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The Basics on Phosphates in Pools – Pool Magazine

Home | Pool Maintenance | The Basics on Phosphates in Pools
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Phosphates Defined
Phosphates are biological building blocks that are formed when phosphoric acid comes in contact with certain metals. Most of the natural sources are found in rivers, lakes and oceans or mined rock. (The United States is one of the largest producers of phosphate from mining.) Phosphates are omnipresent in our world. They can be found in detergents, hair care products, fertilizers and even soda pop. Many of the foods we eat contain phosphate which is a primary nutrient for muscle growth. There are many ways phosphate can enter pool water. The two biggest sources of phosphates in pools come from metal sequestering products that contain phosphoric or phosphonic acid and from tap water.
Phosphates in Fill Water and Other Hidden Sources
That’s right the water that you use to fill the pool can be a substantial source of phosphates. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has mandated that drinking water municipalities must follow an anti-corrosion process. This is to prevent contamination of drinking water from the corrosion of older lead-based pipes. The EPA recommends phosphate buffers be used such as zinc ortho-phosphate. When the drinking water supply facility adds the zinc phosphate the result will be very high levels of ortho-phosphate coming from the tap. There have been some reported cases of phosphate from the tap testing 1000 parts per billion (ppb).  It is important to understand that phosphates exist in many different forms. There are combined forms such as polyphosphates or sodium phosphate. These compounds are used in many of the cleaning agents and chemicals that we use in pools. Some non-fuming acids may contain sodium phosphate. Continued use of these types of acid can lead to excessive build -up of phosphate levels.  There are even some binding agents for chlorine tablets that contain phosphate compounds.
Phosphate in Pool Water
What happens when phosphates end up in the pool water? Some say that phosphates aren’t a problem in a well-maintained pool. Others claim they are THE determining factor of an algae outbreak. The truth is somewhere in between. It is important to understand how phosphate can make maintenance of the pool a real problem.  Phosphate is one of the prime ingredients in fertilizer. We use fertilizer to help plants grow and algae is a plant. There are three main ingredients that algae need to grow. Nitrates, CO2 and phosphates. Of these, the only one we can effectively control and remove is phosphate. Scientifically phosphate is categorized as a growth limiting nutrient. What that means is that the growth of algae is limited if it can’t obtain phosphate…even if there is nitrate and CO2 present. So those that say phosphates are not a concern if the water is balanced and chlorinated may be correct. However, an event such as a pool party, wind storm or even just excessive heat in the presence of high phosphate could lead to a quick and resistant algae bloom.  With higher levels of phosphates, algae have more fuel to grow and turn a pool green quickly with the strong nutrient phosphate within the cells, the algae will be much more difficult to kill using chlorine and algaecide.
Phosphate and Salt Chlorine Generators
Well maintained pools may also see an increased chlorine demand from high phosphate levels. While they do not directly reduce chlorine, phosphates are the prime nutrient for the transition of algae from the spore to the blooming form. As this process occurs more chlorine is needed to fight the growth of the algae, even though it is not visible as a bloom. This is also what causes the need for an increased output of free chlorine from salt chlorine generators.
Whether a salt chlorine generator system or a regular pool phosphate levels should be kept below 500 ppb. Ideally 200 ppb. At the level of 500 ppb there will be a definite interference with salt chlorine generators to produce enough free available chlorine (FAC).  When phosphate levels reach 1000 ppbs in any pool an increased chlorine demand could be observed. At extreme levels over 5,000 ppb water quality will be seriously reduced.
As stated, earlier phosphate can be present in many combined forms. In pool water all combined forms of phosphate will end up as orthophosphates or what is called free phosphates. When we test for phosphate in the pool industry, we are testing for ortho or free phosphates. Free ortho phosphates are the only form that algae can utilize as a nutrient.
Testing and Treating for Phosphate
Phosphate should be tested before algae are present and managed to prevent poor water quality and sudden algae outbreaks. When dealing with a green swamp pool the algae should be first killed by super-chlorinating with liquid chlorine. Several days after algae has been eradicated from the pool then a phosphate test should be done. Based on the level of phosphate a removal treatment may be needed. Since algae consumes phosphates as a nutrient when a pool is overrun most of the phosphate will be in the algae. Trying to test for or remove phosphates in a green pool will not work. When the algae die off it will then release the phosphate back into the water. This characteristic of algae is why many pools experience resistant algae. In other words, the algae are killed with chlorine and algaecide and then more algae return within a few weeks even in a well-maintained pool. This is because the original kill released more growth nutrient into the pool water. This is the vital reason phosphates should be tested for and removed after dealing with an algae treatment.
Phosphates can be tested for and are measured in PPB. When testing for phosphates the chlorine level should not be higher than 5 ppb. Higher levels of chlorine will bleach out the test and give a false low reading. When phosphate levels are extreme at 5,000 ppb a dilution test is recommended. In reagent test a ten times dilution is recommended. This is accomplished by adding nine parts of distilled water to one part of pool water. This mix is tested, and the result is multiplied times ten. In many cases phosphate levels can be extremely high and a dilution test can reveal if a phosphate remover can be used or if some draining and dilution would be better. There is lots of written scientific proof on how phosphate is nutrient pollutant to our water ways and is also being found in our fill water. So, it isn’t a matter of whether phosphate is in pool water it is really a matter of what is the source and how much is there. For this reason source tap water should be tested regularly for phosphate spikes. Also, it is best to use non-phosphate-based metal removers such as EDTA or citric acid.
Proactive phosphate removal is best and can be practiced weekly, monthly, or even seasonally depending on the levels. The most important factor is managing and keeping levels near the 200-ppb level. There are phosphate removers at different strengths available that can handle everything from 10,000 ppb to 500 ppb. If a pool has a level over 10,000 ppb a concentrated product should be used. High levels of phosphate when treated with a concentrated product will cause excessive cloudiness of the water. In these cases the use of a chitosan clarifier along with the phosphate remover can help to clear the pool faster.  Once the levels are below 500 ppb a less concentrated maintenance formula can be used weekly to keep levels near ideal.
Tips:
When treating a pool for phosphate removal, if algae is present then it must first be treated and removed before adding phosphate remover. When algae dies it exudes phosphate. After the algae is gone is the best time to do a phosphate removal procedure.
There are many compounds of phosphate, however only orthophosphate is a nutrient for algae. Test kits for the pool industry only test for orthophosphate.
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Terry Arko has more than 40 years’ experience in the recreational water industry, working in service, repair, retail sales, chemical manufacturing, technical service, commercial sales, and product development. He has written over 100 published articles on water chemistry. He is a member on the board of the Recreational Water Air Quality Committee (RWAQC). He is also a Certified Pool Operator instructor with the Pool Hot Tub Alliance (PHTA) and is head of instructors for the Pool Chemistry Training Institute PCTI Pool Chemistry Certified Residential Course. Terry is currently working as Technical Content and Product Training Manager for HASA Pool, makers of HASA Sani-Clor. He can be reached at [email protected].
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In 2023, the “smart home” concept continues to trend. Homeowners want a more maintenance-free space with automated thermostats, lights, blinds, and more. 
However, this concept can also enhance and improve outdoor spaces, and it’s especially appealing to pool owners. With automation in their toolkit, pool professionals can make a splash and make their customers’ lives easier.
Every good story begins with a hero. One of the unsung heroes of the pool industry is variable speed and flow technology. What makes variable speed and flow so notable is its incredible energy efficiency. In fact, with a third-generation IntelliFlo3® Variable Speed and Flow Pump, pool owners can save up to 90%* on energy consumption. With optional onboard relays to provide automated control of two additional pieces of equipment, pool owners can control additional devices like lighting or salt chlorinators.
While options like this are a great solution for small-scale automation, it’s possible to put most of your customer’s pool features on one easy-to-use management system. And when it comes to the pool, homeowners crave peace of mind! They want the ease of knowing their pool is in great hands and utilizing reliable products and technology. Enter automation systems, a more effortless solution to provide pool pros with a bird’s eye view of problems and the ability to troubleshoot in advance, thus increasing efficiency and delivering white glove service that takes the stress off customers.
Helping customers understand their pool equipment pad and how everything works together is essential. Think of a pool as a person; the chemicals you add to the pool water are like white blood cells, attacking germs and keeping the environment clean. Filters take in dirty water, reduce contaminants, and push out cleaner water, like the lungs of the pool. The automation system is a bit like its brain, sending signals to the different body parts to ensure they’re working accordingly.
Automation systems like the IntelliCenter® Pool Control System provide versatile control. Controlling colored lights, water features, and more with an automation system is a breeze! Pool owners can effortlessly set automation schedules, monitor pool and spa status, and check water chemistry.
Using tools like the Pentair Pro app, pool professionals can also remotely monitor their customers’ automation system. With remote monitoring, pool owners can breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy peace of mind knowing their trusted pool service professional can check in and troubleshoot problems anytime, anywhere.
With automation in your arsenal, it’s easy to curate the dreamiest backyard oasis for your customer. Any pool can be transformed from a mundane natatorium to an enchanting water wonderland with connected products. 
The ruler of this watery kingdom is your customer – all they’ll need is the Pentair Home app on their smartphone. With this easy-to-use app, pool owners can monitor and control their pool equipment from anywhere in the world. With the Pentair Home app and automation working together, your customers’ lives become easier. Long gone are the days of frustrating pool management, and here to stay is the era of a fully connected, smart pool equipment pad. 
With an easy-to-manage lineup of pool equipment, pool owners can make more time for the things that really matter: family, memory-making, and poolside relaxation. By providing them with a reliable and connected pool equipment pad, you help them rule the pool.
To learn more, visit pentair.com/intelliflo3 hub or pentair.com/intellicenterhub.
*Savings based on variable speed pump compared to a single-speed pump running 12 hours per day at an average of $0.16 per kWh in a 20,000-gallon pool. Actual savings may vary based on local utility rates, pool size, pump run time, pump horsepower, pump rpm, plumbing size and length, pump model, service factor, and other hydraulic factors. Individual Weighted Energy Factor (WEF) scores and savings may vary by model. 
All indicated Pentair trademarks and logos are property of Pentair. Third-party registered and unregistered trademarks and logos are the property of their respective owners.
One pool hack states a cup of baking soda in your pool every other day can keep the water in perfect balance. Is it real or just clickbait?
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In recent times, a viral article and accompanying TikTok video shared a pool maintenance “hack” that caught the attention of pool owners worldwide. In this supposed hack, a pool owner claimed that the secret to maintaining perfectly balanced water was as simple as adding a cup of baking soda to the pool every other day. But is this unconventional method truly effective, or is it a risky endeavor that could potentially harm your pool? To get to the bottom of this, we spoke with pool care expert, CPO instructor, and best-selling author, Rudy Stankowitz.
Replying to @user9410247040220 #poolhack #bakingsodahack #phblancer #swimmingpool #naturalcleaningproducts #poolcleaningtips #cleaninghacks #fypシ
The viral pool maintenance video might have garnered attention, but, as Rudy Stankowitz aptly puts it, “It was a fantastic piece of clickbait. As with most clickbait, there’s a grain of truth buried in it, but the risks and pitfalls of this method are significant. Stankowitz elaborates, “There was some truth in it, but then there was a lot that wasn’t, and a lot that can actually put a homeowner in a bad position if they just followed through with what this woman was recommending.”
Before diving into the specifics of the baking soda “hack,” it’s essential to understand the fundamentals of pool care. Stankowitz emphasizes that adding any chemical to your pool should never be a haphazard act. “Nothing should go in without first having tested the water and then determining the need for what it is that you’re going to add,” he asserts. This rule is foundational to responsible pool maintenance. Randomly adding chemicals can lead to imbalances, problems, and potential damage to your pool.
A crucial factor in pool care is the pH level, which measures the acidity or base of the water. Rudy Stankowitz breaks down the significance of pH: “It’s the measurement of acidity or base. It’s the measurement of hydrogen ion activity.” Maintaining the correct pH level is vital for various reasons:
Stankowitz recommends maintaining a pH level between 7.2 and 7.5 to ensure proper water quality and bather safety. Proper pH control is essential for an enjoyable and safe swimming experience.
In the viral video, the pool owner claimed to use a cup of baking soda every other day as a natural pH balancer. While baking soda can indeed raise total alkalinity, Stankowitz points out that blindly adding it without testing the water can lead to issues. “She’s going to get to a point where her total alkalinity is too high in trying to maintain her pH,” Stankowitz warned. Constantly adding baking soda could lead to excessive total alkalinity, necessitating the addition of acid to lower it, which in turn would drop the pH. This creates a yoyo effect and a cycle of imbalances and problems.
Stankowitz also highlights the issue of pH bounce or pH lock, a term used to describe drastic pH fluctuations. Adding chemicals without understanding their impact can cause pH to swing unpredictably. Baking soda’s natural pH of around 8.4 means it’s not the ideal choice for raising pH efficiently. A better alternative is soda ash, which is more cost-effective and effective in increasing pH.
In the same viral video, the pool owner used a copper pipe with holes drilled in a plastic bottle to create a copper ionization system. Stankowitz acknowledges that copper does have bactericidal properties and is used for algae control in pools. However, the effectiveness of this DIY method is questionable. The contact kill effect of copper relies on specific conditions, and and enclosing the copper pipe in a plastic bottle reduces the contact time even further than the flowrate. This pretty much ensures contact occurs only when the pump is off and for maybe the 2 – 3 gallons of water in the skimmer at that time, if at all. Moreover, the lack of testing and control over the copper levels poses a risk of potential staining and other issues in the pool.
My most popular pool hack to get rid of algae for good #poolhack #poolcleaning #byebyealgae #cleaningpools #poolcleaninghack #swimmingpoolhack #fypシ
Stankowitz underlines the significance of proper water testing in pool maintenance. “If she had a test kit and used every bottle in the test kit and then had some basic chemistry knowledge and then used the sodium bicarbonate every time that she needed to actually increase the total alkalinity, I would say that’s great,” he comments. Pool owners should rely on accurate testing methods and sound chemical knowledge rather than adopting unverified hacks.
For pool owners dealing with external factors such as storms, Rudy Stankowitz advises focusing on maintaining the ideal total alkalinity, which serves as a buffer for pH fluctuations. Understanding how cyanuric acid affects total alkalinity is crucial. By adjusting for the contribution of cyanuric acid in water, pool owners can achieve a more accurate measure of carbonate alkalinity. This knowledge helps maintain a stable pH and prevents it from becoming too corrosive or scale-forming.
In the world of pool care, shortcuts and DIY hacks can often do more harm than good. Rudy Stankowitz’s expert insights reveal the importance of using proper testing methods and understanding the chemistry of pool water. While there’s some truth to the viral baking soda “hack,” it’s vital to recognize that pool maintenance is a precise science that requires careful attention and knowledge to achieve consistently safe and enjoyable swimming experiences.
Listen to our entire interview with Rudy Stankowitz on the Pool Magazine podcast.
Wondering whether to close your pool or not, you’re not alone…
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As the leaves start to change color and temperatures drop, pool owners across the United States begin the annual ritual of closing their pools for the winter. Thanks to Leslie’s Pool Supplies we have National Pool Closing Day (which falls on the third Saturday in September) giving a definitive answer to the question many pool owners have about when they should close their swimming pool.
While some in milder climates may wonder why anyone would close their pool when they could continue enjoying it year-round, the decision to winterize pools in colder regions is rooted in practicality and safety. If you’re on the fence about whether or not to close your pool, you’re not alone. It’s a question many pool owners have and one we aim to answer today.
Topics in this article:
One of the primary reasons for winterizing pools in regions with harsh winters is to protect the pool’s plumbing and equipment from freezing temperatures. When water freezes, it expands, which can lead to costly damage. Pool owners in colder areas typically drain the pool’s plumbing system, add antifreeze, and winterize their equipment to prevent any freezing-related issues.
As the water temperature drops in the fall, it becomes less conducive to swimming, and pool owners use fewer chemicals to maintain water quality. Without proper maintenance and circulation, stagnant water can become a breeding ground for algae and bacteria. Winterizing the pool helps prevent these issues, making it easier to open the pool in the spring.
Closing a pool for the winter also reduces the amount of maintenance required during the colder months. Regular cleaning, chemical balancing, and skimming can be labor-intensive, and closing the pool allows owners to avoid these tasks until spring. It’s a practical decision for those who want to spend less time on pool upkeep.
In areas with harsh winters, frozen pool surfaces can pose significant safety risks. A closed and covered pool eliminates the chance of accidental slips, falls, or injuries associated with icy pool decks.
On the other side of the spectrum, pool owners in sunbelt states often enjoy more favorable year-round weather conditions. Sunbelt states typically experience mild winters with minimal risk of freezing temperatures. This allows many pool owners in those areas of the country to continue enjoying their pools without the need for winterization.
Many pool owners in these states view their pools as significant investments. By keeping them operational year-round, they maximize the return on their investment and get the most out of their outdoor living spaces. A well-maintained, year-round operational pool can increase a home’s value in sunbelt regions, as it enhances the property’s appeal and offers additional recreational opportunities.
In states with favorable climates, having a pool available year-round is a lifestyle choice. It provides a convenient and enjoyable way to relax, exercise, and entertain guests regardless of the season.
The decision to close or keep your swimming pool open during the winter should be based on your local climate, personal preferences, and the specific advantages and disadvantages that matter most to you.
Most pool experts would provide pool closing advice based on the regional climate, maintenance preferences, and the type of pool when it comes to the decision of whether to close a pool.
Cold Climate Regions: In areas with harsh winters and freezing temperatures, experts generally recommend closing inground pools. Winterizing an inground pool in these regions involves draining the plumbing system, adding antifreeze, and covering the pool to protect it from the elements.
Moderate Climate Regions: In regions with milder winters, experts may suggest keeping an inground pool open year-round, as the risk of freezing is lower. However, proper maintenance and water circulation are still necessary to prevent algae growth and equipment damage.
Cold Climate Regions: Above ground pools are more susceptible to freezing and damage in cold climates due to their exposed sides. Experts typically recommend closing above ground pools in areas with freezing temperatures. This involves draining the pool, removing water from the plumbing and equipment, and covering it with a winter cover.
Moderate Climate Regions: In regions with mild winters, some above ground pool owners may choose to keep their pools open with proper maintenance. However, they must monitor water chemistry and ensure the pool is well-circulated to prevent issues during the winter.
Key Differences in Closing Inground vs. Above Ground Pools:
The question really isn’t can you close your pool, but should you? The answer to that question largely depends on your level of experience, comfort with pool maintenance tasks, and the complexity of your pool system.
Cost Savings: Closing your pool yourself can save you money compared to hiring a professional service. You won’t incur labor costs.
Learning Experience: For experienced pool owners, closing the pool can be a learning experience, helping you understand your pool system better.
Control: You have full control over the process and can tailor it to your specific needs and preferences.
Time and Effort: Closing a pool can be time-consuming and require physical effort, especially if you have an inground pool with complex equipment.
Knowledge Requirement: Closing a pool correctly requires knowledge of pool systems, chemicals, and the climate in your region. Inexperience can lead to mistakes that may damage your pool.
Equipment and Materials: You’ll need to purchase the necessary winterization supplies and equipment covers, which can add to the upfront cost.
Expertise: Most professional pool service technicians are trained and experienced in pool closures. They know the intricacies of different pool systems and can ensure the process is done correctly.
Time-Saving: Hiring a professional saves you the time and effort required for closing the pool, allowing you to focus on other priorities.
Peace of Mind: Professionals provide assurance that your pool will be properly winterized, reducing the risk of costly repairs in the spring.
Cost: Professional pool closure services come at a cost, which can vary based on your location and the complexity of your pool system.
Lack of Control: You may have less control over the process and the materials used compared to doing it yourself.
Resources for DIY Pool Closure:
Swim University: Swim University offers a wealth of articles, videos, and resources on pool maintenance and winterization.
Trouble Free Pool: Trouble Free Pool is a community-driven forum where experienced pool owners share tips and advice on various aspects of pool ownership, including winterization.
If you do opt to close your own pool, remember these important tips to help prevent costly maintenance or repairs later on.
Begin by preparing your pool for closure:

Maintaining proper water chemistry is essential to prevent issues during the winter. Follow these guidelines:
To protect your pool equipment and plumbing, follow these steps:
Prevent freeze damage to your equipment and plumbing with these precautions:
The final step is to secure your pool with a winter cover:
By following these steps, you’ll close your pool effectively, protecting it from winter damage and ensuring a trouble-free reopening when the swimming season returns.
Ultimately, the question of whether or not to close your own pool is entirely up to you. If you feel you’re experienced enough to tackle the task yourself, performing the work yourself could certainly save some money. However, if you’re inexperienced and want the peace of mind of protecting your investment, most experts would advise to hire a professional pool service technician.
Featured Photo Credit: Aquamatic
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