How to Save Money on Pool Chemicals

I’ve learned a few things about swimming pools after owning one for 12 years.  #1, pools are a huge money pit.  #2, pool chemicals, particularly when sold as such, are extremely expensive.  And #3, for a lot of pool chemicals, you can save a significant amount of money by purchasing the equivalent product from an alternative source.  You just have to know where to look.

This write-up is geared towards concrete/plaster pools with salt water Chlorine generators, but much of the info is applicable to all pools.

Chlorine

If your pool doesn’t have a salt water generator (SWG), liquid chlorine is generally the most economical way to chlorinate.  The trade-off is that it’s more labor intensive than using Trichlor pucks, and the liquid chlorine has a shorter shelf life.

For pools with a SWG, it’s still a good idea to keep some liquid chlorine on hand for shocking, opening/closing the pool, and off-season maintenance.

Standard Clorox bleach is the same thing as liquid pool chlorine, just in a lower concentration. Buy standard, plain old Ultra Clorox, with no added fragrances or other stuff. Check the label for concentration; you want at least 6.25% Sodium Hypochlorite. 2 parts of this is equivalent to 1 part liquid pool chlorine, which is 12.5% Sodium Hypochlorite. The weaker concentration also has a longer shelf life.  Look for house brands at stores like Wal*Mart, but make sure the label clearly shows the product concentration.

In my area, it is still more cost-effective to buy 12.5% pool chlorine in 5-gallon jugs. Namco Pool and Patio sells them for $17 (+ $6 refundable jug deposit) as of 2010, which works out to $3.40/gallon. At this price, you’d have to find Ultra Clorox at $1.70/gallon to get the same value.

Salt

If you have a SWG pool, you’ll periodically need to add salt to it.  Look for “solar salt” at Home Depot or Lowes, in 40lb and 80lb blue bags. It is sold for use with water softeners, and typically goes for around $5 for 40lbs. Look in the aisle with the water heaters and water softener systems. There has never been a discount for buying the 80lb bags, so I get the 40lb bags for ease in handling.  Don’t use table salt; it contains iodine and you don’t want that in your pool.

Alkalinity Increaser

Arm & Hammer Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate) is the same stuff as the “Alkalinity Increaser” the pool stores sell. We buy the big bags of it sold at warehouse clubs. It’s typically less than half the price of the pool store stuff.  Another bonus: it’s classified as a food/grocery product, so in most states, you won’t pay sales tax on it either.

pH Reducer

If you have a plaster pool and/or use a SWG or any kind of hypochlorite product (liquid chlorine or Calcium Hypochlorite powder), your pool’s pH will tend to rise over time and you’ll need to periodically add acid to lower it.  Look for Muriatic Acid at Lowes, in the paint section near the turpentine and paint thinner. It is sold in gallon jugs. I have never found it at Home Depot.  Muriatic acid is significantly cheaper than “dry acid” or sodium bisulfate, which is typically sold for pools.  The trade-off is that it’s more hazardous to store, so be careful with it.  Be careful: you want the stuff with the orange label, not the “safer muriatic acid” with the green label.

One year at Home Depot, I scored several 8-pound jugs of Sodium Bisulfate (dry acid) at around $2.50 a jug. This is an amazing deal, probably cheaper than wholesale. I think it was around December. You can’t count on finding a deal like this every year, but sometimes it does pay to check the pool sections in big box stores during the off season.

Calcium Hardness Increaser

In plaster pools, it’s important to keep the water from getting too soft, or it will become corrosive to the pool plaster.  Look for bags of Calcium Chloride ice melter at the big box stores in the winter. In early 2010, I found 50lb bags of this at Home Depot for around $17, which is about ¼ the price you’d pay for the same stuff at a pool store. The catch is, you have to read the label carefully. You want pure Calcium Chloride, and it can’t be mixed in with any other chemical. Most winters, the box stores sell blends of different chemicals, which are cheaper by the pound than Calcium Chloride, but you don’t want to put them in your pool.

Cyanuric Acid

Sold as “stabilizer/conditioner.” Can’t really cheat with this stuff, unfortunately, as it doesn’t have many applications outside swimming pools. It often sells at $4-5/lb at pool stores. If I had an opportunity to buy this at wholesale, I’d stock up. But lacking that, I’ve shopped around for online deals, and the best price I’ve found currently is at Inyo Pool Products, at $70 for a 25lb pail. That’s $2.80/lb, plus a $5 handling fee per order. Dry cyanuric acid lasts forever, so stock up.

Test Kit Reagent Refills

These really add up, particularly the good quality reagents from Taylor. Surprisingly, the best online prices I’ve found are at Leslie’s Poolmart, where shipping is free for orders over $50.  As of 2011, you can also buy refills directly from Taylor on their web site.

Snowpocalypse

Unfortunately, Snowpocalypse 2010 has put the brakes on bike commuting for the time being this winter.  If I can’t do it safely, I don’t do it, and the roads are not in good shape for biking.  I’ll be back out as soon as some of it melts, and/or I can find a safe route to take.

Over the past couple days, I’ve driven along some of my favorite bike-commuting routes, and here are my observations.

  • Lawyers Hill Rd and Levering Ave: Bare pavement, both lanes, a little narrow.  Doesn’t carry much traffic, so I would have no problem biking this.
  • River Rd between Lawyers Hill and Patapsco State Park: bare pavement, 1 lane wide.
  • River Rd park entrance: blocked by a giant mountain of snow and will probably be that way for a long time.  Access road hasn’t been touched.
  • US 1 between South St and Levering Ave: pretty good shape in both directions, but a couple spots where icy slush blocks the entire shoulder, which would necessitate riding out into the right lane.
  • Montgomery Rd between US 1 and Marshalee Ave: not too bad in most spots, but missing shoulder in places.  Would not feel comfortable biking this during rush hour.
  • Montgomery Rd between Marshalee Ave and Rockburn Dr: no shoulder.  Non-starter.
  • Rockburn Dr: one lane, poorly plowed and icy.
  • Kerger Rd: bare pavement, a bit narrow.  Could bike here.
  • Ilchester Rd between Kerger and Beechwood: Similar to south Montgomery.
  • Landing Rd: glanced at it while driving by on Ilchester, and what I saw did not look good.
  • Beechwood, Bonnie Branch and River Rds: single lane clear.  Could bike in a pinch, but not ideal.
  • Hilltop and Thistle Rds were both unplowed and closed off at River Rd.
  • Frederick Rd between River Rd and Oella Ave (Ellicott City Side): best of the lot.  Shoulders fully clear.
  • Oella Ave: single lane, not plowed very well.
  • Wilkens Ave from Rolling Rd to UMBC: decent shape, shoulder clear.  Bikeable.

On the way home, I’ll check out the conditions through Relay and Halethorpe.  But it looks like any route I take is going to be non-ideal, so I will have to pick the lesser of the evils.  Currently, that appears to be Lawyers Hill to Levering to U.S. 1, to South St and through Relay and Halethorpe (depending on what shape those roads are in; I’ll find out later today).

UMBC is cleared out as well as can be expected.  The head-in parking on Hilltop Circle works in my favor in these conditions, because to allow for parking, they have to clear the “buffer zone” between the road and the parking spots, which provides room to ride out of the travel lane.  Most, but not all, of the loop is clear.  But all the same, there are enough walkways clear that I can just cut through campus on foot if I had to.  All in all, they did a pretty good job.

On a totally unrelated note..  The other day I noticed that Home Depot was selling 50lb bags of Calcium Chloride “ice melter” pellets for around $17.  Calcium Chloride is among the more expensive alternatives for ice melter, and it’s not common to find it being sold as such at retail around here.  It is common to find it at swimming pool stores, where it’s sold as “Calcium Hardness Increaser”, often at prices of over $2 a pound.  So while $17 may seem like a lot to pay for 50lbs of ice melter, it’s an amazing bargain for 50lbs of  “Calcium Hardness Increaser.”  So, I picked up a bag to use in the pool this spring.  I would have bought more, but apparently I got the last bag in the store.