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Steve Litt's Pool Resurrection Page

Copyright (C) 2005 by Steve Litt





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I'm Steve Litt. I created the Universal Troubleshooting Process (UTP). I create and license UTP courseware, as well as teaching the UTP onsite. I've written four books on troubleshooting: Twenty Eight Tales of Troubleshooting, "Troubleshooting: Tools, Tips and Techniques", "Troubleshooting Techniques of the Successful Technologist", and "The Manager's Guide to Technical Troubleshooting". Past professions include software development, electronic repair and corrosion protection.

I've never been a pool professional. I've had a pool only 5 years, and until autumn of 2004 it was maintained by a pool professional. So what gives me the authority to write this web page? In May and June 2005 I brought an almost dead pool to life. Here's what happened...

August 13, 2004, Hurricane Charley hit our house. We suffered no apparent damage, but looking back, it's possible that Charley softened up our roof. Then, on September 5, Hurricane Frances passed within 50 miles of our house, tearing off about 600 square feet of our roof. From that moment on, my top priority was tarping the roof and making the tarps solid. My work took second priority, and the pool became a non-issue.
How did I figure this out?

I'm frequently asked "Steve, how do you know so much about so many things?"

The skills attained from following the Universal
 Troubleshooting Process help me fix almost anything.


About this time two things happened: 1) Our pool filter cracked, and 2) I had a falling out with our pool professional.

In hindsight, I should have quickly paid for a replacement filter, and I should have treated our pool professional better. Now that I know the work involved and the cost of chemicals, I now know our pool professional was doing a good job for a reasonable amount of money. But by the time Hurricane Ivan threatened just after Frances' departure, my priorities were such that I blew off the pool professional and pool filter, figuring I'd do something about it "later".

Ivan missed us by over 200 miles, and "later" might have happened if Hurricane Jeanne hadn't come within 70 miles of us on September 26. Jeanne tore off half of our front roof, sending the shingles right over the house and depositing them into our pool. My business remained almost completely shut down until October 15, at which time my top priority became a combination of getting the business back on track and getting the house repaired. I ignored the pool. The pool turned green and I didn't care. Heck, we wouldn't use the pool until the following April anyway.

In March the kids started asking to use the pool. By that time the pool looked exactly like a swamp, with frogs, pollywogs, tadpoles, mosquito larvae, and other swamp plant and animal lifeforms native to swamps. Animals were born, lived their lives, and died in our pool. It stunk.

In April 2005 I decided it was time to fix the pool. After calling several pool professionals, I decided it best for me to do it myself. So I rolled up my sleeves and got to work...

The Resurrection

Somewhere around April 6 I dumped 10 jugs of clorine into the pool, figuring it would clear. In past algae attacks, massive chlorine bombardments had cleared the pool. But of course, past algae attacks didn't include fifty roofing shingles and six months of leaves at the bottom, nor did they include generations of dead plants and animals. The pool lightened slightly, but that was it.

A few days later I hit it with 10 more jugs, and the color changed from green to a more pleasant turquoise. However, it was still absolutely opaque. I began contemplating a quick "solution" -- draining and refilling the pool.

And quickly decided not to. You see, if you drain a pool when the water table is higher than the pool, you risk the pool floating like a boat, breaking all your piping and possibly cracking the pool itself. How high was the water table? I didn't know and didn't want to take the chance. With all the hurricane damage, I certainly didn't have an extra $20,000.00 for a new pool. From what I hear, there's a special valve in the drain that can be opened to let water below the pool come into the pool itself, thereby minimizing the chance of floating. Trouble is, that's hard to get to, and I don't have a skindiving rig, and the water that comes into the pool would be a muddy mess.

For better or worse, I committed to fixing the water now in the pool.

Remember, my pool filter had broken, so it was of no use in filtering out the opaque material. I didn't want to buy a new filter just yet, because all the scum in the pool would permanently harm it. Instead, I added a third course of 10 jugs and ran the pool pump on recirculate. A few days later, alarmed at the almost $30.00 per course for 10 jugs of liquid chlorine, I switched to solid chlorine.

After about a week the water actually turned a pleasant light blue, and the swampy smell was now gone. The only problem was it was opaque, with visibility now about 6 inches.

I glued the filter back together and began running it, getting the visibility down another inch. Then the glued seam rebroke under pressure, so in early May I bit the bullet and had Leslies Pool Supply replace the filter with a larger unit. They also replaced the multiport valve.

Everyone told me that now that I had a good filter, the water would quickly clear. They were wrong.

The Days of Despair

In fact, progress was incredibly slow and expensive. My filter is a diatomaceous earth filter (DE filter). DE filters can filter particles down to 3 microns. They use a special powder to filter the water, and when that powder becomes excessively clogged with debris, it stops passing water and must be changed out. I was having to change it out every 2 to 3 hours, day after day. The powder I was using was called "Fiberclear", which is easier to use and less toxic than real diatomaceous earth powder. However, it costs $14.00 per bag, and a bag can do about 4 filter powder changes.

Things were getting expensive, so I switched to real diatomaceous earth powder, and things got worse. It clogged every hour. I later found out you should never mix real diatomaceous earth powder and Fiberclear, which I had done.

Leslies had sold me some liquid polymer that was supposed to trap suspended solid material and bring it to the bottom. I used more than the recommended amount and it did almost nothing, but I drained the bottom inch or so out of the pool out to the street while brushing the bottom "junk" toward the drain.

Meanwhile, my new multiport filter jammed, and it took several days to get someone to repair it under warranty. When the technician disassembled it, the cause was immediately obvious -- thick granules from roof shingles had gritted up the works. He cleaned it out and showed me how to clean it out. He also cleaned my new filter.

Day after day I fought a war of attrition with my water's white muck. I'd spent $1000.00 on hardware (filter, valve and booster pump) and another thousand on chemicals. Don't even ask about the time. Had I known it would be like this, I might have just had the pool resurfaced for $6,000.00. But of course, by the time I realized this would not be a small job, I was already $1000.00 into it. I fought on, and scored my first victory.

Better Days

I took a water sample to Leslies, and asked if was safe to dive in. They told me that although they couldn't remark on any bacteria in the water, the chlorine and PH would not be toxic or caustic. I bought a $19.00 pair of goggles. That afternoon I brought my wife out to the pool with our portable phone, and told her that if I were down for more than 45 seconds, she should call 911 and start putting a pole down in the water to haul me up.

This might seem paranoid now, but please remember that the water's visibility was 6 inches, so I would have no visual cue as to which way was up. I put on my Churchill body surfing fins and dived to the bottom, hauling up 3 or 4 roof shingles. For the next hour I went down and hauled out roof shingles. My excursions also revealed voluminous dead leaves, many decomposing into bleached white tiny particles. I now believe that these decomposing leaves were a source of continuing disolved solids.

In all, I hauled out about 50 roof shingles that day.

The next day I began using a cleaning device attached to a pole. This device is powered by a garden hose, which sprays upward through jets into a fine mesh net. This sweeps leaves from the bottom into the net, without using the pool's pump or other equipment. I hauled out bagful after bagful of leaves. I kept using it until a sweep of the entire pool brought out only a quarter bag. Then, for the next few days I used this device to haul out additional leaves.

Without leaves to generate white muck faster than I could filter it out, the tide began to turn. The top step, which had been just a shadow, was now clear, while the second step was a shadow. After a few days the second step was clear and the third step was a shadow.

I tried another round of the polymer, and this time it worked. The third step became clear. However, when I tried to sweep the debris toward the drain while sending the drained water out to the street, the bottom debris bloomed up again to contaminate the water. It was time for a pool vacuum...

My pool vacuum plus hose plus skimmer adapter cost me about $70.00. I hoped it would help. I used the polymer again. Amazingly, I could see the shadow of the drain in the deep end. With the help of my kids to keep the hose in the water and keep the skimmer adapter solidly connected, I vacuumed the pool straight through to the street as waste water. This time a lot of the bottom debris went out to the street instead of blooming up. Nevertheless, by the end of this operation the drain was no longer visible.


It was now mid-May. When victory came, it came fast. I repeated the polymer and vacuuming operation. Visibility was now about 4 feet. I took the kids swimming, but demanded they stay in the shallow end so I wouldn't have to save them in the murk. I vacuumed the pool daily, sometimes adding polymer, sometimes not. Meanwhile, the polymer was binding up the remaining white gunk, which was now sparse enough that the filter could go for several hours. Now that I could see shadows at the bottom, I pulled out a few remaining shingles and roofing nails. A visible shadow of the drain became a regular thing. In a few day period, the shadow became a crisp outline. By late May the water was crystal clear, a pleasant blue -- it looked like a pool advertisement in every respect except the pool's surface. It was good enough for my wife -- she went swimming.

I'm not too worried about the surface -- it wasn't in such great shape when we bought the house 5 years ago. Yes, there are a few more stains, but it's now a wonderfully swimmable pool. We swim almost on a daily basis now.

Lessons Learned

This could have been much faster had I known a few things. Perhaps the top thing to know is it's no use trying to de-murkify a pool with debris at the bottom. If I had it to do over again, here's what I would have done:

  1. Nuke the pool with excessive chlorine. With the possible exception of the first nuking, I would have used powdered chlorine to save money. I also would have put in chlorine stabilizers so the chlorine wouldn't boil off quickly.
  2. Once the frogs and most of the tadpoles and pollywogs had died, I would have used a net to skim the surface, and kept doing that on a daily basis.
  3. In conjunction with the skimming, I would have used my garden hose vacuum to vacuum the bottom of the pool. True, this wouldn't have picked up shingles, nails, twigs or other heavy debris, but it would have gotten a lot of the leaves and small animals that were decomposing into small particulate matter, so I'd have a fighting chance with the filter. If the water from the garden hose caused the pool to overflow, so be it.
  4. Working with the pool store, I'd have tested the water. Once it was safe to dive, I'd have picked up large bottom debris such as roof shingles. This would prevent accidental clogging of the bottom drain and would limit the large grainy matter.
  5. Now that the pool has been cleansed of the worst large solids, I'd nuke it with tons more chlorine and run in recirculate. This would clean out the pipes.
  6. Add lots of polymer to precipitate the suspended solids, and then use a skimmer powered vacuum to vacuum them out to the street (NOT the filter). Repeat 2 more times in the next 4 days.
  7. Begin running the filter. Check the filter pressure every few hours, and backwash as necessary.
  8. Vacuum as necessary and add polymer as necessary. The pool will continue to clear.
What's not stated above is brushing of the sides and bottom. I'd recommend starting that once the frogs are dead, and continuing on at least twice a week.

Other lessons learned:
I learned one more lesson that overshadowed them all:

Don't let your pool turn into a swamp!

When you see your pool starting to turn green, add chlorine. If there's an accumulation of debris at the bottom, use a garden hose vacuum. If your system is broken in such a way that it can't maintain the water, fix it sooner rather than later.

My filter was operating as designed

Although I didn't know it at the time, my 2 hour filter powder replacement cycles were completely predictable. Pool filters are meant to keep the water immaculate. They are made to filter every tiny particle. One design criterium for pool filters is that the incoming water is reasonably clean already, so that the filter merely makes it perfect. Under those conditions, a dose of powder should last a month or so.

When the entire pool looks like milk of magnesia, the pool filter filters out its maximum impurities within a couple hours, and worse yet, the amount of impurity filtered out is tiny compared to the impurity remaining in the pool. Pool filters were never meant to turn chalky water clear.

How a Pool Works

To understand how to resurrect your pool or maintain it on an ongoing basis you must know how it works. I'll first describe it simply in English with accompanying schematic, and then with photos and diagrams.
Schematic of the system
Your pool has a circulatory system, as shown in the diagram to the left. The pump is it's heart, sucking water from one pipe and pushing water through another. The point I'm making is that water is moved either through vacuum or pressure, depending on which side of the pump it's on.

In the diagram, the red arrows represent the direction of water flow. The green arros simply point to components. The thick blue lines are pipes.

Note that multiport valves are used only with filters requiring backwash -- DE and Sand filters. Cartridge filters have a much simpler valve, but it's still in the same basic position.

Now let's follow the whole circuit, starting at the pool.

Water is sucked out of the pool, usually at two points -- the bottom drain and the skimmer, which is indented into the wall in the deep end, near the surface. The surface traps floating debris as it sucks in water. From the drain and skimmer, the water is sucked to a 2 way valve near the pump and filter. The 2 way valve determines the percentage water sucked through the skimmer relative to the drain. It can do this because the drain and skimmer each has their own pipe leading to the 2 way valve.

From the 2 way valve the water is sucked into the pump basket. The pump basket is a reservoir containing water for the pump to suck. The pump basket also contains a screen to trap large debris such as small twigs and leaf parts. Theoretically such debris should have been stopped by the skimmer screen or the drain cover, but sometimes it's not. The screen in the pump basket should be cleaned regularly.

From the pump basket, water is sucked into the pump. It's a centrifugal pump similar to the water pump in your car. It sucks water into the center, and via spinning blades throws it to the outside, where it's shot out into the outgoing pipe. The pump is powered by a pump motor, which is an electric motor typically 1, 1.5 or 2 horsepower.

Coming out of the pump, the water is pushed to the filter valve. The exact configuration of the filter valve depends on the type of filter. The basic use of the filter valve is to direct the water either into the filter or out to the street via a hose. Obviously, normal operation requires direction to the filter. Filters requiring backwashing or rinsing require filter valves with additional positions to accomplish those functions. This will be discussed later.

Next, the water is pushed through the filter. The water passes through and the suspended particulates are caught and held by the filter. However, after the filter has caught too much particulate matter, its ability to pass water is compromised, in which case either the filter's cartridge must be changed if it's a cartridge, or it must be backwashed (sand and DE filters). Filters have a pressure gauge to tell you when they've absorbed too much particulate. For instance, on my new Hayward DE4820 DE filter, when the pressure rises to 10 PSI more than the pressure when the filter powder was changed, water flow is being unduly restricted and it's time to change your powder again.

The now cleansed water is pushed out of the filter and into the chlorinator, a simple canister which houses solid tablets of chlorine so that they disolve over time and keep the chlorine level somewhat constant. From the chlorinator the water goes through underground pipes back to the pool, where it enters through the water jets on the sides of the pool, thus completing the circuit.

Here is an annotated photo of my pool equipment, complete with explanations:

Pipe from  pool's skimmer
Pipe from main pool's main drain
Drain/skimmer valve
Pipe to pump basket
Pump basket
Pump (centrifugal)
Pipe from pump to multiport valve
Multiport valve
In and outflow pipes between multiport valve and filter
DE Filter
Outflow pipe from multiport to chlorinator
Pipe destined for pool
Pipe to spa jets
Pipe to other pool jets
Pump motor
Waste water pipe from multiport
Hose from booster pump (hidden) to  pipe back to pool jets (underground)

My pool has a couple features not on the diagram:
  1. Two return pipes with individual shutoff valves
  2. Booster pump
Because the pool has a corner in the shallow end meant to be a spa, its jets are controlled separately. I guess the idea is that the other jets can be turned off to force all the pressure into the person sitting in the "spa". In practice, these shutoff valves have frozen shut such that the "spa" jets are permanently off and the "other" jets are permanently on. As you can see, fixing this would require quite a bit of plumbing unless the valves themselves could be fixed, and trying to do so would risk breaking them and requiring the extensive plumbing. Maybe later.

The booster pump boosts water pressure so my pool bottom cleaning machine can operate. The booster pump sucks from the filter and I believe it pushes into the "other" jet valve pipe, although that junction is underground so I can't be sure. My pool cleaning apparatus is a "Polaris" brand, and looks like this:

Polaris brand pool cleaner
The photo on the left shows my Polaris brand pool cleaner at the bottom of the pool.  The concrete pool wall shows at the lower right, with a diving board on the upper right.

Pressurized water comes in through the hose on top, and blows through some jets sucking water from the bottom and blowing it into the mesh bag on top. The pressurized water also operates a little motor that turns the wheels, thereby moving the machine around the pool. The rubber tubing at the back squirts water out its end, thereby making it move like a snake and brushing the bottom of the pool.

Filter Types

Various screens in the skimmer and pump remove large debris from the water. The small debris is removed by the pool's filter. Some filters remove tinier debris than others. For instance, a diatomaceous earth (DE) filter removes particles down to 3 microns.

The instructions on my bag of Fiberclear say that you can put Fiberclear in your sand or cartridge filter for finer filtration. It also says that if you do, you need to check the filter pressure frequently. I don't know what side effects or risks you would encounter doing this. Ask your pool store or pool professional.

I have a DE filter myself, so most of my knowledge is of DE filters. I know of 3 major filter types:
  1. Cartridge filters
  2. Sand filters
  3. Diatomaceous earth (DE) filters
My understanding is that cartridge filters are cheaper because they consist basically of a filter cartridge (which I assume is very similar to the filter in a vacuum cleaner). From what I hear, when the cartridge gets clogged, sometimes you can clean and recondition it by removing it and washing it, either with a non-pressurized garden hose, or in extreme cases with a cleaning kit. However, you cannot backwash it in place like you can a DE filter.

Because they're not backwashed in place, cartridge filters don't require a multiport valve, but only a simple valve to direct the flow either through the filter or out to the street. Most of my neighbors have cartridge filters, and their water looks good and I haven't heard any complaints.

From what I understand, sand filters are sort of like DE filters except they use sand instead of diatomaceous earth, they must be backwashed frequently (every few days, every week, something like that), but their sand need be changed only once every 1 year to 5 years. From what I understand, they do not filter as finely as does a DE filter.

Because I'm much more knowledgeable of DE filters, I've place DE filter info in its own article.

DE Filter Care and Maintenance


Fiberclear is a substitute for diatomaceous earth powder. The cost per reload is roughly the same, but you use half as much powder, resulting in an easier, cleaner and safer job. The Fiberclear package makes this claim about Fiberclear:

"Unlike D.E., it is environmentally friendly, non-toxic and biodegradable...and it filters better than D.E.! It will not clog drains or sewers and is harmless to fish"

I've heard from others that it's safer, and in my experience it's easier to use. I use Fiberclear exclusively.

Throughout this article I use the word DE or diatomaceous earth powder. If you're using Fiberclear, just substitute the word Fiberclear for "DE".


Never mix Fiberclear and diatomaceous earth powder. If you switch from one to the other, your filter grids must be cleaned of all the former powder before loading the latter. My experience in mixing the two was that it clogged the filter in a way that backwashing could not fix, requiring a manual grid cleaning a couple weeks after purchasing the filter. There may be other problems with mixing them. Don't mix them.

A Diatomaceous earth (DE) filter uses diatomaceous earth (DE) or a substitute such as Fiberclear to filter out impurities. The main advantage is that diatomaceous earth and Fiberclear can filter particles down to 3 microns, for superiorly clean water. The tradeoff is that for longest life and best performance you must clean these filters every 3 months, and the cleaning process is such that it should probably be done by a professional. Also, you need to change the diatomaceous earth and Fiberclear roughly once a month in a well maintained pool, and much more often in a seriously cloudy pool.

The DE filter consists of an outer cannister capable of holding high pressure water, and inside that several (8 as I recall) grids. A grid is a framework covered by a gause looking substance. It goes almost from bottom to top of the cannister. Water is pumped in on one side of the grids, goes through the grids, and comes out the other side.

The grids themselves can't filter anything but the biggest particles. The magic happens when you add DE powder. The DE powder flows in with the water and coats the grids. Now the DE coated grids will stop particles down to 3 microns, while still passing water. As the DE becomes more saturated with particles, it becomes more resistive to water, passing less while maintaining a higher pressure. When the operating pressure becomes 10 PSI more than it was when you first loaded the DE powder, it's time to backwash and reload new DE powder.

DE Safety Precautions

Diatomaceous earth powder is reputed to be toxic -- DO NOT breath it in nor allow others to breath it. According to the manufacturer, Fiberclear is non-toxic:
Fiber Clear is Cellulose Fiber

The manufacturer of Fiber Clear told me the following:

"Fiber Clear is ground wood fiber which has been sized to work optimally in septum (DE) filters. This same cellulose fiber material is used in the pharmaceutical and food processing industries, and the chances that you have ingested some today are quite good. Cellulose fiber is used as a 'filler' in breads, cereals, cookies, etc. It is also used as a 'binder' in the pharmaceutical industry to bind drugs into pill form (aspirin, etc.). Therefore, Fiber Clear is truly non-toxic and is certainly biodegradable (DE, on the other hand, is a Class 1 carcinogen)."

In addition, you can see the Material Data Safety Sheet for Fiber Clear at, which clearly identifies Fiber Clear as 100% "Celulose, Wood Pulp" and is classified as the least possible health risk.

Under those circumstances, I'm a lot less likely to use a mask with Fiber Clear. Of course, even if I were working with cooking flour, if lots of powder were in the air I might wear a mask anyway, but the manufacturer's information makes me a lot more confident using Fiber Clear, with or without a mask.

When reading these safety precautions, be especially careful handling standard diatomaceous earth powder, and always use a mask when working with standard diatomaceous earth powder. The Material Data Safety Sheet for DE powder can be seen at

With Fiber Clear, make your own decision about a mask, probably depending on how much of it you puff up into the air and how concerned you are about getting any kind of dust in your lungs. With DE powder, I strongly recommend always wearing a mask and minimizing the powder getting into your eyes, hair, clothing or skin.

Put on a mask before approaching the bag. Wear a short sleeve shirt so that you won't get it on your clothes and spread it around your house. Hose down any DE that spills.

When using the powder, scoop it with a measuring cup and GENTLY place each cupful in a bucket of water, to minimize aeration of the powder. After completing the job, wash off your arms with your garden hose, and if you got the powder on your clothes, brush it off and then put it in the wash. If you do the work in your swimsuit, you can simply jump in the deep end of the pool to wash the powder off everything, including your hair.

Always seal the bag with duct tape when storing it, and store it in a place not likely to be disturbed by children or animals. The last thing you want is DE powder wafting through the air in your house. It never fails to amaze me that both standard DE powder and Fiberclear come in bags that require sealing and can easily be breached by a hard blow or a sharp object. I'd feel much more confident if they came in child resistant drums like powdered chlorine.

Understanding Your Multiport Valve

DE filters require a multiport valve. The filter's intake and outflow both go to the multiport valve. The setting on the multiport valve determines whether pressurized water goes in on the DE side of the grids and out the non-DE side of the grids back to the pool (filtering), in the non-DE side of the grids, through the grid and out to the street through a long hose (backwashing), in the DE side and out that same side into the street (rinsing), doesn't enter the filter at all but simply returns to the pool (recirculate), doesn't enter the filter but simply goes out to the street (wasting), or simply stops all flow (closed). Never use closed if the pump is running or will run before changing it. NEVER adjust the multiport valve while the pump is running, because the "water hammer" effect could break your valve or other equipment in your system. Instead wait 5 seconds after the pump is turned off before adjusting the multiport valve.

Top of multiport valve
To the left is my multiport valve. You can click the image to get a full sized image, but be aware the full sized image is 121K (takes several seconds to a minute over dialup).

The handle is wide where you put your hand, and comes to a point at the other end. The pointed end points to the function. For instance, in the photo to the left the pointer on the valve's handle is in the 6 o'clock position. This is the filter setting, which is the setting for normal operations.

To the immediate left at 8 o'clock is waste, which you might use to get rid of excess water before a storm, or get rid of excessively dirty water while vacuuming the bottom with a suction vacuum.

At 4 o'clock is rinse, which you use after backwashing. Speaking of backwashing, the 12 o'clock setting is backwash, and is therefore covered by the wide part of the handle in the photo to the left.

At the 2 o'clock position is recirculate, which you'd use if your filter is broken but you still want to move water. At the 10 o'clock position is closed, which you'd use only in rare, special occasions, and never with the pump on.

Backwashing Instructions


Be VERY CAREFUL when turning the pump on or off, because on most setups the only switch is in the timer, and if you place your hands wrong, you can get a 120 volt shock from the live wires in the timer. This is especially dangerous because the ground around your pump and filter are typically wet, and because people are often barefoot when turning the pump off or on.

NEVER operate the switch on the pump while looking elsewhere -- death could easily result. If in doubt, use the pool's circuit breakers to turn off power to the timer. Toggling the circuit breakers shortens their lives and causes the timer's time to become inaccurate, but that's much better than getting a 120 volt shock.

NEVER let children touch anything in the timer, including the pump switch.

Roll out your hose to the street gutter, or at least to your driveway, assuming your driveway slants toward the street. Make sure there are no kinks in the hose. Make sure the hose is securely clamped to the waste pipe on your multiport valve. Locate the glass water obervation tube coming out of the side of the multiport valve, and make remember what angle you need to see it.

Clean your skimmer screen and if necessary vacuum debris from the bottom. Clean your pump basket screen of all debris. Backwashing debris into the outflow side of the grids is not a good thing.

Now that you're prepared, you can begin the procedure.

Carefully shut off the pump, and wait five seconds. Now turn the filter handle so that the pointer points to the backwash position. Carefully turn the pump back on and watch the glass water obervation tube. After several seconds the water will go from clear to very cloudy. Then it will go back to clear. Wait 20 seconds after it clears before shutting off the pump. If it goes cloudy again before the 20 seconds, wait 20 seconds after clear again. In no case should a backwash ever last less than 30 seconds.

Once you've observed clear water for 20 seconds, turn off the pump, turn the multiport filter to rinse, and turn on the pump for 30 seconds. What this does is blow into the street the DE that was almost knocked loose by the backwash but still clinging to the grid.

After 30 seconds of rinsing, turn off the pump and place the multiport filter in the filter position, but DO NOT turn on the pump.

Once you've completed your backwash, refill the filter immediately!

Steve Litt's Modified Procedure

I do it a little differently. My procedure is not mainstream, is not recommended by professionals, and may create problems, but I feel more confident doing it my way because I think I get more old DE out of the grids.

What I do is set the multiport filter to the backwash position, turn on the pump, watch the glass observation tube, and wait for it to cloud up and then return to about 90% clear. I then shut off the pump, switch to filter., turn on the pump for 20 seconds.

I repeat the preceding paragraph several times. The rinse seems to loosen more DE that backwashing can then blow away, so that with each repetition the water gets cloudy. After a few repetitions, the water gets only slightly cloudy, and I then know I've backwashed thoroughly. I turn on the pump and run it

Once again, please remember that this modified procedure is something I do and nobody else does, so investigate thoroughly before trying it.

Once you've completed your backwash, refill the filter immediately!

Refilling Instructions

Refill IMMEDIATELY after backwashing. Refilling starts with preparation.

Make sure your skimmer screen is clean. Make sure you have little or no debris at the bottom of the pool (a few leaves is probably acceptable). Be sure you have cleaned the pump basket screen.

Be sure to have a working garden hose available at your skimmer. Be sure to have a clean 2 gallon bucket also available. If you use real DE powder instead of Fiberclear, have a 5 gallon bucket.

Remove any long sleeve shirt and put on a mask. The less clothing you wear, the better. If you wear just a bathing suit, you can jump in the deep end of the pool in order to wash powder off your skin and hair.

Turn on the garden hose. Fill the bucket with 1.5 gallons of water (Fiberclear) or 3 gallons of water (DE). Place your running garden hose in the pool. Bring your powder out near the skimmer and unseal it.

Walk over to the pump. Turn on the pump and wait for it to prime.. Move the drain/skimmer valve all the way toward skimmer, and make sure it remains primed. Sometimes pumps with small vacuum leaks will lose prime with the main drain shut off, especially if your system uses the old, smaller 1.5 inch piping. If it starts to lose prime, move the valve back toward drain until prime comes back. Then go back to your skimmer.

Using a measuring cup, place powder into the bucket containing water. Move slowly to prevent aeration. Pour the powder gently into the bucket to prevent aeration. If significant powder floats at the surface, stir it with a flat stick. If that doesn't submerge all the powder, add more water. If the water is already within 3 inches of the bucket's top, you'll need to stop and pour in what you have, and then repeat with a new bucket of water.

Gently stir the powder into the water, then begin pouring the mixture down the skimmer. If the mixture moves outside of the skimmer, stop pouring and then resume after the mixture has been sucked back into the skimmer. Pour more slowly if the mixture has a tendency to escape the skimmer. You want the powder in the skimmer, not in the pool at large. Pour only until "lumps" start coming out, then stop, put more water in the bucket, re-stir, and re-pour. Continue until all the bucket's powder has been poured down the skimmer.

If you were not able to get all the required powder in one bucket of water, repeat until you've put all the powder into the skimmer.

The minute you're done, go to the filter and read and record the pressure. When the pressure rises 10 PSI, it will be time for another powder change.

Some folks recommend pouring the powder straight into the skimmer, without the water bucket. This recommendation is for speed's sake. Other folks say that pouring the powder straight down will cause "clumps" at the grids, and harm filtration. I play it safe and mix the powder with water.

Mechanical Pool Troubleshooting

Pools seem simple, but they just seem that way. You can get some very complex problems. Like cars or any other complex system, diagnosis by serial replacement is costly and time consuming. You need to troubleshoot until you've identified the bad component with reasonable accuracy, and then fix or replace the bad component.

Pool jets blow bubbles

Your jets might blow bubbles the first couple minutes after turning on the pump. Such bubbles are trapped system air coming out as it's replaced by water. This is normal and not harmful. This can probably be minimized by opening the pressure relief valve on the pool's filter.

However, if the bubbles keep happening, or if the pump cannot prime, either the pump is defective (unusual) or there's a leak on the vacuum side of the system (very common). The vacuum side of the system is everything between the drain/skimmer and the pump, including the pump basket. Your job is to find the leak.

First, check the skimmer. If the pool level has fallen to the point where the skimmer is starting to suck air, bubbles will come out the jets and probably the pump will lose prime. Run a garden hose full force straight into the skimmer. If the problem persists, it's probably not a problem with the skimmer. Another test would be to turn the skimmer/maindrain valve so the skimmer is shut off. If the bubbles still appear, it probably eliminates the skimmer as a cause, and definitely indicates a leak outside the skimmer.

If you have a suction type pool cleaner, disconnect it and see whether the problem persists. If not, there's an air leak in the pool cleaner's plumbing.

Next, if you have a booster pump in addition to your regular pump, check whether it occurs both with and without the booster pump. If it occurs only when the booster pump is on, check everything between the regular pump and the booster pump -- this probably includes the filter. From this point forward we'll assume it occurs with the booster pump off...

The vacuum leak could be underground or aboveground. If underground, chances are there's a leak either in the drain pipe or the skimmer pipe, but not both. Turn the drain/skimmer valve both ways. If the problem occurs only on one, there's probably a vacuum leak on that one.

But be careful. If the problem occurs or worsens at both extremes of the drain/skimmer valve, it's probably between the drain/skimmer valve and the pump. What's happening is that shutting off one or the other water source from the pool increases the water resistence, making it harder to pull water relative to pulling air though the leak.

If you've ruled out underground leaks, your vacuum leak is now isolated to the above ground components surrounding your filter. Your filter and all the piping and components downstream from it are already ruled out because they're on the pressure side of the pump. Only the drain and skimmer pipes coming out of the ground, the drain/skimmer valve, the pipe between the drain/skimmer valve and the pump basket, the pump basket, and the pump can be the problem.

Temporarily assume it's not the pump itself. It usually isn't, because the gasket goes around the outside, and the outside is pressurized. The inside is the vacuum side of the pump itself.

Perhaps you can get a quick indication. If the pump can prime, turn the pump on for long enough for it to prime, then shut it off. The water in the underground pipes forms a momentum which builds up a huge pressure when the pump is shut off. As you shut off the pump (be very careful not to get shocked), look for water squirting out of any component. If it does, that's your probable culprit.

If your pump basket gasket is more than 6 months old, replace it on general principles (corrective maintenance). Be SURE to install it per instructions of the pool store, and BE SURE to use plenty of the recommended gasket lubricant. Tighten the basket cover down tight, and see whether the problem went away.

If not, here's a diagnostic trick for you. First, as a baseline, note how the pump basket is filling by looking through the translucent pump basket top. Ideally it should be all the way to the top with water, and you should see little or no turbulence. On a practical level, you will often see one or two areas of turbulence right below the translucent top. If you see lots of turbulence right at the top but the water comes all the way up to the top, you have some air coming in, but it's probably not enough to cause a problem, although you'll want to keep an eye on it. If there is actually a layer of air between the water and the top, that's a problem that needs solving, whether or not you notice bubbles or prime problems.
Basket filled to top with water, and has only minor turbulence near the screw knobs
Basket filled to the top with water, but has major turbulence.
Basket with just a little turbulence
Basket with much turbulence
This is almost perfect. Ideally there would be no visible turbulence or air, but the pictured condition probably will not be problematic any time soon.
This bears watching. Right now there's plenty of water, but there's also quite a bit of air, as the turbulence shows. If the air air intake increases, this could lead to loss of prime and pump damage.

Once you have bring a garden hose without a nozzle, and direct the water to various piping, valves, and locations between where the drain and skimmer pipes emerge from the ground and the pump. Keep it in each place for about a minute. If the situation in the basket improves when spraying a certain point, that's the location of the leak. What has happened is that, at the leak, you've replaced air with water, so it no longer sucks in air.

Pump loses prime

When we speak of the pump not priming, we mean that the pump reservoir doesn't fill up with enough water to feed the pump, so the pump pulls air. When we talk of the pump losing prime, we mean that the reservoir level declines enough that the pump pulls air.

This is a dangerous condition, that if left for an extended period (several minute, hours, or maybe a day or two), will wreck your pump and/or pump motor. What happens is this:

As you know, the pump basket is a reservoir of water to feed the pump. The pipe from the reservoir to the pump attaches to the reservoir near the bottom of the reservoir. As long as the water level in the reservoir CONSISTENTLY falls above the top of that pipe, the pump sucks pure water and everything is fine. But if the level falls below the top of the pipe, the pump sucks air, breaking the suction that pulls water all the way from the drain and skimmer. Without such suction, even less water would be pulled, the reservoir level would decline more, and the problem would exacerbate to the point where you're pulling air, reducing pump cooling and causing damage to the pump blades.

In practice on a healthy pump system, the pump can pull water even if the reservoir level starts low, thereby quickly filling the reservoir. This is because the system is sealed, so that if it pulls air it quickly exhausts all air in the system, and the resulting vacuum pulls water.

If a pump doesn't prime within a few seconds, or if it loses prime, that invariably means that there's a leak on the vacuum side of the pump, or else the pump is defective. Either way, troubleshoot it as in the section titled Pool jets blow bubbles.

Pool loses water

If your pool loses water, it's due to one of the following:
  1. Misadjustment of equipment
  2. Leak on the pressure side of the pump
  3. Leak in the pool wall itself
  4. Normal evaporation

Misadjustment of equipment

If you leave your filter valve on "waste" so that it dumps out to the street, you'll quickly lose water. However, you'll probably realize it very quickly. If you don't, the pool could float on the ground water and break, costing up to tens of thousands of dollars. ALWAYS pay attention when draining the pool.

An easier to make mistake is leaving your pressure type pool cleaner out of the pool, or having its hose break. When either of these happen, the cleaner machine or hose sprays water all over -- most of it outside the pool, so your pool water level could decline, possibly catastrophically if left for several days. Turning off your booster pump and disconnecting your pool cleaner when on vacation can eliminate the chance of this happening. I'll leave it to you to decide whether you'd rather encounter a leaf buildup, or risk draining your pool.

Leak on the pressure side of the pump

This is usually easy to see. If it's above ground and at all substantial, it's visible to the naked eye as water spraying or dripping out of a pipe or component. If it's more than one drop every 10 seconds, it's probabably substantial. If it's spraying, it's VERY substantial.

If it's below ground and substantial, over time it might create a sink hole.

If you see a pressure side leak, fix it or have a repair person fix it. For one thing, it's costing you money in chemicals and refill water. But more than that, the water could be undermining your house's foundation, drawing termites, creating mold, or lots of other nasty side effects.

One very handy test is to leave your pump off for three or four days (be sure you have plenty of chlorine to ward off algae). If the pool doesn't lose water the way it does when the pump is on, you have a pressure size leak.

Leak in the pool wall itself

The way you find this is by turning off your pump and putting small amounts of dye around the pool. Start near the skimmer -- there are often leaks there. If not there, place dye in other places. If you've ruled out other water loss modes, and you're still losing more water than evaporation could cause, call in a pool leak professional to do the dye check for you. He or she will probably also be needed to fix the leak once it's found.

Another telltale sign is situations where it loses water faster when the water level is higher. This would point to a crack or hole high up near the water line. When the water is low it's either below the leak or so close to it that there's little pressure to push it through. When the water level is increased a few inches it pressures the water through the hole.

Normal evaporation

In very hot weather, it is sometimes normal to lose 1/2 inch per day of water. In cooler weather this would be very abnormal. If you've ruled out everything else and it's losing less than 1/2 inch per day in hot weather, and much less in cool weather, assume it's normal evaporation.

Chemical Pool Troubleshooting

Your pool needs to achieve correct ranges for many chemical properties. Here are just a few. Note that I obtained the normal ranges from an AquaChek 6 test kit. Others may state different normal ranges:

Normal range
What it is and what it does
How to adjust it
Total hardness
250-600 ppm
This is how much mineral material is disolved in your pool water. Too much and you get "lime deposits" on your pool surface and other hardware. Too little and your pool surface starts to disolve.
There are agents you can add to change the hardness of your water.
Cyanuric acid
30-100 ppm.
30-50 is ideal
This is the chemical that prevents your chlorine from "burning off" on sunny days. It's often  called "pool conditioner" or "chlorine stabilizer". Too little and you lose chlorine in a day or two. I'm not sure what happens when it's too much, but I've had it up to 100 without perceiving ill effects.
Add more when you run low. If you accidentally add too much, it will decrease over time. If you add WAY too much, ask your pool store.
Free chlorine
1-3 ppm for a pool, 3-5 ppm for a spa.
This kills algae and germs. It's what makes pools a safe place to swim. If it gets too low you get algae buildups and probably bacterial buildups. If it's low for too long the pool turns green. If it's too much it irritates you eyes, or possibly other body parts if it's REALLY too high.

In a heavily used pool, or when algae is visible, you'll occasionally need to go above these levels. This is called shocking the pool. If you shock the pool, don't let anyone swim in the pool for at least 24 hours, and then only if chlorine levels have returned to a reasonable level.
To increase the free chlorine level,  first make sure your cyanuric acid is adequate, and then add chlorine. Powdered chlorine is the most economical, and also does not lower the PH like liquid chlorine.

If your free chlorine level is too high, you can either wait until it comes down, or put in sodium bromide to bring it down. I use Suncoast "Stop Yellow" brand sodium bromide. Sodium Bromide releases the algae killing potential of your chlorine. Therefore, be sure to brush the pool before adding sodium bromide. If you want to shock the pool, add both chlorine and sodium bromide.

Be sure to check your chlorine level the day after adding sodium bromide. I've found that three capfuls of Suncoast Stop Yellow in my 30,000 gallon pool will bring the chlorine level almost to zero the next day, so you might need to add enough chlorine to bring it back to 3ppm.

To help minimize free chlorine variation, use chlorine tablets (sometimes called "hockey pucks") in your chlorinator, or if you don't have a chlorinator in a floater tied up in such a way as to keep it away from the skimmer. Do not put chlorine tablets in the skimmer, as that will send concentrated chlorine into your pump and filter, reducing their life.
Total chlorine
Should approximately match the free chlorine
If total chlorine is significantly different from free chlorine, it usually indicates that you should add chlorine.
See free chlorine above.
7.2-7.8 ppm
pH is a measure of how "acid" your water is, with lower numbers being more "acid". If the pH is too low it can burn your eyes, and oxidize the pool coating and components. If it's too high it can burn your eyes and deposit "lime" on your pool. Liquid chlorine tends to reduce your pH.
To increase pH, add sodium carbonate or sodium bicarbonate. To decrease it, add muriatic acid.
Total alkalinity
80-120 ppm
I don't know the effects of this. Ask your pool store.
I don't know how to adjust this. Ask your pool store.
Phosphates Below 125 Phosphates are food for algae, so high phosphate levels promote algae blooms, even in very high chlorine levels. On the other hand, phosphates below 125 minimize the likelihood of algae, even if chlorine falls low. If phosphates are high, use a phosphate

Test your water every few days with a home test kit, and every month (more often if you have problems) bring a water sample to your pool store for more accurate readings.

Some common chemical symptoms include:
  1. Algae
  2. Burning eyes
  3. Staining
  4. Lime deposits
  5. Pool surface deterioration


Three frequent causes of algae are low chlorine, high phosphates, and failure to brush the surfaces twice a week.

Green algae floats around in the pool, and is easily killed by shocking. Yellow (mustard) algae is harder to kill and requires shocking, additional special chemicals, as well as frequent brushing of the sides and bottom. Black algae occurs in little spots, and is extremely hard to get rid of. Shock the pool, brush the spots. If that doesn't fix it you can either live with it or use a stiffer brush, which might harm your pool surfaces.

If you keep your chlorine level within specifications, brush the sides and bottom of your pool twice a week with a long pool brush on along pole, and shock the pool when you see the pool start to turn green or the sides start developing yellow patches, you'll probably never have a problem with algae. If you have a problem with algae in spite of these things, perhaps your phosphate level is too high, in which case there are chemicals to reduce it.

Burning eyes

This is typically caused by a too low pH, or too high chlorine levels. Theoretically it could be caused by pH that's WAY too high. Measure your free and total chlorine, and your pH. Adjust as necessary. If they're all in range, bring a sample to your pool store.


This is caused by persistent algae, by chemicals such as iron or copper, and by debris left to rust or rot in your pool. For instance, I have a few light brown stains where roofing nails blew into the pool and stayed for 6 months. Consult your pool store or pool professional to get rid of stains.

Lime deposits

High pH and/or high total hardness can cause this. Adjust as necessary.

Pool surface deterioration

Caused by low pH and/or low total hardness. Adjust as necessary.

Pros and Cons of Hiring a Pool Professional

From August 2000 through August 2004, a pool professional took care of our pool. He charged $85 per month, and did a good job. The only time our pool turned green was when we forgot to pay him. He did a fairly good job of diagnosis when things went wrong, and he could be counted on to install new pumps and repair equipment. For four years we didn't have to think about our pool except when we swam in it.

Now I take care of the pool. Chemicals cost me about $40.00 per month. I need to at least check the pool daily. Twice a week I need to scrub the sides, check the water, add chlorine tablets to the chlorinator, and probably shock with powdered chlorine. Once every few weeks I need to backwash the filter and add FiberClear.

I do an awful lot of work to save $45.00 a month.

In fact, the $45.00 isn't the issue. The issue is that now my pool never turns green because there's no pool professional to forget to pay. The issue is that now my water stays in much better control because I check and brush it twice a week, instead of the once a week that the pool professional shows up. This is especially fortunate because our family swims almost every day during the summer, consuming chlorine like it's going out of style. Back in the pool professional days, it would be shocked to the max on Monday so we couldn't swim, and by the following Sunday sometimes it was starting to take on a green tinge.

Another benefit to doing it myself is the self reliance. I now have the chemicals on hand and the knowledge in my head so that there's little I can't correct quickly. I also have forged a close relationship with Leslies Pool Supply so that if something comes up that I don't know, I can go to them, find out what to buy and how to use it, go home and fix the problem. For tough problems like a blown pump, Leslies has installation professionals.

I'm self contained.

When choosing whether to hire a pool professional or go it alone, I think it's a tradeoff between the time you spend doing it yourself, and the quality increase in doing it yourself. Also, if you do it yourself, there's one less person in the loop to complicate things.

Bottom line: If you have the time, I'd recommend doing it yourself. But if you don't have a couple hours a week to work on your pool, hire a good pool professional.

Pool Maintenance

If you maintain your own pool, you'll need some tools and supplies on hand, and you'll need to maintain a schedule:


You'll use the following supplies on a regular basis, so you should keep a stock on hand. Other supplies can be bought as needed, rather than warehoused in your house.



Every day

Eyeball the pool to make sure the level is reasonable, there is not excess debris at the bottom, surface or skimmer, and the water is not turning green. The proper water level is approximately 1/2 the way up the skimmer hole in the wall. If the level is much above this, you lose water when you swim (it splashes out). If it's much below this, the skimmer starts sucking air, possibly leading to a catastrophic pump failure, so use your garden hose to fill it to the middle of the skimmer hole.

This daily check should take about 5 minutes.

Twice weekly

The twice weekly routine is about half checks and half actions. Assuming filter pressure, timer, and clarity checks come back OK, and assuming you don't need to vacuum the bottom, this routine should take about 1/2 hour if you brush fast, or 3/4 of an hour if you brush at a more leasurely pace.

Vacuuming the bottom will never be necessary if you have a working and appropriate automatic pool vacuum, except in extreme cases such as right after a windstorm.


Once you get your phosphates below 125, you can simply use the phosphate killing fluid's recommended maintenance dose to keep phosphates down. If you kill phosphates once a week, brush your pool twice a week, and use chlorine tabs with built in stabilizer, you'll save lots of money by almost never needing to shock your pool, and because algae never forms, you'll reduce your need to backwash and reload your filter, saving money on DE or Fiberclear.

The anti phosphate treatment takes about 5 minutes. It's a matter of splashing the right amount of phosphate killing fluid into your pool, turning on the pump, and letting it run for 24 hours. I've even kept the pump on its normal cycle when using a maintenance dose, and it seemed to work. There's more on phosphates and chlorine tabs in Steve Litt's Pool Maintenance Method.


The water sample at the pool store takes as long as driving plus waiting in line plus consultation.

Every 3 months

DE filters only: Be sure you have sufficient diatomaceous earth powder or FiberClear to reload your filter. Then have a professional manually clean the grids on your DE filter. Reload with powder after he or she is done.

Winterizing and summerizing

I live in Orlando, where it never goes below 28 degrees farenheit, and gets down to 28 only for a few hours in the dead of night, maybe 3 times a year. I therefore know nothing about winterizing and summerizing a pool. Seek this information elsewhere.

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