We all need a little fresh air sometimes—but your pool pump does not. At the core of its design, it’s meant to push through water, not air. And when that changes, the functioning of your pool’s circulation system can go seriously awry.
So how can you tell that there’s air in your pump? Well, before the doomsday scenarios start to unfold, it’s as simple as seeing air bubbles come out of the return jets in your pool. It might look pretty, but it’s actually a sign that you need to take action, ASAP.
I’ll explain what can happen if air remains in your pump, explain why air is contrary to your pump’s job description, and troubleshoot how air got in your pump in the first place. Then, we’ll fix the air in your pool pump together—with three methods to try out, as long as you’re game for some DIY.
Why Air in Your Pool Pump Is a Problem
The severity of this problem depends on just how much air is being drawn into your pool pump. If it’s a significant amount of air, there’s a possibility that your pump will become excessively noisy, or stop working entirely.
There’s also a chance that your pump will overheat—to the point of the equipment itself melting. Pool pumps are designed to work hard in heat. As a failsafe, most pool motors have a thermal disconnect designed to handle if the pump overheats, or worse, overheats to the point of catching fire.
If your pump doesn’t have enough air to reenact any pool owner’s nightmares, it’s still important to act now. Because air is affecting the pump’s seal, the problem could get dramatically worse, and quick.
Seem Extreme? Here’s How a Pump Works
Say this one ten times fast: “centrifugal force.” This phrase is the secret to why pumps only work with water, not air. It basically just means that pumps are designed to move water away from their center force. That’s why you might see pool pumps referred to as “centrifugal pumps.”
Every pool pump has an inlet and an outlet, so that water can both enter and leave its chambers. Between these two outlets, the pump’s electric motor powers the impeller, which spins an attached part called the volute—fast. The volute is connected to the hydraulic wet end, so the water is then propelled at a high velocity toward the outer edge of the impeller. That movement of water away from the impeller is centrifugal force in action, and it creates an area of negative pressure, or a vacuum.
That vacuum is the heart of why air goes against the nature of your pump. It requires a perfectly sealed pump—otherwise it would be pushing air as well as water, and the vacuum wouldn’t work. Kind of like when you get to the bottom of a drink and you start sucking air into your straw. That’s never fun.
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How Did Air Get In There, Anyway?
The short answer is that air is in your pump because you have a leak. But how you move forward depends on where that leak is. Before going straight to fixing the leak, let’s break down each part of your circulation system to make sure you understand how it works.
The skimmer should always be your first line of attack, because it’s what draws in water (and when things aren’t right, air) to your circulation system. It consists of a built-in plate on the side of your pool that your water level should reach halfway up, the flap covering (called a weir) for the built-in plate, and skimmer basket(s) built in around the pool.
Next, it’s important to go into the hub of the problem. The pump has a few different components that could be leaking: the pump lid, the O-ring seal around the lid, the pump basket, and the pump’s drain plugs.
The Pool’s Plumbing
It’s also possible that the plumbing that connects together your circulation system is contributing to a leak. These also have O-rings to check.
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How to Fix Air in Your Pool Pump—In Three Methods
Ready to get that air out of there? I suggest these methods in this order, since we’re working on the most common leaks first. After each step, turn your pump on to see if you’re still getting air bubbles out of your return jet lines. If they’ve disappeared, you can end early—all the more time for floating across your perfectly-circulated pool.
Fix the Skimmer
As our first line of attack, the skimmer couldn’t be easier to fix for leaks. And we start with one of the most common reasons why air is being drawn into the pump.
Check the Water Line
Remember how I mentioned that water should reach halfway up the skimmer plate? That’s one of the most essential needs of your pool in order to run well. And unfortunately, many pool owners forget to monitor it entirely. That’s why I was sure to include checking your pool’s water level in my ultimate DIY maintenance routine checklist.
The water line might move after a rain (that is, if your pool is uncovered, which I don’t recommend) or after time allows for enough evaporation.
If your water line is below halfway up the skimmer plate, your pump is drawing in air. All you have to do to fix this problem is add more water to your pool with a garden hose—ideally with a filter attached to keep out any metals and avoid some nasty stains. Once your water level is perfect, rebalance your water using water test strips.
Check Your Skimmer’s Weir
Water line on the mark? Next, check that covering on your built-in skimmer plate. It’s designed to keep out large pieces of debris from entering your system, but sometimes it can get jammed. Make sure it’s moving freely.
If the skimmer’s weir is feeling like the skimmer’s weird because you don’t have one, I highly recommend ordering one. They’re easy to install, and will greatly decrease the chance of clogs in your circulation system.
Check Your Skimmer Baskets
If your water line and your weir are up to snuff, it’s time to check your skimmer baskets. You should know the drill, since checking these for clogs are part of any good maintenance routine. But in this case, you want to make sure that the skimmer baskets are placed properly in their suction holes. Also, check that they are intact and undamaged.
Fix the Pump
Turned on the pump and still getting bubbles out of your return jets? It’s time to move on to the pump itself. For this part, it is absolutely imperative that you shut your pump down and disconnect it from power. If you have the right pump for you (short answer: that’s a variable-speed pump), it’s bound to be a powerful unit. You don’t want to be poking around in there and accidentally turn it on. Plus, that’s just asking for more air!
Check the Pump Lid and O-Ring
First, you don’t have to do much for this step other than look. If your pump’s lid is cracked, case closed: that’s how the air is getting in. If it isn’t cracked, open up the unit (again, power off and disconnected) and check the O-ring around the lid. That’s the rubber seal that keeps air out. If it’s cracked, warped, or otherwise not perfectly intact, it’s time to replace it with another. Make sure to measure it or check your pump’s user manual for sizing before you place an order.
Check the Pump Basket
Next up is the pump basket, which you can’t miss right under the pump’s lid. This step is similar to the skimmer basket. Just make sure that it’s properly positioned and that it isn’t damaged in any way. This is also a great chance to clean out any debris and wipe it down. The cleaner it is, the worse the wear and tear it’ll face.
Check the Pump’s Drain Plugs
The last part of checking the pump for leaks is its drain plugs. In the pump’s housing, which is the same section of the pump as the basket, you’ll find at least one drain plug, maybe two. Make sure these plugs are properly secured. If they’re not, you can use inexpensive plumber’s tape to give them more support.
Fix the Pool’s Plumbing
Still bubbling up, huh? The last place to check is the pool’s plumbing. Check your pipes for any cracks, especially its unions. Although this part of your plumbing is easy to overlook, it’s actually there to help make maintenance easier. Unions are usually made from white plastic and look like two big screws connected on the pipes that lead to your pump. They consist of a single gasket that seals off the connection and a screw on adapter that keeps it all together. Check this O-ring to see if it’s pinched. If it is, go ahead and replace it.
If your O-rings look good, it’s time to get serious about finding a leak. While PVC plumbing is often glued together with pretty good epoxy sealing, it can still become brittle and wash out. On a non-windy day, check your plumbing joints like tees, elbows, and valve ports using an incense stick or cigarette and hold it as close as possible to all the seams of your intake plumbing. If you have an air leak at a particular seam, you’ll see the smoke being pulled into your pipe. Before you dismantle and re-glue your pipes, try a caulk patch to see if it works to reseal your plumbing.
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And just like that, your pump is back in working order—and you got even more acquainted with the many parts that make a relaxing swim possible. From now on, add checking your water line, clearing out your skimmer baskets, and cleaning your pump basket to your to do list. A little bit of work now prevents bigger problems later. And most importantly, enjoy your pool! You earned it.