The luxury of getting and having an above-ground swimming pool isn’t the same as upgrading your life with a sports car or a pool table. Swimming pools require a much higher degree of maintenance.
Some enjoy the aspect of maintaining their pool while others really struggle with it. Like most things, having better and more knowledge can be very helpful with keeping up an above-ground pool.
The following is a list of tips, observations, and recommendations from me. I have been in the swimming pool business for 35 years. During my pool career, I have installed more than six thousand above ground pools and worked on a couple thousand more doing liner changes and repairs.
I also had a swimming pool maintenance business for sixteen of those years and did various repairs on inground pools and their equipment as well.
You may know some of the things on this list already and if you do, then great. If you are struggling some with maintaining your above-ground pool, then even one of these tips may make a big difference for you.
FIRST THING FIRST- ACCESS WHAT YOU HAVE
This article will be most relevant for those having a traditional metal-walled above-ground pool. Soft-sided (Intex/Colman/Bestway) type above grounds are quite different. They come with very poor and undersized equipment (pump and filter), no skimmer, and don’t have a vinyl liner per se.
So, before you start reading my tips and suggestions, it will be good to know what you have. Answer the following questions:
A) How big is your pool?
If a 24’ round or bigger, then it’s considered a big pool. This means it will require more maintenance and chemicals than smaller pools, Duh, right? If you have an oval shape, then 15×30 or bigger is considered large.
B) Is your equipment (pump/filter) big enough?
In the last 20 years or so, the vast majority of metal-walled above-ground pools have come with big enough equipment, so you should be good here. Some pools do have too small and/or poor equipment though.
Most above-ground pools should come with a 1.5HP pump with a front trap basket and have either at least a 100-pound sand OR a 100 sq. ft. Cartridge type filter. If you have a D.E. type filter, then that is good too.
Again, if you have a soft-sided (Intex/Coleman/Bestway) type pool, assume that your pump and filter sucks.
C) How old is your pool?
Above grounds five years old or newer will have fewer issues than older pools. This is because the liner and equipment are probably still in good shape. The older things get with swimming pools, the more temperamental they become.
Things that don’t work as well as they should affect pool maintenance.
D) What condition is your pool in?
All swimming pools are not the same. There is a big difference between maintaining a new pool just professionally installed well and one that’s been up a while that was installed poorly with a lumpy bottom, has some rust, has equipment in poor condition, and is leaking.
At the beginning of my maintenance business, I would take on any pool. It didn’t take long for me to realize how much more time, chemicals, and work it took to maintain a pool in poor condition. Before long I was only accepting pools in good condition for my service route.
NOW THAT YOU KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE, YOU CAN PROCEED
If you’ve answered the four above questions and feel that your metal-walled above ground is in good condition, then most of these tips will be useful.
If in answering the above questions, you discovered that your pool may not be up to par, then take some of these tips with a “grain of salt” so to speak. Not all of these tips will apply to pools that need attention.
And if you have a soft-sided above-ground pool, some of these tips will be helpful, but not all will apply.
24 TIPS FOR MAINTAINING AN ABOVE GROUND POOL (FROM SOMEONE WHO ACTUALLY WORKS WITH THEM IN THE REAL WORLD)
1. Pools Like Consistency
This is a better tip than you might think. Some pool owners do everything right and still struggle with maintaining their pool because they service it on different days every week.
This is one of the first things that I learned with my pool service. As I was building my first route, I would service some pools on different days depending on my (other job) schedule. Then, when the route filled in (and I was able to quit my other job), I would service the pools on the same day every week. And boy, what a difference.
This is especially important during the hot summer months when the chlorine demand is at its peak. Shocking (super chlorination) a pool once a week is usually enough to maintain it well. This means shocking once every seven days, not just once a week.
What I mean here is that if you shock the pool on a Monday one week and shock it again on a Thursday the next, then that’s ten days the pool went without a shock treatment. For some situations, that may be too long of a span and the pool will get a green algae bloom. Not fun.
In the above situation, the pool will have accumulated three more days of dirt and debris as well before getting cleaned. This will cause it to use more chemicals (chlorine) or have a greater likelihood of going out of balance as well.
Also, getting in the habit of servicing your pool the same day every week will ensure that you will, in fact, service the pool every week. We all have missed a week servicing the pool due to a busy life. And that (especially in the summer) can result in a green pool.
Add pool maintenance to your life’s weekly schedule and pick a specific day. It’ll make a huge difference. Believe me.
2. Have Good Maintenance Equipment
This tip, like #1, I learned during the beginning of my pool service business. At first, I didn’t have much money, so I bought cheaper pool cleaning tools.
I bought a cheaper pool pole, skimmer, brush, vacuum head, and a vacuum hose. At first, I didn’t know the difference and only had a few pools to clean, so it didn’t matter as much.
Then when my vac head wheels wore out (which was quick), I looked at the upgraded commercial grade one. This was in the late eighties and that commercial vac head was $43 while the regular one I had was twelve bucks. This was a huge difference in price, but I went ahead and bought it anyway.
It turned out to be the best $43 that I had spent in a long while. What a difference! Instead of just cheap plastic wheels, the thing had super nice polyurethane wheels turned by stainless steel ball bearings.
That new vac head made my job of vacuuming pools so much easier. After that, I bought the upgraded leaf net, brush, and pool pole and never looked back.
Above-ground pool packages almost always come with a maintenance kit. This kit usually has the absolute cheapest pool cleaning tools that you can buy. Chances are that you (the one reading this) are using this super cheap stuff, struggling with them, and don’t even know that you can get something better.
I’m not suggesting that you go out and buy commercial grade pool cleaning tools as that would now cost you a few hundred dollars. But you can get some better stuff than what your pool came with. And it will make a huge difference every time you clean your pool. Hell, it’ll make a huge difference when you are THINKING about cleaning your pool.
Consider upgrading the following items:
- Pool pole
- Vacuum head
- Brush (for vinyl pools only)
- Skimmer (leaf net)
- Vac hose (with a swivel end)
- Test kit/strips
3. Test and Clean Pool Once a Week- No Exceptions!
Some pool owners have this concept of servicing their pool oh “when it needs it”. Yeah no. This doesn’t work with swimming pools.
There’s a fundamental difference between maintaining something and repairing it. When you maintain something, you do stuff to it on a regular basis so it will not need to be repaired. When you repair something, you are fixing something that is broken or not working well in some way. Big difference.
My concept with my pool service business was for my pools to always look the same. As if I was never there. This requires maintaining the pool so things stay consistent. This is what you need to do when maintaining an environment that life wants to thrive in. Because if you don’t constantly make it impossible for things to live, then life will as they say “find a way”.
Test the pool once a week and adjust what you need. Clean the pool every week no matter how clean you think it is. My concept was this – “The cleaner the pool is when I get there, the cleaner it will be when I leave”.
Cleaning a pool that is already pretty clean will make the pool even cleaner. Be consistent and do it once a week whether you think it needs it or not. Do this and you’ll have fewer issues overall.
4. Cycle the chlorine level
Probably the most common mistake pool owners make is with the chlorine level. They get a pool, learn to test the water, and then make sure that the chlorine level is always high.
The biggest issue here is with success. A new pool owner will just add chlorine to the pool all the time to make sure the chlorine level stays high and for the first few months or even a year or more, the pool looks and stays great.
Then the next season, their pool starts acting up by looking dull or cloudy or turns green. The pool owner is baffled because all the chemical levels are perfect including the chlorine level being high.
When these pool owners start investigating why their pool is looking bad, they go down all the wrong rabbit holes. Rabbit holes like the stabilizer (cyanuric acid) is too high, the ph is too high or low, total alkalinity is off, phosphates in the water somehow, and my favorite – there are too many total dissolved solids (TDS) all send the pool owners in a reading, watching, and then buying frenzy.
Sadly, almost every time, the problem with the pool water is chlorine related and not any of the above potential reasons. Usually, their pool has a buildup of combined chlorine which was the result of never allowing the chlorine level to drop down.
I would not be able to successfully explain why it’s crucial to allow the pool’s chlorine level to drop down periodically within this article. I can say that if you let your chlorine level go down to almost zero a couple of times a month (during the summer), then your pool won’t get a buildup of combined chlorine, which is really good.
5. Learn How to Vacuum the Pool Well
Above-ground pools are harder to vacuum than ingrounds. This is because the pool is above the ground, so it’s harder to see the pool bottom from the outside of the pool.
It’s also because there may be things in the way around the outside of the pool which doesn’t allow you to thoroughly vacuum every part of the pool easily.
Other things that can make it harder to vacuum an above-ground pool are a bumpy, uneven pool bottom, having poor cleaning tools, and having poor suction due to a crappy or undersized pool pump.
Some pools will really get dirty over the course of a week and need to be vacuumed well. Not vacuuming well results in leaving debris in the pool that will continue to use chlorine up and potentially throw the pool off balance.
You may hate vacuuming because it’s hard to do for your pool. Do what it takes to change that. Upgrade your pool cleaning tools (see #2), trim away or move anything on the outside of the pool that gets in the way, and get a new pump and filter (if it doesn’t give enough suction to vacuum).
And if your pool bottom sucks with craters, lumps, and big wrinkles in the liner and that makes it tough to vacuum, then the next time you need to change the liner, get someone who knows what they are doing to smooth it out and the liner be wrinkle-free.
6. Keep the Baskets Clean
If your pool gets a lot of falling debris in it due to trees or bushes or migrating bugs hoards, then keep both the skimmer and pump trap baskets cleaned out. Also, make sure the skimmer is working well by having the correct water level for the pool.
For some pools installed under a canopy of trees, this may be a more than once-a-day action. This is a pain but the baskets being clogged up all the time with leaves and bugs and stuff prevent the pump and filter from working well.
7. If a pool has a leak, then it’s harder to maintain
Every time new water is introduced to a swimming pool, it affects the chemistry overall. The best example of this is when there is a heavy rainstorm, some pools will turn a little green from it.
Occasionally having to add some water to a pool or when it rains some will usually have very little effect on the pool’s overall chemistry. Rainwater will deplete the chlorine some and may (usually temporarily) change the PH, but that’s about it.
When a pool has a leak though and new water has to be added to it regularly, then that makes things much harder chemically.
You may think that by adding municipal (city) water, it won’t change the pool water much as it’s already treated and balanced. Yeah, no. Municipal water can have things like combined chlorine and mustard algae in it that will cause problems with the pool. This is especially true if the pool is being introduced to it often (as if when there’s a leak).
8. Yellow Algae Happens and it May not be Your Fault
A swimming pool occasionally getting yellow or mustard algae is a certainty. I have two friends that have pool service businesses here in Central Florida and both say that all of the pools on their routes periodically get yellow algae.
If pool maintenance professionals cannot avoid their pools from getting mustard/yellow algae, then don’t expect that you will be able to.
There are some factors that you may have in your favor that prevent you from getting yellow often. Colder climates with shorter swim seasons, regular bather loads, and frequent cleaning and brushing are some of the things that will reduce the occurrence of yellow algae. But most pools will get regular blooms of mustard algae regardless of how well they are maintained.
If you’ve had a pool for a while and have never experienced yellow algae, great and good for you. This doesn’t make you a genius though so don’t think that you have the “secret” or something. You are just fortunate.
For the rest of us mortals, pools get yellow algae. Period. So don’t beat yourself up. It may not be anything you are doing. Read about yellow algae here
9. Don’t Worry About Calcium Hardness
If you go to a pool store and tell them that you have an above-ground pool, they will most likely tell you that you need calcium. You don’t.
There are two metals present in pool water – magnesium and calcium. Magnesium doesn’t matter as it doesn’t affect anything related to swimmable water, what holds the water, and what filters the water. This leaves calcium.
Calcium doesn’t matter a whole lot either but if there’s not enough of it in the water AND there is someplace where the water can get it, then the water will aggressively try to obtain more calcium.
A concrete swimming pool has a cement and aggregate finish to its shell. This cement finish has calcium in it, so if the concrete pool doesn’t have enough calcium in the water, then it can damage the surface by pulling some of the calcium from the cement finish. This transfer can happen in reverse too.
An above-ground pool has a vinyl liner holding the water. The vinyl doesn’t offer any calcium, hence the water cannot be aggressive towards it when needing calcium. So you don’t have to worry about calcium hardness in your above-ground.
Now, this is the internet. And the internet has opposing facts on almost everything. So if you look hard enough, you’ll find some information stating that aggressive water(water wanting calcium) can affect a vinyl liner negatively.
This is only a theory. Not one that a real-world guy like can substantiate. Theories are super cool. I like them. I like the one about the pyramids of the world and that they used to generate free wireless electricity to surrounding civilizations. It’s just a theory though. Like calcium affecting a vinyl liner.
10. If you get a Lot of Debris, Skim often. Daily if Needed
Pools that were placed in the yard under a canopy of trees can be a nightmare to keep clean. Leaves, small sticks, small tree life, and dust debris will constantly rain down and hit the pool surface.
This debris will hit the pool’s surface and float for a while, but eventually, most of it will start to sink to the bottom. Ideally, you want to get this stuff out of the pool from the surface and not the bottom.
As a pool guy, I was coming to each pool only once a week (except for my commercial pools). For pools with a lot of debris falling in, it would be a disaster every time I got there.
As a pool owner, you live there so you can skim the pool more often than once a week. And if it needs it, you should.
Understanding that every single thing that enters a body of water affects its chemistry, so getting debris out of the pool before it starts to sink helps to maintain it a lot. Maybe more than you think.
11. Run the Pump Long Enough
Some people run their pool pump way longer than they need to. That’s fine. It won’t do anything negative except raise the electric bill each month.
Some don’t run their pool pump long enough though. And that makes maintenance harder.
If doing math makes your head hurt, then just run your pump on high for eight hours a day every day in the summer. In the colder months, you can back the run time down to as much as half(4 hours per day).
If you want to do some math, learn about how long to run your pump here
12. Get a Timer
A pool pump has to run every single day. In the summer, not running the pump and filter for even one day may cause an algae bloom.
Most above-ground pools don’t come with timers for the pump. Get a timer so you won’t have to worry about turning it on and off every day. This is a MUST DO!
Remember tip #1? Pools like consistency. If you don’t have one, get a timer.
13. Keep your Filter Well Maintained
There are three types of pool filters – sand, cartridge, and D.E.
If you have a cartridge type, clean the element regularly. A D.E. type, change the d.e. powder regularly. A sand type (sorry), backwash often.
The main thing that you want to avoid here is letting the filter get so dirty that it starts restricting the flow of water through the system.
And if there are any issues with your filter, fix it quickly. Don’t limp things along. Fix them. If you need a new o-ring or if something has a drip, fix it.
Little issues can add up and the next thing you know, you’re not wanting to service your pool because it has become a pain navigating through all of them.
This can make you service the pool less. And pools need to be serviced once a week in the summer. Remember tip #1
14. Weather Conditions Can Make Maintenance Harder
Rainstorms, windy conditions, excessive heat, and whatever extreme conditions that your area offers will affect your pool maintenance. Adjust your efforts accordingly.
This may be a “duh” tip for some of you. Some are baffled though when their pool seemingly suddenly has twice the chlorine demand it usually has and is dirtier than usual. “Yeah guy, did you not notice it’s been raining every day this week”? Um Duh! Lol
15. Bather Load Can Change Maintenance
Are your kids’ friends suddenly coming over every day to go swimming in your pool? Do you entertain with the pool every weekend? The more swimmers a pool has, the more chlorine demand it will have.
The same thing in reverse. If you suddenly don’t have as many swimmers as usual, the maintenance will change some. You may not need to add as much chlorine as you normally do. Know that bather load is a factor and adjust accordingly.
16. Keep Area Around the Pool Clear and Clean
In most cases, you need to be able to get around the outside of the pool to maintain it. Things like skimming, brushing, and vacuuming requires space around the pool to comfortably accomplish.
If you have a deck wrapped around your pool, keep it open for easier maintenance. And if no deck or areas with no deck, keep it open and free of bushes and things that can get in your way when servicing.
You may find yourself not wanting to vacuum the pool because of all the stuff in the way. The result will be you not vacuuming or brushing or skimming as much or thoroughly. Make it easier to clean your above-ground pool by having open access.
17. Have Fun. Clean in the Morning or Late Afternoon
No matter where you live, summers can be brutally hot. Avoid the heat while servicing the pool by scheduling your cleaning time for the early morning or late afternoon when it’s not so intensely hot.
Some people really enjoy maintaining their pool. Try to be one of those people.
18. Get a Leaf Net
Above-ground pool maintenance kits come with leaf skimmers, not leaf nets. You want a leaf NET.
A leaf skimmer is a square piece of screen that attaches to your pool pole. This single planed piece of screen picks up surface debris as you skim the water.
A leaf net is a soft basket of screening that you skim the surface of the water with. And it’s far superior for skimming a pool than a leaf skimmer is. As a pool guy, if I had to clean the surface debris of a pool using a leaf skimmer, I’d probably slit my wrists and call it a life.
Some don’t know about the leaf net and just use the skimmer the pool came with. Do yourself a huge favor and buy a leaf net to help clean your pool.
19. Keep the Area Around the Equipment Clean
Your pool’s pump, filter, and any other add-on components need good access. Well, they don’t need good access, but it will be much easier for you to service them if they have good access.
Accessing valves, opening filters, cleaning pump traps, putting tabs in chlorinators, etc. can be at awkward low angles that are a strain on one’s back. Keeping your equipment area open and clean will allow you easier access to servicing things and help manage your back pain.
Again, you want to make maintaining and servicing your pool as easy and pleasant as possible.
20. Store Chemicals Well and Outside
I’m a big fan of outside plastic storage boxes for storing pool chemicals. They can’t rust or deteriorate and have a clean look to them.
Having a specific place to store pool supplies reduces the stress of wondering where you put them, won’t corrode anything in your garage or shed, and will look better than stacking them somewhere.
And make sure your area (if not using a plastic storage box) is very dry, well ventilated, and organized.
21. Turn the Return Jet to Make a Whirlpool
Above-ground swimming pools only come with one return jet. This is where the filtered water comes back into the pool from the filter. It’s important for a swimming pool to have good circulation and with just one place the filtered water enter, it can make it harder.
If you can make your pool circulate like a giant whirlpool, then it will circulate much better. You can do this by turning the adjustable eyelet inside the pool to move the water parallel with the pool’s wall.
Making the filter water return parallel to the pool’s wall will create a whirlpool that ends (the vortex) in the middle of the pool. And in addition to the pool water circulating better, the debris from the pool will gather in one spot in the middle bottom. This makes it easier to clean the pool.
22. It’s Mostly All about Chlorine. PH, TA, CA, and Calcium Don’t Matter as much as People Think
In my first couple of years of having the pool service business, I would worry about all the levels of pool chemistry. As the years went by and my routes got bigger along with my knowledge base, I slowly realized that what really mattered was managing the chlorine levels.
Pool owners can get so wrapped up in the intricacies of pool water chemistry, that they drive themselves crazy adjusting levels up and down and back and forth.
Then they may hire a pool guy and their pool always looks great. They don’t know that the pool guy just adds chlorine and maybe adjusts the PH every once in a while.
As this civilization becomes more and more complex, the truth is that as you get to know about something(anything) more and more, the less complicated it becomes.
Pool guys who have put in the years and really know what they are doing won’t use any algaecides (except for yellow), clarifiers, flocs, or any other specialty chemicals to maintain their pools. Those things are a waste of money when you know what’s up.
If what you are doing is working well for you, then keep doing that no matter what processes and products are involved. I’m not one to argue with success.
If you are stressing about every little pool chemistry thing and your pool doesn’t look that great, then it may be time to dumb it down a little. Just cycle your chlorine level (see tip #4) and see what happens. You may be surprised.
23. Don’t Rely on Add-ons. Learn Basic Pool Chemistry
Most pool equipment add-ons are not worth the money you spend for them. They will work well as a placebo though as I have heard pool owners swear by their Frog systems, ionizers, ozonators, etc.
It’s great when you have a chemical add-on and it’s working well for you. What I mean by “working well” is that your pool looks great and you think it’s because of your add-on. I have no issues with that.
The problem is when you have been relying on one of these devices and now the pool looks bad and you have no idea what to do.
Learning some basic swimming pool chemistry may not be easy, but it’s worth it. And if you adhere to what I have been saying, it will be mostly learning about managing your chlorine level and why you need to.
Learning what is really going on chemically in your pool will have you making your pool look and feel better, and be healthier. And as a big bonus, it will cost you a lot less to maintain your pool.
24. The Warmer the Water, the More Algae Grows
This is such a basic truth and can help you understand what is going on in your pool. Pools can have a wide range of water temperatures. It depends on the time of year (how close the sun is to the pool) and how much direct sunlight gets in the pool.
Pools in the north have cooler water temps than pools closer to the equator. And pools that are shaded have cooler water temps than ones that get direct sun all day. This means there are less algae growth in pools more north and pools with a lot of shade.
During the summer months, the pool water is at its warmest. This means more algae grows in the pool which means the pool needs more chlorine. Conversely, during the winter months, the water is at its coldest so there’s less algae growth.
This is a simple yet overlooked concept. The warmer the pool water the more chlorine it will need. This will be helpful to understand when you have an unusually hot June. You’ll know that the pool will be needing more chlorine. So, in knowing this, you won’t be surprised and will be able to manage your pool better.