By Jamie Wiebe
A backyard pool can be life-changing. But unfortunately, not always in the ways you expect—or want. With every afternoon spent lounging on a blow-up flamingo with a enormous margarita in hand comes another afternoon spent fiddling with chemicals, cleaning the pool liner, and skimming bugs off the top.
It’s almost enough to make you want to drain the whole thing, fill it with dirt, and plant a nice garden instead.
But you don’t have to let pool maintenance diminish your summer-sunshine glee. You just have to make it easier on yourself. Here are seven tips how:
1. Drill down your weekly routine
Keeping your pool pristine—not just “acceptably not-dirty”—requires military precision. Or at least a good routine.
Mark Montegani, the owner of Pool Heaven in Huntington Beach, CA, recommends setting aside “once a week, the same day every week” for your pool routine. Measure and adjust your pool chemicals, brush out the pool, and break out the net for any big debris. Then, empty the baskets and make sure the pool filter is clean.
“I might make some other pool service pros mad,” he says, “but I will give away the biggest secret to expert pool cleaning service: consistency.”
Sound like a lot of work? If you’re not the DIY sort, pool service technicians will be delighted to give your pool a once-weekly checkup. The cost can vary depending on where you live, but expect to pay somewhere between $100 and $400 per cleaning.
2. Budget for breakdowns
Owning a pool can sometimes feel like supporting a very expensive, very fussy baby. Not only does it suck up your paycheck, but it also demands vigilant attention. That’s because your pool has several delicate parts and mechanisms—many of which are made more prone to damage by being in constant contact with water.
“Pool equipment is notorious for breakdowns,” says John Bodrozic, who lives in Sacramento, CA, and cofounded HomeZada, a software that automates home maintenance tasks.
Maybe your motorized pump stops working, or the plumbing erodes, or the pump basket has broken. No matter what, that’s money out of your pocket—on top of your utilities. Budget accordingly.
3. Ditch the pool cover
If your region of the United States is known for its rainy summer, you might be inclined to reach for the pool cover every time there’s a downpour.
“Most pool experts are not big fans of pool covers,” Montegani says. “They take more time playing around with them than just cleaning the pool.”
While these supersized tarps have their advantages, they can also cause algae and cloudy water. Debris buildup can also put weight on the cover, allowing leaves and twigs into your pool just when you think you’re safe.
4. Watch your water levels
Regardless of whether you live in a rainy or dry climate, you’ll need to learn how to measure your pool’s water levels. Luckily, it’s pretty easy: Just keep an eye on your skimmer—the “big hole in the tile where the pool pump sucks pool water from, for filtering,” Montegani says.
The ideal water level is between the middle and the top of the skimmer. Too low, and your pump may burn out due to a lack of water. Too high—like after those big rains—and your pool could overflow.
Each pool drains differently; if you’re not sure how yours works, consult with a pool technician or the parts manufacturer to find out how to clear out the excess.
5. Treat your pool like a bar
No, this doesn’t mean you should host a swim-up martini bar. (Although we’re certainly not telling you not to.)
A good backyard pool has definitive “opening” and “closing” times. In cooler-weather climates, you should open your pool in the spring, around May, and close in the winter, near October.
“This process entails shutting off skimmers, removing baskets, putting in winter chemicals, and covering the pool,” Bodrozic says. Then reverse the steps in the spring.
Opening and closing your pool is tedious work, but it’s mandatory for good reason: First, closing allows you to inspect your pool liner carefully and make any needed repairs before next season. Second, skipping the closing process (or even delaying too long) can lead to algae overgrowth—which will turn your clear pool water green and pose a health risk to swimmers.
6. Clear out the sunscreen (and other oils)
Let’s make it abundantly clear that sunscreen is good and we are in no way telling you not to use it. But if you’re a pool owner, that stuff is going to cause some maintenance headaches.
“With high use and sunscreen, more tile-brushing, netting, and pool-filtering time may be needed,” Montegani says. “We need to keep the pool filter clean and efficient at all times, to filter out the oils, dirt, and grime.”
In addition to regularly checking and changing the filter, consider adding a small amount of nonchlorine shock every week “to help ensure sparkling, clean and safe pool water,” he says.
This eliminates chloramines—the source of that nasty “pool smell”—caused by body oil and usage, and an indicator that your chlorine isn’t active and efficient.
7. Find a favorite pro
For the most part, you can be comfortable with DIY-ing your pool maintenance. But when things go south—as they inevitably will—a relationship with a pool supply store can make the difference.
“The pool supplier gains your business and shares their advice,” Montegani says.
Having an expert’s number in your digital Rolodex helps get over the beginner’s maintenance hump.