The Truth About Phosphates In Pool Water
Let us guess. Youre here because youve witnessed and maybe even participated in the widespread debate every pool owner encounters at one time or another: Are phosphates in pool water a problem, and do you really have to remove them?
Spoiler alert: The answers are no and no.
Some pool pros and pool chemical sellers will tell you that only by removing phosphates from your pool can you fully and completely control algae growth. You see, phosphates are a nutrient source for algae. The more phosphates in the water, the more yummy food there is for algae to consume, and the faster the algae will grow.
But this is only half the story. Actually, its only about a quarter of it. Removing the food source isnt truly addressing the problem.
Look at it this way. Say you have a vegetable garden in your back yard, and its being wrecked by beetles that love to eat those veggies. How are you going to address the problem? By ripping out your garden to remove the beetles food source? Of course not. Youre going to use an insecticide to kill the existing beetles, and to keep the beetles that havent arrived yet from damaging your garden in the first place.
OK, we admit this isnt a perfect analogy. But its apt because to us, the idea of using a phosphate remover in your pool is just as silly and unnecessary as destroying your entire vegetable garden to get rid of pests.
Phosphate Removers Can Be Toxic
Since weve been talking about the environment, lets look at phosphate removers effects there first.
Some of the most popular phosphate removers have an active ingredientthe substance that actually works on the phosphatescalled lanthanum. Its a soft metal element thats classified as a rare earth element despite the fact that its almost three times more abundant than lead.
In 2016, the scientific journal Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety published an article titled Aquatic Ecotoxicity of Lanthanum A Review and an Attempt to Derive Water and Sediment Quality Criteria, which revealed some interesting findings about lanthanum.
First, lanthanum is classified as moderately toxic, which seems to be borne out in this study. Remember that while phosphates are indeed a food source for algae, they are not toxic. The study showed that freshwater crustaceans were particularly sensitive to lanthanum. The study goes on to say :
As with other metals, the availability of lanthanum is strongly influenced by pH and by the presence of other cations in the environment. It can be accumulated by organisms, it can interfere with cellular functions and it adsorbs to particles.
More study is required to fully determine the level of its toxicity to organisms, including humans, but based on these preliminary findings, lanthanum doesnt sound like something wed want to pour into our pools.
Getting The Right Ph Level
You may not get the right pH level for your pool water in one go, so be prepared for a bit of trial and error. When adding additives, always start on the low end. Check
Can You Swim in a Pool with High pH
out below what to add to the water when the pH reading is either too high or too low.
After adding the appropriate substance, monitor the water pH level. If it has not stabilized after two days, continue to add the substance to lower or raise the pH.
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Why Ph Is Important In A Swimming Pool
Managing pH levels in your swimming pool should be one of your main concerns during pool maintenance. In fact, you should be checking your pH levels every few days, or at least weekly, and adjusting as necessary. pH has a strong influence on how effective your chlorine is. The lower the pH, the more effective chlorine is. But dont imagine that you can just drop the pH of your pool as much as you want to maximize the effects of chlorine.
Low pH, in other words, high acidity, is not a good situation for your pool or its patrons. Highly acidic water can damage pool liners and etch plaster. It can also corrode metal components, such as rails and ladders. Your patrons will notice, too, since high acidity will irritate or even damage eyes, skin, and mucous membranes . Low pH also tends to lower total alkalinity.
High pH is also a problem for your pool. When the pH is too high, your water is very basic. That can cause scaling on the walls and other components of your pool. It can stain metal components, make your water cloudy, and significantly reduce the effectiveness of your chlorine. Like high acidity, very basic water can damage and irritate human skin, eyes, and other sensitive body parts.
What Can Happen If The Pools Ph Is Too High
As stated above, the higher the pH, the more alkaline or basic a pools water is. High alkaline water can affect not only your body while you swim but also your pool system as well. Both our bodies and our pools work to operate on a delicate pH system. Once that system gets off balance, the effects are negative and immediate.
Some effects on the body include:
- Skin rashes
Then, there are the effects on the pool system:
- Cloudy water
- Aging of pool liner
- Clogged filters
These are the consequences of elevated pH levels and should be accounted for when adding various supplements to your pool water. It is important to check your pools pH balance regularly to avoid harm to yourself and your pool system.
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Why Is My Pool Water Cloudy After Opening A Pool
Depending on how carefully you closed the pool for the winter, at the beginning of summer, you may see algae and cloudy water.
The main cause is usually imbalanced chemicals. If your water is free of algae, all you need to do is test for all the chemicals and adjust. Starting with the pH, then the chlorine, and then other chemicals after that.
If the water still appears cloudy after adjusting all the chemicals, you can try using either water clarifier to remove the debris through the filter or use pool flocculant and then vacuum to remove any particles.
Causes Of Falling Alkalinity
If your pools pH level is on the way down, this will eventually begin to influencein this case, your alkalinity along with it.
A decrease in pH can be caused by excessive rainwater entering the pool and diluting the water, acid rain which can directly drive both your pH and alkalinity levels down, and even bodily fluids from swimmers such as sweat and urine .
And while pool shock can raise pH as explained above, commonly used chlorine tablets have a very low pH. In other words, if you let too much dissolve into dissolve in your pool water, it will lower your pH level and alkalinity along with it.
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What Happens If Ph Is Too High In Pool
There is no remedy for sweltering hot summer days quite like a refreshing dip in the pool. However, most of the time, you probably dive right into the chemically-infused water without inspecting the pH levels. If you are swimming in a pool with a high pH balance, you could be posing a potential threat to both your body and pool.
When pH is too high it becomes too alkaline, and this decreases the effectiveness of chlorine to keep the water clean and free of bacteria. If this happens then problems such as skin rashes, scaling on pool equipment, algae growth and cloudy water can occur if high pH levels are left untreated. Recommended pH levels are between 7.3 and 7.6 to maintain clean and safe water.
Luckily, you can take precautionary methods and solutions to prevent high levels of pH in your pools system. How do you get started? Read on to learn all about what happens if your pools pH gets too high and how to maintain your pools pH properly.
Low Ph Is An Easy Fix
Raising the pH level of a swimming pool is as easy as adding more alkaline materials. Soda ash and sodium bicarbonate are two common alkaline products that can be used to raise pH levels in a pool. Remember that optimal pH levels for a swimming pool are between 7.4 7.6! If you overshoot it and need to bring your levels back down, read my guide on how to lower your pool pH level.
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How Do You Increase Or Decrease Alkalinity
As Ive said throughout this article, pH and alkalinity are closely related and that means the same methods of increasing or decreasing pH also affect alkalinity.
Of course, in some cases, youll want to increase or decrease alkalinity without affecting your pools pH level, and this is also possible with the right products to hand.
Guide To Raise The Ph Level In Your Pool Safely
If you have a swimming pool at home, youll need a pool testing kit to ensure that the water levels are all properly balanced.
If the water in your pool is too acidic, this will corrode your equipment, and its likely to bring about etching on surface materials. Beyond this, acidic water will irritate your eyes, nose, and skin.
If, on the other hand, your pool water is too alkaline, this can cause scale to develop on the surface as well as all over your pool plumbing gear.
Neither of these scenarios is ideal. Excessive acidity or alkalinity both impact the efficiency of the chlorine in your pool, and resultantly impede the process of disinfection.
When youre checking the pH level in your pool, you should aim for somewhere between 7.2 and 7.8. On the pH scale, 0 is extreme acidity, with 14 representing extreme alkalinity. 7 is neutral, so youre shooting for just the alkaline side of neutral.
Now, before we show you how to raise the pH level in your pool, a few more basics so you can proceed better informed
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Phosphate Removers Can Negate The Effects Of Sequestrants
Lets say you have a high level of copper or iron in your pool water. Maybe you get your water from a well. Left unchecked, a high copper level will eventually turn your pool green, while iron will give it a lovely rusty brown color. Yuck.
So you break out the metal sequestrant to bind with the copper or iron and keep it it from oxidizing or rusting, which will prevent your pool water from turning those ugly colors.
Heres the thing. The most effective metal sequestrants are phosphate-based. If you have metal in your pool, and you use a phosphate-based sequestrant, and then use a phosphate remover, youre negating the effects of the sequestrant.
Youll lower the phosphate level, but have little to no success counteracting the effects of the metal, which means youll be wasting money on two fronts.
Tips For Keeping Ph Levels Balanced
Although pH is a pretty unstable factor in your pool chemistry, it’s possible to keep it balanced most of the time. You just have to stay on top of a few pool maintenance tasks.
>>Read: How to balance your pool water
- Test your pool chemistry twice a week. Or if you’ve had issues with pH balance, test it every day until you get it under control. This may seem like a giant pain the in you-know-what, but it only takes a few minutes of your time, versus the hours you could have to spend correcting problems.;
- Keep your pool clean. Since even things like dirty leaves can affect your pools pH balance, keep it as clear from debris as you can. Use a pool skimmer to clear out the junk every day. Its a great way to make the kiddos earn their allowance!
- Check your filtration system regularly. If your pool filter is doing its job, it will take a lot less elbow grease to keep the water clean and balanced.
- Shock your pool regularly. Most experts recommend once a month, but you should do it more often if during times of high usage or weather changes. Shocking the pool helps restore all the chemistry levels to normal.
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How To Balance The Ph In Your Pool
To lower pH, you need to use a pH reducer , such as muriatic acid or sulfuric acid. Anything below a pH of 7.0 is too low, and apart from turning water cloudy, this environment brings about harmful bacteria causing ammonia and algae.
To increase low pH levels, you need to use a pH Increaser with soda ash.
How Phosphates Damage The Environment
Ecosystems rely on delicate balances. Prey and predators. Rainfall and plant growth. The presence of food, water, and oxygen, the most basic needs of all living organisms.
In aquatic environments, fish, plants, and numerous other creatures and organisms that live underwater depend on the presence of oxygen in the water. This includes algae. The more algae in the water, the less oxygen there is for the other beings that depend on it, a process called eutrophication. Without oxygen, those creatures begin to die.
Algae stores phosphates to sustain itself. When it dies, algae sinks to the bottom of whatever body of water its in, and the phosphate it was retaining is released back into the water to serve as food for remaining algae, and for new growth. The cycle continues and worsens, especially with new phosphate still being introduced from outside sources. This excess of algae is called nutrient pollution, and it continues to be one of the worst types of pollution in our world today.
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The Detergent Industry Cleans Its Conscience
Starting in 1970, the three major detergent manufacturers in the United StatesP&G, Lever Brothers, and Colgate-Palmolivebegan a concerted effort to reduce phosphates in the laundry detergents they produced.
However, it wasnt until the early 1990s that phosphates were completely removed from laundry detergents produced in the U.S. after several states banned phosphate detergents. Numerous countries about the world, most notably in the European Union, have also instituted such bans.
In 2010, several U.S. states also banned dishwasher detergents that use phosphates. In response, manufacturers stopped using phosphates in their dishwasher detergents because it didnt make sense, nor was it cost effective to produce non-phosphate detergent for some states, and traditional detergent for others.
Phosphates, and the algae that feed on them, continue to be a problem in natural bodies of water. Which brings us to the phosphates in your pool, and why you dont need to worry about them.
Ph Affects Chlorine Activity
Whilst the activity of bromine in pools is only slightly affected by various pH changes, chlorine is greatly affected. At pH 8, only 20% of the chlorine in the water is sanitising, whilst at 7.4, 60% is sanitising. Lowering the pH alone can increase the chlorines activity, as many pool operators have found.
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Ph And Chlorine Strength
Ah yes, chlorine strength. This is the main reason health codes demand a pH maximum . See the chart on the left below.
Without cyanuric acid in the water, the pH determines the strength of chlorine, as expressed by the percentage of the strong, killing form of chlorine, Hypochlorous Acid . %HOCl is usually what we use to determine chlorine strength. Well, that and ORP.;
The lower the pH, the higher the %HOCl, the stronger and faster the chlorine. Most indoor pools do not have CYA in them, so that chart absolutely applies to natatoriums. ;Outdoor pools with CYA, however, can have virtually the same strength of chlorine at 8.2 as at 7.2. See the chart above on the right side, with just 30 ppm CYA. The %HOCl is way a the bottom, and a negligible reduction occurs as the pH climbs. The FC:CYA ratio is what truly determines chlorine’s strength and speed in those poolsnot pH.
Ideal Ph Ranges & How To Adjust To Them
Your goal should be to maintain a Ph level between the range of 7.2-7.6. At this level, there should be no need to urgently employ the use of much if any Ph modifying chemicals. For Ph modification, we recommend using muriatic acid and soda ash . you can use sodium bicarbonate to adjust a pools Ph but be aware that it will have a very strong influence on your pools alkalinity levels.
How To Lower Ph Using Muriatic Acid
To lower the Ph of your pool using muriatic acid there are some safety procedures we HIGHLY recommend you follow to keep yourself from a chemical burn or spill:
- Rubber Gloves
- Protective Glasses
- A Hose with Running Water
This stuff is gnarly and can put a real damper on your day. Along with the safety equipment, there are some recommendations when it comes to actually administer the acid itself. Always disperse the acid around the perimeter of the pool for the best dilution. Take care to avoid steps and swim-outs, this acid is incredibly aggressive and can etch away at surfaces removing color and often changing textures. Even with proper dispersion muriatic acid has a tendency to form fumes when mixing with your pool water so keep all pets away and take note of the winds direction to keep yourself safe.
How To increase Ph using Soda Ash or Baking Soda
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