Pool Water Testing 101: The Easiest Way to Check Your Levels

Imagine this: you step out into a warm day with a towel on your shoulders, swim trunks on, and a cool can in your hand. When you look down at your crystal clear pool, you take a long exhale and dive right in. Now imagine this: when you look down at your pool, the only thing that looks like it’ll be swimming is that bad feeling in your stomach. What’s the difference between these two scenarios? In the first, you were testing your water every week—and in the second, you weren’t.

Thankfully, testing your pool water couldn’t be more effortless. I’ll explain what chemical balance is, why it’s important to prevent any costly pool disasters, why eyeballing your water just won’t work, the right levels for all the chemicals you’ll need, a breakdown of options for testing the water, and finally, how to test your water the easiest way possible. Hey, I really meant it when I said this would be a 101 course. We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s go.

A Refresh on Chemical Balance

If you were never exactly a natural whiz in chemistry class, you might be a little hesitant to start balancing your pool chemicals—but trust me, it’s a lot easier than it sounds. And it really couldn’t be more necessary. Unfortunately, your pool water isn’t going to naturally repel algae, bacteria, and other nasty contaminants all on its own. In fact, microorganisms that have the potential to make you sick both thrive and procreate in untreated water. Leaving your water untouched by any chemicals will eventually lead to a pea-green swamp where a pool once was. Soup, anyone? Didn’t think so.

Balance Now Saves Serious Bucks Later!

Like the rest of any accurate DIY pool maintenance itinerary, achieving chemical balance in your pool every week is a preventative measure. By keeping your chemicals at the right levels in the short run, you’re saving a load of cash in the long run—not to mention time. Untreated pool water left for even a week or two can lead to a bacteria and algae infestation, do damage to the walls of your pool, and wear out that expensive pool equipment, like your pump and filter. The best part? It only takes a few minutes every week to keep your pool on track. Now I’d say that’s well worth it—wouldn’t you?

With all chemicals you add to your water, circulation is key. For above-ground pools, you can determine that horsepower that’s right for you with the Single Speed Dual Port Replacement Pump. According to customer Lisa Dabrawsky, “Love the new pump. Before, I couldn’t sit outside with the old pump running. This one is so quiet. Thanks."

pool water testing 101, the easiest way to check your levels

Why Should the Water Be Tested 

It’s tempting to give your pool water the look over and consider it good to go—but that’s the kind of move that is going to give you a big bill of trouble. The explanation why is simple: when it comes to the health of your pool water, we’re talking about what is happening at the microscopic level. Whether your levels are on target or not is simply invisible to the human eye. And once that’s no longer true, you’ve already got a massive mess on your hands. The reason why you should test your pool water is so that you can prevent cloudy pool water, or water that is uncomfortable or even unsafe to swim in. Unfortunately, eyeballing it just won’t do the trick.

Check Your Inventory: You’ll Need These Chemicals 

Most people, whether they own pools or not, are familiar with what chlorine is—and for good reason, since it’s widely available, super affordable, and reliably effective. You can thank chlorine for neutralizing all that nasty and potentially dangerous bacteria, not to mention all those organic contaminants swimmers leave behind like hair, skin cells, sunscreen, soap... the list goes on, but I won’t gross you out with more details. Sanitizer is one of the most important parts of what makes a pool swimmable, enjoyable, and safe. But like most other aspects of your pool’s greater circulation system, it doesn’t work unless it’s supported by a few different elements. In order for chlorine to work at its maximum capacity, it’s important that you have the right pool pump, that your pump is running the proper amount of time, that your filter isn’t due for a cleaning—and that all of the other chemicals you add to your pool are currently at the perfect levels. Any prepared pool owner, including you, should have the following chemicals on hand: 

- Chlorine, or other sanitizer

- pH increaser

- pH decreaser 

- Alkalinity increaser 

- Calcium hardness increaser

Plus, you might want to use the following—but only if you actually need them:

- Algaecide, if you’ve struggled with algae infestations in the past. This chemical is better as a preventative tool against possible algae blooms. When you do have an infestation, you should be reaching for a powerful and reliable pool shock.

- Metal sequestrant, which will get rid of rust-colored or green stains on the walls and floor of your pool. Cleaning your pool often should prevent these stains from forming.

In order to keep your sanitizer working at optimal levels, it’s also important to shock your pool about once a week with 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. As customer W Graves says, “Perfectly good shock at a third of the regular brick-and-mortar stores’ price. What’s not to like?” 

pool water testing 101, the easiest way to check your levels

What Perfect Levels?

Don’t worry, I wasn’t going to leave you hanging there. Let’s make sure we’ve got the levels straight—though we’ll just go through this briefly, since the water testing method we’re about to implement will make it clear when you’re below or above the target level.

If you are using chlorine, your ideal level is going to be 3 parts per million (ppm). Go below it for too long, and you can expect milky or green water. Go above it, and you might get swimmer irritation.

For your pH, you want to land anywhere between 7.4 and 7.6. This happens to also be close to the pH of human eyes and mucus membranes, which is 7.4. Like chlorine, a proper pH balance will keep the people in your pool comfortable.

Alkalinity should be at 125 ppm, though it can be anywhere between 100 ppm and 150 ppm safely. The job of alkalinity is to keep your pH from being influenced by external factors. Instead, it takes the heat. Keep in mind that there is no alkalinity decreaser. If your alkalinity is too high, use a pH decreaser to decrease alkalinity, and then use a pH increaser to get your pH back to perfect. 

The ideal level for calcium hardness depends on the type of pool: it’s typically from 175 to 225 ppm, but it’s also going to be 200 to 275 ppm for concrete and plaster pools.

Now we’ve got our levels down, let’s judge the best way to test them.

The Water Testing Competition: Liquid Test Strips, Taking a Sample to the Pool Store, and Test Strips

Just like many other aspects of owning a pool, when it comes to testing your chemical levels in the water, you’ve got options. This is a great thing—it means that you can tailor your weekly checkup to your specific needs. The three contestants are liquid test strips, taking a sample to the pool store, and test strips. Personally, I think there’s a clear winner here, but feel free to choose your own. I tend to go for what works, what’s easy, and what will save you some cash.

Liquid Test Strips: The Runner Up

In last place, we have liquid test strips. Yes, they sometimes can test more comprehensively than test strips (that is, if you use them right!). But they’re also massively more expensive, and much more complicated to use. I’d rather save that cash for a nice pool heat pump to extend the swim season—wouldn’t you? 

Taking a Sample to Local Pool Store: Second Place

It might sound easy to take a sample of your pool water to a pool store near you, but it’s just not the right approach for weekly check-ups. It’s too much of a hassle, and over time, that cost is going to add up. I recommend this method for when there’s something off with your pool chemistry and you just can’t sort out what it is. Otherwise, let’s move right on to the winner.

Test Strips: Winner!

Inexpensive, easy, and quick: pool water test strips do it all, and do it best. They come in bulk, so that you’ll rarely run out. And they couldn’t be simpler to do at home. Plus, they can be more accurate than liquid test kits, since there’s less room for human error. Now, let’s get into how to use them.

Do you have a variable-speed pool pump yet—and the lower monthly energy bills to show for it? The Blue Torrent 2 HP Variable-Speed Pump is the one to try—it’s ultra-powerful, allows for more thorough circulation, is eligible for rebates, and pays itself off in under a year in energy saved. As customer Dave Schmidt says, “My pool has never looked cleaner. I am pleased with my new pump!”

How to Test Your Pool’s Water—In Five Quick Steps

This is going to be a walk in the waterpark. You’ll want strips that check for at least pH, alkalinity, and whatever sanitizer type you’ve got. If you use a salt water generator or bromine, there are test strips out there for you, too.

1.     Dip a Test Strip Into the Water

First, dip a test strip anywhere in your pool water. This test strip will only be accurate as long as you have proper circulation of water in your pool—that’s one of the many reasons why I recommend a variable-speed pump. No need to hold the strip under for a prolonged amount of time, since this is designed to be a quick test. Just dip it in, and pull it out.

2.     Hold It Still

No need to shake that strip out—this isn’t a cologne paper. Go ahead and hold the test strip in the air for about fifteen seconds, so that the sample can set. 

3.     Check Out Those Colors

That test strip should be looking pretty colorful by now. Go ahead and match it up with the colors on the packaging of the box or tube it came in. The actual reading should be fairly straightforward—since we’re working with colors, you don’t have to worry about the actual level numbers so much. Though a good test strip will list those, too.

4.     Adjust Your Chemicals

Go ahead and rebalance your chemicals now, according to the target colors on the packaging of your test strip box or tube. It’s a good idea to use another test strip afterward to make sure you nailed it.

 5.     Repeat Every Week

Couldn’t have been easier, right? Good—you’re going to want to repeat this process every week for as long as you have a pool. And I promise: it’s never going to get harder than this.

If you’re going to opt in for a dual-speed pump, you should get one that is cost-effective, reliable, and quiet—the 2020 Maxi Force 1.5 HP Two Speed Above-Ground Pump is for you. As pool owner Mark Wallace said, “Just hooked the pump up yesterday. Extremely quiet—I can’t hear mine but I can hear my neighbor’s. I’m very satisfied.”

pool water testing 101, the easiest way to check your levels

You Passed!

Whew, that was quite an extensive tutorial—but the actual work couldn’t have been more straightforward. Now that you’re in the know, your life as a pool owner is going to get a splash easier. That leaves all the more time to actually spend time in a crystal-clear, sparkling pool. Don’t forget sunscreen, and—enjoy.


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