How to maintain a swimming pool

Rates and Fees verified correct on October 26th, 2016

Maintaining a backyard swimming pool all year round might sound like a big job, but it could be easier than you think.

How to maintain a swimming poolWhile plunging into a pristine backyard pool on a hot summer’s day sounds nice, the thought of keeping your pool in tip-top condition all year round can be enough to make you stow your budgie smugglers in the wardrobe. The cleaning, the filtering and the regular checking of water quality might even be enough to make you think twice about buying a house with a pool.

But while there is some effort required in maintaining a pool, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Let’s take a look at what you need to do to keep a backyard pool clean, sparkling and ready for some aquatic action.

Cleaning your pool

Unfortunately, pools don’t stay in pristine condition all year round. Leaves, dirt and insects find their way into the water, which will quickly turn green and unhealthy if not properly maintained.

First of all, remember that you’ll need to get out regularly with a scoop to remove leaves and other debris from the pool. Next, you’ll need to consider your options when it comes to pool cleaning systems, including:

  • Hand vacuums. These attach to your skimmer box and you can push them around the surfaces of your pool with a pole. While this is a cheap option, it can be quite time consuming and needs to be done at least once a week.
  • Mechanical cleaners. There are three broad varieties: suction cleaners, pressure cleaners and robotic cleaners. Suction cleaners are the cheapest and most common option and can be hooked up to your skimmer box with a hose, using your filtration system’s suction power to remove dirt and grime. Pressure cleaners are more powerful and more expensive, connecting either to your existing pool pump or requiring an extra booster pump with its own hose connection. Robotic cleaners are great if you’ve got a large pool to clean and are designed to give your back a rest. They run on electricity and will continue doing the rounds until your pool is clean.
  • Professional pool cleaners. You can hire someone to come and clean your pool whenever you need, but expect to pay at least $50 for each visit.

What chemicals to use

Without proper treatment, the water in your pool can quickly become a breeding ground for bacteria. Some bacteria might cause minor health issues like ear or throat infections, but others could lead to more serious diseases like Meningitis.

Bacteria levels are most commonly controlled by regularly adding chlorine to your pool, then running the water through the pool’s filter to get rid of any dead bacteria. Chlorine comes in granular, liquid or tablet form.

Granular chlorine is a cheap and easy to store but can’t be dosed manually, while liquid chlorine is much more difficult to store but can be dosed automatically. Meanwhile, chlorine tablets are easy to use but need to be added manually. It’s also worth remembering that heated pools need more chlorine than non-heated pools.

Salt chlorination is the most common option in Australia. Used in saltwater pools, a salt chlorinator transforms salt crystals into chlorine gas, which can be dissolved in water. If you decide to use this option,  make sure to choose an appropriate-sized salt chlorinator unit for your pool.

Testing, testing

Regular water quality testing is essential to ensure that your water is safe for swimming. It also makes sure your pool looks as clean and enticing as possible. Test the water before use (and at least once a day) for the following factors:

  • pH. The pH level signifies how acidic or alkaline the pool water is. On a scale of 0 to 14, the recommended range for Australian pools is 7.2 to 7.6. pH levels can be raised by adding soda ash or lowered with pool acid.
  • Total alkalinity (TA). Low TA can erode surfaces of your pool, so TA levels need to be kept between 60 and 200 parts per million. This can be done by adding ‘buffer’ (sodium bicarbonate) to raise TA levels or pool acid to lower them.
  • Calcium hardness. The recommended range of dissolved calcium in the water is 80 to 500 parts per million. However, most pool testing kits don’t allow you to perform this test, so you’ll need to take a water sample to your local pool shop.

If you have any questions about your pool’s water quality or other factors, your local pool shop will be able to help you find the right testing kit to stay on top of your pool’s water quality.

What about pool heating?

Want to swim in your pool all year round? You’ll need to consider your heating options. There are three main choices when it comes to pool heating: solar, gas and electric.

Solar heating is obviously worth considering if you live in an area where there’s lots of sun all year round, and if you’ve got ample roof space for the installation of solar panels. Installation costs start at around $5,000 for a solar heating system, which should be able to heat your pool to the perfect temperature at least 10 months per year.

Learn more: Read our guide to solar heating.

Gas heating can be used to maintain a constant water temperature all year or simply turned on when you feel like a swim (keeping in mind that it could take more than 12 hours for the water to warm up). Costs for a gas heating system start at around $6,000; check gas prices in your area to get an idea of the ongoing expense.

Electric heating uses a heat pump to ensure that your pool stays at a comfortable temperature 12 months of the year. Water is extracted from your pool and then pumped through a heat exchanger, with many options priced at around $9,000 or $10,000. Once again, you’ll want to check electricity prices in your area to get an idea how much heating your pool will cost you.

Remember that the best heating choice for you will depend on where you live, the climate and your budget. However, a solar or thermal blanket can also help lock heat into your pool and reduce evaporation. It’s also worth checking if your state government offers any rebates to help you purchase these types of blankets, but expect the cost to start at around $500.

What are the laws surrounding pools and spas in Australia?

If you’re selling or leasing a property with a pool or spa, you’ll need to make sure that your pool complies with the relevant safety regulations in your state. These laws can change at any time. For example, the laws in NSW were updated in April 2016. Under the new laws, your pool must be listed on the NSW Swimming Pool Register and also have a current swimming pool compliance certificate if you sell your home. Alternatively, if you sell your home and the pool has a non-compliance certificate, the new owner has 90 days from settlement to fix any problems and seek a compliance certificate.

Similar laws apply in Queensland, where a pool safety certificate is typically required before entering into a contract of sale for a property featuring a pool. If no pool safety certificate is in effect, the seller must provide any prospective purchaser with a Form 36—Notice of no pool safety certificate. Check the relevant legislation in your state or territory to confirm the regulations that apply in your area.

Other pool maintenance tips

  • Spas and hot tubs. The water in a spa or hot tub has different maintenance requirements than the water in a pool. Spa water should be changed every few months and total alkalinity should be between 90 and 150 parts per million. pH levels should be between 7 and 7.8. Check with your local pool and spa shop for more information and advice.
  • Clean regularly. Remove litter and debris from your pool and vacuum it regularly to prevent the build up of bacteria.
  • Service your equipment. From the filter and salt chlorinator to your pool cleaner, remember that anything with moving parts runs the risk of breaking down. Stay on top of pool and spa equipment maintenance as per the manufacturer’s instructions to reduce the risk of any mechanical issues.
  • Use a pool cover. Whenever your pool is not in use, a pool cover is a simple way to keep dirt and debris out of the water. It will also help reduce water loss due to evaporation.
  • Clean the water line. Bacteria, algae and other nasties can rise to the surface of your pool water, so don’t forget to scrub around the edges of the pool at the water line when cleaning.
  • Be careful with chemicals. Pool chemicals can be dangerous and volatile, so make sure you follow the manufacturer’s recommendations when you handle, use and store them.
  • Ask for help. If you have just bought a home with a pool and don’t know the first thing about pool maintenance, it’s a good idea to book a professional pool cleaner or pay a visit to your local pool and spa shop for advice on cleaning, maintenance and water quality testing.
  • Don’t swim. If testing reveals that your pool water is not within acceptable quality levels, or if it looks cloudy or unclean, don’t go swimming.

Images: Shutterstock

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