How to Drain an Above-Ground Pool—For Any Reason

Listen, these things happen. Chances are you never asked to have to drain your pool—unless you like surrealist photography projects, or intentionally giving yourself unnecessary work. Sometimes a swimming pool needs to be drained to fix a maintenance problem that could have been prevented otherwise, such as murky, cloudy pool water. Sometimes above-ground pool owners choose to drain their pool every winter. But regardless of your own pool care style, the time to drain your above-ground pool will come.

When this fairly rare event does occur, it should absolutely be done right—after all, you’ll be moving thousands of gallons of water, and nobody wants to start their own personal flood. I’ll explain the reasons why you might need to drain an above-ground swimming pool, when to drain the water, where the water should go, and finally, how to drain your pool for maintenance and storage—as well as how to refill it the right way. Now that’s what I call full circle.

Why Would You Need to Drain an Above-Ground Swimming Pool?

Unless you prefer to completely drain your pool instead of going through the standard motions of closing your above-ground pool for the winter, you should only need to drain your pool once every few years. Trust me, this is good news—especially for your wallet. If any of the below situations don’t apply to you, think twice about investing the time and energy into draining your pool.

When the Swampy Water’s Gotta Go

There’s a reason why any serious DIY pool owner has an arsenal of chemicals on hand. Because chemical balance is so important and does it all, including keeping swimmers both comfortable with the right pH and safe with the right kind of sanitizer, it needs to be checked at least once a week. If your chemical balance has gone unchecked for a considerable amount of time, and has become murky beyond the point of return, then it’s time for a fresh start.

But even if you’re diligent about chemical balance, there’s a byproduct that even pool shock can’t blast away. These are called the total dissolved solids (TDS), and they’re the remnants of the chemicals you add to your pool, combined with dirt, debris, and other contaminants. Once your TDS levels build up over a long period of time, they can seriously interfere with your water’s chemistry.

 If you’ve noticed that the chemicals you’ve been adding aren’t working like they used to, and you’ve already tried shocking your pool (which you should do once a week, hello), then your issue might be a high TDS reading. You can monitor your TDS with test strips or a digital meter. Once it’s at about 2,500 parts per million (ppm), it’s time for a drain.

Are you draining your pool because the chemicals you add are no longer working? Your problem might be chloramines, not total dissolved solids. Before you drain your pool, use this tried and true shock like the Super Premium Sanitizing and Fast-Acting Pool Shock. Not only does it work fast in your water, but its conveniently packaged in one-pound bags, so you never have to worry about measuring yours out again.

When You Have Pool Maintenance to Do

Most of the maintenance we do for our pools can be done with water still in it. Can you imagine having to drain your pool every time you brush down your walls and floors? That’s the parallel universe of my nightmares. But sometimes, special maintenance requires an empty, or mostly empty, pool. If you have to fix the base of your pool’s frame or liner, for instance, you’ll need to displace your water to get that work done. That’s just how it is.

Just Draining for Winter Storage

If you’ve had an above-ground pool for longer than a year, you know that there’s a lengthy process involved in closing your pool for the winter. If you want the extra backyard space and have a large storage area out of the elements, you also have the option to drain your pool, dissemble it, and store it away for the winter. I don’t blame you if you’d rather take that route. If you do, skip ahead to the tutorial on how to drain your pool for storage below.

how to drain above ground pool

When to Drain Your Above-Ground Pool 

Even though you can drain your above-ground pool without worrying about the permanent damage to which inground pools are suseptible, that doesn’t mean it’s something you want. If you absolutely do need to drain your pool, make sure that each of the items on this checklist apply first.

1.     You’re Ready to Foot the Bill

Remember, it’s up to 20,000 gallons you’re about to drain. Make sure that you’re ready for that water bill after you refill your pool. We’re not talking the difference between a long and short shower here. It’s always a good idea to budget ahead before you’re ready to pull the plug.

2.     You Have the Hours

So you’re moving thousands of gallons, huh? That grocery run better wait. You’ll need to monitor the draining process to make sure that the water goes where it needs to, and nothing unforeseen takes place. You can typically expect to wait at least eight hours for your pool to drain, though it can be up to sixteen. And filling it? Well, that’s going to take just as long. 

3.     Nice Weather for a Drain!

This is where it’s all about balance: you want to be comfortable being outside while your pool is draining, but you also don’t want it to be so hot that your pool’s liner, walls, and floors are wrecked. An empty pool should never be sitting in heat about 85 degrees Fahrenheit, 29 degrees Celsius. So while there’s no need to drain your pool during a rainstorm, make sure the sunny day you choose is far from a scorcher—and either refill or store your pool away before any kind of heat wave.

4.     Your Chemical Levels Are Down

I know, chemical balance is pretty much everything. But this is the one time that you don’t need to be adjusting your levels—it’s all going to be a wash anyway, right? The truth is, it’s probably required by your city that the water you drain doesn’t have a high concentration of pool chemicals. Before draining, use test strips to make sure that your water is more or less neutral. For the exact levels required, contact your local water authority. 

5.     You Have a Plan for Where that Water Will Go

Again, this is thousands of gallons of water you’re about to move—and it’s got to go somewhere. Your game plan really, really matters. If your water is chemically neutral, you can use it in your sprinkler system, and pat yourself on the back for helping out the environment. If your water still has traces of chemicals, your yard is the last place you’d want to put it.

So where should all that water go? Again, this is a time when you should consult your local water authority. The usual process is to direct the water into one of your home’s sewer cleanouts, but some cities allow you to drain right into the street. Others have tight restrictions. It all depends on where you live.

If you are draining into your sewer, make sure the drainage hose connected to your submersible pump is directed downhill. You never quite know if your sewer cleanout is significantly clogged until you’re trying to push thousands of gallons of water through it. If something goes wrong, you want to keep that water as far from your yard as possible—especially if you have beautiful green foilage.

From here on out, make sure your maintenance is spot on. That includes getting those tough-to-reach corners—without hurting yourself in the process. Try the patented 360-Degree Bristles Blue Torrent Pool Brush, developed by long-term pool professionals. As customer Scott Hinds notes, “Definitely the best pool brush I have ever owned. Far superior to other brushes.”

Drain Your Above-Ground Pool for Maintenance—In Five Steps

Now that you’re ready to go—and for that water to go, too—it’s time to get draining. I’m happy to report that it’s a ridiculously easy process when you have an above-ground pool. The same cannot be said for inground pools, so consider that a major win.

Remember, this part is if you’re draining your pool for maintenance, such as rebalancing water gone seriously awry or fixing up your pool liner. You want to refill it back up as soon as possible—and I’ll show you how.

1.     Circulation System Off!

Trust me, the last thing you want when you’re draining or have already drained a pool is for your pool pump to fire up. Why is this a recipe for disaster? Well, if your circulation system powers on, it’s not going to have any water to pull in through its plumbing. Instead, it’ll pull in air, which your circulation system just wasn’t built to move. Pulling in air can lead to a phenomena called “running dry,” which could lead to permanent damage at every juncture of your system, as well as your pump—which can even melt as a result. Yikes. This mishap is also the reason it’s always a good idea to know how to prime your pool pump

It’s not enough to just turn off your circulation system—especially if you have automatic timers that are just waiting to power it back on. I recommend disconnecting your system from its power source entirely while you drain your pool. 

2.     Score a Submersible Pump

I know, this is also called a pump—but it’s not connected to your circulation system, so we’re good. You can either rent or buy a submersible pump, depending on how often you plan to use it. For example, if you tend to drain your pool every winter, it might be time to make the investment.

Making sure that the power cord is long enough to reach from the bottom of your pool to your outlet, place the submersible pump on the floor in the center of your pool. If you can, avoid using an extension cord. The submersible pump will have a hose connected to it, and you’ll want to place the other end of that hose to whatever outlet you’ve planned to drain that water. Make sure it reaches all the way, or you’ll have thousands of water gone wild to deal with.

3.     Start Draining—and Stick Around

Welcome to the longest step. Go ahead and turn on the submersible pump and start draining. Again, you’ll want to hang around for this part, no matter how long it takes. Keep an eye on the hose and all the cords to make sure it’s moving smoothly—and keep a flood from happening.

4.     Power Off and Remove the Submersible Pump

Once the water is so low that the submersible pump is no longer pushing it out of your pool, turn it off and remove the pump. Don’t worry, this puddle is totally normal. It’s rare that a pool owner needs to drain every inch of water. If you’re draining your pool to fix your chemical balance, the small amount of water still on your pool’s floor won’t affect your balance going forward.

5.     Do What You Need to Do

If you drained the pool to fix its chemical balance, go ahead and refill your pool now—I’ve got a tutorial on how to do this properly below. If you’re fixing your pool’s liner or doing any other maintenance, and need a completely dry floor to work, use a heavy-duty and durable cover pump like the Brute Force 1250 Pool Cover Pump. In either case, you need to refill your pool as soon as possible so you can get your pool back to full before it suffers any damage by the sun, debris, or exposure.

There’s nothing like draining a pool to find out just how dirty it might’ve become. To keep your pool in top shape, get an automatic cleaner that can put in the work. The Blue Torrent Stinger Automatic Pool Cleaner is my top recommendation. It works independently of your pool filter which lowers energy costs, just needs to be plugged into an outlet, and has a lifetime warranty.

how to drain an above ground pool

Drain Your Above-Ground Pool for Storage—In Five Steps 

So you prefer to get that pool of your yard entirely when swim season ends? Trust me, I get it. Just make sure you have the space to store it somewhere, preferably indoors where it can’t get wrecked by a slew of environmental factors. 

1.     Secure Your Submersible Pump

If you’re going to make it a habit to drain your above-ground pool for storage every year, you’d better buy a submersible pump—you’ll save more over time than if you continue to rent one. Make sure that the power cord is long enough to reach from the bottom of your pool to your outlet. Avoid using an extension cord. Since we’re dealing with water and electricity, we’d better play it safe.

You’ll want to place the submersible pump on the floor in the center of your pool. The submersible pump will have a hose connected to it. Place the other end of that hose to where you’ve decided to drain your water. Make sure it reaches all the way, or you’ll have a flood to deal with.

2.     Get That Water Out of There

For this step, you’ll need to make sure your circulation system completely disconnected from its power source, especially if you have automatic timers. No surprises, okay? 

Fire up that submersible pump and start draining. Hang around to make sure that all the hoses and cords stay connected, and that the drainage hose remains where it needs to be. Since this can take upwards of eight hours, you might want to bring a book.

3.     Finish the Job

Once your water is low enough that the submersible pump can’t get to it, go ahead and power it off and store it away. You’ll need a super powerful cover pump to finish the task, such as the Brute Force 1250 Pool Cover Pump, which can move up to 1,250 gallons of water an hour. Any remaining water can be eliminated by removing the liner from the frame, flipping it over, and dumping the water out. Again, you want to be careful about where this water is going.

4.     Dry the Liner

No way do you want to store a damp liner, unless you’re a major fan of mold and algae. The fastest and easiest way to dry it is using an old fashioned leaf blower. Then, wipe it down with a towel, or fifteen. (Seriously, you’ll need to use a considerable amount of towels.) Then, let it air dry in the shade. Don’t leave it under the hot sun for too long, or it’ll become damaged.

5.     Store the Liner and Pool Frame

Once the liner is dry, have a friend help you lay it out on a soft surface of your yard, such as grass. Stay away from hard surfaces like concrete or sharp rocks. Then, gently fold the liner into a neat and storable square. Keep it indoors in a large container with a lid, so it stays dry and protected throughout the winter.

When it comes to dismantling the pool frame, that process can vary big time. The best I can tell you is to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for yours, and then store it in a dry, clean area indoors.

If you’re opting to leave the frame set up, cover it with a tarp and secure it down so it doesn’t blow onto its side. It might not exactly be a looker, but it’ll do.

How to Refill an Above-Ground Pool—In Three Steps

Whether you drained yours partially or completely, the rules for refilling an above-ground pool are the same. At the end of the day, a pool is designed to be full of water. But although refilling the pool will take roughly just as much time as it did to drain, the most challenging part of this process will be restoring your chemical balance. If you have one, get your lab coat ready. (Kidding!)

1.     Just Add Water 

Just like draining, this step will probably take the longest amount of time—and you’ll want to keep an eye on it to make sure everything is on the right track. Using one, or two, or three, or however many garden hoses you have, refill your pool. If your water source has a high concentration of metals, put a hose filter on each. The last thing you want to do is need to drain your pool again to deal with ugly metal stains. Talk about a lose-lose situation.

2.     Turn on Your Pool Pump

Finally, the pump is ready to be fired back on. Move immediately onto this next step to make the most of this newly circulating water. 

3.     Nail Down Your Chemical Balance

Just like you would when you open your pool for the season, balance your water with the assumption that you’re starting from scratch—which in this case, you really are. This is the toughest part of refilling your pool, but clean, sparking, and safe waters will soon be the reward. If you’re especially susceptible to algae infestations, add a dose of algaecide to start off strong.

Proper circulation depends on a powerful, reliable pump. Try the Copper Force Above Ground Pool Pump, which has a start capacitor and different horsepower options. According to customer Doug Paar, “The pump is very quiet and has good pressure. I would recommend.”

how to drain an above ground pool

That Wasn’t Too Draining, Was It?

Not bad, if I might say so myself! You put in the time—and time, and time—and now you can reap the rewards. Like a successful operation, your pool was just a bit overexposed, but is now back to being its total, healthy self. Here’s to its long, happy life of cannonballs and butterfly strokes. Enjoy.

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