Chemistry lesson – not just for beginners!

For pool owners with chemistry issues, understanding what’s happening can be confusing and solutions may make you feel like you need to go back to school for a degree in chemistry.  You don’t!  You just need the facts and you need to stay on top of your water chemistry.

Perfect water balance is determined by pH, alkalinity, calcium hardness and Total Dissolved Solids (TDS).  For pool water to be “balanced”, all these factors must stay in their proper ranges.  Ranges may vary slightly, depending on the finish of your pool, the average water temperature during your season, bather load and yes, a ton of other factors.

pH is the most important factor in balancing water.  It’s  measured on a scale from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic, 7 being neutral and 14 being alkaline. pH must be maintained in a narrow window between 7.2 and 7.8 for a pool to be considered balanced.  Pure water is neutral.  It’s only when things are dissolved in it that it skews one way or the other.

And here’s the thing…both high and low pH lessen the effectiveness of the chlorine that sanitizes a pool.  When pH drifts up, water becomes alkaline and creates an environment where mineral deposits (scale) can form and chlorine becomes ineffective at its primary task – killing bacteria and algae.  When pH is low, chlorine expends itself too rapidly.  The secret to controlling pH lies in controlling the alkalinity.  It acts like a ceiling over your pH, so the pH can only rise so high.  It’s important to control the alkalinity first because it makes balancing pH easier.  Alkalinity needs to stay within 80 to 120 ppm.

Calcium and total dissolved solids (TDS) such as magnesium, above 300 parts-per-million (ppm), make it hard to get clear water and it compromises the effectiveness of the chemicals.  This can be commonplace, depending on your location.

For example, hardness in Phoenix tap water has been seen as high as 1000ppm.  Besides tile scale, other severe warning signs of high levels of hardness include scaling on pump, filter and plumbing lines, white deposits in filter sand, white stains on decks and landscape and increasing disinfectant chemical consumption.

Unfortunately, high levels of minerals like calcium and magnesium cannot be cured through normal pool maintenance.  These minerals need to be removed.  Refilling with the same water you started with is self-defeating, wastes time and water.  Some professionals recommend adding a compound that binds to these minerals, but that’s a short-term solution.  Cloudy water can reappear.  If you’re in a high mineral area, the best way to control an out-of-control calcium or magnesium situation is to have water trucked in.

If you’re struggling with your water, the best thing you can do is bring a water sample to your local dealer to be tested.  Home testing kits may not give you a true picture of what is happening with your water.  While you’re there, they can also give you tips and a treatment plan to get your water in great shape.

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