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.

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This morning’s fun

Today’s pool maintenance fun..

  1. Spend 30 minutes with the leafmaster, vacuuming up all the junk at the bottom of the pool from the storms last night.
  2. Achieve pleasant sense of accomplishment and well-being as I begin to remove the leafmaster from the now-clean pool.
  3. Watch leafmaster bag separate from leafmaster as I’m pulling it out of the pool, spewing all the junk back into the pool where it immediately settles back to the bottom.
  4. Mutter some choice words as I attempt to re-attach bag to leafmaster while it helpfully sprays water all over me and the pool deck.
  5. Check that bag is secure and repeat step 1.
  6. Pull leafmaster out of pool, this time with no mishaps, but now, instead of being happy, I’m sweaty and irritable.  But at least the pool is clean again.

Ever think you might want your own pool?  Forget it and go join the neighborhood pool.  Thank me later 🙂

Gorilla Glue Test

We have an automatic cleaner for our swimming pool.  It’s the kind that runs on water pressure and uses a booster pump.  I have kind of a love-hate relationship with it.  When it works, it works great, but when it doesn’t, I’m constantly swearing at it.  It’s got a lot of moving parts (belts, gears, you name it) and it seems like something breaks on it every year.  Anyhow, this year it was the automatic backup valve’s turn to break.

The backup valve is a big conglomeration of gears driven by a paddle wheel.  It’s actually quite ingenious.  The gears drive a rotating port that changes the flow of water through the valve every several minutes, which causes the pool cleaner to “back up,” which is an essential feature as it’s continually getting stuck in the pool’s corners.  One of the gears is held in place by a small retaining clip, and at some point this year the clip came off and disappeared into the great unknown.  The result was that the gear no longer stayed on the shaft.  It would stay there for awhile, but eventually it would fall off and the backup valve would stop cycling.

Lacking a matching retaining clip, I wasn’t sure how to fix this without shelling out megabucks for a new valve.  So I decided to try Gorilla Glue. We picked up a bottle of this awhile back, and it’s pretty impressive stuff.  One of its interesting properties is that it expands as it cures, sort of like that expanding aerosol spray foam stuff.  This can be a pain when you’re using it to repair furniture, as the glue tends to ooze out of the repair as it cures.  But, it’s exactly what I needed in this case.  I just stuck the gear on the shaft and added a dab of Gorilla Glue, and it expanded into a small blob, holding the gear in place perfectly.

So anyways, Gorilla Glue claims to be waterproof.  During pool season (which runs from Memorial Day through around the end of September in these parts), The pool cleaner spends 90% of its time at the bottom of the pool, submerged in chemically treated water.  I made the repair somewhere around the end of June, and it’s been mostly submerged ever since.  At the end of pool season, I’ll take the valve apart and see how well the repair has held up.  I’ve had no problems with the backup valve since making the repair, which I take as a good sign.  But I can’t think of a better way to see how waterproof this stuff really is.  Stay tuned!