How to Get Rid of Pool Foam—And Keep It Gone

Foam, anyone? It might belong in your latte, but if you start to see scuzzy patches of bubbles on the surface of your pool, it’s a sure sign that you need to take action.

That’s because those bubbles aren’t like the ones you might find in your bathtub (you know, soap!). In reality, they’re what forms after nasty contaminants enter your pool and overwhelm your sanitizer. And since your sanitizer is what keeps swimming safe, that’s just never a good thing.

I’ll explain how to be sure that what you’re seeing is pool foam, explain how it forms, describe what it’s made of (this part is sort of gross), and break down the process for getting foam out of there—and keeping it gone.

Thankfully, all it takes are two steps to stop foam from even getting started in your pool. Get ready to leave the froth in your morning cup of joe. Let’s go.

How to Identify Foam in Your Pool

When you first get pool foam, it might look like you’re experiencing air bubbles. But pool foam differs from air bubbles because its bubbles don’t easily pop and disappear. Instead, they congeal into a thick layer of what resembles sea foam.

Pool foam might be full of air, but its bubbles are protected by a layer of organic residue. That residue thickens your water and adds strain to your sanitizer. Once enough of these bubbles combine, you’ll notice patches of pool foam across the surface of your water.

Those patches are how you know what you’re dealing with is pool foam—full of organic material probably left behind from other swimmers. And while it’s pretty gross to think about, it only take two steps to eradicate the foam and get back to swimming in clear water.

What Is Pool Foam?

Extreme amounts of pool foam might make your pool appear more like a bathtub, but that doesn’t mean it’s by any means clean. Foam actually forms in your pool because of what is called a high organic load in the water.

Having a high organic load basically means that your pool is experiencing a build-up of organic material—more than your water can dissolve, or that your sanitizer can neutralize. And when the organic matter in your pool increases to the point of pool foam, it’s also a sure sign that your sanitizer is having to work a little too hard to keep your water safe for swimmers.

So what exactly is organic matter? Well, the answer is a bit off-putting. But since you have the issue right now, you deserve to know the exact source of that foam. Ick.

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Why Does My Pool Have Foam?

If having pool foam makes your pool look like a bathtub, actually swimming in it is like jumping into bathwater that’s just been used by someone else. Seriously, pool foam is kind of gross. The organic matter that makes it up is usually the stuff that swimmers leave behind in a pool. In other cases, it can also be an indicator of a chemical imbalance, or even a side effect of algaecide.

Even if you have perfect pool chemistry, your pool can end up with foam. That’s because the sources of the foam range from swimmer byproducts to the very chemicals that you add to your pool to keep it clean.

So no need to kick yourself for having foam in the first place. Better to understand exactly where it’s coming from—and then work to get that foam out of there. And once you know the source, you can prevent that nasty foam from returning. Because water should never be described as “thick.” That’s just gross.

Hygenic Products

Hygenic products are one of the main culprits for a pool covered in frothy foam. The list for hygienic products are endless, but can usually be organized into three categories: hair products, skin products, and clothing products.

Hair products include shampoo, conditioner, hair spray, gel, hair oils, and anything else that you (or your fellow swimmers!) might put into your hair to make it look as shiny and healthy as possible. Yeah, that stuff doesn’t just disappear. These products often coat hair and eventually dissolve in the pool. That’s one vote for a swimming cap.

Skin products include sunscreen, soap, lotions, oils, deodorant, creams, makeup, and anything else that swimmers might use to keep their skin protected from the sun, moisturized, clean, and looking good. Like hair products, these seep right into pool water.

Clothing products include laundry detergent, softener, and stain remover. These products typically get on the skin, which then get into the pool.

In order to reduct the amount of hygienic products that enter your pool, it’s good practice to take a shower before swimming. If that sounds like too much of a hassle, be sure you pay attention when I go over how to get pool foam out of your pool. You might need it later.

Pool Party!

Imagine that the swimmers in your pool only have trace amounts of hygienic products on them. Now, multiply them by two, then three, then four. The more the people the more the organic matter entering your pool.

If you’ve had a pool party recently, it’s time to also consider the other organic matter that might have entered your pool, like sweat, saliva,  and possibly even urine. No comment!

Chemical Imbalance

The pool chemical issues that can result in pool foam are pretty varied. First, the pool water simply isn’t balanced. This is pretty common when pool foam starts to show up and strain your sanitizer.

Another option is that the chemicals you’re using aren’t intended for pools—in which case, it’s time to make the switch to the correct grade. (However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t use chemicals with the same chemical compound as your traditional pool brands, such as using baking soda to raise your pool’s pH).

Other than sanitizer, one chemical to really keep an eye out for is your calcium hardness. If your pool’s calcium level decreases below the optimal range, it can be a catalyst for some serious foam. The ideal level of calcium hardness is 175 to 225 ppm, and 200 to 275 ppm for concrete and plaster pools. Some other issues to look out for with low calcium levels includes scaling and corrosion of your pool walls, pump, pool filter, and other equipment. If your calcium is too high, you’re likely to have not foamy, but cloudy water.

Algaecide

Hey, you were just trying to do a good thing. Algaecide is a great chemical to add to your pool to prevent algae (though not to get rid of algae, which is a pretty common misconception). But if you’re not following the dosage recommended by your algae manufacturer or haven’t calculated the size of your pool, it can lead to some pretty serious pool foam.

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How to Get Rid of Pool Foam—In Just Two Steps

Now that you know why you have pool foam in your pool, it’s time to get it out of your water. Thankfully, this is one of the shortest processes in pool maintenance history, and I’m only half kidding. Get the job done in just two steps, and you’re on your way to clear, sparkling, non-frothy water.

Shock the Bad Guys Away

What you want to do first and foremost is to shock your pool.

As with any cleaning chemical, the amount of pool shock you use depends on the volume of your pool. Generally, the magic number is one pound per 10,000 gallons.

Not sure how many gallons of water your pool contains? Simply multiply the length, width, and depth of your pool in feet, and then multiply that figure by 7.5 to convert the number to gallons. It’s a quick calculation anyone can do—even if you never exactly aced geometry. And if you think better in formulas, that would be:

[Pool Length in Feet] x [Pool Width in Feet] x [Pool Depth in Feet] x 7.5 = [Volume of Your Pool in Gallons]

To add the shock to your water, all you have to do is walk slowly around the perimeter of your pool and pour it straight in.

If you have a type of sodium hypochlorite that requires pre-dissolving, add each pound to a five pound bucket of water and give it a mix and some time before adding it to your pool.

In either case, if you have an outdoor pool remember to apply pool shock at dusk or at night, or the sun will burn out the compound that makes it effective. True to its name, pool shock for pools is usually unstabilized.

Rebalance Your Chemicals

Next, rebalance your chemicals. Again, you want to keep a close eye on the likes of calcium hardness, pH, alkalinity, and sanitizer. But if any one of these chemicals are off, they’re likely to have affected the rest. Test your levels using water test strips, add the chemicals you need to add to your pool, and keep testing until you’ve nailed it.

How to Prevent Pool Foam

One thing to keep an eye on in the future is your total dissolved solids, which is a more longterm factor that can lead to pool foam (and if this is your first time experiencing foam, it’s probably not the culprit… yet).

Every time we enter a pool, we bring in a whole lot of contaminants, such as sweat, body oils, or other bodily fluids—and of course the hygienic products we’ve already talked about. All of these contaminants are collectively referred to as total dissolved solids (TDS). Your pool’s TDS builds up over time, and often require dilution in order to be reduced.

Other than the very rare partial drain and refill to lower your pool’s TDS, encouraging swimmers to shower before a dip and staying on top of your typical pool maintenance routine should do wonders to prevent foam. Keep it in your coffee, why don’t you?

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Now That’s Sparkling Water!

Great job, you got all that foam out of there. And I bet the hardest part wasn’t even shocking your pool and rebalancing your chemicals, but learning what foam is really made up of. Ick. Now you’re back to swimming in waters that are clean, crystal clear, and not full of the byproducts of other swimmers. Enjoy.