Clean Sweep: Expert Advice on Maintaining Your Pool or Hot Tub

May 2, 2017

By Jason Cramp

Photo courtesy Pool Craft

Increasingly, pool and spa owners are discovering just how relaxing regular maintenance can be. Spending a quiet Saturday afternoon skimming leaves and twigs from the surface of the water while you work on your tan and enjoy the fresh air is a perfect way to unwind after a hectic week. The following tips cover the basics when it comes to keeping your pool or hot tub clean.

Swimming pools
Maintaining your pool involves a few basic tasks such as scrubbing the walls, skimming the water surface and maintaining the water balance. All of these tasks can be completed with an automatic pool cleaner and a good pool maintenance kit containing a chemical test kit, thermometer, brushes, skimmer net, and pool vacuum head for manual models.

On most inground pools the water surface is kept clean with an automatic surface skimmer or overflow gutter around the interior edge of the pool—but don’t rely on this to rid your pool of all surface debris. A sudden gust of wind or rainstorm can quickly cover the pool with leaves, twigs, seeds, pine needles, and insects before the skimmer can remove them.

To handle any accumulation of floating debris, use a leaf net or hand-held skimmer. Made from a polyester mesh screen contained in a plastic frame, leaf nets are easy to use and come with a standard length or telescopic pole that can reach across the width of the pool. Some leaf nets also feature a magnet on the end for collecting coins and other metal objects found at the bottom of the pool.

To handle an accumulation of floating debris, use a leaf net or hand-held skimmer.

Unfortunately, debris can pile up inside the pool skimmer even when you use a leaf net, so check the skimmer basket at least once a week (more often during the fall) and remove any debris trapped in the basket to keep the skimmer running at peak efficiency. The strainer basket on your pump should also be regularly checked for lint or hair to prevent it from becoming lodged inside.

Pool-side plants and grass are some of the biggest sources of floating debris so make sure plants are pruned regularly and grass cuttings are collected to reduce the amount of debris that falls into the water.

Keeping deck and patio surfaces clean with a garden hose will also reduce floating debris—but make sure you aim the hose away from the pool.

To keep pool surfaces free from dirt and algae, they should be scrubbed regularly with a brush. Special brushes are available in either standard or telescopic length handles and uses UV-resistant polypropylene bristles that will not scratch vinyl liners.

Shockingly clean
Special non-abrasive pool cleansers can also be brushed into pool surfaces to remove grease, scale deposits and stains. Unlike household cleansers that may contain foam-causing additives, pool cleansers will not create foam, cloud the water or change the pool’s pH balance. Special cleaners are also available for filters to help prevent clogging caused by oils, algae, or other organic waste.

If your pool water looks cloudy, shocking it with three-to-five times the amount of the normal chlorine or bromine dosage will restore clarity. Shocking also helps kill algae and destroys built-up levels of non-filterable waste such as ammonia. Although pool water should be shocked every seven to 10 days under normal conditions, more frequent treatment is recommended if the pool is used during rainy or humid conditions, during heavy bather loads, or if the water temperature is maintained higher than 26 C (80 F).

For bather health and safety, the most important level to measure is the active pool sanitizer (disinfectant) level in the water.
Photo courtesy Pool Craft

Keep out the green stuff
Poorly maintained pools are ideal for algae growth. Yellow-green blotches, black spots, and green patches develop on pool surfaces when algae spores in the air settle in the pool water. Algae can be removed by brushing and scrubbing affected areas and adding an algaecide directly to the water near the algae growth. Future algae growth can be prevented by maintaining proper water balance, shocking the pool regularly, as well as by using special algaestats or algae preventatives.

Dissolved metals such as ion, copper, and manganese, which can stain pool surfaces, can cause pool water to turn a green or greenish-blue tinge. To remove stains and clear up discoloured water, special sequestering agents can be added that tie up metallic ions.

Grey, white, or brown scaly patches can also develop on pool surfaces. These are caused by excessive calcium in the water and can be eliminated by adding a special sequestering agent that holds calcium in solution—preventing it from precipitating out of the water and settling on pool surfaces.

The best way to prevent calcium deposits, algae, and staining is to properly maintain pool water balance. Maintaining properly balanced water not only makes your pool or hot tub safe to use and improves the appearance of the water, it also prevents damage to pool and hot tub surfaces, keeps the plumbing clear of calcium buildup, and extends the life of the filter, heater, and pump.

The following are the main levels you should test for in your pool:

Sanitizers—For bather health and safety, the most important level to measure is the active pool sanitizer (disinfectant) level in the water. Both chlorine-based and bromine-based products are effective sanitizers that reduce the amount of harmful micro-organisms, bacteria, and organic matter in the water, making it safe for bathers to use. The recommended chlorine (or equivalent bromine) sanitizer level should be maintained at 1-3 ppm (parts per million).

pH—Another important parameter to measure is pH. This test will let you know whether the pool water is acidic, neutral, or alkaline. Ideally, your water should have a pH of 7.4-7.6. When the pH is too low (below 7.2), the sanitizer level in the water dissipates more rapidly and pool and hot tub surfaces and metal components may corrode. When it is too high (above 7.8), sanitizer efficiency is reduced, scale begins to form and the water will become cloudy. Testing the pH level will let you know which type of pH adjusting products you need to add to the water.

Total alkalinity—Total alkalinity (TA) measures the amount of alkaline salts in the water, which has an effect on the pH level of the water. Pools with a low TA level (under 80 ppm), will allow the pH to swing rapidly back and forth from high to low levels, which in turn can damage vinyl, paint, and plaster surfaces of the pool, as well as corroding metal fittings and leaving stains on pool surfaces. Pools with a high TA level (above 120 ppm) make adjusting the pH difficult and can cause the water to become cloudy. The proper TA range for pool water is 80 to 120 ppm.

Calcium hardness—Pool water with a low calcium hardness level can damage concrete surfaces by leaching the calcium from the concrete, while high calcium levels can increase the formation of scale. Pool water should therefore be maintained with a calcium hardness level of 200 to 240 ppm.

Owning a pool can be a very rewarding, but also a time-consuming experience. It requires more than just an occasional cleaning and can take up a large portion of your time and money if it is not maintained regularly and correctly. And while many homeowners may choose to do it themselves, don’t forget the pros.

[4]There are many advantages to hiring a professional to look after your pool care needs, including:

  • Ensuring the water chemistry is correct, thus saving you money on costly equipment repairs.
  • Giving you the freedom to just enjoy your pool. After all, your time is valuable.
  • Having the right equipment and chemicals to complete the task properly and at an affordable price.
  • Peace of mind knowing every time you use the pool it is being properly cared for. Expert training means expert advice.
  • Looks can be deceiving. Even though your pool may look clear and you can see the bottom, a pool professional knows what else to test for and what maintenance is necessary to prolong the life of your pool.
  • Having a pro handle your pool’s maintenance means warranties are not inadvertently voided due to improper care or use of parts not recommended by the manufacturer.

Cassidy Franks is the operations manager for Pool Craft, in Richmond Hill, Ont. He can be reached via e-mail at[5].

As with pools, the most common sanitizers for hot tubs are chlorine and bromine, which are designed to sanitize hot tub water and oxidize any contaminants that may be in the water.
Photo courtesy Pool Craft

Hot tubs
Maintaining your hot tub the same way you maintain your pool can get you into a lot of hot water! A hot tub is not a miniature pool—it has a smaller volume of water and higher water temperatures, bather loads, evaporation rates, and aeration than pools. Think of it this way—two people in a 1514-L (400-gal) hot tub is the equivalent of 200 people in a 6 x 12-m (20 x 40-ft) pool.

As with pools, the most common sanitizers for hot tubs are chlorine and bromine, which are designed to sanitize hot tub water and oxidize any contaminants that may be in the water. Sanitizer levels in a hot tub are higher than a pool because high water temperatures, combined with the turbulent water, reduce sanitizer levels quicker and create more waste in terms of oils, hair, and skin cells. The ideal range for free chlorine (chlorine that is free to attack new contaminants) in a hot tub is 3 to 5 ppm and 3 to 6 ppm for bromine.

If your hot tub looks like you are throwing a foam party it can be a problem. Foaming on the surface of the water is a result of oils and lotions in the water reacting with chemicals in the turbulent water of a hot tub. Adding an anti-foaming agent to change the surface tension in the water easily controls this problem.

Hand-held vacuums that draw in sand and grit when squeezed can also be used to remove debris that has settled at the bottom of the hot tub.

Water clarity can also be a problem in hot tub water when contaminants too small to be filtered out of the water result in cloudiness. Adding a water clarifier rapidly clears up hot tub water by grouping together smaller, unfilterable particles into larger masses which the filter can trap.

Draining formula for hot tubs: Number of days between hot tub draining = hot tub water volume in litres divided by 10 x maximum number of daily bathers.
Photo courtesy Tarrascape Innovation Inc.

Although rarely a problem in indoor hot tubs, algae may develop in outdoor hot tubs.

Superchlorinating the water, scrubbing the area with a brush, and adding a non-foaming algaecide will clear up this problem.

Additional ways to keep hot tub water clean include operating the filter at least two-to-three hours per day and cleaning the filter regularly with specialty cleaners and degreasers.

Hot tub surfaces should also be cleaned regularly to prevent ‘bathtub ring’ from forming along the waterline.

Although the pH levels remain the same for pools and hot tubs, the TA level for the latter should be maintained in the 80 to 100 ppm range. This will keep the pH stable and prevent the formation of excessive levels of calcium carbonate, which cause scaling and cloudiness in hot tub water.

Calcium hardness levels should be maintained between 140 to 160 ppm, which is lower than pools because of the tendency of hot water to scale.

Even the best maintained hot tubs need to be emptied and refilled on a regular basis. This often depends on bather load (the number of bathers who use the hot tub), but a good guideline is to change the water every three months.


Checking the water balance in your pool or hot tub is quite simple and there are several options. One option is dipping a paper test strip in the water, swirling it around and comparing the colour on the strip to a colour chart for results. Another option is to use a digital test strip reader that displays the current water balance on a LCD screen.

Using a water drop test kit is another accurate method. This test requires you to drop a liquid reagent into a water sample and match the colour of the water to a comparison chart.

For more thorough water testing, take a sample of your pool or hot tub water in a clean container to your local service professional. They will do a thorough computer analysis and make recommendations based on this test.

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