How to Keep the Kiddie Pool Water Clean All Summer Long
Every year, I swear that this will be the last time I have to buy this particular kiddie pool for Ruby, because this year, I will dutifully keep it white ’n’ bright. At the end of the season, I’ll dry it out, fold it up, and store it for next year instead of furtively and guiltily dragging it to the curb, leaving behind a trail of slimy, oozing green water.
The great thing about this kiddie pool is that it’s 120 inches—10 feet!—long and 22 inches deep, and Ruby loves swimming from end to end in it. It’s also well-made and sturdy, and as far as I know, it’s durable. I haven’t had one for more than one swimming season, but the four we've gone through thus far have held up great under lots of use during that time.
The problem with this kiddie pool is that it’s 120 inches—10 feet!—long. Ya can’t just flip ‘er over and spray ‘er down every time she needs cleaning. Getting the last vestiges of soap and dirt out of the folds is a two-person production that usually involves Gerardo and me arguing over who has to hold the pool and who gets to spray it.
This kiddie pool holds a lot of water, and I do my best to keep it skimmed and clean so that we don’t have to refill it too often. But then it rains, and within a day, the pool water takes on a slight, sickly green tint. Or there’s a long, hot spell with 90 percent humidity, and while Ruby’s inside building mansions in Minecraft in the A/C, the water begins to fester from lack of use. Either way, I realize that it’s my lazy ass that’s ultimately responsible for what eventually becomes a stagnant, fetid pond of algae. And if you’ve read my important piece on backyard mosquito control, you know that a stagnant, fetid pond of algae is an epic mosquito breeding ground.
So when I finally can’t stand the stabbing guilt and self-hatred I feel every time I walk past it, I take a deep breath, roll up my sleeves, and have at it with SOS pads. And then I refill it, and the whole cycle starts anew.
But this year, I’m not going to make the same mistakes. I’m going to keep the kiddie pool water clean and pristine. I’m gonna do it up right. How? I’m glad you asked. I’ve done a bit of research on that front, and I’m here to share my findings with you.
What the CDC Says About the Health of a Kiddie Pool
When I set out to write this piece, I was blissfully ignorant of the horrific dangers that await our unsuspecting children in the kiddie pool. Cue the Jaws music, and zoom in to all the microscopic monsters that lurk in the depths: Cryptosporidium! E. coli! Shigella! Giarida! These germs can cause gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and wound infections, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, the kiddie pool is positively rife with them, especially if children from more than one family use it.
Now, the CDC, to me, is the ultimate authority on such matters, but I’ve got to say, my sister and I swam in communal horse tanks and wash tubs and blow-up kiddie pools our whole childhood, and so has Ruby, and as far as I can recall, no swimmer’s ear, oozing rashes, or copious diarrhea ever resulted. But that obviously doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen.
To help ensure it doesn’t, the CDC recommends warning your children not to get pool water in their mouths. Good luck with that. Also: “Give children a cleansing soap shower or bath before they swim.” Um, yeah. Lady, the swim IS the bath.
So take all that for what you will, but remember: Everything has risks. I’m sure the chances of catching a waterborne illness in the pool are pretty slim—I couldn’t find the exact statistics for that—but then again, no one wants to risk explosive diarrhea or screaming earaches in the household.
Still, your kid is probably more endangered by the sun than by the water in the kiddie pool. (Here’s my lowdown on sun exposure, the best sunscreens for kids, and how to properly apply it.)
The Best Ways to Keep the Kiddie Pool Water Clean
Here, then, are the best ways to keep the kiddie pool water clean throughout the summer.
1. Drain and refill.
If your kid’s pool is pretty small, and draining and refilling it doesn’t feel like a colossal waste of water, then the best way to keep the kiddie pool clean is to drain it, scrub it down with a plain old kitchen brush, and refill it. Consider using the pool water to water the plants in the yard.
2. Purchase a kiddie pool cover that fits.
Keep a cover on the kiddie pool when it’s not in use. Intex sells a kiddie pool cover that’s made for our particular pool of choice. But every year, I pass on purchasing it, because I’ve got tons of tarps and stakes and bungee cords. My homemade covers keep most of the bugs, twigs, and other flotsam and jetsam out, but they’re worthless against rain. This year, I’m ordering the cover at the same time I order the pool, and I’m’a put it on every single night.
3. Try the Aqua Broom
The Aqua Broom is a fun little gadget that vacuums up the sand and dirt at the bottom of the pool. Ruby’s sandbox is very close to the pool, so this might come in handy this year just for the grit. It’s only got three out of five stars from over a thousand people, but it appears that most of the bad reviews came from folks using it to try to clean a large pool and from the fact that it runs on D batteries, which are known to corrode if water gets inside. But it sounds like it does what it’s supposed to do.
4. Get a Scumbug.
I just saw a program on the tee vee about this enormous sponge that soaks up oil above and below the water after a catastrophic oil spill. This Scumbug oil-sucking sponge must use the same technology. It absorbs 40 times its weight in suntan lotions, so if you slather your kid like I slather mine, this handy, bug-shaped sponge will suck it out of the water to help keep the kiddie pool clean and the water clear.
5. Use the pool skimmer every day.
Stuff blows into the pool all the time, and having a skimmer of some sort on hand makes quick work of getting it out. I use these cheap nets to skim Ruby’s pool. They work fine for most stuff that gets in the water, and there are enough of them that the kids won’t fight over who gets to skim. They also work great for catching fireflies and butterflies.
If you prefer the real deal, this HydroTools pool skimmer will do the trick nicely. It’s got an aluminum handle that telescopes to 12 feet, which seems excessive for a kiddie pool, but the kids’ll probably enjoy that. This baby will pick up smaller stuff, like the sand and grit you scare up off the pool floor.
6. Use chemicals formulated for small pools.
I’m always loathe to use toxic chemicals when it’s not necessary, but sometimes chemicals are the best defense against worser enemies. In the amounts we’re talking, chlorine is far less harmful than the frightening things that are apparently lurking in the pool.
According to experts at Pool Solutions, you need four things to keep your kiddie pool clean and safe:
A stabilized form of chlorine that’s 55% to 62% active strength. The chemical name you’re looking for here is either sodium dichloroisocyanurate or sodium dichloro-s-triazine trione. These Aqua Chem Sanitizer Chlorinating Granules are 55% chlorine and formulated for small pools with a capacity between 200 and 1,000 gallons.
Algaecide that’s 60% active strength. The mile-long chemical name to look for is poly[oxyethylene(dimethyliminio)ethylene(dimethyliminio)ethylene dichloride]. The algaecide offers backup protection in the event the chlorine gets low, and it controls some of the bacteria that’s resistant to chlorine, including the little bastards that cause nasty ear infections. The Pool Breeze Algicide 60 has the right strength and the right chemical name, and it’s non-foaming.
A box of borax, which you can find in the laundry detergent aisle of the grocery store. The only brand I’ve ever seen is 20 Mule Team. Borax is non-toxic in normal, everyday amounts.
Plain old, regular bleach, 6% active strength.
A water testing kit. These easy-to-use water testing strips will analyze the chlorine level, along with the pH, bromine, and alkalinity.
Pool Solutions has a calculation form that will help you figure out the volume of water in your pool, or you can simply enter the volume in their handy calculator if you know it. Click “calculate doses,” and it’ll give you the recommended doses of the above chemicals.
For example, our pool has a 264-gallon capacity, which requires:
Bleach: 6.4 tablespoons
Borax: 1.5 tablespoons
Algaecide: 0.6 teaspoons
Chlorine: 0.5 teaspoons
Here’s what you do:
Fill the pool, and add the bleach and borax. Wait an hour, then use the strips to test. The chlorine level should be 3.0 or higher, and the pH should be 7.4 or higher. I guess you can ignore the bromine and alkalinity. Once your numbers jibe, add the algaecide dose, and you’re ready to swim!
Test the pool before each swim. If the chlorine level is below 2.0, add one dose of the chlorine granules, and mix it in. Re-test, and wait 10 minutes before swimming.
For the highest possible level of safety, empty the pool once a week, and then follow the same chemical protocol, starting with the bleach and borax, following with the algaecide, and using the chlorine when the level dips below 2.0 I’m sure I’m probably going to push that envelope, especially if the water still looks clean, but it’s a good rule of thumb to follow.
So there you are. If you’re up for the task, you can minimize the risk of recreational water illnesses and help ensure your kid stays healthy and active in the kiddie pool all summer long. Otherwise, take your chances like I've been doing all these years, and hope for the best.
If you have anything to add or an experience (horror story?) you'd like to share, please feel free to comment!