Cloudy water, unhappy customers and dangerous storage conditions are just some of the consequences of chemical mismanagement. Service companies and retailers alike strive for clear, sanitary water conditions, but are frequently challenged by a host of unforeseen problems. Here’s some useful insight on how to deal with those things from experts in the field.

Bryan Chrissan Clear Valley Pool & SpaMurrieta, Calif.

“People aren’t running their pumps enough. It seems simple, but most of the problems blamed on chemical imbalance is simply a matter of not turning the water over sufficiently. We’re seeing a rise in saltwater pools, but even the most expensive salt system in the world isn’t going to produce chlorine unless the pump is running. So when people complain that they’re not generating any chlorine, this is one of the first things we check. You can eliminate 95 percent of pool problems that are blamed on chemistry simply by keeping a filter clean and running the pump long enough to turnover the water at least twice a day. That usually means eight hours for a residential pool and six for a commercial one. That’s at a minimum — throw a soccer team’s worth of kids in there and you have to increase accordingly. This is all made worse by the fact that many consumers don’t know how big their pool is. So when they start having problems, they’ll run down to the local pool supply store and tell the person behind the counter they have a 20,000 gallon pool when in reality they only 15,000 gallons. The guy checks the water sample and sells them three pounds of this and two pounds of that and next thing you know the homeowner has over-treated the pool. Now they have to counterbalance in the other direction. They end up chasing their tail, and eventually we get called in to help. Most of the time water chemistry issues are really homeowner issues, with a root cause of improper filtration and water turnover.”

Dick Abare Algae Busters Pool ServiceTampa, Fla.

“My company does a lot of warranty work on salt generators. We’ll get service calls on 1- or 2- year-old units, knowing that it’s rare for one to go bad this quickly. After we’ve verified that the cell is clean and everything’s hooked up properly, we investigate various chemical parameters, starting with stabilizer level, followed by phosphates and then nitrates. This last one is kind of foreign to our industry. A lot of guys don’t even think about nitrates. The main symptom is the unit will blow chlorine like crazy but the water’s not retaining it. So you do a tube test and your stabilizer’s running 60 to 80, and phosphate level is between 0 to 100. Then you check the nitrate and boom, there’s the problem. It’s not prevalent, but it is out there. Typically, you find this where you get a lot of bird droppings, leaves deteriorating, or somebody spraying a yard and you’ve got some kind of fertilizer injected into the pool. With nitrates, there’s no fix except draining off water. No one likes to hear that, and I’ve talked to every expert I can on this, but unfortunately there’s no other solution. That’s why it’s very important to tell your customers to keep their pool clean at all times.”

Vince Davenport Swim Things Blue Springs, Mo.

“The biggest challenge in water chemistry for us is staining on vinyl-lined pools. Treating this can be a costly and repetitive exercise, because some stains come back multiple times. We work hard to keep our staff well-trained on the proper chemicals to deal with this. The other problem we see from a retailer’s perspective is that we’re constantly fighting the big-box stores for [business]. Consumers shop for chemicals based on convenience and price, but then call us when they misapply those same chemicals. We counter this through education and offering ‘pool school’ on the weekends where we caution our customers about [problems] and give them advice on how to treat them. There are also promotions during the busy spring season, especially on products that are not available at big boxes — multipurpose tablets, and certain brand names.”

Forest Smith Concord Pools and SpasLatham, N.Y.

“One of the many challenges we face as a retailer is educating the consumer. Often customers come into our store unsure of what they are looking for, and only know they have a problem. You have to put on your detective hat, asking a series of questions just to determine which type of chlorine tablets the consumer is looking for. While this is a relatively simple process, it does take a trained and knowledgeable store associate to narrow it down and provide the customer with the right product. In our area we’re seeing a large number of consumers switching to liquid chlorine as an inexpensive way of sanitizing their pool. While this product keeps the consumer coming back to the store for another container, the product itself is very labor intensive due to the need to individually bag each carboy to prevent leaking, as well as bringing the chlorine to the consumers vehicle. Also, we find the consumer today purchasing more products online or from big-box retailers, yet they come to our stores for the help that online or big boxes don’t offer.”

Tom Arnault Intercoastal Pool & Spa Builders Inc.Melbourne, Fla.

“The top issue we deal with in terms of pool chemistry is the multitude of ways phosphates can enter a pool. Whether it’s from white flies — a common problem here in the Southeast — or something as simple as the lawn guy aiming his cuttings at the open pool, too much phosphate causes problems. Because of this, we emphasize to our customers that it’s increasingly important to test phosphate levels on a regular schedule. Not addressing this will adversely affect water quality and overall cleanliness of the pool, and turn what once was just a monthly or quarterly check into a weekly test. Some pools even have to go on a strict maintenance regimen of phosphate remover. In a nutshell, when a pool gets a spring case of algae (or the white flies come home to roost), phosphate levels have to be treated accordingly from that day forward, at least until it turns to “winter time” again in Florida. This is just one of the areas where we find a difference between the care given by a pool professional and the average homeowner. Knowledge is the key to proper pool chemistry, and it’s important that our customers understand this.”

Anthony Schiavone Seasonal WorldClarksburg, N.J.

“We’re battling phosphate and nitrate issues more than we have in previous years. I’m not sure what’s causing that. We have a lot of airports in this area, so that might be part of it, or it could be that people fertilize their lawns like there’s no tomorrow up here; we probably see fifty lawn service trucks a day on the road. It’s not too bad dealing with the phosphate side, but when it comes to nitrates, however, we chemically treat it as best as we can, but that doesn’t always work. Depending on the severity, we frequently wind up recommending either a full or a partial drain of the pool. Sometimes the homeowners like to do that themselves, or we can provide the service. Either way, people have difficulty wrapping their heads around being told they have to drain their pool after five or six years, especially when they’re looking at 40,000 gallons or more, a size that’s fairly typical up here.”

Jane Cote Easton Pool & SpaEaston, Mass.

“We have a lot of problems here in New England with acid rain. This makes it really challenging with high chlorine consumption and balancing the phosphates. Anytime a storm comes in from the west, we tell people to check the pH of the rain, or bring a sample of their pool water into the store. I’ve seen alkalinity go down to zero, and pH can drop to 6.8 or so. The other thing we see is that everybody is moving to salt pools. Sure, it’s more convenient, but some of this is because people don’t like the chlorine smell you get in a conventional pool. The thing they don’t realize is that, if you’re smelling chlorine, your pH is off. Chlorine is not the bad guy.”

Erik Yanez J. Tortorella Service and MaintenanceHampton Bays, N.Y.

“With pool chemicals, one of the top issues is educating our customers on salt systems. A lot of them think this means there’s no chlorine in the pool, and that once the system’s been installed there’s no longer any need for chemicals. We have to teach them to monitor the pH, clean the cell regularly, that sort of thing. And in our area, we have to deal with winterizing. This means draining half the pool in the fall and then re-balancing the water each spring. All these things are important for the finish and the life of the pool, and equate to a positive experience for the client.”