Pool Chemicals 101: A Beginner’s Guide

There are a variety of different pool chemicals that new pool owners will need to become familiar with to keep their pool water clean and safe. The most common type of pool chemical is chlorine, which is used to kill bacteria and other contaminants. If you’ve ever been near a chlorinated pool, you’re familiar with its distinctive smell, which is the leftover waste from chlorine called chloramines.

Other common pool chemicals include algaecides, which are used to prevent algae growth, and pH balancers, which help to maintain a healthy pH level in the water. Pool owners will also need to stock up on shock treatments, which are used to address sudden spikes in contamination levels.

By familiarizing themselves with the different types of pool chemicals available, new pool owners can ensure that their pools are always safe and clean. So, with that in mind, we’re going to try to provide a pool chemicals guide for beginners. We’ll help you figure out what chemicals you need for your pool, and which ones you need when you’re putting chemicals in your pool for the first time.

Keeping your pool clean: Sanitizers

Keeping your pool clean and safe for swimming is essential, and the type of sanitizer used to do this can make a big difference in the overall quality of your water. Depending on your specific needs, there are several types you can use – chlorine, bromine, biguanide, mineral systems, and salt generators using electrolysis to help reduce chemical levels.

Chlorine is widely used and effective in killing bacteria but can cause skin and eye irritation for some swimmers. There are two types of chlorine you will typically see: stabilized and unstabilized.

Stabilized chlorine contains a chemical compound such as cyanuric acid that allows the chlorine to last longer in sunlight and heat. Unstabilized chlorine, on the other hand, does not contain this compound and is much more effective in less sunny environments.

When using unstabilized chlorine, it’s important to replace it frequently since its effectiveness diminishes rapidly. Generally speaking, stabilized chlorine is better for outdoor pools in sunny climates; while unstabilized chlorine is better suited for indoor or shaded outdoor pools.

Bromine has a milder effect yet still keeps bacteria levels at bay. Bromine works by killing bacteria and other microorganisms that can cause health issues. It also prevents algae growth, which is important for keeping water clarity and reducing the need for frequent cleaning. Bromine works differently than chlorine, but just as effectively. It does not evaporate quickly when exposed to sunlight like chlorine does, which makes it one of the ideal compounds for keeping pools clean

Mineral systems usually come as a chlorine alternative but also contain silver that helps decrease microorganisms while salt systems rely on electricity to create chlorines from dissolved salts.

Biguanide is also an effective sanitizer for swimming pools that is different from traditional chlorine-based pool treatments. It works by producing hydrogen peroxide, a molecule which breaks through microbial cell walls, killing off microorganisms.

Biguanide does not produce the strong odor associated with chlorine and is less corrosive than other chemical treatments, making it easier on swimmers’ skin, eyes, and hair. As an added bonus, biguanide also helps to clarify the water and tone down discoloration. Also known as polyhexamethylene biguanides (PHMB), this sanitizer has proven to be quite successful in keeping swimming water healthy.

With an understanding of each kind of sanitizer, you can make an informed decision about the one that best fits your pool’s needs for maximum cleaning capabilities.

Remember to shock

Pool shock is a formulated blend of chemicals that helps to ensure the optimal performance of your swimming pool. Sometimes referred to as “superchlorinating” pool shock acts as a sanitizer and oxidizer, working to kill harmful bacteria, algae, and other contaminants in the water with a high dose of chlorine. Pool shock also works to reduce chloramines (the waste byproduct from chlorine), which can cause an unpleasant odor and eye irritation.

Most pool owners will use a regular application of shock to keep their water clean and safe, allowing for the greater enjoyment of all swimmers.

Balancing your pH

Balancing pH and alkalinity in swimming pools can be a time-consuming process, but it is essential for maintaining a safe pool environment. If you recall from your school days, pH is a measure of whether a substance is an acid or a base. A score of 7 is neutral, with anything below being an acid and anything above a base. For health and safety, you’ll want to keep your pool at or near the 7.4 to 7.6 range for pH.

To do so, you’ll want to have a supply of both pH increaser and pH decreaser – chemicals that do exactly as they say. Follow the package instructions to adjust your levels if you test and find your pH is too high or too low.

Alkalinity is a related chemical as it’s what works to maintain your pool’s pH level. If your alkalinity is too low you can buy an alkalinity increaser or just use standard baking soda that you can get at a grocery store. You won’t find a product specific to decreasing alkalinity, but if it gets too high you can knock that down by using your pH decreaser, as it will lower both the pH and alkalinity levels in your pool.

Calcium levels also matter for your pool

Many of us were brought up with lessons about how calcium helped children build strong teeth and bones. You’ll quickly realize as a pool owner that you also need to keep an eye on your calcium hardness levels. Calcium hardness is one of the chemical balances that needs to be monitored in a swimming pool. It’s important because if water contains too much calcium, it can leave an unsightly scale on the surfaces of the pool and cause damage to equipment over time. Too little calcium can be corrosive to pool surfaces, raising your maintenance costs significantly.

The products necessary to keep these levels in check include pH decreases, as high pH can often lead to issues with calcium hardness. If your pH is in order and you’re still struggling with high calcium hardness levels, you can add a flocculant or clarifier to adjust it downward. If your levels are low, you can find calcium hardness increaser to get your levels to a spot that it won’t corrode your pool.

A note on flocculants vs. clarifiers. Clarifiers work as a more of a temporary fix when particles in the pool leave it cloudy, whereas flocculants make the particles bind together and sink to the bottom of the pool where you can then vacuum them out and be left with a more long-term fix.

The key? Testing!

No matter how familiar you are with the various pool chemicals you need, you won’t know what to use without consistent testing. Making sure you have a testing kit and testing strips on hand at all times will help you keep tabs on your pH levels, chlorine level, total alkalinity, calcium hardness, and other aspects of your pool chemistry.

Hopefully this guide helps you feel less like a novice when it comes to pool chemicals. Come back often for more educational guides and pool maintenance tips. If you’re looking to outfit or upgrade your pool’s accessories, also be sure to have a look at our American-made pool slides, ladders, railings, swim up bars, diving boards, and pool games. Find a Global Pool Products dealer near you to learn more about our products

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