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The Ultimate Guide to Pool Cleaning

Welcome to your handy one-stop guide to pool cleaning!

If you’re a new pool owner, you probably feel like you’ve thrown yourself in at the deep end – but don’t sweat it; we’re here to help you swim! We mean it when we say ‘ultimate’: in this guide, we’ll help you navigate every aspect of pool cleaning so that you thoroughly understand what to do, how to do it, and when it needs to be done. 

In a nutshell, pool cleaning consists of skimming, brushing, and vacuuming, all while balancing water chemistry, with the occasional filter backwash and skimmer clean thrown in. 

Ready for the details? 

Let’s dive in.

Table of Contents

Why clean your pool?

Let’s be honest, the thought of a scummy pool repels you from swimming, and nobody wants that! In the same way that your shower builds up soap scum and rarely has a chance to dry out completely, the wet surfaces of your pool get furry with body oils and debris and need a scrub too. Occasional (okay, regular) cleaning helps keep your tub and your bodies healthy and free of bacteria.

 

On another level, having a spanking clean pool is the equivalent of having stripes on your perfect lawn. It’s a pride thing.

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Essential Pool Cleaning Equipment

To get started, you’re going to need:

  • A telescopic pole. This is useful for every cleaning step: it’s basically an extension to whatever tool you choose to attach to the top. An 8-foot pole extending to 16 feet allows you to do everything with ease.
  • A skimmer net or leaf shovel or leaf scoop (and eventually replacement nets).
  • Pool broom head.
  • A vacuum (manual vacuum or automatic).
  • Chemicals for cleaning and balancing water post-cleaning.

Arm yourself with the above equipment and get yourself pool-side, because it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in.

stuck in.

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How to Clean your Pool in Three Steps

There are three main steps to cleaning your pool: you need to skim the leaves and debris off the surface, brush the sides, and vacuum the pool floor. 

Of course, there’s a bit more maintenance involved with the filters and chemicals, but we’ll get to that later. First, let’s clean.

Would you rather a simple step-by-step guide?

Step by Step guide to pool cleaning Graphic square

Step 1: Skimming the surface

Equipment needed: Telescopic pole and skimmer net or leaf scoop.

Recommended frequency: daily.

  1. First of all, attach your skimmer net or leaf scoop to the end of the telescopic pole.
  2. Submerge the net in the pool and find a comfortable balance at the water’s surface.
  3. Drag the net across the top of the pool methodically, as you would vacuum a carpet or mow a lawn.

By catching floating leaves, bugs, hair ties, and other debris before it sinks to the bottom, you’re making it easier for the vacuum and more pleasant for swimmers in between cleans.

Doing this daily is preferable but a few times a week is sufficient.

Note: A flat mesh scoop is easier to shake out and empty, while a leaf shovel will collect more but be heavier to handle and require more effort to empty.

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Step 2: Brushing your pool

Equipment needed: Telescopic pole and a pool broom

Recommended frequency: twice weekly.

Next up, we’ll clean the sides of the pool. Unlike cleaning the shower, we don’t use cleaning fluids to scrub the tub. We’re simply loosening the early stages of algae and lifting them from the sides into the water. (Gross, right? Good job we’ll vacuum them up next!)

  1. Brush the walls, corners, and ladder with your pool broom.

Basically, giving everything a regular wipe will prevent build-up later on. If you have serious pool algae, you’re going to need a bit more than brushing.

Note: Check to see which type of brush is recommended for your pool’s surface.

Step 3: Vacuuming your pool

Equipment needed: Manual vacuum or automatic vacuum

Recommended frequency: Weekly

Now comes the challenge! Vacuuming your pool is definitely the most time-consuming part of cleaning it, but it cannot be skipped. It’s essential to get the debris off the pool floor (otherwise no one, including you, will ever get in your pool).

Luckily, the 21st century has blessed us with robotic vacuum cleaners, so you don’t have to spend hours sweating poolside, trying not to fall in as you reach the middle. 

With that in mind, here’s a breakdown of manual and automatic, because we all know you’ll probably try manual first.

Manual Vacuuming

Equipment needed: Telescopic pole, vacuum head, vacuum hose, vacuum plate, and skimmer basket.

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Assembling the vacuum

  1. Extend the telescopic pole and attach the vacuum head to it.
  2. Attach the vacuum hose to the vacuum head. Make sure it’s a tight fit.
  3. Place this assembled vacuum in the pool, carefully, laying the vacuum head flat on the floor. Patience is a virtue in this step.
  4. Make sure the pump and filter are on and running.
  5. Choose filter setting: If this is a normal weekly clean, your filter setting can be ‘filter’, but if this is more heavy-duty, change the filter setting to ‘waste’ which will bypass the filter completely and remove the dirty water from the pool.
    Note: If using the ‘waste’ setting, set up your garden hose with the end in the pool. The water level will drop while you’re vacuuming, so you need to top it up at the same time.
  6. Place the second, currently free end of the vacuum hose in the pool and fill with water (a return jet can help to push air out and let water in). Bubbles will rise from the vacuum head on the pool floor until all the air has left.
  7. If using a skimmer basket: Put a vacuum plate on this end of the hose while it’s still underwater and then pull it out of the pool and attach it to the skimmer (pool deck end) by placing the vacuum plate snug on the skimmer basket.
  8. If not using a skimmer basket: Attach vacuum hose directly to skimmer.
  9. If the vacuum loses suction, follow these steps again.
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Using the vacuum

  1. Go slowly. The key to manual vacuuming is not to rush it.
  2. Push the vacuum gently across the pool floor. Speed will flurry the water and send debris floating which will settle again after you’ve finished vacuuming – not ideal. If your water goes cloudy, leave it to resettle and then vacuum again.
  3. Watch the pool pressure to make sure it’s at a normal range of 10-15 PSI.
  4. You can backwash your filter after this if necessary (read the below section first).

After using the vacuum

  1. Disassemble it and clean equipment. Let it dry completely before storing again.
  2. Change filter setting back to ‘filter’ if you used ‘waste’.
  3. Test your pool water (see chemicals section).

Automatic Vacuuming

Robotic vacuuming (Recommended)

An automatic or robotic vacuum cleaner is an investment: it will set you back initially but save you oodles of time in the long run (i.e. you can skip all those manual steps above). 

We believe it’s a worthwhile investment to make, so you can spend more time in your pool than you do cleaning it. As per the instructions on your shiny new vac, you can simply lower it into your pool, sit back and watch it do all the work instead of you (they run on electricity instead of your elbow grease). Really, these are game-changing.

Find out which robotic pool vacuum is best for you in this comparative guide.

Alternatives to Robotic Vacuums

Pressure-side cleaner

This is a self-contained automatic cleaner that connects to a specific pressure cleaner line or a return outlet to power itself around the bottom of the pool, collecting debris in a filter bag as it goes. It often needs a booster pump to help power it. A pressure-side cleaner is cheaper but not as effective as a robotic cleaner.

Suction-side cleaner

This is very similar to manual cleaning, the only difference being that after you’ve set it up, it will move around on its own: you won’t have to guide it along the floor in sweeping movements. It does cut your workload in half but it still requires a lot of set-up, so if you’re going to invest, we reckon a robotic vacuum is a better way to go.

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Cleaning the pool filter

Think of this as the shower drain that you have to clean occasionally after regular cleaning of your shower walls. Comparatively, this job is way less gross and it requires very little effort from you! It’s called backwashing and you can do it by flicking a few switches.

Backwashing your pool filter

There are three types of filter:

  • Sand filter (most popular, easiest to clean, and the focus of our below section)
  • Cartridge filter (mostly used in small pools and above-ground pools). Cartridge filters do not need backwashing at all.
  • Diatomaceous Earth filter a.k.a. DE filter (expensive but effective, not so common, and a little different to clean.)

When you should backwash your pool filter

Recommended frequency: Twice a month or as required.

It depends on how often you use your pool, how much debris gets in etc. But, generally:

  1. When the pressure is 10 PSI above normal. This means the filter has debris and water is prevented from flowing through. ‘Normal’ pressure is about 10-15 PSI but can check your specific ‘normal’ by reading your gauge after you have backwashed.
  2. When the water flow is low. If you put your hand over the return jet/s in the pool and feel a weak pull, it’s a good time to backwash.
  3. When the water is cloudy (but this can be fixed in other ways).
  4. After heavy rain or a storm – now’s a good time for a thorough clean.

However, backwashing too often is no good either! We need a little sand and debris in the filter. It also won’t fix an algae problem: this needs to be vacuumed to ‘waste’.

How to backwash your pool filter (sand)

  1. Turn the pump off and close all the valves.
  2. Open the pump lid. Empty the basket, put it back, cover and close.
  3. Open return valve, skimmer main drain, and skimmer valve. 
  4. With the pump still off, select the backwash setting.
  5. Turn the pump back on. This reverses the flow of water, picks up all the dirt in the pump, and pumps it out of the waste pipe. This takes about 60 seconds.
  6. Turn the pump off again and change the setting to the ‘rinse’ cycle. Turn the pump on and let it run on ‘rinse’ for 5 seconds. This forces the sand to lay back down on the sand bed so it won’t find its way into the pool.
  7. Turn the pump off and change it to the ‘filter’ setting again. Turn the pump on, with low power, and check that there’s pressure on the gauge.

Disclaimer: Every pool is slightly different so this is just a guide! Consult your pool manual for more thorough instructions on how your model works.

Would you rather a simple step-by-step guide?

Step by Step guide to pool cleaning Graphic square

Pool chemicals and products

Water chemistry

Balancing chemicals in the correct quantity for optimum pool performance and comfort is an art referred to as water chemistry. Maintaining this involves a number of chemicals. Let us break it down for you:

Essential Chemicals from Day One

  1. Sanitiser (Chlorine or bromine) to kill bacteria and keep you safe. 
  2. Balanced pH levels. Aim for a pH of 7.4-7.6 by using a pH reducer and pH and Alkalinity increaser. Too much acid irritates your skin, and too much alkaline causes scaling and clouding.
  3. Calcium hardness. Low levels risk scaling and corrosion, combated by adding a calcium hardness increaser or a water hardness control product. The ideal level is usually 175 ppm to 225 ppm. If the pH is too high, it can cause high levels of calcium too.
  4. A product we call ‘shock’. Shock effectively adds oxygen, removes chloramines and bacteria, reactivates your sanitiser, and rebalances the pool. Shock in the evening and run the filter overnight for best results.

Extra Pool Chemicals to Have in Your Back Pocket

  1. Algaecide. When algae starts to creep in, the best thing is to shock the pool. Afterward, add some algaecide to prevent it from re-blooming, and this should keep it at bay (although it won’t completely eradicate it on its own).
  2. Clarifier and flocculent. Got friends coming over and it’s a bit cloudy in there? Add some clarifier for a temporary fix. Later, add flocculent to settle all the cloudy deposits at the bottom and then get rid of them by vacuuming them up.
  3. Metal sequestrant. Have some rust coloured stains? These can only be removed by cleaning with a stain remover, but adding metal sequestrant will prevent them from coming back.

How do you know about the chemical levels in your water at any given time? By testing! Before you add anything, test first. Test after. Test frequently and adjust when necessary.

Cleaning the pool deck and tiles

Pool deck and tiles

Whether your pool deck is wooden, concrete, or tiled, pool water will inevitably end up there. What happens then? It evaporates, leaving pool chemicals behind, which can make it slippery, as well as unsightly.

For all types of pool decks, the cleaning steps are basically the same:

  1. Remove all debris by sweeping (away from the pool, obviously).
  2. Clean the pool deck with a mixture of chlorine and water or a proper cleaning solution and give it a good brush. Occasionally use disinfectant on your deck as well.
  3. Move your pool deck furniture around each time to prevent fading patches from the sun (top tip).

If you have a large deck, consider using a jet blaster or pressure hose instead of your garden hose; it’ll help get the job done quicker.

Need a quick fix? Pool Cleaning FAQs

“It’s cloudy at the bottom when I vacuum.”

Go slower! You might be kicking up the deposits as you go which makes your vacuuming ineffective. Also check for dust in the surrounding area, as this may be settling at the bottom of your pool. Cover your pool in between uses if necessary.

“How much chlorine should I add?”

Chlorine is a sanitiser and should be in the water at all times. Check the instructions on your individual product bottle and work out the quantity based on the measurements of your pool. Typically between 1ppm and 3ppm is a good amount.

pool. Cover your pool in between uses if necessary.

“Can I swim in it after I’ve cleaned it?”

You’d like to think so! Go for it, but be sure you wait the recommended time after adding chemicals (your chemical product bottles will guide you on this one).

measurements of your pool. Typically between 1ppm and 3ppm is a good amount.

pool. Cover your pool in between uses if necessary.

You’re ready to clean your pool!

Armed with the right information and the best products, you’re halfway there already. We understand how overwhelming cleaning your pool can be at the start, and we’re here to support you through the process every step of the way.

About the author

Adrian Hill

Adrian Hill

Hey! I'm Adrian, founder and pool expert here at Dolphin Pacific. I love spending time with family, fishing, and have been known to brew my own beer.

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