A Beginner’s Guide to Pool Maintenance

Person skimming a swimming pool with a net

The new home you bought or the new place you rented is everything you could have wanted –– including, for the first time, a swimming pool, so you’ll need this beginner’s guide to pool maintenance.

Pool maintenance isn’t difficult, but getting a pool clean and clear is going to take a little work. We’re here to make it easy for you.

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Table of contents

Know Your Pool

To take care of your pool, you have to know all the essential parts –– the water, the interior, the pool pump and filter system and the pool skimmers and returns.

Swimming pool covered with glass panel enclosure
Photo Credit: Pixnio

Here’s how these four elements, all of which need regular care, break down:

Pool water

Water doesn’t stay clean. Dirt in the air, leaves and branches from trees and shrubs are never far away, even when the pool isn’t in use.

When the pool is a party center, sweat, urine, body oils and ingredients used on hair will rinse off and find their way into the water as contaminants and pollutants.

Keep the water clean, and you can take a major step toward avoiding replacing costly hardware and ducking unwanted repair costs. 

Pool interior

Pool walls and floors are in constant contact with the water, and everything that touches it. Over time, the pool interior will get grimy and dirty. Mold can build up, too, and algae can grow. You need to keep your pool interior clean.

Pool pump and filter system 

Think of the pool pump and pool filter system as the heart, lungs, and even liver of your pool’s body. They circulate the water, clean out dirt and contaminants from the water, and pump it out again.

Keep your pool’s filter system working at peak efficiency and your pool will be ready for swimming all the time. Without a properly functioning filter, the water will cloud up, change color, and basically become unusable by swimmers. 

Pool skimmers and returns

Pool skimmers are the rectangular openings located on the side of an in-ground pool. At least one pool skimmer is found in virtually every pool, and larger pools may have more than one. There are also robotic skimmers on the market.

Skimmers are designed to draw water from the pool’s surface and ship it through the pool’s filtration system. The skimmer captures contaminants, such as leaves, sunscreen residue, and hair, before they sink to the bottom.

A properly functioning skimmer will keep the pool’s filter from doing extra duty and wearing out ahead of the manufacturer’s suggested replacement date.

(The pool skimmer isn’t to be confused with net skimmers, the cleaning tool attached to a telescoping pole which is used to manually get leaves and branches out of the pool’s water). 

Circulation, Cleaning, and Chemicals

Good circulation, regular cleaning, and balanced chemical are all vital to maximize the use of your pool.

Good circulation

Without good circulation, you’ll wind up with something resembling a pond –– stagnant water that will turn green or, in the worst case, black. Without circulation, your pool will simply be unsafe.

For that reason, all pools come with a circulation system built in and in the vast majority of cases supported by a filter. To keep your pool water circulating, you need to run the pump about 8 hours a day. You’ll also need to regularly clean the filter to keep the pump from clogging, which can damage the pump system.

Regular cleaning

To keep your pool water clean and ready for swimming, you’ll need to invest a little time weekly –– and monthly and yearly, too. Regular pool cleaning will reduce the chances of significant problems catching you by surprise.

Here’s what you should do weekly:

Looking at the weekly work list, you’ll want to backwash the filter. And you’ll want to invest in a good pool vacuum and use it on the pool’s floor and walls to keep those looking clean and inviting.

Balanced chemicals 

You need to learn to mix and match a handful of chemicals to keep the pool water as pristine –– and bacteria free –– as possible.

Here are the pool chemicals you’ll need to keep on hand:

·         Standard sanitizer (chlorine or bromine). Chlorine is exceptionally effective in killing or inactivating pathogens and algae in pool water. Bromine does much the same job and is more stable in warm water. But bromine breaks down more easily under ultraviolet rays.

·         Concentrated sanitizer for deep cleaning. Known in pool circles as “shock,” it’s used to clean the water and remove the chloramine buildup that comes when chlorine mixes with sweat, urine, and the oils that rinse off human skin.

·         pH plus or minus. The idea is to keep the pool’s pH balance in a friendly zone. Having a high pH –– known as soft water –– can irritate skin and will damage goggles when you’re swimming. A low pH also irritates the skin and can cause rust on the metallic parts of the pool’s plumbing system.

·         Alkalinity increasers. They will act as a buffer and improve the pool water’s ability to resist pH changes.

·         Calcium chloride. This is used to adjust the calcium hardness of the pool water, giving stability to the water and helping the water’s chemistry behave in a predictable way. But it must be pre-dissolved in a bucket of water and not just thrown into the pool to work its best.

·         Chlorine stabilizer. Cyanuric acid stabilizer can come in either liquid or granular form, and while it’s not always considered mandatory like the other chemicals listed, it inhibits the degradation of chlorine caused by ultraviolet rays from the sun. Because of that, you’ll need to buy chlorine much less often.

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Shocking Your Pool

While keeping the water in your pool balanced is essential, every week or two you’ll need to shock the system. A pool shock is an overload of chemicals (usually chlorine) in the water to kill off any excess bacteria, contaminants and organic matter.

In general, the more often the pool is used, the more often the pool should be shocked. And, despite the name, it’s a fairly simple process. To begin, it’s best to wear gloves and protective goggles. You’ll uncover the pool, skim the pool, vacuum out the sediment and brush the walls, floors and any covers.

Next, check that the pool’s pH levels are balanced using a pool test kit. The chlorine will be less effective if the pH levels are off-balance. The ideal pH balance is between 7.4 and 7.6.

If the pH level is too low, you’ll need to add some chemical help. Soda ash, baking soda, calcium chloride, muriatic acid or sodium bisulfate are commonly used as a remedy to raise pool pH. If the pH level is too high, your pool supply store will have a section devoted to pH reducing (sometimes called pH decreasing or pH minus) chemicals. Generally they will be some form of dry acid (sodium bisulfate).

You’ll then need to test the pool’s free chlorine levels, which should range between 1 and 3 ppm (parts per million). In most cases, adding 1 pound of shock to the pool will raise the ppm by 1, but it’s always important to refer to your shock’s dosage instructions. Why? Because shock can be available in different strengths.

Once you’ve tested the free chlorine levels and measured out the shock, put the shock ingredients in a 5-gallon bucket of pool water to dissolve. Once dissolved, pour the mixture into the pool around its perimeter.

In addition to regular weekly shocks, it’s a good idea to shock the pool after a strong storm, unexpected contamination, algae breakout, or pool party.

Pool Covers

Not every pool has a cover, but there is value in having one, and should be part of a complete swimming pool system.

In addition to keeping most leaves, twigs and branches out of the water, a good pool cover will help lock in the heat, help the chemicals in the water do their jobs, reduce water evaporation, block UV radiation and can prevent people and pets from unexpected falls into the pool.

There are four main types of pool covers:

Winter pool covers 

Also known as tarp covers, winter covers are the basic option. Winter pool covers are generally made of polyethylene, designed for use in the cold season and are the least expensive option.

Solar pool covers

Often called bubble covers because of their resemblance to bubble wrap, solar covers are a relatively inexpensive way to keep the pool clean and heated at the same time. Available in multiple sizes, colors and thicknesses, solar covers don’t allow water to seep into the pool, so water must be pumped off the top of the cover when it accumulates.

Security pool covers

A good option for families with young children and those with pets, security pool covers are made of rigid material and usually are attached to the pool’s edges to be kept securely in place. Security pool covers are designed to prevent drowning and come in both solid and mesh form. Security pool covers can support many hundreds of pounds.

Automatic covers

Automatic covers may be the most convenient of pool cover options, but they also rank with the most expensive. To install an automatic pool cover, two parallel tracks must be mounted on the inside edge of the pool or pool deck. Once installed, a series of interlocking gears move the cover over the pool’s surface, and once activated it will roll on (or off, depending) to cover or uncover.

Your Pool Maintenance Schedule

If you have a pool, you need to have a schedule of pool maintenance. You may want to adjust these chores to fit your time and circumstances, but here’s a suggested schedule for a pool in use a few times a week. The more your pool is in use, the more maintenance it will need.

Here is your daily, twice a week, weekly, monthly, and yearly pool maintenance checklist:


  • Skim the pool to collect insects, leaves and other unwanted material. 
  • Run the pump, too, for about 8 hours a day. 
  • Give the pool a quick visual check, just to see if anything looks amiss. Debris, algae and water color are things you’ll be looking for.
  • And every night, cover your pool. That will make the daily and weekly maintenance go more quickly.

Twice a week

  • Check the water balance. Using a test strip, make sure the water’s pH levels are between 7.4 and 7.6. 
  • Use test strips or a test kit to check the chlorine level to make sure it’s between 1.0 and 3.0 ppm. Add chlorine to the pool if necessary. 
  • Scoop out leaves and dead insects. 
  • Empty the skimmer basket and use the skimmer net to grab leaves and other unwanted objects from the pool’s surface and the pool’s floor.

Once a week

  • Use a pool brush with a long handle to clean the floors and brush the walls (unless you have an automatic pool cleaner, which would reduce how often you’d need to do this chore). 
  • Shock the pool water, and re-test for chemical balance after shocking the pool. 
  • Clean the skimmers. 

Once a month

  • Consider hiring a local pool cleaning pro to check the water monthly. If not, pool supply stores will have testing equipment that is far more advanced than the weekly test strips you’re using. 
  • Test the pool’s calcium hardness and stabilizer levels.
  • Backwash the filter once a month to make sure you’re winning the battle against algae, which will turn the water green if not kept in control. If the water is turning green, algae could be the cause. 
  • However, if green has begun to show on the pool walls or liner, this could be a hint that your pool has developed a copper buildup. Copper can enter the equation if you have used tap water to fill the pool or if the pool has had a low pH value over time. The copper is not something that most test strips look for.

Once a year

  • Your filter will perform all the better with a yearly deep chemical clean. There are specialty cleaners for just this purpose.
  • Check that the pool’s equipment is in working order.

When the pool is out of use

If you live in San Diego, perhaps you can use your pool year round. If you live in Minneapolis, not so much. In most of the country, when fall turns to winter, you will need to prep your pool for a period of shutdown. 

Start with a deep clean, including shocking the water and backwashing the filter. Consider reducing the water level a bit. It’s best to drain it so the surface level sits just below the skimmer or jets, making sure no water can enter the pumping system. The exact level will depend at some level upon the type of pool cover you’re using. 

After you’ve done all that, install that winter pool cover and hope that the spring and summer comes quickly.

When to Hire a Pool Care Pro

Pool care involves daily, weekly, and yearly chores, some of them involving getting the chemicals right. If you’d rather hire a pool cleaner to keep your pool ready for swimming, Pool Gnome connects you to the best local pool pros near you. And what might a professional pool cleaner cost you? Professional pool cleaning costs average $78 to $162 per month, but that depends on the size of your pool and the frequency of pool cleaning services.

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Main Photo Credit: welcomia / Canva Pro / License

John Hickey

John Hickey, contributing writer, has been around sports as a writer and blogger since the earth was young. He's worked at the Oakland Tribune and Seattle Post-Intelligencer, for AOL/FanHouse and Sports Illustrated. As he writes this, he looks out his window and sees a lawn badly in need of mowing.