The customer was a single mom moving into a home with a swimming pool.
“I remember her coming in. She was completely terrified,” said Tabatha Poling, who at the time, the mid-1990s, was opening a new Leslie’s Pool Supplies store in Tennessee. “She had no idea of what to do, how to do it.
“She had never taken care of a pool before.”
So Poling reached out and guided the woman through the science of pool water chemistry. By the end of that swim season, the woman was confident about what it took to maintain water quality.
Poling figures if that single mom can learn about keeping swimming pool water sparkling and chemically sound, well, just about anyone can.
“Absolutely,” said Poling, who has been with Leslie’s for more than 30 years. She started out as an associate in store No. 1, in North Hollywood, California, and today is vice president of service operations, based in Phoenix and overseeing the company’s repair and installation technicians.
Poling said one of Leslie’s chief goals is to educate customers about taking care of their own pools. Such care only appears intimidating, she said. “Homeowners do it all the time.”
According to research by Leslie’s, annual cost — depending on the size of the pool — can be $750 to $1,000, and all it really takes is a bit of knowledge, weekly water testing and minimal muscle work, like weekly vacuuming and brushing the pool surface.
The first step is testing the water for pH and chlorine, which is the sanitizer used in about 99 percent of the country’s pools.
Getting the pH right is perhaps the single most important aspect of water chemistry since sanitizer effectiveness is tied to proper pH. Get the pH right, and good water chemistry can be achieved more easily, experts say.
The most common testing method is using a kit that comes with a vial and chemicals. Most kits are less than $20 and give results for more than pH (it stands for potential hydrogen) and chlorine. Test strips (about $15 to $20 for 100 strips) also are a common method.
The acidity of the water is revealed in the pH test, which ideally should be 7.4 to 7.6. If the number is low, or too acidic, the water can corrode metal and pool components. If it’s too high, chlorine is less effective. In both cases, skin and eyes most often will be irritated.
Chlorine levels should register 1.0 ppm to 3.0 ppm (parts per million). Chlorine kills bacteria, prevents algae and keeps water clear.
“We recommend testing twice a week, once a week minimum,” Poling said.
Most experts suggest a more comprehensive test by pool supply stores, which commonly are offered free of charge. Poling said visiting a pool supply store every three weeks for more thorough testing is wise.
“We can test all aspects of the water and provide a specific treatment plan if needed,” she said.
There are manufactured additives that raise and lower pH, but most accomplished do-it-yourselfers will rely on muriatic acid to lower pH and alkalinity and baking soda to increase pH and alkalinity.
In the Las Vegas Valley, because of its hard water, testing for alkalinity and calcium hardness also can be important, Poling said.
Scaling and a white line around the pool wall at the water’s surface often are signs of high alkalinity, and white balls forming on pool walls can signal high calcium levels. Cloudy water also is a sign that both are out of whack.
Ideally, alkalinity should be 80 ppm to 120 ppm, calcium 175 ppm to 225 ppm (for plaster surfaces).
A key factor in water chemistry is chemicals: knowing how much of what chemical to add and when.
Poling said that’s where some trust between the customer and the pool supply store comes in.
Like most retailers, supply stores want — and need — repeat customers, so providing the right products and information is crucial. She said Leslie’s trains its employees on water chemistry and “has an entire department that works with all its associates.”
Said Poling: “We’re here to assist the do-it-yourself homeowner. We feel that water chemistry is not that difficult when you have someone like Leslie’s to help.”
It’s a reason she regards that early relationship with the single mom in Tennessee as one of her most rewarding experiences.
“She was so appreciative,” Poling said, remembering how the woman would drop in often after getting her nails done at a nearby salon. “She would stop and just chat.
“It was just so much fun taking her through the process.”
Seeking chemical balance
Needs and tasks for better water chemistry:
■ Muriatic acid: It’s highly caustic, so use care. Wear goggles and gloves. Comes in gallon containers and most often is diluted with water. For safety, add the acid to a pail of water and not the other way around. Generally, 15 ounces will lower pH by 0.02 per 10,000 gallons. Adding the 15 ounces (one part acid to 10 parts water) every four hours while the pump is running should lower both pH and alkalinity. How many 15-ounce doses? Test and test again until the numbers are right. A test by your pool supply store can help with dosage.
■ Baking soda: Increases pH and alkalinity. About 1¼ pounds will pump up the pH level of a 10,000-gallon pool by 10 ppm. About 12½ pounds will get 100 ppm alkalinity in a 100,000-gallon pool.
■ Brush and vacuum weekly. An automatic pool cleaner can pick up leaves and debris, but it won’t get the small particles. Brushing and vacuuming removes dirt that collects on pool walls and floors and removes leaf stains.
■ Testing: Do it twice weekly, more often after a heavy rain or windy days and high use. Weather and more bodies introduce debris and bacteria, which can create a chemical imbalance.
■ How much water is in my pool? There is a formula: length X width X average depth X multiplier = gallons.
The multipliers are 7.5 for rectangle, square and free-form pools, 5.9 for rounds and ovals.
To get average depth, add the deep part plus the shallow part and divide by two.
— Gary Dymski