A pool in your backyard provides family fun all summer long. But if it's not clean, it can feel like you're swimming through sludge. Maintaining your pool should only take about an hour each week, and it's an hour well-spent to prevent harmful bacteria from growing in your swimming hole. In this article, we walk you through each step so you can see what pool ownership is all about.
Total Time: 30 to 45 minutes
Skill Level: Beginner
Estimated Cost: $150-$300 monthly
Yield: Summer fun and joy
What it costs to maintain a pool
The average monthly cost to DIY your seasonal pool maintenance is $225.
Maintaining a pool is a commitment of time and money, but the rewards are worth it. To perform your own maintenance, expect to pay from $150 to $300 per month. But, if you subscribe to a pool cleaning service, you could pay from $198 to $369, depending on the length of your season, your location, and the pool's size.
Pool cleaning tools you need
First, gather all the necessary tools and supplies to make pool maintenance easy. If you still need to get set up, here's a list of pool equipment to get you started.
- Pool skimmer
- Pool brush designed for your type of pool.
- For gunite, use a brush with stainless steel bristles.
- For unpainted concrete, use a brush with stainless steel and nylon bristles.
- Use a brush with only nylon bristles for painted concrete, fiberglass, or vinyl.
- Pool vacuum and hose–an automatic cleaner is nice but not necessary
- A telescoping pole that fits the skimmer, brush, and vacuum heads
- Water test kit and essential chemicals
- PPE for handling chemicals
How to clean a pool, step-by-step
Click here to download a copy of this chart to post for easy reference.
Many homeowners are concerned about the time commitment in caring for a swimming pool. If you don't hire a pool service to do the work, expect to spend 30 to 45 minutes each week keeping your swimming pool sparkling clean. Of course, this is an average.
"The time it takes to clean a pool depends on the location and the size of the pool," says Shaun Hurley, director of renovation and construction for America's Swimming Pool Company in Macon, Georgia. He explains that in areas like Florida, where pool owners commonly install screened enclosures, the pools don't accumulate debris like open-air pools. "And they tend to be smaller," he says.
The order of the steps is less important than the regularity with which you do them. For that reason, download the above chart and post it in a handy location to help you remember how frequently you need to perform each task and the suggested chemical ranges to shoot for.
Step 1. Inspect the pool and surroundings
The area surrounding your pool contributes to its cleanliness. Therefore, it is essential to keep the site free of things that could make their way into the pool. If you have overhanging tree branches dropping twigs and leaves into the water, trim them back. Dirt, grass clippings, or other debris that can enter the water should be cleared.
Also, inspect your equipment. Ensure the pump and filtration system aren't making any odd noises and are working correctly. Check the water level of the pool. If it's lower than it should be, use a garden hose to fill it to the proper level with clean water.
"The level of the water should be mid-way up the skimmer," says Hurley. He assures pool owners it will require less water to bring it up to level than they fear.
Step 2. Skim the pool
Skim floating debris from the pool surface every day.
If you don't use a pool cover or have a screened enclosure, use a net to skim any debris floating on the water's surface. Pine needles, twigs, or dead bugs have to go. Also, remove any toys or other items from the water before cleaning.
Step 3. Scrub the pool walls
Scrub the pool walls twice a week. Image source: America's Swimming Pool Co.
Use a brush to scrub the pool walls to prevent the buildup of algae, scale, stains, or oily residue. Brush the ladders, steps, and other crevices like grout lines. If needed, use a pool wall soap at the water line to avoid the appearance of a "bathtub ring."
Step 5. Clean the skimmer and pump baskets
Clean the skimmer and pump baskets once to twice a week.
Clogged baskets strain the pool pump as it works harder to cycle the water. Regularly clean the skimmer basket and pump basket to prevent burning out the pump. While every filter system and pump is different, typically, you'll find the baskets under the skimmer and pump lids. So, once or twice a week, turn off the pump and empty the baskets of debris. Use a garden hose to remove anything stuck in the baskets. Then, replace them and close the lids.
Step 6. Vacuum the pool
Vacuum your pool every week.
Once a week, you need to vacuum the bottom of the pool. Vacuuming instructions vary depending on the type of vacuum you have. A manual vacuum operates much like a house vacuum. You run the head along the pool floor until all debris is collected. If you have a robotic or automatic pool cleaner, it does the work for you. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for best results and to preserve the life of your equipment.
Step 7. Backwash or clean filters
Clean the pool filters at least once a month.
A sand filtration or diatomaceous earth (DE) pool filter must be backwashed monthly or when the pump gauge reads ten psi (pounds per square inch) above the normal range. "The normal range for your filter is what it reads when it's clean," says Hurley. If your pump has a cartridge filter, remove and clean it at this time. However, Hurley says that a properly sized cartridge filter won't need cleaning as frequently as other types of filters. "Some, only every three months," he says.
To backwash the filter, follow the manufacturer's instructions for your system. To clean a cartridge filter, remove it from the filter housing and apply a filter cleaner. Let that soak, per instructions, to do its magic. Then, use a spray attachment on a garden hose to gently spray off the debris. Avoid being tempted to use a pressure washer, as it can damage the filter.
Step 8. Test water and add chemicals
Test your pool water every week.
A healthy pool is a fun pool. To keep it healthy, you need to regularly test the levels of certain chemicals to make sure it's safe to swim in. Most pool suppliers and home improvement stores sell test strip kits that make testing easy. These tests will measure the water's pH levels and total alkalinity, calcium, phosphates, and chlorine levels. If anything is off, you must add chemicals to bring everything back into balance.
Hurley says that test strips are a subjective way of testing and are only 75 to 80 percent accurate. "You may think the colors match those on the bottle, and I may think they don't," he says. For this reason, he recommends taking a water sample to a pool store for more accurate testing a couple of times a month or after a heavy rain.
Recommended chemical levels for a swimming pool
7.2 to 7.8
2 to 5 ppm*
80 to 120 ppm
200 to 400 ppm
30 to 50 ppm
*ppm=parts per million
When handling pool chemicals, always follow safety precautions and wear personal protective equipment like gloves and goggles. Also, follow the manufacturer's instructions on the product labels.
Step 9. Shock the pool
While maintaining a balanced water chemistry in the pool is essential, occasionally, you need to "shock" the water with a concentrated amount of sanitizer. This practice kills any lingering contaminants. Hurley recommends shocking with one pound of chlorine per 10,000 gallons of water, which is currently in the normal range. He recommends shocking the pool every week or after the following instances.
- A pool party
- A heavy storm
- When you have algae growth
To shock your pool, follow the manufacturer's directions on the product you choose.
Just keep swimming
Cleaning your pool takes time, but if you'd rather spend that time enjoying it with your family and friends, you can hire a service to do it for you. Remember, a clean pool means a happy family!