Every time I think I have this pool thing down to a science, something comes along to remind me that there is still much to learn in every facet of pool ownership.
I recently had a veteran of the pool business over at my house. I proposed to him what I thought was the best way to clean a swimming pool like a pro.
He let me finish detailing my my step-by-step (4 steps, actually) pool cleaning process and the silence and stoic expression on his face led me to believe that he was not impressed. What came out of his mouth next would enlighten me to how a pro truly cleans a pool.
Step One: Clean the Deck: I learned a lot during our time together. The first thing he taught me was to clean the pool deck. At first I didn’t understand—“I thought we were cleaning the pool, not the deck!” He would show me the error of my ways, and that a clean pool extends beyond just the water. I had to look beyond the pool and take into account the entire pool area, to truly clean the pool like a pro.
“Ah, you mean sweep and hose down the pool deck?” I asked. “No, Grasshopper – blow and bucket the deck” he said (with a leaf blower and then 5 gal buckets of chlorinated pool water). And speaking of water, water level is one of the first checks to make during a pool service call. “Throw the hose in the pool, right?” I proudly pronounced. “No, Grasshopper – place on the edge of pool, so you don’t forget it is on.” Good advice; I did flood the pool once (and the yard, the neighbors, the cul-du-sac).
Step Two: Check the Equipment: If any part of your filtration system is under performing, you should be able to see the signs. As you approach the filter system he told me, look at the pressure gauge. Write the clean/dirty pressure on the filter tank with a Sharpie pen, or mark the gauge.
The poolman continued, “If pressure is lower than normal, that means something is clogged up before the filter, like skimmer or pump baskets, or clogged impeller, or air in system. If higher than normal, that means something is clogged up after the filter, usually a dirty filter, but could also mean broken filter, closed return side valves, or plugs in the wall returns”.
You must observe the operation of the system, he said. “Use all of your senses, smell, touch, sight and sound – is everything normal?” He made me close my eyes and listen to the sound of the motor; then he guided me to the heater. “Turn on heater!” he commanded. I fumbled for the switch, my eyes still closed. After a few seconds of electronic ticking, I heard a whoosh!, as the heater fired off. “Listen” he said. “Smell the combustion, feel the heat!” Now, check the flow” he said.
He motioned for me to observe the water flow in the pump basket. “See any leaks anywhere?” he asked. “Check the wiring from the pump and heater, to the timeclock. Now, open the timeclock.” I opened it, and he had me check that the timeclock was on schedule, keeping current time.
Step Three: Empty the Baskets: A full skimmer basket can reduce the flow of water circulating through the filtration system. This creates additional stress on your pump and makes your filter less effective.” Also – very important – Inspect skimmer weir – to be sure it’s not misaligned or broken.” Remove your pool cleaner (if you have one) and if your pool cleaner has a bag, empty it. In my case I have to clean my Tiger Shark’s filters with a filter wand. Clean your wall strainer or inline strainer if you have a pressure cleaner.
Step Four: Skim the Pool: On a calm day, skimming the pool can be a relaxing, almost zen-like experience. I enjoy walking the edge of the pool and thoroughly cleaning the pool water of any debris. What I really enjoy is a perfectly immaculate pool. I don’t skim on windy days anymore. “Use a Leaf Rake to skim beyond the surface and collect debris on steps or corners. Leaves can affect your pH, cause stains and lead to algae growth”.
Step Five: Check Your Levels: With a quality water test kit like the Taylor Test Kits from In The Swim, make sure that your pH levels are ideally between 7.3 and 7.5. Confirm that your alkalinity is between 80-120 ppm. Be sure to use a test kit that can test for calcium hardness and that it also can determine both Free and Total chlorine levels. If you see signs of algae developing, shock the pool or if combined chlorine (chloramines) is above 0.3 ppm. “After testing the water, you must balance the water” He said. Once you have the chemicals all in order it’s time to…
Step Six: Vacuum the Pool: Time for the manual labor portion of the process. Set up your vacuum hose, blow all of the air out of the hose with your return and once the hose sinks on its own, connect the opposite end of the vacuum hose to the skimmer. I use a pool plug on the other skimmer to increase suction because I don’t have a valve to control it. If you have a valve in front of the pump, “Close the other skimmer or main drain – until you hear the pump complain”, he says, (becoming louder, he means).
Step Seven: Clean the Filter: Open the main drain valve again, and in my case I unscrew the plug from the far skimmer, and if you sucked-up a lot of debris, your pump basket may need to be emptied as well. After all of the extra work that your filter has done from vacuuming the surfaces of your pool, its pressure gauge may have increased by a few psi’s. If it has increased by 5-8 lbs it is time to backwash the filter. If you do not see an increase in pressure, do not backwash. The wise pool master said, “A dirty sand filter is an effective sand filter.” Unnecessary backwashing will reduce a sand filter’s ability to collect the finer particles, which improves as the sand bed loads up with dirt.
Step Eight: Brush: I enjoy vacuuming the pool, and I enjoy skimming the pool. I don’t know what it is about brushing the pool that I don’t like. If I were to guess, I would say that brushing kicks up all the particulates that have since settled since vacuuming and temporarily makes the water cloudy. It’s an absolutely vital step in the pool cleaning process, but initially, it feels like a step backwards. Brushing is very effective to kick up settled particles so that the skimmer and drain have an opportunity to collect them. “Brush walls, then brush floor to main drain.”
Step Nine: Weekly Treatments and Top-Offs: The pool should almost be perfect at this juncture. Add chlorine tablets to your chlorinator, and if you do weekly treatments of algaecide and clarifier now is the time to add them. I like to throw a Mighty Pod into my skimmer. They are extremely aptly named and work wonders on my water.
Step Ten: Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3: With the equipment all working in sync, the chemicals balanced, and my water so clear the pool almost looks empty, I take one last look at the pressure on the filter, check that the heater is off, check for drips in plumbing near the pump, take another peek at the wiring before closing up the timer box, and shut off the hose that is playfully splashing in the pool.
I stand back and take it all in with new knowledge about how to clean my pool like a pro. Arigato! ~ my thanks to the pool master who passed on his knowledge to me like an aquatic Mr. Miyagi!
InTheSwim Staff Blogger