Ah, the pool owner’s shortcut. It’s like seeing an endangered species on your weekend hike: so rare, surprising, and beautiful, you’d hardly believe it’s true.
Usually, owning a pool is all about prevention. The idea is to always check your boxes now, so you won’t have to deal with a disaster later. Maybe once in a while innovative equipment will come along, sure. But that’s typically as far as it goes.
This shortcut breaks this pattern, and it’s as perfect as it sounds. Instead of heading to the pool store or ordering expensive chemicals online, you can use a common household cleaner to raise your pool’s alkalinity. As simple as that.
It’s just as effective, it’ll save you a ton of cash, and if you have fellow pool-owner friends, it can be your next party trick.
Let’s do this.
First, Put Your Alkalinity to the Test
Hey, this isn’t expensive bottled water at your local grocery store. When it comes to pool water, a higher alkalinity does not mean better (or more well).
But you do want your pool water to be as healthy as it can be. And although there are many other factors that keep pool water balanced, none of them make up for wonky alkalinity.
Your pool’s alkalinity should always be within a tight window of 100 and 150 parts per million (ppm).
But how does anyone know they’ve achieved that magic number?
Just use a comprehensive test strip, preferably one that is intended for pool water. It just takes a few minutes and will give you a ton of necessary information about other chemicals. You should be testing your pool water weekly.
Trust me: a few minutes now will save you the headache later.
But Wait. What is Pool Alkalinity?
Got your mental lab coat on? You might want to, because this is about to get technical.
Alkalinity is short for total alkalinity, which is a total concentration of dissolved carbonates, bicarbonates, hydroxides, and cyanurates present in the water. You don’t have to remember these names, though. Just know that they’re all alkaline substances, meaning that they’re substances whose pH level measures higher than a 7.
In other words, you are not going to find a bag of alkalinity like you would chlorine available at any store (though chlorine might be tough in 2021, too, since there’s a major shortage). Like pH, it simply doesn’t exist.
And while we’re talking about pH, let’s clear up a major misconception.
To keep your circulation system in top shape, you’ll need a reliable, powerful, and energy-saving pump like the 2 HP Energy Star Variable Speed In Ground Blue Torrent Cyclone Pump to make sure your chemicals are evenly distributed. Plus, it comes with a free warranty, is eligible for rebates, and pays itself off in under a year. According to customer James Robinson, “Great price, quick shipping and delivery. Installed it and turned it on, and it was so quiet that we both reached down to feel if it was vibrating! Simple controls. I’d buy it again.”
Alkalinity and pH: Two Peas in a Pool
Contrary to common belief, alkalinity and pH are not the same. However, they do work closely together.
When you measure the pH of your pool (also an important component of water test strips, by the way!), you’re looking at how acidic or alkaline the water is. However, alkalinity is independent of pH.
Total alkalinity is not measured on the pH scale, but in parts per million (ppm). It’s a separate chemical level that must be checked independently.
That being said, you’ll probably notice that your pool’s pH level will often correlate with your alkalinity level. If your pH is low, your alkalinity is likely low. If your pH is high, your alkalinity is likely high.
This happens often, but not always. These two are in cahoots together, but don’t let them fool you—you still need to check them both every week.
Why You Should Nail Pool Alkalinity
Slightly alkaline water thrives the most in pools—that’s why the ideal pH level for pools is in the range of 7.4 to 7.6. Remember, anything above 7 is alkaline.
Water in this range is easier on your pool equipment and increases your system’s longevity. That means your pool pump, pool filter, plumbing, and more are slated for continuous, healthy use. That’s always great for a pool owner to hear, especially those who just upgraded to a variable-speed pump due to updated federal law in 2021. (If this is you, here’s some consolation: the right variable-speed pump will pay itself off in under a year.)
Perhaps even more importantly, this level keeps water comfortable for swimmers. Ever left the pool with stinging red eyes? You might’ve been taught to blame an excessive amount of chlorine, but the culprit is often water that is just too acidic. Keep in mind, human eyes and mucus membranes have a pH of 7.4.
Again, pH and alkalinity are not the same. So why did I just outline why a slightly-alkaline pH level matters so much? Because without total alkalinity, it wouldn’t be possible.
Alkalinity Affects... Everything
I imagine that if pH were to give a speech at total alkalinity’s wedding, it would start by saying, “Without you, alkalinity, I wouldn’t be who I am today. You were my rock. You supported me when no one else could.”
And it wouldn’t be an exaggeration.
pH is extremely important. It makes swimming comfortable for swimmers, it can help your water from turning cloudy, it can prevent damage to your equipment and the pool itself. It also keeps chlorine working at its best. If you know anything about how sanitizer works to keep your pool safe, that’s huge.
But pH is also extremely sensitive. (Maybe you can tell from the imaginary speech above.) Temperature changes in the water will quickly throw it out of balance, as will foreign substances such as rain, debris, and organic waste.
That’s where alkalinity steps in.
This is why alkalinity is more than just a pH level above 7. When it is added separately, it’s able to act as a pH buffer. To keep pH from being too influenced by external factors, alkaline steps in to take the heat. Adding alkalinity to your pool water is like adding a suit of armor to pH.
Coincidentally, the cheap and effective household ingredient that increases alkalinity often features a blacksmith in the logo.
You just can’t make this stuff up.
And the Secret Is... Baking Soda!
You’ll find tons of alkalinity increasers on the market, usually priced as you’d expect for a pool chemical that can’t be found elsewhere. Except, this one can.
For many brands, alkalinity increasers include just one active ingredient: sodium bicarbonate.
That’s baking soda.
Sodium bicarbonate is just... baking soda, the household ingredient that costs next to nothing and you probably have unopened in a cupboard somewhere.
As you might’ve guessed based on its ingredient, baking soda works just as well as branded alkalinity increasers, but usually costs less.
Just How Much Baking Soda? Let’s Size it Up
How much baking soda you’ll want to measure out for your pool depends on how many gallons your pool contains.
You do know the size of your pool, right?
If you don’t, you’ll want to sort that out, stat. (Seriously, for many reasons beyond alkalinity.) Once you know how many gallons of water are in your pool, measure out 1.5 pounds of baking soda for every 10,000 gallons.
Now that you’ve calculated your pool size, is it evident your above-ground pump isn’t a good fit? Try the Maxi Force 1HP Two-Speed Energy Efficient Pump, which features two different speeds so you can choose the one that’s best for your pool. It runs great and will save you some serious cash on your monthly energy bill.
How to Add Baking Soda to Your Pool
Since adding alkalinity also tends to affect pH, you’re not going to want to overdo it. Follow these steps to add baking soda to your pool the smart way. No regrets.
1. Less is More
Got the baking soda all measured out for your pool size? Now, cut it in half. You’ll only want to add 50-75% of it at first.
2. Gear Up and Go
Using gloves, distribute it in wide arcs across the top of your water. And a word from the wise: either wear goggles or take other preventative measures to make sure this stuff doesn’t end up in your eyeball. Stinging is an understatement.
3. Run the Pump
In order to make sure you don’t have pockets of chemicals (yes, baking soda counts as a chemical), leave your pump running for at least six hours. This will give the baking soda the movement and time to dissolve and evenly distribute itself across your water.
4. Check It Once, (Maybe) Check It Again
Using test strips, check your levels again. Only if they’re below the ideal levels should you add the rest of that baking soda you measured out. Hey, easier to add alkalinity than subtract!
Alkalinity or pH: Different Task, Different Chemical
Let’s clear yet another misconception that stems from pH and alkalinity’s buddy system: baking soda (or sodium bicarbonate) is not the same as soda ash (or sodium carbonate).
As we know now, baking soda is used to raise alkalinity, which also slightly raises pH. Soda ash is used to raise pH, which coincidentally also slightly raises alkalinity.
If your pH is low, use soda ash. If your alkalinity is low, use baking soda.
And let that sink in. Unfortunately, many pool owners waste a lot of chemicals and time because they use the two interchangeably.
Now you won’t be that guy!
One major wrecker of pH and alkalinity? That would be algae, no question. Use the BLACK+DECKER 360-Degree Bristles Pool Brush to keep microspores from attaching to your pool walls and floors. It was developed by longtime pool maintenance experts to prevent aches and pains associated with getting hard-to-reach corners.
It’s All Coming Up Alkaline
That’s a job well done. Now that you know how to use this common chemical to increase alkalinity, keeping your pH and total alkalinity at the perfect levels will be a breeze—which, by the way, hopefully didn’t blow baking soda into your eye.
Not only do you have a heavier wallet, but your waters are going to give an even more comfortable swim. Ahhh...
Congratulations, and see you at the pool.