It’s finally that time. The days are longer, the weather is warmer, and a relaxing swim is long overdue. But before you look down at your pool cover—or up, if you have an above-ground pool—and dread the process required to get your filtration system running again (and perhaps even consider putting it off another day), find the definitive guide for opening your pool here. It’s simple, and will start the season right—plus, prevent costly maintenance in the future. Now that’s a win win. The only thing I can’t help you with is finding your swim trunks in the back of the closet.
Safety First, My Friend.
Make sure before you begin that you have safety goggles and chemical-resistant gloves. You’ll need these when you sanitize your pool water for swimming. It’s okay, you’ll switch these out for sunglasses and sunscreen later.
Get the Gear.
So you’re ready to get opening? You’ll need just a few practical items—and chances are you already have them on hand:
- Pool cover pump.
- Pool brush.
- Cover cleaner (or car wash soap).
- Garden hose (with filter).
- Test strips.
- A friend to help.
Ready to start the season fresh, and set your pool up for long term success? My top recommendation is the 2HP Energy Star Variable Speed in Ground Pool Pump. It circulates thoroughly, quietly, comes with a lifetime warranty, and pays itself off in energy saved.
Get the Chemicals.
Since each pool’s environmental factors are unique, you may or may not need the following chemicals. I recommend having these all on hand, for when you might need them later—plus, it means your pool will be ready for swimming just one day after you open it up. You can also test the water using pool test strips and only buy what you need now. That’s cool, too.
- pH increaser
- pH decreaser
- Alkalinity increaser
- Calcium hardness increaser
- Cyanuric acid
- Pool shock
Step One: Rev Up That Pool Cover Pump
In order to get your pool cover ready to be removed—that moment you’ve been anticipating for months, I’m sure—you need to remove all the water and debris that has accumulated on the top. Otherwise, all that is going straight into your pool, where it will be much tougher to clean. And let’s be honest—on top of unnecessary, that would be… gross.
No equipment is up for the job like the pool cover pump, which is designed to suck up water and debris quickly and efficiently. Simply place the cover pump on top of the epicenter of the crud—usually water pools in the center of the pool cover—turn it on, and watch the mess disappear.
Has your cover accumulated more than you were expecting—or you want to get it done fast? When choosing a pool cover pump, pay special attention to the gallons per hour it’s capable of displacing. My top pick, the Black & Decker 1500 GPH Cover Pump, will get it done in no time, and is extra-durable to boot.
Step Two: Finally, Pool Cover Be Gone.
Now that the extra water and debris on top is sorted, you’re good to remove your pool cover. I think we can all agree that we’ve been waiting for this for most of the winter. You’ll want a fairly strong friend or family member to help realize this big moment.
First, be sure to unscrew the cover if you’ve secured it to the ground. Working from the back to the front of the pool and positioned on opposite sides, you and your friend should both lift and fold the pool cover as you work your way up the length of the pool. This accordion fold doesn’t have to be perfect—it’s merely to reduce the sheer size of the cover so you can move it, without dragging, to a place where you can lay it flat. Ideally, the spot would be a grassy area off the side of your pool. The last thing you want is to lay your cover somewhere sharp or otherwise damaging. Especially after all that careful folding.
Ready to get your above-ground pool in top shape, but your pump just isn’t cutting it? Try the Copper Force Above Ground Pool Pump. It’s energy-efficient, runs cool, and includes a start capacitor to eliminate failure-prone mechanics of other above-ground models.
Step Three: Clean That Pool Cover.
Once you get the cover to a safe, flat area, give it a look over. If it hasn’t fared well, you’ll need to get a new one soon, so you’ll have it on hand for the end of the season (I promise, I won’t mention the closing of warm months again). On the plus side, that leaves no reason to clean and store it—you could move straight to Step Five.
If your pool cover is still in good shape, congratulations. You have some work to do, but you’re saving money this year. With the cover still laying flat, use a soft brush and cover cleaner or car wash soap to wipe off any built-up residue from winter months. Ideally, your brush should have rubber bristles—you want to avoid anything too rigid, as it might damage the cover. Pool covers are made from a range of different fabrics and grades. But better safe than sorry.
Step Four: Store Your Pool Cover—The Smart Way.
Fold up your pool cover. If your cover came with a bag—and you still have that on hand—then great. Otherwise, you might want to invest in a big plastic container that seals up. Be sure to store the cover somewhere high, whether that be in a garage or a storage shed. The last thing you want is for a critter to find its way into your cover and cause damage.
Is there still too much water and debris on your cover? You’re going to need a better cover pump. Try the Black & Decker 800 Automatic Cover Pump for sleek, seamless cleaning.
Step Five: The Skimmer is Your Friend.
Take your pool skimmer on its telescopic pole and get out all the big pieces of debris. You don’t have to get everything out, but especially the larger pieces, and the more the better—this is to prevent heavy lifting later. Most importantly, leave larger debris and you run the risk of clogging your filtration system when you turn it on. This is not the time for unnecessary maintenance. Not before you’ve even had a chance to take a dip.
Step Six: Remove Plugs.
You did install winterizing pool plugs when you closed the pool last year, right? After you pushed air through your pipes? Good, just checking. Well, now is the time to get those out of here (in other words, thoughtfully and securely stored for later). Their use is to prevent water from getting into your pipes, but now water is exactly what you want.
Once you remove the plugs, water from your pool will start to travel through your pipes. It’s okay to see some air bubbles during this process—the pipes are just warming up after some time of little use.
Step Seven: Just Add Water.
We’re getting closer and closer. Using a garden hose, fill up your pool to the normal level now. We’ll add chemicals to the water later, but be sure to use a filter on your hose that is designed to minimize unwanted metals—or else, your pool water might begin to accumulate stains, and you’ll have to get a metal sequestrant to balance it out again.
Ready to go, but not sure if your pump is up for the challenge? Make the choice now to set yourself up for reliable savings later. The 1.5HP Energy Star Variable Speed In-Ground Blue Cyclone Swimming Pool Pump is eligible for rebates, comes with a lifetime warranty, and pays itself off in energy saved in under two years.
Step Eight: Power On Your Pump and Filter.
If you removed your drain plugs from your filter and pump (as well as your pool heater and chlorinator if you have them) at the end of the last swim season, it’s time to reinstall—with a little help from thread seal tape. You’ll also want a lube with a water, silicone, or Teflon base to smear on your O-rings, which are rubber circles designed to seal up your pump and other equipment. Make sure that the O-ring on your pump housing is in top shape, or else you’ll suck air into your system. Trust me, that’s the last thing anyone wants. It can lead to some permanent damage, and sometimes even fire. Yes, fire.
Also, now you’re all clear to open your return side valves. If you have a multiport valve go ahead and turn it to “waste” here.
If you’ve got them, reinstall the air bleeder (situated at the top part of the filter), the sight glass (that transparent tube that lives on the multiport valve), and the pressure gauge (this is easy to spot and sits on the outside of the pump).
Time for power. Switch your circuit breaker, turn on your pump, and watch the water flow through. Feels good, doesn’t it?
If your water isn’t moving after some time, or your pressure gauge spikes, power off immediately. It might be time to prime your pool pump to push out all that excess air, and check for blockage.
Once your water is flowing, you know your pump is primed. This might be a good time to check out your filter, and give it a good wash if it needs it. If you have an above-ground pump, be sure to only open your tank when the skimmer and return jets are closed.
Step Nine: It’s Brush Time.
Use a brush to scrape down the bottom and sides of your pool, especially trouble spots that are especially susceptible to algae. This will help your pool shock do its job later. My top recommended brush is the only one like it on the market, thanks to a patented 360 degree brush head perfect for getting trouble spots. Plus, it was developed by longtime pool servicers who were tired of aches and pains that resulted from brushing stairs and other corners sparkling clean.
Also, don’t forget to vacuum your pool floor to pick up any sediment that might’ve settled. That will help with chemical balancing later, and the last thing anyone likes is to step on debris when they’re swimming.
Step Ten: Let’s Get Chemical.
Winter is the perfect disruptor of your pool’s chemical balance, but no worries. You’ll get the perfect specs in no time. The balance of any pool owner’s dreams is:
- Total Alkalinity: 80 to 120 ppm
- pH Level: 7.4 to 7.6
- Free Available Chlorine: 2.0 to 4.0 ppm
- Calcium Hardness: 200 to 400 ppm
- Stabilizer (Cyanuric Acid): 30 to 50 ppm
First, put on those safety goggles and gloves I mentioned. Use pool test strips to determine where your pool is currently, or take a sample from your pool to your nearest pool supply store for a more definitive reading. Use an alkalinity increaser to get your total alkalinity up, a pH increaser or pH decreaser to adjust your pH level, a calcium hardness increaser for calcium hardness, and chlorine and cyanuric acid should be used together to achieve optimized free available chlorine and stabilizer levels.
If you used pool antifreeze over the winter and you can now see it coming into your pool, no worries—it’s made for that, non-toxic, and won’t affect your chemical balance.
Step Eleven: Pool Shock’s Even Better Times Two.
After a chlorine particle attacks and kills bacteria or another organic material in your wall, it creates what is called a chloramine. This is an inactive particle that exists in your water until it can be broken apart by oxidation. Enter pool shock.
When opening your pool, you should use double the amount of shock you normally would—throughout the season, you’ll want to shock every week or so—to really clear out any build-up in your water. That would be two pounds of pool shock per 10,000 gallons of water. During the season, you’ll only need one pound per 10,000 gallons.
Adding pool shock is unbelievably easy. All you have to do is walk slowly around the perimeter of your pool and pour it straight in. Just remember to add it at dusk or at night, or the sun will burn out the compound that makes it effective.
Step Twelve: Accessorize Your Pool Again
Do you have diving boards, ladders, step rails, slides, and any other pool accessories? Sounds fun. Go ahead and reinstall those to your pool. Good times are almost here.
Step Thirteen: Waiting Makes the Pool Water Safer
Leave your filtration system running for a straight 24 hours to ensure that the chemicals have properly circulated in your water, which after that waiting period should be crystal clear. If it’s not, give your pool shock just a little extra time to do its job. After that, your pool is ready for a nice, refreshing swim.
And honestly? I’d say you earned it.