Blow-Up-Pools or Kiddy Pools

Small blow-up pools, pole pools, kiddy pools, or splasher pools under 5,000 gallons create unusual problems for pool professionals.  On many levels, they are considerably more dangerous than a normal above ground pool.  They are almost always installed illegally, and they are much more difficult to maintain than a large pool.  However, a safer electrical installation is normally out of the question because consumers are generally unwilling to spend $500 or more to install a $150 pool.  It’s a scary proposition for us to be associated with advice in such a situation.

On the other hand, many parents love the low cost and convenience of these small pools that may be just the right size for their small children.  While the accompanying equipment may not be up to perfect water care, the water in the pool may be easily and cheaply dumped and refilled.  That changes one important dynamic in pool care.  We are used to trying to save the water in a large pool.  That’s too much work for someone with only 500 gallons.  You may expect to dump and refill a very small pool 2-4 times a summer.  There will be other instances in which the normal best advice for a larger pool will not necessarily make economic sense even though it will still be correct. 

Resources 

We offer free ninety-minute classes in pool care in our classroom during spring and early summer, on pool chemistry and maintenance.  These have been very popular among those who plan ahead, but are not much help (until next year) for those who decide to purchase a pool only once it gets hot and want to use it immediately.  There is also a highlights class called “Pool Care Lite” in July that hits just the most important parts of those other classes, with extra time given to smaller pools. 

Our store manager can arrange for a tutor to come out to your house for a private class.  Expect to pay about $75-$100 an hour, with a one-hour minimum, but that will certainly vary according to who you hire.  We also carry an excellent book called Tame the Pool Monster.  It has great photographs and explanations of all facets of pool care.  Actual cost is on the price tag, but it is around $20.   

Free booklets are available on pool chemistry by Bioguard, Target and Baquacil®.  We’ll be happy to find one for you.  We have also published Pool Tips similar to this one on many problems and issues on pool care; such as Opening, Algae, Cloudy Water, Testing, Balance, and others.  For the most part, people with splasher pools won’t need to follow our problem-solvers.  Just dump the water and start over again. 

General Chemistry 

There are two aspects to pool water chemistry: water balance and sanitation.  Water balance is geared to maintain the pool, the equipment, your comfort, and the other chemicals’ efficiency.  There is a special Pool Tips on Water Balance that explains it all.  Water balance requires a test in a large water laboratory (we will do your first six tests each year for free) and a computerized print-out.  Metals in your fill water (particularly if you have a well or live inMerrimack) can turn your water brown when you start your shock or sanitizer.  A water lab test could prevent that if you did it first.  And, once your water turns brown, it is very expensive to fix it.  You could be ruining a filter cartridge every day for two or three weeks trying to clear up your water.

The other part of pool care is your job, and it is very, very important: sanitization.  The goal of sanitization is not merely to keep the water from turning green (that’s actually really easy).  Sanitization is to keep people from catching and transmitting diseases.  It requires a sanitizer, a shock, an algaecide, and a method of maintaining the water’s pH.

Here’s the first place where splasher pools are usually dangerous.  The water is shallow.  That means it gets unusually warm in hot sunlight.  Warm water promotes the growth of dangerous bacteria much more than cold water, just as food goes bad in the sun faster than in the refrigerator.  Then, we fill the splasher with small children who transmit and get diseases more readily than adults.  Think of the splasher pool as a day care center but way worse.  It’s like sitting the kids in a soup! 

Next, look at how much water is available to each body.  A 30,000 gallon pool with six people using it has 5,000 gallons per person.  A 2,000 gallon splasher with four children using it has only 500 gallons per person, or 1/10th the water to dilute bather’s waste.  Wait, you say, the kids are smaller!  Yes, but the adults are not urinating in the water, none of them is wearing a diaper, and there are a couple of other things the adults don’t do that I’m not getting into here.

So, here’s your job:  1. Keep a sanitizer level all the time in the pool to kill a disease after it leaves one child’s body and before it gets to the next child’s body.  2. Shock regularly to kill at a higher rate than the sanitizer, burn off impurities too small for the filter, and (in the case of chlorine) make the chlorine go back to working.  3. Add algaecide weekly to prevent algae (the green water) and to conserve the sanitizer so that it can kill bacteria without having to also kill algae.  The algaecide is not technically necessary, but it saves you lots of money on sanitizer, because sanitizer is expensive and algaecides are cheap. 

Chlorine Systems 

Some form of chlorine will be your sanitizer – to keep constantly in the water.  Calcium hypochlorite is very dangerous, unstable, often makes the water cloudy, and is very difficult to dissolve.  Make sure that you do dissolve it completely before putting it in the pool – you don’t want the kids touching the residue.

Dichlor (sodium dichcloro-s-triazinetrione) is the chemically best chlorine for splasher pools – it dissolves instantly, you can adjust the amounts daily, and it is relatively safe.  Both the calcium hypochlorite and dichlor are normally available in granular form, which will require you to add it between twice a day and every two days (depends on use and how much you add).

Trichlors are normally tablets that one may wish to put in some sort of floater.  The advantage is that you may be able to put half a week’s worth in the floater, so you are only adding twice a week instead of daily.  That assumes that you can actually get the chlorine tablets to dissolve at the right rate, increasing when it’s hot and the pool is heavily used, and decreasing when it’s cold.  In terms of safety, though, the convenience for the adult would not seem to outweigh the danger to children from playing with the floater.  Those chlorine tablets do look like candy and they are very poisonous.

Chlorine chemistry is very tricky.  Over time, chlorine becomes tied up with nitrates, nitrites, and other ammonia-based products (bird droppings, sweat, and urine) to form chloramines.  Chlorine pools need to be shocked weekly to return the chloramines (combined chlorine) to free available chlorine.  Unfortunately, shocking even with a fast-acting chlorine normally means that you cannot use the pool until the level returns to normal, generally 24 hours later.  Because of the urine-to-gallon ratio in most splasher pools, regular shocking is even more important than in regular pools.

The next tricky part of chlorine chemistry is the water’s pH.  Chlorine works best at a pH of 7.0 to 7.5, but rapidly loses its ability to kill bacteria above 7.6, and is practically useless about 7.8.  Chlorine pools must be maintained only between a pH of 7.2 to 7.6, and it would be better between 7.2 and 7.4, by adding pH Increaser or pH Decreaser to get it back in line.

Algaecide is easy – just add the right amount once a week.

Testing is very important.  You need to test the chlorine level and pH at least once a day around sundown.  Chlorine is rapidly used up by bather’s waste, and is very quickly pulled out of the pool by sunlight.  Anyone can have chlorine in the pool at 8 a.m.  The trick is to have it at 4:30 p.m. when the pool is full of children.  Actually, the pool really should also be tested before the kids go in.  If the chlorine and pH are not correct, then the pool is not safe to use.

PHMB (Baquacil®) Systems 

Baquacil® is the leading brand of PHMB, and is one of the most popular pool chemical systems in the world.  It is more expensive than cheap chlorine, but it is cheaper than expensive chlorine.  It also has major advantages over chlorine in use– particularly in smaller pools.

PHMB was originally developed by Stuart Pharmaceuticals as a surgical scrub, and it is often found in contact lens cleaning solution as a disinfectant that is gentle to eyes and skin.  Its primary advantage in swimming pools is that it is not affected by sunlight, pH, or ammonia.  If you only test it once a week, and the level is fine at the end of the week, you know that it was fine all week.

With the Baquacil Economy Program, you test weekly, shock monthly, algaecide weekly, and sanitize whenever you need it – but somewhere between weekly and bi-weekly.  All three chemicals are liquid, so (assuming you keep the bottles out of reach of children) you have no concerns for them playing with tablets of undissolved sanitizers in the pool. The pH chemicals are powders (and the same as the chlorine pH chemicals) but you won’t need them as much.  The Baquacil® doesn’t care what the pH is, and you will maintain it almost anywhere in the sevens (7.2 to 7.8) instead of 7.2 to 7.6. 

Physical Maintenance

Vacuum when you need it.  If your filter is below ½ horsepower or 1500 gallons per hour, you will probably need some sort of jet vac to vacuum.  That’s a unit that attaches to a garden hose and blows debris into a cloth bag.  Your filter, though, could still be a problem.  The small cartridge filter that usually comes with a splasher pool is why the pool will be dumped out so often.  Eventually, the water will turn cloudy, and the filter will not be able to clear it.  There are things that you can do to help, though.  Own at least two cartridges and rotate them between cleanings.  They work better and last longer when they can dry out between cleanings and the fibers in the fabric can fluff out.

It would be very tempting to add a better filter to your pool.  Logically, it would clean the water better and faster.  If your filter is too weak to allow you to vacuum through it, a better filter would definitely be a huge improvement.  However, BE CAREFUL!  A filter that is too strong can make the pool very dangerous.  You or a child could get stuck on the suction fitting and drown.  Getting long hair caught in a suction fitting is about guaranteed to do that.  Vacuum-quality filters (1500 gallons per hour or stronger) must only be used when attached to a floating skimmer with a safety bypass built into it.

Use cartridges with heavyweight fabric and a hard core to help keep the cartridge’s shape.  If the cartridge starts to bend even the slightest bit, the water will bypass the pleats (going over the top and bottom) and the water never gets filtered.  A cartridge with five square feet of filter area will last longer between cleanings than one with only two square feet.  Polyester lasts longer than cardboard.  Know your cartridge’s dimensions.  Find out if it has a Pleatco or Unicel model number.  Pool stores have databases of hundreds of pool and spa cartridges, but we are not connected to the toy industry.  A toy store model number probably won’t help us.  Chinese cartridges filter poorly and last about two weeks.  American cartridges clean the water much better, and last all summer.

Run the filter long enough to circulate all of the water in the pool at least once a day.  On larger pools, that takes about 8 hours.  We don’t know what that would take on your pool, but it’s not likely to be only an hour a day.  That may help your pump to last until the warranty expires, but will it keep your water clean?  You can do the arithmetic yourself if you know the maximum flow rate of your filter and the volume of your pool.  Then assume the average real-life flow rate is about 1/2 of the maximum.  You can help by adding a clarifier to make particles stick together in clumps so that the filter is more likely to get them out.  What time of day do you run the filter?  That’s a tough questions since it’s likely your pump was not installed legally.  What if someone gets electrocuted?  Normally chlorine pools using tablets need to run their filters while the pool is being used, while powdered chlorine and Baquacil® pools can run their filters any time.  Uninspected (by the electrical inspector) filters should never be plugged in while anyone is near (not just in, but near) the pool.  You can get electrocuted with one hand in the pool just as easily as when you’re standing in the pool.

Safety

Look at your town’s building code.  They all vary, but most likely, it says that any pool requires a four-foot barrier with a gate or safety ladder to prevent small children from falling in.  Electric codes normally require a ground wire attached all around the pool, in contact with the pool water, attached to the pump and the ladder, and back to the copper plumbing or house ground.  The pump gets a dedicated 20A outlet right next to the pool, with a GFCI, and a special plug that prevents you from using an extension cord.  That rule usually isn’t just for four-foot pools, it’s for all pools.  As a part of the building permit and electrical permit, an electrical inspector makes sure that it is electrically safe.  It is entirely possible that your town has no such rules, or perhaps different and more complex rules, but they are in place to prevent accidents and deaths.  Your pool needs to be perfectly level, like the bubble on the level is at the top – not just “it looks pretty good to me”.  Otherwise, your pool could tip over from waves and kill someone.

The most common drownings happen in two types of people: 18-34 year old males under the influence of alcohol, and 2-year old males under the supervision of a parent or guardian.  Except the parent turned away for “just a minute”.  That’s all it takes.  The most important safety equipment is constant vigilance, and multiple barriers: alarm on the back door, fence between the house and the pool, safety ladder (that you use correctly), pool alarm.  Possibly the most important is a cordless phone so you don’t have to go in the house for “just a minute”.

A solar cover, however, is not a safety barrier.  In fact, a solar cover makes a pool more dangerous because if you fall or swim under a solar cover, it’s very easy to drown.  Liquid solar covers only work half as well as plastic ones, and they are more expensive, but they are safer.  And, they work 1000 times better than a plastic one that’s in your garage because it’s too much work to put it on and off.

Finally, our best chemical advice: pick a brand and stay with it.  It avoids all sorts of thinking about incompatible chemicals clouding your water.  Our best pool advice: pick an advisor and stick with him or her.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a friend, neighbor, store, pool guy, etc.  Where you get in trouble is listening to four different sources and putting them together.  It doesn’t work that way.  Each would be right within their own way of doing things, but aspects of different methods won’t necessarily work together. 

Splasher Pool Simple Start-Up

A.    Chlorine

       Start with fresh, clean water.  Bring at least a pint in to a pool store water lab to check for water balance and minerals before you do anything else.  If you have iron in the water, you will turn it brown when you shock it.  That could cost lots of money and a month to fix.

       1.    Test pH with your test kit. Adjust to 7.2 to 7.6, using Target pH Plus or pH Minus.

       2.    a.     Initial dose Shock:                               ounces Target Super Shock, at 16 ounces/2000 gallons.

              b.    Initial dose Algaecide:                              ounces Robelle 5% Algaecide, at 10 ounces/2000 gallons.

       3.    Run filter 6-12 hours

       4.    Initial dose Sanitizer:                       ounces Target Concentrated Chlorinating Granules (Dichlor) at one ounce/2000 gallons.

B.    Baquacil® Economy

       Start with fresh, clean water.  Bring at least a pint in to a pool store water lab to check for water balance and minerals before you do anything else.  If you have iron in the water, you will turn it brown when you shock it.  That could cost lots of money and a month to fix.

       1.    Test pH with your test kit. Adjust to 7.2 to 7.8 using Baquacil® pH Increaser or pH Decreaser.

       2.    a.     Initial dose Shock:                              ounces Baquacil® Oxidizer, at 26 ounces/2000 gallons.

       2.    b.    Initial dose Algaecide:                            ounces Robelle 5% Algaecide, at 10 ounces/2000 gallons.

       3.    Run filter 6-12 hours.

       4.    Initial dose Sanitizer:                          ounces Baquacil® Sanitizer at 13 ounces/2000 gallons. 

                                                             Splasher Pool Simple Maintenance

A.    Chlorine

       1.    Test daily or twice daily. Maintain chlorine always at 1.0 ppm – 3.0 ppm. Maintain pH always at 7.2 to 7.6. Do not swim unless these levels are achieved.

       2.    Shock weekly with:                            ounces Target Super Shock at 16 ounces per 2000 gallons.

       3.    Algaecide weekly with:                            ounces Robelle 5% Algaecide at 2½ ounces per 2000 gallons, (or 10% this amount of Target Algaegon-50).

       4.    Chlorinate constantly, with whatever it takes to maintain your daily level. It will probably average about 1/2 to 1 ounce Target Concentrated Chlorinating Granules per 2000 gallons, per day.

B.    Baquacil® Economy

       1.    Test weekly. Maintain Baquacil® Sanitizer at 30 ppm or above. Maintain pH at 7.2 to 7.8, but your eyes may be more comfortable at 7.2 to 7.6. When Baquacil® Sanitizer drops to 30 ppm, add                      ounces (at 5 ounces/2000 gallons) Baquacil® Sanitizer.

       2.    Algaecide weekly with:                             ounces Robelle 5% Algaecide (at 2½ ounces per 2000 gallons).

       3.    Shock monthly with                                ounces Baquacil® Oxidizer (at 26 ounces per 2000 gallons). 

Pool Size: _________________________     Sanitizer Type:  £ Chlorine  £ Baquacil®    Technician: __________________________

Splasher Pool Shopping List

You absolutely need:

 Sanitizer
 Shock
 Algaecide
 pH Increaser
 pH Decreaser
Test Kit/Strips
Pool Care Guide
Jet Vac
Skimmer
 Vacuum Pole

You Should Consider:

 Filter        Skimmer        Maintenance Kit      Tame the Pool Monster
Extra Filter Cartridges      Pool Alarm      Pool TipsTM  Calcium Hardness Increaser
Water Sample Bottle          Clarifier     Chlorine Stabilizer  Total Alkalinity Control
Solar Cover      Clarifier     Thermometer  Footbath  Leaf Rake  Wall Brush

 Pool Size______________________             Sanitizer Type:    Chlorine    Baquacil

 Revised:  8/13/12

Please let us help you, anytime.

  1. IMPORTANT

    Pool Size: ___________ Gallons Technician: ___________
    Date: ________________We write Pool Tips for the exclusive use of our own local customers. They are meant as a summary of general information, to be discussed in our store, with our staff, to determine which items are best for specific pools. Pool Tips are a trademark of Gull Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

    Our suggestions assume that you have given us a proper description of your pool’s size, history and symptoms. Sometimes we can figure it out, sometimes we can’t. Your doctor has years more training, far better diagnostic tools, and makes way more money—and sometimes he or she gets it wrong, too.

    1. Read all labels carefully, and only use chemicals exactly as described on the label. Never mix chemicals together outside of the pool. Some of them can cause a fire or explosion.
    2. Do Not follow any advice or suggestions here without coming into the store, customizing them to your specifics, and receiving them in writing.
    3. Do Not print these out or reproduce for any purpose whatever. They are all copyrighted, and we take our copyrights very seriously.
    4. Don’t Blame Us for anything. It’s free advice, and worth the price paid. We’re trying to help, but pools are complex, and chemicals and electricity are dangerous.
    5. Our Best Advice: Go find a local pool dealer who knows what they are doing, become a steady customer, and give them a chance to learn about you and your pool. Pick a brand, pick a store, and stay with them.