Painting the Pool vs. Plastering the Pool

pool-surface-desicion-purchased thru PresenterMediaOne day you must make a decision. The pool plaster has been looking worse every season. Delaminations, stains, cracks, and generally dull and lifeless.

You’ve read of the new types of pool plaster options available (in my previous post), and had started looking into prices for resurfacing your plaster pool – when it hits you – what if I painted the pool?

Painting pools has been an option even before pool plastering came around. Back in the day, all pools were painted; it was an annual pool opening tradition. When plaster for pools began to be used, pool owners appreciated the long lasting and durable surface and the smooth white finish.

So – let them fight it out! Cage Match! Paint vs. Plaster – who will win? You decide, I’ll just lay out the facts ~ as I see ’em, and let you decide. Should you paint the pool, or replaster the pool?

Longevity Factor:

stick_figure_boxer - purchased from PresenterMediaPool plaster will most certainly take this round. Pool plaster, when properly mixed, applied, cured and maintained – can last 15-20 years. Pool Paint? Depending on the type of paint used, as well as application and curing factors, 2-7 years of life can be expected from a pool paint job. Round 1 goes to the scrappy young fighter’s scorecard – pool plaster wins!

Durability Factor:

stick_figure_boxer - purchased from PresenterMediaPaints used for pools, spas and fountains, are specifically made for underwater use, and are quite durable against poor water chemistry, temperature extremes and even rough treatment from pool equipment. Plaster however, with it’s usual 1/2 inch thickness, can handle more distress than the thin layer of pool paint. Plaster wins again!

Prep Work Factor:

stick_figure_boxer - purchased from PresenterMediaBoth pool paint and pool plaster require that the pool be drained properly and prepared for the new surface.

To paint the pool, you’ll need to degrease the surface with TSP, then acid etch the plaster, followed by another washing and scrubbing with TSP. For acrylic pool paints, the pool can be painted damp, but for epoxy paints (the longest lasting pool paint), you’ll need to let the pool air dry for 3-5 days before painting. Tape off the parts you don’t want to paint, and you’re ready to begin.

Pool plaster requires a much more industrial prep process. After draining, the “cut-n-chip” crew arrives, and with tiny saws, they cut the plaster beneath the tile and around all of the wall and floor fittings. Another crew arrives to acid etch the pool, to roughen the plaster surface, which helps the bond of the new plaster coat. Some plaster companies will make a third trip to apply a “scratch coat” – a rough, textured bond coat that adheres tightly to the old plaster surface, while giving a good surface for the new plaster coat to bond to.

Ding! This round goes to pool paint, which has much easier prep work.

Application Factor:

stick_figure_boxer - purchased from PresenterMediaOnce a pool is prepped and ready for paint, the pool painting process is fairly simple. Mix up your pool paint thoroughly and start rolling it on the deep end wall with a 3/8″ nap roller, with a low nap. A 5-gallon bucket with a paint screen is best to move around with, as paint trays tend to spill. Using long, even strokes, apply the first coat, working from the deep end to the shallow end (don’t paint yourself in!). After 4-6 hours, a second coat can be applied, which will require about half of the paint needed on the first coat. Dry time will vary, depending on the paint and outside temperature. Two to five days later, you can fill up the pool.

When pool plaster day arrives, a crew of 4-6 guys will arrive with a large plastering “rig”, or a truck specifically designed for this purpose. One guy remains on the rig, and he mixes up the plaster mix; a mixture of white portland cement and marble dust. Additives for strength or color can be added to the mix at this time.

When ready, the mixer pumps the plaster mix through a thick hose, and the hose man sprays down sections of the pool for the plasterers to begin. With spiked shoes and a bullnosed trowel in each hand, they begin the process of smoothing the plaster evenly over the surface. They need to be careful not to overtrowel the mixture or to delay too long before troweling it smooth.

After 3-4 hours (these guys are fast), your pool will be plastered and a sock is wrapped around a garden hose left in the deep end of the pool. With the hose turned on, the pool begins to fill, without stopping, until the pool is full. You will be left with instructions to care for the water chemistry, and asked to brush the pool twice daily for two weeks, or until the plaster dust is eliminated.

Ding! Round 4 was won on points – by pool paint. If for no other reason than it’s DIY, and pool owner friendly. Anyone can paint a pool. Pool plastering is not something that you should try at home, kids.

Appearance Factor:

stick_figure_boxer - purchased from PresenterMediaBoth new plaster and new paint are looking good! Pool paint is shiny and reflective, and new plaster has a deep luster, like an eggshell. Of course, you can add colors and additives to plaster to create custom tones. You can do the same with paint, and could even paint a mural. Plaster may look the best for longer, but at least initially, and for the first few years, the appearance of both is fairly equal. Round 5 ends in a tie.

Cost Factor:

stick_figure_boxer - purchased from PresenterMediaThe cost of pool plastering starts at 4 thousand dollars, and can be much more if you choose strength additives and pebble or quartz surfaces. Price can be higher in some metro areas, and of course, for larger pools.

intheswim-pool-paintPool paint is one of the most expensive paints I’ve seen, ranging from $50-100 per gallon. Depending on your size of pool, you may need 6-10 gallons, plus some painting supplies. If you paint the pool yourself, you will probably spend $800-900 on materials for the job.

It seems that pool paint may deliver a crushing blow on the cost factor – $1000 vs $5000 – it’s a no-brainer! But remember, pool plaster can last 3-4 times longer than pool paint! If paint lasts, say 5 years, and pool plaster lasts 20 years – they are almost equal in cost. In the long run, yes – but you can never be sure how long it will last, due to the …

Failure Factor:

stick_figure_boxer - purchased from PresenterMediaBack when I was painting pools, we were very careful to prep pools properly and diligently. Nonetheless, about one out of ten paint jobs went bad. Soon after painting, we’d have blisters, or peeling and flaking paint. The result of a bad bond, or bad paint, or too much moisture in the air – never quite sure. But, the fact remains, not every paint job will be a success, and some might even fail miserably.

Plaster jobs can fail too – small and big, there are lots of different problems that can occur with pool plaster. Spot etching, where pits and pockmarks occur. Delaminations, where large sections fall off the wall, or lift up from the floor – bond failure. Depending on the mix ratios, application temperature and speed, curing, and chemical care after the plaster job – you may see variations in hue, streaking, or trowel burn. I have had almost an equal number (1 in 10) plaster jobs that have some serious defects, some to the point where we have had to replaster the pool, to keep the customer happy.

Round 7 – ends in a tie. Both pool paint and pool plaster can fail. But that won’t happen to you, I’m almost sure of it!

The judges are confounded; two rounds went to plaster, two rounds went to paint, and 2 (or 3?) rounds ended in a tie. They are calling on you to score each round for points. Who wins, Pool Paint or Pool Plaster? You decide.

Davy Merino
InTheSwim Blog Editor


Painting the Pool vs. Plastering the Pool — 5 Comments

  1. Hi, we are looking to we surface our pool. We are looking for the best bang for out buck. The company that came out stated that plaster only lasts about 10 years and should go with granite finish, almost twice as much, that will last 20 years. From reading your blog, it seems plaster should be lasting much longer, shouldn’t it? Or is the granite finish the better pick?

    • Granite finish is also plaster, but has added granite aggregate (very small like sand) added to increase durability. However, it is still susceptible to damage from incorrect mix, application or water chemistry. It probably will be more durable, but wont’ necessarily last twice as long. The key to plaster life is good water chemistry (and a good initial plaster mix, and application, and curing, etc). Plaster can last 20 years, sure – but many replace it sooner – for aesthetic reasons, although an acid wash can improve appearance. Plaster is the waterproof coating over the gunite/concrete – it takes decades before it wears thin enough to expose the gunite, and actually NEEDS to be replaced.

  2. This artical was a great hlep. Questuion I use a polaris 3 wheeled pool sweep If i chooes pait will that be a problem?

    • Hi Gordon, that’s a good question. My first reaction is that using any automatic pool cleaner may have an effect on the paint, wearing it thin over time. However, if the cleaner is not overused, and limited to say, 1 hour per day of operation, the effect will probably not be noticeable. I’ve painted many pools with auto cleaners of all types, including pressure Polaris cleaners, and never noticed any undue wear. Proper chemistry will also help, as painted pools with acidic water conditions, (low pH and alkalinity) can begin to “chalk”, and an auto cleaner will only accelerate the issue.

  3. Pingback: Painting an In-Ground Swimming Pool | InTheSwim Pool Blog