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Water is known as the universal solvent. It seeks to dissolve everything that it comes into contact with. That includes your pool's surface, pump, filter, heater, plumbing, you name it. Balanced water is water that is chemically maintained within very strict tolerances to reduce its impact on your pool components.

Pool water can be in one of three states; scaling, aggressive/corrosive, or equilibrium. Corrosive/aggressive water can etch pool surfaces, corrode heater coils and cause premature wear on the pump/filter systems. Scaling water can deposit minerals (calcium) on tiles, surfaces and inside plumbing lines and pumps. Balanced water has reached equilibrium. It's mineral saturation has been satisfied so it doesn't pull them from your pool walls, which adds years to your pool finish. Moreover, it does not drop minerals out of solution where it forms calcium scales on tiles and aggregate. The pH is steady so it does not allow intermittent or long term corrosiveness, thereby preventing premature wear on finishes and pump/filter components.

We measure water balance using the Langelier Saturation Index (LSI). Created in 1936 by Professor Wilfred Langelier, the index was developed to determine how to lay down a slight calcium deposit inside municipal pipes to help protect them from corrosion. It measures the corrosive potential of water by plotting the measurement of pH, alkalinity, and calcium hardness. To complete the calculation, temperature and stabilizer are also factored into the equation, although their impact is less.

After measuring all these dynamics of your pool water, we make adjustments to maintain your water as close to center as possible. Our goal: water that has reached equilibrium. There could be several reasons for this condition. The most obvious is poor circulation. Even water that contains adequate chlorine can form algae or turn cloudy if there's no circulation. If you're pump is running 6-8 hours per day, and your filter is relatively clean and no obstruction in flow exists, circulation is probably fine.

It could also be that the level of phosphates in your water is extremely high. Phosphate is algae food. The more there is, the more food algae has to grow on. Make sure your pool service measures phosphates and kills it. Many pool services rely solely on shocking with chlorine to remove algae. Shocking does that, but it does NOT remove phosphate. In fact, when algae are killed they release phosphates back into the water where it fuels subsequent algae blooms. After shocking, phosphate killer should be used to remove the algea-growing food released after algae have been killed.

Normally, when chlorine levels are maintained and water still turns green, it's the stabilizer level that's to blame. Stabilizer (cyanuric acid) is added to pools to keep UV rays from burning off chlorine. It binds with chlorine and protects it from the UV rays. Excess amounts have a negative effect, rendering the chlorine powerless. If this is the case, you may find that it takes many times the normal amount of chlorine to keep algae at bay.

Stabilizer levels should be maintained at 30-50 PPM. If you've maintained your pool on a strict diet of chlorine tablets, there's a good chance your stabilizer level has risen to 100 PPM or even higher. Tablets are stabilized and their constant use causes an excess build up. When that happens, you'll need much more chlorine than normall to keep your pool sanitized. There is no way to reduce stabilizer levels except by draining pool water. 

Alkalinity is the water's ability to withstand changes in pH. Additions of chlorine can cause swings in pH, as can rain water, acid additions and other chemical additions. When the alkalinity is within a very specific range, the water has the ability to buffer these pH changes, thereby allowing a more steady-state pH.

From a water chemistry standpoint, your pool service should analyze the pH, chlorine, and alkalinity each week. Every two to three weeks they should analyze for stabilizer levels and calcium. Every four to six weeks they should check for phosphate buildup. Every three to 6 months they should analyze for metal buildup.

From a systems standpoint, your service should check the operation of your filter and pump each week. As well, they should inspect for water or air leaks in plumbing lines. At least monthly, your filter should be cleaned and inspected (cartridge). If you have a sand filter, it should be backwashed every 4-6 weeks. If you have a DE filter, it should be backwashed and re-charged with DE every month.

Salt pools

Why Salt-Water?

Ocean water has a salt content of around 35,000 parts per million ("ppm"). Humans have a salt taste threshold of around 3,500 ppm. Most chlorine generators require a salt content of 2500 - 6000 ppm in the pool. A unit that needs less than 3500 ppm to operate effectively is optimal. If the salt content is higher, that warm, salty water will be pretty distasteful!

Swimming in a mild saline solution is much like taking a shower in soft water. Generally, when people swim in a non-chlorine generator pool (a pool with no salt water in it) they feel like their skin dries quicker upon exiting the pool. They may feel and/or see a whitish residual, chlorine flaking, on the skin. In a salt-water pool (one with a chlorine generator) the water feels smooth, your skin feels smooth and many people feel more refreshed.

What Does a Chlorine Generator Do?

A chlorine generator's main function is to produce chlorine for the pool so you do not have to buy it, store it or handle it. These are big advantages for many pool owners. Chlorine generators, when functioning correctly, produce chlorine constantly (when the pump is running) with most units. This keeps a residual of chlorine in the pool that prevents algae from growing. The secret is keeping the cell free of calcium and mineral deposits--the cell itself is made up of precious metals-it must be maintained so it can continue to make chlorine.

Through the process of electrolysis, water passing over the chlorine generator cell produces chlorine that is instantaneously transformed into Hypochlorous acid. When any type of chlorine is added to water it ALL makes the SAME thing: Hypochlorous acid. It does not matter if it is Sodium Hypochlorite (liquid chlorine), Tri-chlor and Di-chlor or Lithium based, Cal-hypo or even gas chlorine--it all makes Hypochlorous acid. Hypochlorous acid is the active sanitizer; this is what kills algae and other harmful stuff in the water. Its effectiveness is totally predicated on balanced water conditions and, more importantly, proper pH. So, with a salt water system or chlorine generator, you still must maintain your water balance (pool chemistry) properly. As long as you do this, a chlorine generator is a good choice

Common Swimming Pool Myths Dispelled

Myth #1: Chlorine will turn my blond hair green
 "I spent the day swimming in my friend's pool and now my formerly blond locks (natural, of course) are GREEN! Her chlorine level must be sky-high for that to have happened!! 
It is not the chlorine in the pool water that is turning your hair green, but the copper! Copper is introduced into your pool either from a 'mineral system' or from certain copper-based algaecides. Chlorine is the most effective algaecide around, so if you maintain proper chlorine levels, you have no need for algaecides anyway. Mineral systems are discussed in Myth #4.

Myth #2: Chlorine pools smell bad
Yes, Mr. Honest-Pool-Store-Man, I agree chlorine pools smell awful! How much for that alternative NatureBaquaFrog2 system? A properly maintained chlorine pool has virtually no smell at all. The "chlorine odor" actually comes from combined chloramines (CCs). CCs are formed as the free chlorine is 'used up' by organics in the water. If you are only testing for 'total chlorine' you may think your chlorine levels are fine. But CCs are no good at sanitizing your water, and in fact you need to get rid of them. The sun also burns them off, but you need to bring your water up to shock level and hold it there until you have 0ppm CCs. 

Myth #3: Rashes, swimmer's ear, and red stinging eyes are caused by high levels of chlorine 
Ouch! Stupid chlorine in the community pool caused my baby to get a rash on his tushy! Rashes and swimmer's ear are usually caused by bacteria. Many times the rashes develop under the bathing suit, where the environment is warm and damp. Same thing for swimmer's ear. The bacteria get into the ear, water is trapped with it, and the bacteria thrive. To help prevent rashes, rinse promptly after getting out of the pool. You can use commercial drops, or drops made from one part alcohol and one part vinegar before and after swimming to help prevent swimmer's ear. You also need to shock your pool to kill the bacteria and maintain a safe, sanitary environment.

My eyes! My eyes! Most of the time, red stinging eyes are caused either from improper pH or high CC levels. Your tears have a pH of 7.4, and any value too far either higher or lower causes irritation. Again, the presence of CCs indicate that you need to shock the water.

Myth #4: Mineral systems are good alternative sanitizers.
With all the push for "natural" things, one might conclude that a mineral system would be great for your pool. After all, minerals are natural and healthy, right? Not in this case. The minerals here refer to the metals silver and copper. While these metals do kill algae, there can be many other contaminants in your water. These minerals do NOTHING to destroy these other pathogens. All mineral systems are used in conjunction with chlorine, which is proven to kill all of the complex pathogens found in your water, including algae. If you are using chlorine anyway, and properly maintaining your water, you have no need for the added 'minerals' and in fact they can cause problems of their own, like staining and green hair.

Myth #5: Wait an hour after eating to get in the swimming pool, or you'll get a cramp and die
Ah, Mom. She always had your best interest at heart! But it was always SO hard to wait, when the water was SO inviting! So could you REALLY die from swimming too soon after eating that PB&J? Not likely. As your food is digesting, more blood goes to the stomach and other digestive organs to speed the process along. This means there is less blood for your muscles. If you are using your muscles more than your body can handle, you can get a cramp. However, if you eat a sensible meal, and take it easy for a while after returning to the water, even the risk of a cramp is very low. Now, if you consume a seven-course meal fit for Henry VIII and immediately commence to swim a marathon, you could have a different result!

Pool Water Chemistry

There are five chemical levels that every pool owner needs to keep track of:

  • FC - Free Chlorine - A sanitizer which keeps your pool water safe and free of germs. Chlorine must be constantly replenished.
  • pH - Acidity/Alkalinity - Needs to be kept in balance to prevent irritation and protect the pool equipment. (7.2 to 7.8)
  • TA - Total Alkalinity - Appropriate levels help keep the pH in balance. High levels can cause pH to rise. (60 to 120, sometimes higher)
  • CH - Calcium Hardness - Appropriate levels help prevent plaster damage. High levels can cause calcium scaling. (220 to 350, vinyl can be lower)
  • CYA - Cyanuric Acid - Protects chlorine from sunlight and determines the required FC level. (outdoors 30 to 80, indoors 0 to 20)

Here are three other chemical levels that come up frequently enough that you should at least know what they are:
  • Salt - Required with a SWG, otherwise an optional enhancement.
  • Borate - An optional enhancement.
  • Phosphate - Doesn't matter, despite pool store claims otherwise.

All eight are described in more detail below.

FC - Free Chlorine

Free chlorine shows the level of disinfecting chlorine available (active plus reserve) to keep your pool sanitary. Normally, FC should be tested and chlorine added daily. If you have an automatic feeder or SWG, you can test it every couple of days. FC is consumed by sunlight, and by breaking down organic material in your pool. The level of FC you need to maintain depends on your CYA level and how much you use the pool. 

It is important that you do not allow FC to get too low, or you run the risk of getting algae. If FC ever gets down to zero, or you have algae, the pool is not safe to swim in. Maintaining an appropriate FC level is the most important part of keeping your water in balance.

Bleach, liquid chlorine, liquid shock, trichlor tablets/pucks/sticks, dichlor powder, cal-hypo powder/capsules, and lithium hypochlorite all raise the FC level. It is important to use bleach without any additives or special features, typically labeled unscented or "original scent". In addition to chlorine, trichlor and dichlor also add CYA, and lower the pH of the water. Cal-hypo adds chlorine and calcium. Lithium hypochlorite tends to be quite expensive. 

It is most efficient to raise the FC level in the evening, since none will be lost to sunlight until the next morning. FC normally goes down by itself. If you must lower the FC level quickly, you can use a chlorine neutralizer (sodium thiosulfate).

CC - Combined Chlorine

Combined chlorine is an intermediate breakdown product created in the process of sanitizing the pool. CC causes the "chlorine" smell many people associate with chlorine pools. If CC is above 0.5, you should shock your pool. CC indicates that there is something in the water that the FC is in the process of breaking down. In an outdoor pool, CC will normally stay at or near zero as long as you maintain an appropriate FC level and the pool gets some direct sunlight.

Potassium monopersulfate (a common non-chlorine shock) will often show up on tests as CC. There is a special reagent you can get to neutralize the potassium monopersulfate so you can get a true CC reading.

TC - Total Chlorine

Total chlorine is the sum of FC plus CC. Inexpensive chlorine tests, such as the common OTO test, which shows the TC level as different shades of yellow, measures TC because it is easier to test for than FC and CC. In normal operation, TC can be used as if it was FC, because CC is usually zero. You can not use the OTO test, or other tests that only measure TC, when you have algae or certain other problems. Anything that might cause the CC level to be above zero, such as algae, makes the TC level different from the FC level. In these situations, TC is useless on its own.

pH - Acidity/Alkalinity

pH indicates how acidic or basic the water is. pH should be tested daily at first. Once you gain experience with your pool, less frequent monitoring may be appropriate, depending on your pool's typical rate of pH change. pH levels between 7.5 and 7.8 are ideal, while levels between 7.2 and 7.8 are acceptable for swimming.

pH levels below 7.2 tend to make eyes sting or burn. pH below 6.8 can cause damage to metal parts, particularly pool heaters with copper heat exchange coils. High pH can lead to calcium scaling. pH contributes to the CSI, which indicates the tendency for plaster damage or calcium scaling. Aeration will tend to cause the pH to rise. This can be mitigated by lowering TA.

Many pools will drift up towards higher pH over time. This is particularly true for fresh plaster (particularly in the first month and continuing for perhaps a year) or when TA is high and the water is being aerated (because of a spa, waterfall, fountain, SWG, rain, kids splashing in the pool, etc).

You can raise pH with borax or soda ash/washing soda. Soda ash/washing soda will increase TA more than borax will. You can lower pH with muriatic acid or dry acid. How much you will need for a given pH change depends on several other numbers, most importantly your TA and borate levels. Higher TA and/or borate levels cause you to need larger amounts of chemicals to change the pH.

TA - Total Alkalinity

Total alkalinity indicates the water's ability to buffer pH changes. Buffering means you need to use a larger quantity of a chemical to change the pH. At low TA levels, the pH tends to swing around wildly. At high TA levels, the pH tends to drift up. TA contributes to the CSI which indicates the tendency for plaster damage or calcium scaling.

The ideal TA level depends on several factors. If you are using acidic chlorine sources, such as trichlor or dichlor, keep TA on the high side, perhaps between 100 and 120. If you have a SWG, or if you commonly run water features such as a spa, waterfall, or fountain, keep TA on the low side, between 60 and 80. Otherwise levels between 70 and 90 are good. Pools with plaster surfaces should factor their CSI into the preferred TA level decision. Pools with vinyl liners can tolerate high TA levels reasonably well.

You can raise TA with baking soda. It is often best to make large TA adjustments in a couple of steps, testing the water after each one, as adding baking soda will also affect the pH and you don't want the pH going out of range. 

ATA or CTA - Adjusted or Corrected Total Alkalinity

An adjustment is sometimes made to the measured TA, subtracting out the cyanurate alkalinity, to more closely approximate the alkalinity as CaCO3. This number is only used when calculating LSI. Here at TFP you should always use the TA result directly from the test.

CH - Calcium Hardness

Calcium hardness indicates the amount of calcium in the water. Over time, water with low calcium levels will tend to dissolve calcium out of plaster, pebble, tile, stone, concrete, and to some extent fiberglass surfaces. You can prevent this from happening by keeping the water saturated with calcium. In a vinyl lined pool there is no need for calcium, though high levels can still cause problems. A plaster pool should have CH levels between 250 and 350 if possible. Calcium helps fiberglass pools resist staining and cobalt spotting. If you have a spa you might want to keep CH at at least 100 to 150 to reduce foaming. CH contributes to the CSI which indicates the tendency for plaster damage or calcium scaling.

You increase CH with calcium chloride, sold as a deicer and by pool stores, or calcium chloride dihydrate, sold by pools stores for increasing calcium. You lower calcium by replacing water or using a reverse osmosis water treatment.

TH - Total Hardness

Total hardness is the sum of calcium hardness and magnesium hardness. Most test strips report TH instead of CH. The ratio of calcium to magnesium varies. As an approximation you can multiply TH by two thirds to get a rough estimate of CH.

CYA - Cyanuric Acid

Cyanuric acid, often called stabilizer or conditioner, both protects FC from sunlight and lowers the effective strength of the FC (by holding some of the FC in reserve). The higher your CYA level, the more FC you need to use to get the same effect. It is important to know your CYA level so you can figure out what FC level to aim for. If you don't have a SWG or problems from extremely high amounts of sunlight, CYA is typically kept between 30 and 50. If you have a SWG or very high levels of direct sunlight, CYA is typically kept between 70 and 80. If you are using an ORP controller, keep CYA below 50.

You increase CYA by adding cyanuric acid, often sold as stabilizer or conditioner. CYA is available as a solid and as a liquid. The liquid costs a lot more, and generally isn't worth the extra expense. Solid stabilizer can take up to a week to fully register on the test, so don't retest your CYA level for a week after adding some. Solid stabilizer is best added by placing it in a sock in the skimmer basket. The pump should be run for 24 hours after adding solid stabilizer and you should avoid backwashing/cleaning the filter for a week.

In nearly all cases the best way to lower CYA is to replace water. If replacement water is extremely expensive you might want to look into a reverse osmosis treatment.

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