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Swimming pool surface guide

The purpose of this guide is to provide you with quality information that will help guide you through the process of finding a pool surface that is best suited for your needs and lifestyle.  What is unique about this guide?  Most information found online that compares various pool interiors is written by a specific manufacturer who is promoting their own products.  Typically, this ‘information’ highlights all the faults and flaws in their competitor products but conveniently fails to mention the flaws with their own!  Because this information is unreliable, a common question that we hear from clients that are considering renovating is ‘which pool surface is the best’?  These clients trust our advice because we don’t sell pool interiors or have any financial affiliation with any pool interior company.  We have vast experience with pool surfaces because every day our company treats stains and repairs the common issues that various surfaces face when things go wrong.

“Even the very best pool surface is susceptible to visible stains along with a dramatically reduced lifespan if the water is not regularly and properly maintained.”

Fact is, all pool surface finishes have their merits and drawbacks which are explained and detailed below. Given the right conditions, any of the surfaces mentioned below can be the ‘right’ one for you and look great in your pool. 

6 common pool surfaces sold in Australia

  • Pebble ( + glass beads)
  • Fibreglass
  • Vinyl Lined
  • Quartz
  • Painted
  • Fully Tiled

Unbalanced water will damage any pool surface

What makes surface selection even more challenging is that every pool surface, no matter what they claim, will have a visible and adverse reaction to unbalanced water.  This happens because water is a very powerful substance and as such is often referred to as ‘the universal solvent’ in chemistry.  This saying refers to the chemical power and properties within water which can easily etch, calcify, stain, bleach, corrode or even completely destroy pool surfaces if the water is not maintained regularly.  This image shows how even a simple rainwater drain can cause deep etching in concrete over time.

Corrosive water

Surface lifespan is reduced with renovated compared to new pools

In many cases, a pool interior surface product will not last as long if it is applied to a renovated pool compared to a brand-new pool shell. This is because older pool concrete structures will have aged and become more porous over the years. Also, most pool renovation companies will apply the new surface directly over the top of the old (or existing) surface. This means that because the old surface is still in the pool and is now between the new surface and the pool shell that a strong adhesive bond is not possible in some cases. Because of this, some product warranties are reduced significantly (or eliminated) if they are used on a renovation rather than a brand-new pool. This is discussed in more detail below.

Fully tiled pool

Without doubt, fully tiled pools are the ‘Rolls Royce’ finish for maintenance and longevity. However, they also are the most expensive finish available. If your planning to stay put for the next 25+ years, this finish is worth a closer look.
COST: $18,000
LIFESPAN – 30+ YEARS

caclium silicate on pool tiles

BENEFITS OF TILES

  • Very durable and long lasting finish
  • Ceramic tile surface makes it easier and cheaper to maintain proper water balance
  • Very wide selection of tile colours, finishes and patterns available
  • Small sections can be repaired and closely matched (with spare tiles)
  • Relatively smooth under foot
  • Surface cleaning is easier than some other pool surfaces
  • Tiled pool surfaces have been used worldwide and stood the test of time for many decades

DOWNSIDES OF FULLY TILED

  • Tiles can fall off the walls as pool ages
  • Up to X 4 times the cost of almost every other surface type
  • Chequered tile patterns can be visually off-putting for some people
  • Pool owner will need to wait a long time to see a return on extra investment
  • Trendy tiles can ‘date’ your pool over time
  • Algae and calcium can form in grout causing erosion and discolouration
  • Some cheap imported tiles are etching, fading and not lasting as long as good quality tiles

Which Pool Surface is best?

After reading this information you may feel as though every pool surface available is a disaster just waiting to happen. While this is certainly the experience of some pool owners, these issues can often never appear or take many years to appear if the water is well maintained. Along with good water maintenance, the professional application of the new surface during the renovation process will play a critical role in surface longevity.  This is because a substandard application will cause major problems, even if the water is maintained perfectly. In short, the secret to a long-lasting pool surface is to maintain the water and ensure that the new surface is applied correctly.  Doing these things will massively increase your chances of having a new pool surface that will look great for a long time and bring joy to your family for many years to come.

Should you test your own pool water?

Testing water regularly is not only good for swimmer health but will also keep your pool surface looking great as well.  We often say that if everyone maintained their water perfectly then the pool stain removers would be out of business.  A good quality home test kit may help you maintain the water more regularly if you don’t have time to go to the pool shop frequently.  Most water test kits do a good job and are surprisingly accurate.  We prefer the old-style ones with liquid drops as they are generally more accurate than test strips and cheaper per test. Remember, testing and adjusting the water regularly is the best thing that you can do for your pool. However, it is a good idea to go to the pool shop every so often to get a full water test to make sure all other levels in the water are ok.

Renovating your pool can transform your backyard

Renovating a pool can make a huge difference to the appearance of your home and garden.  A quality job can transform an old dated pool into one that looks brand new and is an impressive feature of your backyard.   However, if you feel a little scared and taken aback by what you have seen here our purpose has been achieved.  Our goal in writing this article is not to scare you.  Our aim is to help you approach this renovation project with accurate information and also a small dose of scepticism.  This is because we hear heartbroken clients almost every day say that “if only” we had checked things out beforehand and done our research properly we would never have used company XYZ or product XYZ.   Clients stuck in these circumstances often face an expensive repair bill and emotional stress that far outweighs the time it would have taken to conduct a little more research before signing up.

Pool stains can cause genuine distress

An example of the emotional distress that can happen when things go wrong happened a few weeks ago.  A distraught client in Brisbane told me that she had built a new pool at a cost of $65,000 and that within 7 weeks, the surface had growing staining issues that were so severe that she was unable to sleep.  When she did sleep, she was grinding her teeth with such intensity that her husband insisted that she visit her dentist.  After spending $4,500 to repair multiple fractures in her teeth, the dentist told her that if she did not reduce her stress in her life and stop grinding her teeth that there would be nothing more that he, or anyone else, could do for her.  It was her story that prompted me to write this article.

Take some time to find a great pool contractor

Having said all the above, there are many amazing pool contractors in the pool industry that go well beyond the legal requirements to make things right for customers if something should go wrong.  They are people of integrity and goodwill who have a brilliant reputation and are loved by their past clients and have the respect of many within the pool industry.  On many occasions, I have personally seen genuine and honest builders pay for our treatments out of their own money, even when the pool issues have absolutely nothing to do with them, their products or their workmanship.  It is my hope that this article will help you connect with contractors like these who mean what they say and do the things they promise.

We wish you the very best of luck in your pool project.

Wade Bosse
Managing Director
The Pool Stain Removers Pty Ltd.

Facts and Myths about Calcium Hardness

As with every other aspect of water chemistry, calcium hardness also needs to be in balance to protect your pool surface from calcium formation, stains, or corrosion. Unlike pH and chlorine, the calcium level in most pools does not vary greatly over the seasons, so testing every few months is normally sufficient.  High or low calcium hardness can cause white staining on pool surfaces, etching, or discolouration. The trick is to maintain the calcium at the right level in between.

LOW CALCIUM WILL CAUSE

  • Pitting on concrete pool surfaces
  • Etching of pool surface
  • Dissolving of tile grout
  • Pitting on concrete pool surrounds

HIGH CALCIUM WILL CAUSE

  • Cloudy water
  • Rough surfaces in pool
  • Clogged filters and reduced circulation
  • White ‘blotchy’ areas on pool surface

What about calcium hardness reducers?

Some inexperienced pool technicians believe that adding a ‘calcium hardness reducer’ will permanently lower the calcium level. This is simply not the case because the calcium isn’t actually removed from the water with these treatments. These ‘reducers’ work by using chemicals to bind up (or capture) the calcium temporarily.  While these treatments do reduce the effects of high calcium in the short term, after 4-6 weeks, the ‘reducer’ chemical is completely neutralized and broken down.  When this happens, the calcium is released from the chemical bond and then simply returns to the previous tested level.

Topping up pool
Photo Credit: Truitt's Water Service

Just adding tap or tank water will do the trick, right?

Topping up the pool with fresh tap or tank water will not slowly reduce the calcium level over time. Adding more water does not lower calcium hardness because as water evaporates into the air, the calcium is left behind in the pool. Remember, water evaporates but calcium does not! This means that calcium stays in your pool no matter how many times it is topped up. Concrete pools will also release some calcium into the pool water over time, particularly when the pool surface is new.

What if my calcium hardness is too low?  Isn’t that good?

The only way to permanently lower your calcium hardness level is to pump out (through backwashing or draining) a small amount of existing pool water and then refilling.  This works because calcium rich water is pumped out of the pool and then replaced with tap or tank water with very low levels of calcium.  Depending on where you live, most tap water in Australia has a calcium hardness of around 50ppm (Sydney water) while tank and rainwater contain no calcium.  Following this “drain and refill process” will lower the calcium hardness level permanently without chemicals!  If you live in a region that is known for ‘hard’ calcium or mineral rich water, then it may be an idea to have the calcium level of your tap water measured before starting this process. You don’t have to drain the entire pool to lower the calcium level. In many cases, replacing as little as 30-40cm’s of water will bring your pool back into the normal calcium range.

How do I adjust my calcium hardness?

If your calcium hardness is too low, it can be easily increased by adding calcium chlorite from your pool shop.  Adding calcium to your pool will increase the calcium level right away.  On the other hand, if the calcium hardness is too high, then we suggest pumping out some water from the pool and replacing it with tap water as mentioned above.  Exchanging the water using this method is inexpensive, permanent, and will also make the water feel a lot nicer to swim in.

If you don’t know your calcium hardness level, we suggest getting it tested as soon as you can.  If your pool shop is not equipped to test for calcium hardness, try another shop.  Because all surfaces can react with calcium, the calcium level is important to know (NSW Health).

Calcium reduction…the natural way.

One method that works to reduce calcium hardness is to pump out water using your pool cleaner or vacuum hose during periods of soaking rain when your pool is likely to overflow.  This method removes high calcium water from the bottom of the pool while at the same time, the rain refills it with fresh water that has no calcium at all.  Doing this several times a year can have a huge impact on the calcium level in your water and best of all, it’s free!

Calcium build-up on fibreglass pool
Calcium build-up on fibreglass pool

What about calcium in fibreglass pools?

Some pool shops are unaware that the recommended calcium level in fibreglass pools is often different to concrete pools.  Because of this, some pool shops will incorrectly advise customers to significantly increase the calcium level in their water.  This mistake happens because the water testing software used at pool shops is primarily designed for concrete pools (which are more common) rather than fibreglass.  Most concrete pools have a suggested range of 200-300ppm of calcium while fibreglass pools often have a lower suggested range.  To ensure that your water is at the right level, check the suggested calcium levels with your pool manufacturer. The pool shown here is from a client who had heavy calcium build-up on their fibreglass pool from poor water balance.  In addition to surface problems, excessive calcium in a fibreglass pool can clog salt cells, damage the heater, and obstruct pipework (Swim University).

Calcium hardness in MagnaPool systems

A common trap for inexperienced pool technicians and owners is understanding that unlike a typical salt pool, ‘total calcium hardness’ in MagnaPool also includes the ‘magnesium salts’ (used to run the MagnaPool system) as part of the total calcium reading. This means that in a pool water test, the high level of magnesium salts in the water will show as calcium.  For MagnaPool systems, 70% of the total hardness reading is actually comprised of magnesium salts rather than calcium.  Because of this, the actual calcium hardness reading for magnesium pools should be substantially higher than typical salt pools to compensate for the magnesium content in the water.  If your MagnaPool is running a measured calcium hardness of 200-250ppm, then your actual calcium level is too low and should be increased right away.  MagnaPool recommends a ‘total hardness’ level of around 800ppm compared to 200-300ppm for typical salt pools (MagnaPool).

Calcium lumps in swimming pool
Calcium lumps in swimming pool

How do I clear calcium lumps off my pool surface?

If you spot calcium lumps or blotches in your pool, please don’t alter your calcium hardness to try and fix this issue. Some people advise that reducing your calcium hardness will dissolve the calcium formation on the pool surface. This is not true. Maintaining the calcium hardness level at either extreme will only make the calcium formation worse, not better. The only way to treat calcium formation on a pool surface is to either use a calcium dissolving compound, or to drain and acid wash the pool.
If you have calcium lumps, streaks or blotches forming in your swimming pool, please feel free to contact us for further information. We can help you remove these without draining your pool water.

salt - magnified
Image of swimming pool salt under a microscope.

Cheap swimming pool salt stains pools

Almost daily we receive telephone calls from distressed clients saying the following – “I got some cheap salt from my local hardware store and now I’ve got these ugly brown stains in my pool”.  Often, this brown staining becomes evident within hours of adding the salt to the water.  Many pool owners around the world face this issue. What are the key differences between bad salt and good salt and why does it matter to your pool? Let’s find out.

Good salt versus bad salt.  What’s the difference?

All salt has the same basic properties. However, the mineral, water and metal content that accompany pool salt can vary significantly from brand to brand.  For this reason, the quality of salt used in your pool has a significant impact on the volume of minerals and metals that are dissolved into your pool water over time. These minerals will later discolour and stain your pool interior, particularly if your pool water chemical balance is not maintained.

We all know that pool water evaporates over time. However, many pool owners are not aware that these minerals, metals and contaminates from salt do not evaporate even once dissolved in the pool. These minerals remain suspended in the water, even when the pool is topped up with fresh water. Using quality salt will significantly slow down this mineral accumulation in your pool.

How can I recognize poor quality salt?

There are 5 things that typically characterize poor quality salt.  They are as follows –

  1. Salt crystal size is large
  2. Salt is discoloured
  3. Salt is slow to dissolve
  4. Salt turns water murky when added
  5. Salt leaves brown stains on your pool floor

If the salt brand you are currently using matches ANY of the attributes in the list above then we strongly suggest trying an alternative.

What does good quality salt look like?

There are five things that characterize good quality salt.  They are as follows –

  1. Salt crystals are fine
  2. Salt crystals are fast dissolving
  3. Salt bag displays a purity level of at least 99.5%
  4. Salt is brilliant white in appearance
  5. Pool water feels soft and comfortable for swimmers

The average pool owner spends around $120 per year on salt.  It is unwise to cut corners by using cheap salt when the consequences can be so costly.

How much extra is good quality salt?

Most pools need around 10-12 bags of salt per year to maintain correct salt levels.  The cost difference between poor and high quality salt is around $4 per 40 lb bag.  This additional cost for quality salt is not significant.  On the other hand, the cost of removing stains caused from poor quality salt can sometimes be over $1000.00. From a financial perspective, cheap salt does not make any sense.

There are times when inexpensive brands sell reasonably high quality batches of salt.  However, less expensive brands need to source lower grade salt in order to meet the low prices some consumers demand.  Therefore, the chances of purchasing a contaminated batch of salt is generally higher with less expensive brands. High purity, fine salt is in demand in several industries and simply costs more to buy.

Swimming pool salt qualities

Another thing to be aware of in terms of cost is that salt is sold by weight.  Some low cost brands will buy moisture rich salt at a lower price in order to undercut their competitors.  Because moisture is not desirable in salt, it is sells for a lower price.  This means that if the salt moisture levels are high then you’re actually paying for water rather than salt! Remember, salt is sold by the total bag weight, not by the actual amount of pure salt in the bag. Therefore, the actual amount of pure salt you have in your salt bag will depend on the quality of the salt, not the total weight of the bag.

Although no brand or batch of salt is 100% pure and completely free of all contaminates, high quality brands generally have better quality control and more accurate measures to monitor mineral content.  When added correctly to your pool, good quality salt saves you money over the life of your pool and will actually cost you less in the long term.

How do I remove salt stains from my pool?

If your pool has salt staining that you cannot remove, please feel free to call The Pool Stain Removers today.  We can help you remove salt stains without draining your pool water.

Do you have any comments or experiences with salt that you would like to share?  We look forward to hearing about them via the email address on our website.

salt stains in swimming pool
Our client in Melbourne, Australia placed a full bag of salt on the steps of their pool and left it to dissolve overnight. The next morning the steps and the entire pool had a horrible brown stain caused from contaminates within the salt.

References

Colour, crystal size and purity – http://www.poolandspareview.com.au

Customers upset and complaining about staining from cheap pool salt – http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/archive/1640290

Adding salt to your pool correctly – http://www.saltwaterpoolandspa.com

Salt quantity needed per year – http://www.poolfab.com.au

Long term benefits of using good quality salt – http://www.riverpoolsandspas.com

Salt graded by water content – http://www.saltcomindia.gov.in

How to clear up cloudy pool

These 6 steps will clear cloudy swimming pool water.

  • Test the water pH
  • Check your calcium hardness level
  • Make sure you have good water flow
  • Clean (or backwash) your pool filter
  • Check for high phosphates
  • Shock chlorinate the water if it has not been done recently

Our technician visited a green pool last year that had five times the normal chlorine level and was still green! Why?  The pH of the water was so high that the chlorine was prevented from working and so it was not able to clear the pool.”

High pH reduces the killing power of chlorine

If the pH of your pool water is high, the effectiveness (or killing power) of pool chlorine is greatly reduced. This may cause the water to appear cloudy.  The orange line on the graph shows that when the pH is at 6.5, chlorine is 91% effective. It also shows that when the pH is 8.5, chlorine is only 9% effective.  In short, high pH “locks up” chlorine so check the pH regularly!

kill rate of chlorine

Low Water flow can cause cloudy water

It is vital that the pump you use is the correct size for your swimming pool. If it’s too small, then there will be insufficient water flow to filter the water properly.  Too large, and the high flow through the filter can cause the fine sand to be blown through the pipework and into your pool. Also, cloudiness may be caused from inadequate filtering time each day, even if your pump is the correct size. This means that there isn’t enough pumping time for all the water in the pool to be properly filtered and chlorinated.

High Phosphates in pool water

Sometimes, cloudy water has little to do with the size or cleanliness of your pool equipment or filter.  Bird and duck droppings, leaves, pollen and excessive dirt can also play a role in increasing phosphates which can lead to cloudy water.  While high phosphates should be removed, an interesting article about the facts and myths surrounding phosphates can be found here.

There are three solutions for clearing cloudy water problems in this category.

  • First, a clarifier will gather the water borne particles together so they can be filtered out.  This process often clears the water completely.
  • If the pool water is very cloudy and you can’t see the bottom, try using a flocculent to clear the water.  This will gather, or ‘flock’, the particles in the water and bring them to the bottom of the pool so they can be removed.
  • A fine skimmer basket sock helps trap finer particles before they enter the main filter. Using a skimmer sock will keep your filter clean.

High Calcium Levels in pool water

High calcium hardness levels can lead to cloudy pool water.  To check your calcium levels, take a water sample to your local pool shop.  They can test your calcium hardness levels for you. According to Australian Standards (1926.3), concrete pools require a calcium hardness level between 100-300 ppm. For fibreglass pools please contact your pool manufacturer to obtain the recommended levels for your pool.

Backwashing a sand filter

Most sand filters should be backwashed every 2 weeks during winter and every week during summer.  Cartridge filters should be cleaned at the same time intervals.  However, backwashing more frequently than this can lead to excessive sand loss, cloudy water and poor filtration.  Changing the sand in your filter every 7 years can be a great idea.  Old sand filters with the original sand inside will often have lumps of solidified sand throughout the filter.  This means that any contaminates in the pool water are simply bypassing the lumps of sand and re-entering the pool.

How to shock chlorinate a swimming pool

First, start by testing your pool water to make sure the chemistry is in balance.  Remember, regular shocking will remove the ‘dead’ chlorine (chloramines) from your pool and kill off most algae growth.  These chloramines ‘bind up’ the free chlorine and significantly reduce its effectiveness. Because of this, your pool water can have plenty of chlorine but still be green and stay green.  To shock chlorinate properly, most pools typically need at least 20 litres of chlorine. This should be done every 6 months.  Your pool shop can help you determine the right amount of chlorine needed to properly shock your pool.  Shocking at the beginning and the end of the swimming season is a great idea.  Finally, shock chlorinating at night will help the liquid chlorine to be protected from the UV light from the sun.

How to clear cloudy pool water

The best way to clear cloudy pool water is to run pool pumps and chlorinators for around 4 hours a day in winter and 8 hours a day in summer to keep the water clear and safe. It is common during late Spring when the weather and water starts to warm up for pool water to turn cloudy.  This is because the chlorination system may still be on winter mode (4 hrs per day) when the weather starts to warm up and this can lead to low chlorine levels.  This means that the warming pool water will have low chlorine levels that cause cloudiness in the water.

References / Credits

dirty sand filter
Old sand filters with the original sand inside which has since partially solidifed
green pool
Pool water can have plenty of chlorine but still be green
PH Scale

Poor pH balance causes nearly every type of stain that our technical team see each day and also makes the water unsafe for swimming. Our photo gallery shows some extreme cases where the pH has been left to drift a long way from the suggested level. This pH increase causes stain producing minerals, metals, copper, calcium or manganese to bond to the surface of the pool interior leaving an unsightly stain that will not brush away. Thankfully, these stain issues can be rectified through our stain treatment process

We often tell our customers that if everyone kept their pool water pH safely balanced they would love their pool again and spend a lot less money at the pool shop.

Take a water sample to your pool shop that is already pH balanced.  You’ll find that you save a lot of money on chemicals because the ‘foundation’ of your water chemistry is balanced. You may often find that you don’t need to buy so many expensive chemicals!

What is a safe pH level for a swimming pool

If your pH is too low, it means that your water is aggressive (or acidic) and that it will want to dissolve any materials that it can to try and rebalance itself.  This may include, the cement in your pool interior, tile grouting and even the copper piping in your solar or heat pump.

On the other hand, water that is very high in pH will try to re-balance itself by depositing (or precipitating) calcium, metals and minerals onto the surface of the pool or pipework. The result is a rough pool surface, calcium spots, mineral staining and sore eyes for swimmers.  Contrary to what many people think, incorrect pH is the main reason swimmers complain of sore eyes.  In most cases, chlorine levels have nothing to do with red eyes after swimming.

Remember that the pH scale is logarithmic so that it’s simple to use.  This means that small changes in the numbers are actually HUGE changes in practice.  For example, lemon juice has a pH of 2 and we can drink it without a problem.  However, hydrochloric acid is just a little lower on the scale at 0 but drinking this could be fatal.  This is because hydrochloric acid is actually 100 times more acidic than lemon juice.  Such a massive change in acidity just 2 digits down the scale!

Maintaining the correct pH level (7.4) in your swimming pool is one of the most important components of water chemistry.  If every pool owner did this regularly, we would go out of business!  This is because very few people would ever have staining in their pool.

Pool water is either dissolving minerals or dumping them on the pool surface.  The only way to avoid this is to keep the water pH balanced

Best way to test pool water

We suggest using a simple water testing kit to measure your pH each week.  Testing the water yourself is the best and often the most convenient way for pool owners to keep their water balanced. It takes less than 15 seconds to do and may mean that you don’t have to visit the pool shop as often.  Many of our customers have been very grateful for giving them this advice. The reagents in these kits are used in some of the most sophisticated testing equipment used in pool shops today. When tested properly, the results from this test kit are very accurate.  Maintaining the correct pH is one of the best things you can do to keep your pool water clear.  Best of all, it may also save you a heap of money on pool chemicals at the pool shop.

water PH test kit