With summer fast approaching, you're likely dreaming about spending most of your free time in the pool. However, while it's great to enjoy everything a pool has to offer, it's important that you know how to maintain and treat its water. This even applies to larger blow-up pools, like Intex pools, which can't be cleaned, dried, and refilled on a daily basis like inflatable and plastic kiddie pools (per the CDC's guidelines).
If you do have a larger inflatable pool, you'll need more than a filtration system to keep it clean and safe for swimmers. To guide you through the process of treating your large inflatable or Intex pool (not a kiddie pool), we reached out to the CDC and a pool care expert for advice.
Before you even begin testing and treating your large inflatable pool's water, you'll want to know how many gallons of water you have in your pool. "A lot of [pool] chemicals will tell you how much to add and they usually start around 5,000 gallons, [but] you might have a pool that's 3,000 gallons," Matt Giovanisci, founder of Swim University, a pool and spa care resource, tells Hunker. "So you're going to want to do the math to make sure you're adding the right amount. Don't overdo it just because that's what you saw on the bottle." In other words, you'll want to know the number of gallons in your pool so that you can be as accurate as possible during the treatment process.
Michele Hlavsa, RN, MPH, the head of the CDC's Healthy Swimming Program, tells Hunker that you should also proactively ensure that you're using your pool chemicals safely. "This means that we read the directions on the bottle and we follow them," she says. "We put on goggles and gloves or whatever the instructions tell us to do for safety equipment." You'll also want to make sure that you're properly storing the chemicals so that your children or pets can't get into them.
"The first thing that you need [for treating your large inflatable pool] is a reliable test," Giovanisci says. "You can do that with either test strips or a liquid test kit. For an Intex pool or a [large] blow-up pool, it's probably best to keep it simple and go with a bottle of test strips." He specifically recommends a five- or seven-way test strip that includes readings for chlorine (both free and total chlorine), pH, alkalinity, and cyanuric acid (or CYA). These can be purchased on Amazon.
Once you have a test kit, you'll want to check your water by following the manufacturer's instructions. If you're feeling unsure, you can even take your water to a local pool store for help (just call first to make sure they're able to test the water).
"The first thing I would do is adjust the pH and alkalinity," says Giovanisci. "And most of the time, your pH and alkalinity will be low. You'll want to adjust the alkalinity first because [it will usually] bring up your pH as well." Alkalinity should be between 100 and 150 parts per million, according to Giovanisci. 125 parts per million is ideal. For increasing alkalinity, according to Swim University, you can use an alkalinity increaser; to decrease alkalinity, you can use muriatic acid, which must be used with proper safety equipment.
Hlavsa adds that both the chlorine and pH levels are especially important. "These two things are important because the chlorine's actually what kills the germs in the water," she says. "The CDC recommends a chlorine level in pools of at least one part per million (or ppm)." If your chlorine levels are too high, you can use a chlorine neutralizer or dilute your water.
pH determines the effectiveness of the chlorine when it comes to killing germs. The CDC recommends a pH of 7.2 to 7.8. "If we go below 7.2, we start getting more acidic [and] the chlorine works better, but it could corrode the equipment and the swimmers might get uncomfortable in the water," Hlavsa explains. "If we go above 7.8, the chlorine becomes increasingly less effective as the number goes up and the water's becoming more basic." This can lead to the germs not being killed effectively and can also make for a less-than-ideal experience for swimmers.
Giovanisci says that it can be difficult to balance pH in a body of water like a large blow-up or Intex pool — especially after it rains — so it's important to keep a close eye on this level to ensure that your water is safe and healthy. To help balance pH, you can use a pH increaser and pH decreaser.
To prevent your chlorine from being burned off by the sun, Giovanisci recommends that you invest in a chlorine stabilizer (also known as cyanuric acid, CYA, or pool conditioner).
"That's something you add once a year in a bigger pool, but because it's an Intex [or large inflatable] pool and it's [smaller than an in-ground pool], you're going to have more water splashing out," he says. "You're probably going to have to refill the pool more often, so you're going to have a lot of dilution and you may want to keep an eye on [cyanuric acid levels] more often than you would in a bigger pool."
You'll also want to remember to shock your pool every week or two, according to Giovanisci, because shocking helps get rid of leftover particles from the battle between chlorine and bacteria. He specifically recommends using a high dose of chlorine or a product called pool shock. "It's an eight-hour shock, and you should do it at night," says Giovanisci.
If, on the other hand, your chlorine levels are being properly maintained, you can use a chlorine-free pool shock so that your chlorine levels don't go too high.
Hlavsa emphasizes that, more than anything, pool water should be clear. "If it's not clear, you can't see if anyone is distressed under the water. It's a potential drowning issue," she states, adding that you can perform a mini inspection if you're using a pool that's not your own. "If I'm visiting my neighbor's pool, I can take testers with me. Following the manufacturer's directions, you can then gauge what the chlorine level is. Again, it should be at least one part per million and the pH should be 7.2 to 7.8."
Just like with the pool chemicals, you'll also want to make sure that your children are unable to access the pool. "Drowning is the leading cause, particularly in pools, of unintentional injury deaths in children one to four years old," states Hlavsa. "Everybody needs to learn how to swim. We all need to know CPR. Parents need to be within arm's length of a child in the water. Put that smartphone down and pay close attention because drowning can occur quickly and quietly."
For more information on safe swimming and pool care, you can view the CDC's 2019 Health and Safety Swimming Week Toolkit. The CDC also provides free pool chemical safety posters here.