Pool Stabilizer 101: Protect Your Chlorine Levels for a Safe Swim

Like other important areas of our lives, like homes and relationships, our pools benefit from being stable. But while having some sense of stability allows us to live better, your pool’s sanitizer needs stability to work at all.

Here’s why. Chlorine is cheap, widely-available, and super-effective at treating pool water. But if left on its own, it simply can’t handle the heat. It actually chemically breaks down and stops working in sunlight.

Pool stabilizer to the rescue. It protects the chemical makeup of chlorine to keep it safe from the sun. Think of it as powerful, life-saving sunscreen for a vampire. And the best part? Depending on how you want to approach pool stabilizer, you won’t have to do anything special to keep your chlorine protected.

I’ll explain what pool stabilizer is, what it does, when and how much to use, and finally, how to add pool stabilizer to your pool. Things are about to get… stable.

What’s Pool Stabilizer?

Pool stabilizer is also known as cyanuric acid, and a whole other host of names including conditioner—but you wouldn’t want to put this stuff in your hair. It’s a strong chemical that’s meant just for pool water, and it comes in either liquid, granular, or tablet form. And not in a shampoo bar kind of way.

Essentially, cyanuric acid (again, that’s the chemical name for pool stabilizer) is a type of chemical compound called a triazine. This term refers to the fact that it contains three nitrogen and three carbon atoms. And that’s as much about the actual chemistry that you need to know.

Most importantly, you need to know what pool stabilizer does—and you’ve probably never even heard of cyanuric acid. And that’s no surprise, since we spend most of our time talking about sanitizers, and most importantly chlorine. But although cyanuric acid isn’t a household name, the entire chemical production of your pool—including the elimination of harmful bacteria—would be ruined without it.

If you buy chlorine in granular (also known as dichlor) or tablet (this one’s called trichlor) form, chances are it already has pool stabilizer built in. When chlorine is already combined with cyanuric acid, it’s usually labeled as stabilized chlorine. This saves you the time and effort of adding cyanuric acid to your sanitizer yourself—and from having to handle a dangerous, acidic chemical. And since you won’t need to add cyanuric acid, you won’t have to buy it in the first place.

If you use chlorine that comes in a liquid form, listen up. You’re going to be adding cyanuric acid manually, which means you’ll need to know exactly what it is.

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So… What Does Pool Stabilizer Do?

Pool stabilizer acts like a bodyguard for chlorine against its bully, the sun. When you put chlorine without pool stabilizer (that is, unstabilized chlorine) in your pool, its chemical makeup transforms to a compound called sodium hypochlorite, which is made up of ions. When ultraviolet rays (a.k.a. light from the sun) hit those ions, they break apart and render your chlorine ineffective.

The stats support this. In as little as under twenty minutes of exposure to the sun, your chlorine could be 50% less effective. And it only gets worse from there. But of course, that’s only if you don’t have the appropriate dose of pool stabilizer in your water.

When Pool Stabilizer Can Cause Problems

If you use chlorine that comes in granular or tablet form, you’re not exactly out of the woods. Because you’re not manually controlling how much pool stabilizer you’re using, you can actually add too much. This will give your pool a problem called “creep,” which means that your pool stabilizer levels creep and creep up to be way too high over time.

So what happens when pool stabilizer levels creep up? Get ready for a mouthful: oxidation reduction potential. Basically, ORP is a figure that shows you how well your chlorine is working. Regardless of how much chlorine you put into your pool, pool stabilizer reduces ORP. If you add too much or your levels rise too high over time, your chlorine will be rendered completely null. That means no working chlorine, no working pool stabilizer, and a lot of wasted money and time.

If you use liquid chlorine and need to increase your pool stabilizer, increase your pool stabilizer. But once you have the right amount in your pool, you rarely need to add more—this chemical is known to maintain fairly consistent levels over time.

If you’re adding in trichlor or dichlor, and don’t have as much control over the levels of pool stabilizer in your pool, that’s another story. Because these forms of chlorine are formulated to have just enough cyanuric acid, you probably won’t have to deal with super spiked levels over time. If you do, dilute your water by giving your pool a partial drain.

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What About Non-Chlorine Pools?

You might have noticed that I’m specifically talking about using stabilizer for chlorine pools. That’s because they’re the only swimming pool type that really needs pool stabilizer. Pools that use a different sanitizer than chlorine are in the clear. If you use a saltwater cell, your generator is making ultra-stable chlorine on-site, with no need for this protective chemical. If you use biguanide to sanitize your water, you’re also in the clear. Biguanide is light-stable, which means that its levels won’t lower as a result of sunshine or heat. So if this is you, close this window and go take a dip for the rest of us studying up.

How Much Pool Stabilizer Should I Use?

Since effective chlorine is a matter of safety, I’m turning to the authorities on health for how to nail the right levels in your pool.

According to the World Health Organization, the pool stabilizer (remember, this is also known as cyanuric acid) levels in your swimming pool should never be above 100 parts per million (ppm). To take that one step further, I’d recommend that you keep your cyanuric acid levels around 50 ppm. This will keep your chlorine working at its optimal level—that means better control over algae spores and cloudy, murky water. Less problems, less money you’re spending on a good swim.

In order to know how much stabilizer is in your water, you need to do what we always do to check chemical balance—use water test strips. But when it comes to pool stabilizer, you’ll want to double-check that your test strips include “stabilizer” or “cyanuric acid” levels. Once you have those, it’s as easy as dipping your strip into the water, giving it a gentle swirl, pulling the strip out, and waiting for the common-sense reading.

How to Add Pool Stabilizer to Your Pool

You know you have to do a partial drain to decrease pool stabilizer if your levels are too high. But what about increasing pool stabilizer?

If you’re using liquid chlorine, or your water is reading low on pool stabilizer for some other reason, it’s time to get this process down pat. Here’s the safest way to add cyanuric acid to your pool—because it’s an acid, it does have the capability to damage your filter and pool liner, so we’re going to take caution.

  1. First, you’ll want to gather up safety goggles, acid-resistant gloves, a large bucket, and warm water. Put on those safety goggles and gloves before you do anything else. Closed-toed shoes are also essential.
  1. Next, fill your bucket with about two and a half gallons of warm water.
  1. Add a dose of cyanuric acid to the bucket. You’ll want about 13 ounces of cyanuric acid to gain 10 ppm in a 10,000 gallon pool. Make sure you know the size of your pool and your current cyanuric acid levels—and check the measurements your manufacturer recommends, too.
  1. Pour the contents of the bucket directly into your skimmer. Since the cyanuric acid is diluted and your skimmer is more receptive to its acidic nature, this method will protect your pool.
  1. Run your pool pump for the proper daily runtime, which is usually around eight hours. This will circulate the chemical evenly across your pool water.

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Stability, Stability, Stability

Hear that? That’s the sound of the chlorine in your water not breaking down in sunlight. You now know the lowdown on pool stabilizer, which means you can keep your levels right on the mark—and your sanitizer killing off all the bad guys it needs. Here’s to stability. Enjoy.