners?
Automatic cleaners are terrific time-savers, and they also help to distribute and circulate the water while (some of them) decreasing the work load required of the filter. There is a wide range of cleaners available, for all types of pools and budgets. Cleaners run from $99.99 to $1500. The more expensive models will vacuum more debris, more efficiently and do it all independently of the filter system. Refer to the automatic swimming pool cleaner section for available cleaners from InTheSwim.com.
Do I need to brush my pool?
Your pool brush attaches to the telescopic pole, and is most commonly used to brush algae off of the walls. To quote the Pool Janitor; "Pools love to be brushed!" Brushing your pool will keep dirt from occupying the small pores and starting small organic farms. Steel bristled brushes, called algae brushes, are very effective on, you guessed it, algae. Do not use a steel brush on a vinyl lined pool.
Done regularly, brushing can also reduce the time spent vacuuming. Brush from the shallow end towards the deep end in overlapping strokes. Circle the pool towards the main drain, and much of the dirt will be swept up into the filter in this manner. Brushing your pool is not only great for your pool, but it's good exercise for you too!
How do I vacuum my pool?
Unless you have an automatic cleaner, an in-floor cleaning system or an automatic cover, or sometimes even if you do... you'll need to manually vacuum the debris. And here's how...
Roll your vacuum hose straight along the length of the pool. Attach the end with the swivel cuff onto your vacuum head which is attached to your telescopic pole. Extend the pole and place the head (with the hose attached) into the water so that it rests on the floor of the pool. Point the head across the pool so that it doesn't roll down the slope towards the deep end and prop the pole up against the pool's edge.
From the point where the hose surfaces, begin pushing the hose straight down into the water, hand over hand, until you reach the other end of the hose. This is filling the hose up with water so there is no air in it which may cause difficulties for the pump when you attach the hose to the skimmer. Another method of "priming the hose" is to hold the cuffed end firmly over a return fitting to force the air out of the end attached to the vacuum head.
Once the hose is primed, remove the skimmer lid and the basket and stick the hose end into the hole at the bottom of the skimmer. If it sucks it in tightly, great. If not, you may need a threaded hose adapter to achieve a tight fit. Now, the suction that was at the hole is now at the vacuum head. Do not lift the head out of the water with the hose attached, or you will fill the hose with air, losing prime, and possibly drawing air into the pump.
Roll the vacuum head on the floor, over the debris, and VOILA!, you're vacuuming. The suction will gradually decrease as the pump basket fills with vacuumed debris. When the pressure gauge drops and/or suction is sufficiently decreased, stop the pump and empty the basket. If pressure rises significantly, stop the pump and backwash the filter. Continue in this manner until the pool is clean.
For large leaves or heavy leaf volume, you can use an In-line Leaf Trap, with a small 3 ft or 6 ft section of hose, to trap debris before it reaches the skimmer. Another method is to use a Skim Vac Plate, a device that fits over your skimmer basket, to trap debris in the larger skimmer basket, so you don't have to stop and empty the pump basket so often.
I get no suction when I try to vacuum...
Most filter systems require adjustment to the valves to increase flow in the line through which you are vacuuming. You may want to close all the valves except the one on the line you are vacuuming through. On some systems, closing too many suction valves will cause the pump to cavitate, which occurs when it is starved for water. If the pump begins to shudder and make loud noises, open the valves until this ceases.
If your suction still 'sucks', check that the filter is clean and the pump basket has been cleaned. Before vacuuming debris into the pump basket, always make sure the basket is locked into place properly so that debris cannot bypass it and clog the impeller.
My pump loses prime when I try to vacuum...
If you notice that your pump begins to draw in air when you connect the hose into the skimmer, first check that you filled the hose full of water first. Air can also originate from an old, dry rotted vac hose with holes in it, or a cavitating pump drawing air in through the plumbing or valves.
To check the hose, hold one end tightly against your thigh while you make a tight seal with the other end around your mouth. Blow into the hose; you should feel very strong resistance. If you can blow easily, the hose may have one or more holes or splits in it, and you may be able to hear the air being drawn through when it's hooked up for vacuuming.
When a vacuum hose is hooked into the skimmer and perhaps some valves are closed to increase suction, we are increasing the "vacuum pressure" in the line, creating a front pressure on the pump. This can cause the pump to draw air in places it normally wouldn't under lower pressure. This situation should be corrected by locating the air source and making appropriate repairs. The source of air will always be before the pump impeller. The most common areas are the pump lid and the pipe that is threaded into the pump.
When I vacuum, the dirt passes right through...
When vacuuming fine, silty dirt or debris, you may notice a cloudy stream of dirt coming back into the pool via the return. This can continue slowly, even after you stop vacuuming, and can create a frustrating cycle for the pool janitor at your pool. More common in sand filters than in other types, fine dirt can be pushed right through the filter, especially one which may need a sand replacement. Indeed, this situation may indicate internal filter problems. It may also indicate a problem with the filter control valve. Old, loose multiport or push-pull valves can allow water to bypass the filter and return to the pool unfiltered.
Another possibility is that the pump is oversized for the filter, and is pushing the water so hard, it pushes dirt right through the filter medium. A sand filter actually works a little better when it's a little dirty; the added dirt helps to trap more dirt, so don't backwash prior to vacuuming a pool with a sand filter. You may also use filter aids, such as Alum or DE powder, added through the skimmer, which provide a gelatinous layer on top of the sand bed to help trap dirt. We also have a product called the Slime Bag, a fine mesh filter bag that attaches to your wall return and acts as a secondary filter.
Another tip is to vacuum to waste, especially if the debris is fine silt that can clog the filter quickly. To do this, overfill the pool first, and set the multiport valve to the 'Drain'/ 'Vacuum to Waste' position. Roll out the backwash hose, and vacuum the dirt (and water) right out of the pool...to waste.
My coping and deck are discolored...
Leaves and dirt may stain concrete surfaces or, after removing the winter cover, you may see a pronounced color difference. Pressure washing can remove these soils and restore original brightness to concrete and coping stones.
A light acid washing on the coping stones also works very well. If you don’t want to use acid, algae or mildew can be lightened or killed with a light bleach solution and a scrub brush on a pole.
An old pool opening technique is to bucket off the deck with pool water after shocking the pool. Use a 5 gal bucket and go around the pool, splashing a bucket full of pool water in front of you, about every 10 feet.
My tiles have crusty white deposits...
Called efflorescence, this calcium deposit usually originates from grout or setting mortar. To remove, scrape it off the tile/wall, and/or acid wash it. Muriatic acid can also be used as well, but be aware that acids will affect the pool pH as it enters the water.
Another method for removing calcium deposits is a pumice stone. Pumice is a light porous glassy lava stone that can be rubbed over a pool stain to remove it. You can use a pumice stone that can attach to your tele-pole or a pumice stone with a handle.
In some areas with hard water problems, like the southwestern U.S., service companies offer to bead-blast pool tiles to restore it to like new condition. You can use a pressure washer to clean pool tiles, but some calcium deposits will still require manual scraping or acid treatment.
My plaster is stained...
Dirt, leaf tannins, rust and other metals and minerals can stain the finish of your plastered pool. If the stain is organic; left from a leaf or acorn for example, a small amount of granular chlorine (pool shock) added at that location and allowed to settle on the stain will usually remove it instantly. Other non-organic stains will not be removed by sprinkling shock over the stain. Do not place chlorine tablets directly into the pool... they will stain and etch the plaster, although sometimes rubbing a stain with a tablet can lighten or remove it from a plaster surface.
If chlorine doesn't work, acid usually will. Draining and acid washing will remove a thin layer of plaster (and stains), exposing fresh, new looking plaster beneath. A No-Drain acid wash can also be performed, with varying results. For localized stains, a stain master tool can be used to deliver acid directly to the stain. Stains can also be sanded with pumice stones or wet/dry sandpaper.
Adding pH decreaser (granular acid) to a thin sock and placing over the stain for a few minutes can work for many stains. Stain Free is an ascorbic acid (Vit C) product that works well on all types of pool stains on all pool types.
My pool has been taken over by ducks, frogs, insects...
Ducks and other waterfowl can really foul the water, with bacteria and phosphates. They may look elegant or bucolic, swimming around your pool, but they should be discouraged. There is a product made by Lo-Chlor called Duck Off that can be poured into the pool to create a surface tension that ducks and geese don’t like. They can also be scared away by plastic owls, or loud noise, or dogs.
Frogs can also be a nuisance pest for some pool owners. Place a few plastic snakes around the pool deck, and keep the chlorine level up in the pool. If you see frog eggs floating in the water or inside the skimmer, lower the pool pH to 7.2 and shock the pool. Frog Log is a product that is used as an escape ramp for frogs and other small animals and insects to exit the pool safely.
Snakes in the pool? Try spreading granular sulfur around the edge of the pool deck. Mint leaves and lemongrass are good groundcovers to discourage snakes. Dried or powdered garlic can also work to keep snakes away from a pool (also helpful to keep vampires out of the pool).
Small bugs on the surface can be controlled with a product called Bug-Off, another surface tension reducing product made by Lo-Chlor. Just drops of it push everything floating on the pool to the edges. The main way to fight pool surface debris is to make sure your skimmers are operating properly, with a functioning skimmer weir. Direct your return eyeball nozzles just slightly toward the surface, and all facing in the same direction, to help push surface debris to the skimmers. Close your main drain partially to increase the skimmer suction, and keep the pool surface cleaner.
My pool hasn’t been operating in years…
An uncovered stagnant pool will last only a month or so before it turns into the black lagoon. Pools that are covered will last much longer, but if it’s been 1 year or more, the pool should be drained, cleaned and refilled. This is usually cheaper and faster than trying to bring it back with cleaning, chemicals and filtering. It also allows for a light acid wash, on plaster pools, to remove stains and restore the whitecoat, while inspecting the pool closely for any damage or needed surface repairs.
If the pool debris load is not too great, and if visibility into the water is 12-24” – you can probably bring the pool back to blue in a few weeks - if you have a large, effective pool filter, and +/- $50 in chemicals, per 10000 gallons.
My caulking around the pool is dark and ugly…
The expansion joint caulking around plaster inground pools can become faded by the sun, and it can also grow algae in low spots, where water accumulates. This can be cleaned with a weak chlorine solution in a bucket, or powdered chlorine cleanser. Scrub it with an acid brush, or other stiff brush on a pole. A pressure washer can damage the caulking if the gun or wand is held too closely.
My skimmers are dark and ugly inside…
Skimmers too, can get dark ugly stains and scum on the inside, and the skimmer lid can become stained, especially after a long winter. Sparingly use a phosphate free, chlorine based cleanser like Ajax powder or Bon Ami. Wear gloves, and use a hand held scrub brush to clean the skimmer lid, the rim, the body and throat and (gently) weir of the skimmer. Diving boards are also brightened by a chlorine cleanser scrub.
My vinyl pool steps are dirty or stained…
On inground vinyl pools, plastic steps sections can develop stains or discolorations. For above the water stains and waterline rings use a chlorinated and phosphate free cleanser like Ajax or Bon Ami. Mix a few ounces of the cleanser with a small amount of water to make a paste. With a gloved hand, spread the paste on a textured sponge and scrub it onto the surface, using splashes of water as needed. Do small areas, rinse and scrub surface clean before it dries. For below the waterline stains, for allover discoloration of the step (a sort of a brownish-orange color?) try Jack’s Magic Step Stuff and some products to control the minerals and metals in the water.