If you own a pool, you are surely familiar with the term “pH” in reference to your pool water’s chemical levels. But what on earth does that mean? Many of us are familiar with the fact that all organic compounds have a pH level- everything from the soil in the ground to our own blood stream.
But even if we know that various environments require a specific “pH balance,” that doesn’t mean we understand its importance, or even what it really means. “Potential hydrogen” is what pH actually stands for. We don’t want to get too far into the weeds here, so we’ll simply state that a “neutral pH” of 7 has an even balance of acidity and alkalinity.
The variation in a substance’s pH level indicates how much hydrogen ion activity is present, which directly influences what life forms may or may not be able to propagate in that particular environment. Thus, the pH of your pool’s water has a direct impact on the growth of bacteria, algae, and other microbes.
So how does all of this relate to caring for your pool, and using the right chemicals?
Let’s get out of the chemistry lab and back into that sparkling pool. As mentioned before, a “neutral” pH reading is a 7. Your pool water is happiest and healthiest between 7.0 and 7.6. This range creates an environment that discourages an overgrowth of harmful microbes, while remaining mild enough that it doesn’t damage your pool, your skin, or your bathing suit.
A high pH level has too much alkaline in it. This can cause scaling, calcium build-up, itchy skin, and burning eyes. In chemistry terms, alkaline is also known as a “base.” We can easily imagine how acidic substances break things down in a harmful way, but potent bases (such as the ammonium in cleaning products) can do the same. For this reason, you want to avoid a high pH reading in your pool water.
Conversely, a low pH level indicates too much acid in the water. This can corrode the metal components of your pool system, and even start eating away at your tile. Additionally, the acid will fade your swimwear and damage your pool toys. And once again, you will experience burning eyes, irritated noses, and itchy skin.
Professionals recommend aiming for a pH level of 7.2-7.4 in your pool. Any pool kit available at your local retailer will easily give you a pH reading, and they often come with about 50 test strips.
Chlorine increases your pool water’s pH level, but there are several other factors to consider as well. Different forms of chlorine affect the water at different rates and potencies, so it is important to read labels and closely follow the instructions provided with any pool product you use.
There are also multiple other pool chemicals which play a role in attaining healthy pH levels, such as shock treatments and algaecides. If all of this seems like a bit too much chemistry to keep up with, have no fear. Your local pool care professionals are happy to assist.