How to Clear Up Cloudy Pool Water: Causes and Solutions
Having your own pool is great. No more swimming in crowded public pools or paying for tickets to get in all summer. The only trick is that having your own pool means doing your pool maintenance, and, if you’ve ever had something go wrong, you know how serious a problem it can be.
One of the most common concerns for home pool owners is cloudy water. It can be hard to understand how a pool can go from crystal clear water one day, to cloudy the next.
Here’s what you need to know about what cloudy pool water is, what it means, the risks and health problems associated with it, and, most importantly, how you can get your pool water clean and clear again.
Why is Pool Water Cloudy?
There are 7 main causes of cloudy pool water, and it’s important to know each of them so you can correctly diagnose and fix the problem.
The 7 main causes of the cloudy pool water are:
- Improper chlorine levels or balance
- Imbalanced PH (your pool may be too alkaline)
- High calcium hardness
- Faulty or clogged filtration
- An early phase of an algae bloom
- Excess ammonia
- Excess debris
Thankfully, for the 4 most common causes of cloudy pool water, there are also straightforward solutions.
However, all of these problems can potentially pose a health and safety risk for anyone using the pool. So if you notice cloudy pool water, it’s best to avoid swimming until you’re able to test the water and fix whatever is causing the problem.
How to Diagnose Cloudy Pool Water?
The most common cause of cloudy water is a low level of free chlorine. This might sound backward, but having a low level of free chlorine can actually mean that your pool smells more strongly of chlorine than it would normally.
Ideally, your free chlorine, or FC levels, should be between 1-3 ppm (parts per million) or combined chlorine above .5ppm, you will need to shock your pool to fix the chlorine problem and clear the water. In saltwater pools, this means shutting down your chlorine generator and manually shocking the pool.
However, in the summer or just after you get your pool up and running again after the winter cold, you could also be dealing with ammonia or algae. This happens because of low FC, and also because your cyanuric acid levels are low. Unfortunately, the best solution here is also to add a lot of chlorine to the pool to clear the ammonia and help your filtration system get back to normal working order.
Other problems, like imbalanced chemicals, a faulty filter, or environmental factors (like having a lot of dust settle in your pool because your next-door neighbor is doing a lot of landscaping or construction) can be solved by testing your pool water and adjusting accordingly.
If the cause of your cloudy water isn’t immediately obvious, running tests on water quality can help you diagnose the problem.
Solutions for Cloudy Pool Water
The most common solution for cloudy pool water is either increasing your filtration to make sure you’re getting enough circulation or adding more chlorine to help restore the proper balance of chemicals.
Knowing which solution you need to take can be a more difficult part of the process.
First, you need to test the water. Any pool owner should have a standard pool testing kit that will tell you what level of each chemical your pool needs and will test and tell you if you’re at the right concentration.
You also need to know how big your pool is so you can calculate how much of each chemical you need if you’re making a correction. Over-chlorinating your pool can cause as many issues as under-chlorinating it.
For instance, if you have high pH due to high Total Alkalinity (TA) you can add muriatic acid. Simply reducing your pH could help resolve cloudiness and calcium scaling.
For other problems, like high calcium hardness, the only solution is to partially drain the pool and refill to reduce the overbuildup in the water.
Increasing the pump and filter runtime will also help removing suspended matter that could be attributed to cloudiness. Adding a clarifier will increase its effectiveness.
Preventing Cloudy Pool Water
Most important in all of this is learning to prevent cloudy pool water in the first place. Getting cloudy water almost always means extra time and expense before you’ll be able to use your pool again. These problems are almost entirely preventable with good pool maintenance and monitoring.
Some tricks to prevent cloudy pool water include:
- Pool shocking weekly
- Maintaining chlorine levels between 1-3ppm
- Keeping PH between 7.2-7.6 (just slightly acidic)
- Running your pump for at least 8 hours every day
- Regularly replacing filter cartridges
- Perform filter inspections at least 2x a year
- Use a pool brush to sweep any debris away from filter areas, and to keep the pool surface clean
- Position pool jets downward for better circulation
- Shock your pool more often if you’re getting frequent rain or if your pool is getting more use than normal
- Encourage swimmers to rinse off before getting in the pool
Frequently Asked Questions
Is It Okay To Swim In A Cloudy Pool?
No. While there are some causes of cloudy water that aren’t immediately harmful or dangerous, it’s impossible to know for sure if you’re dealing with a potentially risky problem or a safe one until you’ve tested the water. Head and neck injuries have could occur by diving into water in which one does not know its depth.
Even if testing rules out problems like an algae bloom or high ammonia, having ‘safe’ problems that cause cloudy water can still allow more bacteria and viruses in your pool water, causing more problems.
Additionally, swimming in cloudy pool water can make it harder to treat the problem, which means more time for additional problems to develop.
Can Your Pool Surroundings Cause Cloudy Water?
Yes, though this situation is relatively rare. If you’re doing landscaping, getting a lot of pollen in your neighborhood, or live somewhere with dust storms, frequent rains, or where there is a lot of fertilized ground, those things can contribute to cloudy water.
That’s because of dust and debris, plus the risk of mineral and ammonia-rich runoff from fertilized land.
Positioning your pool to avoid the worst runoff, shocking your pool after rain storms, and covering your pool when you know that there is dust or pollen in the air can solve these problems.
Will high chlorine levels cause cloudy water?
Yes. Having too much chlorine (or any other chemical) in your pool can cause the pH of your pool water to change too much. High pH (alkaline), high chlorine, and too low alkalinity (low PH) can all make your pool water cloudy.
If you suspect that there might be too much chlorine in your pool it’s important to run a test on the water to check your PH, chlorine levels, and other potential problems.
How Can I Clarify My Pool Water Naturally?
You can create a naturally filtered pool a few different ways, though setting up these pools can be difficult and it is challenging to get the right balance of filtration and pool space. That said, there are also chlorine alternatives for traditional pools that might seem more natural, though all of them involve some amount of chemically interfering with the water.
For example, ozone is a more effective treatment option than chlorine and is odorless. Magnesium treatments, bromine, and even baking soda can all be used to help clarify and maintain pool water as well. UV radiation can also be used in combination with other disinfecting agents to reduce the number of chemicals needed to keep your pool water safe and clear. Copper ionization is the most popular chlorine alternative and would eliminate many of the issues listed above.
There are a lot of ways to keep your pool water clear and safe, but it’s important to make sure you aren’t swimming in even marginally clear water because of the health risks and risk of infections from cloudy water.
Fortunately, a home test kit is usually all you need to diagnose the problem, and you shouldn’t need any new or different chemicals to address 99% of the problems that cause cloudy water in home pools.
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