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Swimming Pool & Hot Tub Chemical Basics

CHEMICALS ARE PERHAPS the least desirable part of owning a pool or spa, and most of the angst comes from the wide selection available at most home improvement stores. The manufacturers are also in the business of trying to sell you more than you need, and it can be confusing to select the bare minimum that you need to keep your pool sparkling clean.

First off, pools and spas will have slightly different chemical needs, but generally speaking, the chemical strategy will be the same. You want clean water in both, and thus you’ll be using the same basic plan.

Before you start dumping gallons of chlorine in the water, keep in mind some basic pool and spa chemical basics. If you’re itching to buy something to put in the water, start with a set of test strips so you can establish a baseline – the first thing you really want to get a hold of is the pH level of the pool. pH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline the pool is. Most of the time, the pool’s pH is directly influenced by the quality of the city water you use in your pool. Different geographic areas across the nation have different water qualities and your mileage may vary about what sort of water you get right out of the tap. The problem with pH is that if it is off – that is to say, if your pool water pH range is outside of the extremely narrow band of 7.4-7.6, you’ll have problems. This is because outside of that band, pool chemicals are less effective, plant life thrives, and pool bacteria are harder to kill. pH is controlled by the judicious addition of an acid (such as muriatic acid, for example), or a base (such as sodium carbonate). Get your pH dialed in first, then hit the next level.

Your next stop on the pool and spa chemical basics journey is the alkalinity. Alkalinity controls the pH much like your thermostat controls your furnace – alkalinity is a measure of the hardness of the water, which is caused by the various minerals already in the water. If your alkalinity is out of whack and your water is too hard, not only will it be difficult to control the pH, you will experience premature failure of your gaskets, membranes, and sensitive motor parts.

Your pH and alkalinity are now stable –what next? Sanitizer. You need a way to clean up nasty bacteria and keep the water clean and safe for swimmers, and this is accomplished by sanitizer. Chlorine is one of the most popular sanitizers and has been for decades. It’s cheap, available, effective, and ubiquitous. Mountains of data exist on how much chlorine to add to a given pool size, and all in all, chlorine does a good job in pools and spas. Bromine is another choice, and while it works a little differently in principle, it is also an effective choice for keeping your pool clean. It is perhaps a little better suited to spas since it is most effective over 76 degrees of water temperature, making it perfectly suited for hot water.

Last but not least, pool and spa chemical basics wouldn’t be complete without the addition of algaecide. Algae is a constant problem in pools and spas – or any other body of standing water, for that matter. It doesn’t have to be a problem in your pool, however, and by adding small amounts of algaecide weekly, you can keep plant life down to zero.

Pool and spa chemical basics aren’t rocket science, and you can easily maintain a pool by yourself. Add small, frequent doses of chemicals to your pool, then sit back and watch as the family enjoys crystal clear water.

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