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Before You Buy an Inflatable Pool, Read This!

Inflatable pool
Ah, those long hot days of summer. An inflatable backyard pool sure can help you and your family beat the heat, but before you buy, inflate and fill that beautiful pool of cool, there are some things to know. Steven Depolo/Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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For the past few summers, Dan Bailey has been helping his family beat the Texas heat by inflating and filling a backyard swimming pool.

"My family loves having a pool," Bailey says in an email interview. "We had an in-ground pool at our old house, but it wasn't in the cards when we moved. We're all so glad to have an inflatable pool since the summers here are brutal. It's nice to be able to take a swim."

Pool Purchase Tips

Although they offer a cooling dip at a reasonable price, inflatable pools can be tough to maintain for more than a season because of air leaks, which are a common complaint. Most inflatable pools are comprised of a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and rubber composite that is built up in layers. Purchasing an inflatable pool with multiple, separate air chambers may help minimize those inevitable leaks.

"We buy a new one most summers, unfortunately," says Bailey, president of WikiLawn, a company that connects homeowners with lawn care professionals in their communities. "We had one summer where our inflatable pool actually held up just fine, but there's always been an issue ever since."

An inflatable pool can cost anywhere from $20 to more than $200, depending on size, and can be purchased from online retailers or brick-and-mortar stores. The depth of an inflatable pool generally varies from just a few inches to about 4 feet (a little over 1 meter) and the circumference can range up to about 10 feet (3.5 meters), which requires placement consideration.

"When buying an inflatable pool, I always look at the size first," Bailey says. "I measure the space where it's going to go and leave lots of room around it. I also consider how many people will be using it. Our son is old enough that he wants to have friends over, so we account for that, too."

It's also important to consider the area surrounding the pool. Although vinyl can be relatively durable, it is not impervious, so keep an eye out for nearby trees, shrubs or anything sharp that can puncture the pool, cause damage or become a safety hazard to people who are swimming, Bailey adds.

What About COVID-19?

"There is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on its website. "Proper operation and maintenance (including disinfection with chlorine and bromine) of these facilities should inactivate the virus in the water."

This may be good news for backyard pool enthusiasts, but a DIY chemical concoction to disinfect swimming water needs to be undertaken with care. "Improper use of chemicals can lead to frustrated pool owners and costly pool repairs," says Stewart C. Vernon, founder and COO of America's Swimming Pool Company. "The wrong chemical combination can make your pool water cloudy, corrode pool surfaces and damage pool equipment."

Vernon advises following CDC protocol in the water and near the water by social distancing and continuing safe hygiene practices, such as hand washing.

"Owners should routinely clean and disinfect their pools in an effort to keep the virus from spreading," he adds.

An inflatable pool filled with sparkling, clear water is one of the most inviting things you can encounter on a hot, sunny day. However, water that looks clean can still harbor dangers. The water in swimming pools, even inflatable pools, can expose swimmers to Recreational Water Illnesses (RWIs) such cryptosporidium, which is the leading cause of swimming pool-related outbreaks of diarrheal illness.

Cryptosporidium and other RWIs are contracted when people swallow contaminated water, or breathe in contaminated droplets or mists when swimming. Those with weakened immune systems are most at risk, including pregnant women and people with chronic illnesses. Children are especially at risk because of their under-developed immune systems, and also because they are some of the most frequent users of inflatable pools.

What to Know About Chlorine and pH

Shouldn't simply adding a few drops of chlorine make pool water safe for swimming? The answer, unfortunately, is more complicated than yes or no.

When chlorine is added to inflatable pool water with ideal pH levels, it will kill most germs — including E. coli — in less than an hour.

However, not all germs are killed by chlorine in the same amount of time. There are germs that take longer to kill, like cryptosporidium, which takes about 15,300 minutes (the equivalent of 10.6 days). Giardia, a parasite that causes painful abdominal cramps and persistent diarrhea, takes about 45 minutes to eradicate. The hepatitis A virus can remain active in pool water for more than 15 minutes after being treated with chlorine.

There's also the matter of achieving a correct pH and disinfectant level, two factors that go hand-in-hand. The ideal pH for killing germs is between 7.2 and 7.8 parts per million, according to the CDC. This range also makes the water more comfortable for swimmers' eyes and skin, which can be irritated by too much chlorine. Too little chlorine and the disinfectant's germ-killing abilities become limited.

"In my experience, it's really, really difficult to balance the pH of an inflatable pool," Bailey says. "I have to check the levels and adjust them constantly. I 'shock' the pool once per week with a larger dose of chlorine, although the manufacturer recommended doing it once every two weeks, because algae kept growing excessively. I also use a manual pool skimmer to fish out debris. And sometimes, if all else fails, the pool needs to be drained."

Periodically draining an inflatable swimming pool and letting it dry in the sun for a few hours not only provides a fresh start when you're ready to refill it, but is key in preventing mosquito outbreaks. Moving water keeps mosquitoes from laying eggs (they prefer still water for their nurseries), so consider a portable fountain if you'll be keeping water in the pool for more than a day or two.

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