Part 1: Jet Tour of Balanced Water Chemistry
When I was sitting in 9th grade chemistry I kept thinking to myself, I wonder what we are having for lunch? It seemed like a colossal waste of brain space to learn chemistry. Brain space that should be filled with important things like how many pencils I could stick into the ceiling before the teacher noticed. Well, Mr. Cheeseman would be happy to know that his efforts were not in vain. Chemistry is a soap box that I like to stand on; and as a responsible pool owner you should be standing right up here with me. Sure, keeping the leaves off the bottom of the pool is important, but if you don’t have properly balanced pool chemistry you won’t even be able to SEE the pool floor. Worse than that, you could inadvertently be doing damage to your equipment or your swimming pool itself.
In addition to the water chemistry in part 1, part 2 of this blog will cover a couple important pool chemicals. Everybody who has ever been to a swimming pool knows about chlorine, but there are some other chemicals you need to be aware of that keep your water balanced. There is lots to know about water chemistry and chemicals but this is a jet tour so we’ll just hit the highlights. So, without further ado, let’s go!
I am going to start here as this piece of your water testing actually affects the overall balance of your pool water significantly. Alkalinity in water is what helps stabilize your pH in the pool water.
If you have low alkalinity you can get what is called pH bounce. This is when you see major fluctuations in your pH after a heavy bather load or a downpour of diluting rain or, well, a lot of other things could cause it too. You need to maintain your pH over 80 ppm (parts per million). If you keep it around 100 ppm that is best because if it drops a little you are still within a good range. I used to preach that you don’t want the alkalinity to creep over 120, but the biggest negative result of high Alkalinity is just cloudy water. I am here to tell you I have seen pools operating off well water that have a pH of 250 and the water was so clear I could have read a newspaper off the bottom of the pool. Why would I want to do that you ask? I wouldn’t. I was merely making an attempt to describe how clear the water was. If your alkalinity is low you need to add Alkalinity up. Don’t buy it from us pool guys though. It is way overpriced. Alkalinity up is sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda. So instead, head to your closest big box store and buy a 12 lb bag of it and add it directly to your pool water. How much to you add? It depends on the size of your pool. Check your test kit. It should have a book in it that will tell you exactly how much to add.
If your alkalinity is low you need to add Alkalinity up.
As you may remember from Mr. Cheeseman’s chemistry class pH has to do with the acid levels. We want to have an acid neutral swimming environment.
If the pH is reading high, that means your water is basic or that it has low acid. While this seems like it would be a good thing it can lead to cloudy water or buildup in your pipes, in your waterlines, ladders, or inside your pump and heater. A very common cause of cloudy water is high pH.
On the opposite end if you have low pH your acid level is high. Many times, if you have low pH the water will be crystal clear. That seems like a good thing but what is actually happening is that the acid in the water is eating up all of the particles in the water. You know what else it’s eating up? The heat exchanger in your heater, the impeller in your pump, your ladders, your railings, your salt cell if you have one and anything else the water is touching. If your eyes are stinging? Yep, it can be hard on those too.
This is a great example of why it is so important to test chemicals. Just because your pool water is clear doesn’t mean the chemicals are balanced. You can have extremely harsh water which is hard on your pool and equipment. I have seen pool pumps and heaters fail in less than a year due to improperly balanced pH. Ideal range for pH is 7.2 – 7.8. If you can keep the pH around 7.4, the chlorine in your pool will be the most effective. Chlorine is most effective as a sanitizer when the pH is low. But if your pH gets too low you need to add soda ash. If it is too high you need to add, yep, you guessed it…acid. Mr Cheeseman would be so proud!