Just because the water looks blue and clear doesn’t mean it’s in the best shape for a swim. There are water conditions besides blue and clear that can have a real effect on the healthy use of the water. Here’s what you need to know to make sure your pool water is at its best for all your little swimmers.
pH Balance and Disinfectants
pH is an indicator of water balance, which is an indicator of pool health. 7.2 to 7.8 is the safe range, but when bringing your kids in the water, especially infants and toddlers, you want the water to be ideal. The National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF) recommends 7.4 to 7.6 to keep eye irritation at a minimum. If your child’s eyes are stinging, they won’t be having fun and that makes learning much harder. With pH test strips, you can easily check your pool before each swim to make sure levels are optimal. The pH level also affects how well your disinfectant does its job of killing bacteria.
No matter which disinfectant you use for your pool (chlorine is the most common), having those chemicals at the proper level is also very important. Most people believe that when they smell chlorine there is too much in the pool, but that irritating chlorine smell is caused by the presence of chloramines, often caused by too little free chlorine in the water. When we go swimming, we bring any lotions and oils and even the sweat and dirt that’s on our skin into the water, and too much of it can overload the disinfectant in the water. Aquatics expert Dr. Tom Griffiths says, “If the free chlorine levels are not sufficiently high to oxidize these nitrogenous wastes, the free chlorine combines with them to form noxious chloramine compounds.”
To reduce the chance of excessive chloramines in your pool, be sure to keep disinfectant levels where they need to be. “Whenever someone calls me with a chloramine problem, I tell them they should maintain a free residual of 0.5 ppm higher than usual. This higher level of chlorine usually does the trick, says Griffiths. “Another remedy that is rarely used but very effective is to enforce soap showers prior to swimming. A soap shower will remove excess body oils and sweat and greatly reducing the amount of body waste going into the pool. Some pool chemists claim that if everyone showered prior to swimming, it would reduce the chlorine demand by 50%.”
How and When to Test
Know your system, and know the maintenance demands for it. “For most people it’s a time issue- they hire someone so they don’t have to learn the proper chemistry and maintain it. I use a professional kit and test for alkalinity, pH, free and total chlorine, and calcium,” says Kevin Richardson, owner of Clear Water Pools in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “Pool owners can also take a water sample to a local pool company- they’ll test it and give you a printout with exactly what you need.”
But you’re going to want to do at least minimal testing yourself to make sure things are safe for your young swimmers. Richardson recommends using a test strip daily to check water balance, and at a bare minimum doing so once a week. The NSPF recommends taking a water sample to a professional for testing every four to six weeks. This ensures that your at-home assessments are accurate. Salt water systems can be harder to keep balanced, so be sure to check these per the manufacturer’s instructions.
Check the Temps
Until children are a year old, their ability to regulate body temperature may not be fully developed. So water temperature is very important when bringing your babies in the water. Dr. Howard Reinstein, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, believes that water temperature should be around 84 – 86 degrees Fahrenheit for babies to be comfortable. Watch them closely for signs of shivering and get them out if it begins. Too hot can be a problem as well- hot tubs over 100 degrees are off-limits for children under 5 years of age. They can easily overheat in those conditions so be aware of temperatures in your pools and spas.
So you see, it’s more than just clean and clear that matter when keeping your pool safe and healthy for your family. You want the water warm enough and balanced correctly to make sure that you get the most out of your pool without it taking too much out of you. If you want to know more about proper pool care and how to maintain your pool or spa at its best, the National Swimming Pool Foundation partnered with the American Red Cross to develop an excellent online training program for homeowners that contains a wealth of information about pool chemicals and filtration systems, testing and cleaning, and a very good section of general pool safety matters that all parents should know.
For a discount code and a link to the NSPF Home Pool Essential course (I took it!) visit the National Drowning Prevention Alliance website. Even old hands at pool care will learn a thing or two about safely operating a backyard pool.
Do you have any pool care questions? Join the discussion in the comments below.
Mario Vittone is a nationally recognized expert on water safety. His writing on aquatic risk and drowning prevention has appeared in magazines, websites, and newspapers around the world. Mario is a former Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer and instructor and has lectured on boating and water safety across the United States. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance and the Joshua Collingsworth Memorial Foundation.
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