What to Do When Your Pool Pump Won’t Turn On

Uh oh. Looks like you’re here because your pool pump won’t turn on. That’s a major bummer, but let’s take a moment to bring to mind all the fun and relaxing times you’ve had, floating or splashing in your pool. You’ll need those memories for this next part, because nothing goes as planned all the time—and your pool pump is no exception. And although you might be perplexed as to why it suddenly won’t turn on, it’s surprisingly easy to diagnose the issue and get the fix your pump needs. Chances are, the problem is either electric or due to clogged debris—and I’ll show you exactly how to tell which.

Yes, You Need a Working Pool Pump. Here’s Why

Frustration is the quickest path to losing perspective, but don’t stop using a pump. This is rule number one of pool maintenance: your pool pump is essential. It functions as the absolute hub of your pool’s circulation system by filtering out dirty particles from your pool water and evenly distributing cleaning chemicals. No pump means no circulation, which in turn means no cleaning—which means that you’ll be swimming in a cesspool of algae and worse. Pathogenic bacteria, anyone? Not for me, thanks.

what to do when your pool pump won't turn on

It’s Electric! (Probably.)

When your pool pump won’t turn on, the first place to look is for all issues electric: your breaker, your wiring, and the capacitor. It sounds complicated, I know—but it’s not.

And by the way, if your pump is automatic, go ahead and check its timer to make sure it’s on in the first place. Just while you’re at it. You know, covering all my bases here.

Want to improve your pump’s flow rate while you’re at it? Try a booster pump like the dual-voltage Universal Booster Pump to increase performance. According to customer Jerad Wilson, “Great pump, quick delivery, and great pricing. Would buy from here again.”

Missed Connections: It Might Be Your Breaker and Wiring.

If your pump isn’t coming on at all, it might not be the pump’s fault. First, check your power source. Many outdoor outlets have their own power breakers—and it’s possible yours needs to be tripped. If that’s the issue then you’re good to go for now, but if it happens again you might need to check your pump’s voltage and make sure it matches the capacity of your outlet

You’ll also want to check the external wiring between your pump and its outlet. Just make sure your wires aren’t frayed, and cut up, or were some backyard critter’s latest dinner. If everything looks good, keep reading.

what to do when your pool pump won't turn on

Next, Check the Capacitor.

Meet the capacitor. Air conditioning units have them, clothes dryers have them, even your car audio system needs one to really get amping. Capacitors start your pump by giving it the jolt of electricity it needs to power on.

If your pump doesn’t turn on and instead makes a humming sound, it could be a problem with your capacitor or a jammed motor. But if it makes a humming sound that continues until your circuit breaker trips, you can be fairly certain it’s a flawed capacitor.

While you can technically replace the capacitor yourself, I have to admit—it’s a little tricky. Only do it if you have some experience and be careful: it can still store power, even if it’s not working. Have an old pump? It’s better to replace the entire one—or just get a new one. Federal law is about to make variable-speed pumps virtually mandatory, so now is the perfect time to take the money-saving leap.

Since variable-speed pumps only save more with time, the sooner the better. Get the 1.5 HP Variable Speed Blue Torrent Thunder In-Ground Swimming Pool Pump—it pays itself off in under a year, is eligible for rebates, and also comes with a lifetime warranty.

Hmm… Think Your Motor Might Be Jammed.

If your pump won’t start and you hear a humming noise that doesn’t trip your circuit, you probably have a jam on your hands. The only way to check this is to open up your pump, which is a bit of work. But even if you don’t find a jam, your efforts pay off: it gives you a chance to check for the other possible cause: bad bearings.

what to do when your pool pump won't turn on

Open Your Pump and Clear the Jam.

Check your motor shaft, the big horizontal tube inside of your pump which rotates with the help of the impeller. Double-checking that your pump is unplugged and off, open it up and give the motor shaft a spin. If it won’t rotate, debris has probably built up, blocked the impeller, and rendered the pump temporarily useless for anything but saying “hmm.”

You’ll need to dislodge the impeller to get at the muck, so (again, with power off) remove the screws in the middle of the pump body, pull the motor assumbly out, and remove the gasket (that’s the O-shaped rubber seal) away from the impeller. Get rid of all that debris, reinstall the parts, and allow yourself a moment of celebration for a job well done.

Oops, Not Jammed? Check Your Bearings.

Still no luck? If your impeller had no debris and looks like it should be in working shape, you might have corroded bearings. Bearings are mounted on the motor to reduce friction as the motor shaft spins. If your bearings are worn out, you’ll need to change them or replace the entire motor—unfortunately, lubrication won’t do.

The replacement bearings themselves are relatively inexpensive, but the labor gets tough. A replacement install requires a special bearing puller, as well as two different bearing sizes. Before calling it a lost cause—or calling a professional—use a hammer to tap the top of the motor casing a few times to dislodge built-up rust inside the motor. While not guaranteed, this trick is so easy it’s worth a try. If this works, consider yourself lucky.

Above-ground pumps are notorious for not starting up due to electrical issues. Try the Copper Force Above Ground Pool Pump, which has a start capacitor to circumvent this very issue. According to customer Doug Paar, “The pump is very quiet and has good pressure. I would recommend.”

No Luck? If Your Pump is Shot, Get on Track.

If you’re still here, I have some tough talk: you’re going to need a new pump. But the end of an era is the beginning of great opportunity. Take this moment to get a serious upgrade for your pool and your wallet: a variable-speed pump will pay itself off in energy saved in under a year, and is often eligible for rebates. Just make sure you get one with a lifetime warranty, so you never have to come to this article again. I’ll miss you! 

what to do when your pool pump won't turn on

You Did Swimmingly.

You sorted out your pool pump and prevented an inadvertent, giant pond from stinking up your backyard—that’s incredible. Now that you’re a certifiable pool pump detective, you’re ready to handle any pool problem that comes your way. In the meantime, you let go of the happy swimming memories you called to mind when we started—it’s time to make new ones. Enjoy.

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