How do I know if my pool water is balanced?
Part 2: Jet Tour of Pool Chemicals
Jet tour part one covered Alkalinity and pH, if you don’t remember why they are important go ahead and read it again. For this part of the tour we are going to be hitting a couple little ditties that keep you from getting sick while you are splashing around with your little tikes. Let the tour re-commence!
Now that your alkalinity and pH are balanced it’s time to think about your sanitizer. Chlorine is the most common pool sanitizer out there. It comes in the form of pucks that you can buy in a 50 lb bucket. It also comes powdered, and is known as shock or di-chlor. And yes, if you have a salt system you have chlorine in your pool too. (See the blog on salt systems to learn more about that.)
Everybody knows about chlorine. You walk into a hotel and you can smell the pool immediately. Kids start jumping wildly and tugging on your coat attempting to drag you to find the pool before you even have your room keys in hand. That swimming pool smell that delights the noses of kids everywhere is actually an indicator that the chlorine is out of balance. Here I am getting the cart before the horse though.
Chlorine when properly balanced removes bacteria and other unwanted villains in pool water. It helps prevent algae out breaks. And we all know that when 100 kids jump into a pool, 75 of them most definitely pee. Chlorine breaks that down too. If your pool does not have chlorine, you open yourself up to water born illness and algae blooms. You should maintain a chlorine level above 2.0 ppm and no higher than 10 ppm in your swimming pool. I would recommend keeping it around 4.0 ppm. If you have a high bather load or the sun is especially hot or the diluting rain falls, you run the risk of your chlorine level dropping. If you are maintaining it at 4.0 ppm, then if it drops your water should still be effectively sanitized. If it gets to be above 10 ppm it can cause eye and skin irritation, not to mention that classy Hawaiian print speedo you just picked up will prematurely fade.
As the chlorine works in the water it gasses off in the form of chloramines. On an outdoor pool these chloramines sail away with the wind to a better place, but here is where the cart finally comes in the horse cart pickle…when you walk into that hotel and you smell chlorine; it is actually the chloramines that you are smelling. If the ventilation system is not large enough (most aren’t) and those chloramines are not leaving the pool area as well as they should. They end up dropping back into the pool and forming what is called combined chlorine. This is not an effective sanitizer and does not break down bacteria as well. I won’t get into the gross details of what exactly could be lurking in the pool water if your combined chlorine levels are out of range. You’re welcome. The acceptable levels for combined chlorine is less than 0.5 ppm. There are a few different ways to sanitize a pool, but I will have to save that topic for a different day.
That swimming pool smell that delights the noses of kids everywhere is actually an indicator that the chlorine is out of balance.
The other important chemical for your pool is a stabilizer known as cyanuric acid. Cyanuric acid is an important part of your pool chemistry because it is what keeps the chlorine in your water. If you don’t have any stabilizer when the sun comes out, poof, your chlorine just flew out of your water.
Picture stabilizer as an umbrella for the chlorine molecule. Chlorine is covered up, so when the sun comes out he stays in your water, happy as a pig in a peach orchard. If you have a salt, cal hypo or a liquid chlorine system you will have to add stabilizer as it is not built in to the chemical like it is with other sanitizers. If you use di-chlor or tri-chlor it is built in. This can be a good thing and it can be a bad thing. Its good because the cyanuric acid is being constantly pumped in so your chlorine is happy, but only for a while. What can happen is that if the stabilizer level gets too high you can get what is called chlorine lock. Remember that happy go lucky chlorine molecule that has the fancy umbrella protecting him from those UV rays? As that stabilizer level increases that umbrella also grows. In fact, it can get so big that the umbrella actually encapsulates the chlorine molecule. The problem is that once that molecule is encapsulated it can no longer do its job, which is sanitizing your water. No matter how much chlorine you introduce to the water, once this happens it will not increase the chlorine level in your pool. The only way to get your pool out of chlorine lock is to dilute the water. If you have a liner or fiber glass pool you never want to drain the pool all the way down or catastrophic things could occur. Drain it only a couple of feet and fill it back up. Again, make sure a liner or fiber glass pool always has at least a foot in the shallow end of the pool or you run the risk of damaging the liner beyond repair or the fiber glass pool could lift out of the ground. If you are concerned about this, contact your local pool pro for help.
In order to keep your pools properly balanced, test them at least 3 times a week for backyards and commercial pools need to follow the local ordinances. If you aren’t sure call your friendly pool inspector and he would be happy to help, or of course, you can always call the friendly team over at Platinum Pools. Improperly maintained pool chemistry can lead to illness and almost always voids warranties on your mechanical equipment. Thanks for flying along on this jet tour and now that you are an expert, get out there and check that water!