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Understanding and Managing Total Alkalinity in Your Swimming Pool

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

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Owning a pool comes with the delightful prospects of enjoying sunny days in cool, refreshing water, sharing fun moments with family, or indulging in some peaceful alone time. However, behind the scenes of these enjoyable moments is the complex task of pool maintenance.

It's a science and an art that demands attention to several chemical parameters. Among these, Total Alkalinity stands as a cornerstone. With a crucial role in maintaining the water's pH balance, Total Alkalinity helps ensure the water is not only invitingly clear but also safe for all to enjoy.

By effectively managing total alkalinity, you can ensure the longevity of your pool, its equipment, and the overall quality of your swimming experience. Understanding this unique parameter takes you one stride further on the path to excellent pool stewardship. It is an important piece in the puzzle of pool maintenance, which, when put together, guarantees the pool experience everyone desires.

What Is Total Alkalinity?

Total Alkalinity is like the unsung hero of your pool’s chemical balance. When we talk about Total Alkalinity, or TA for short, we're referring to how much alkaline material is present in the pool water. This material is stuff like bicarbonates, carbonates, and hydroxides. But what does this really mean?

Well, think of Total Alkalinity as the pool water's defense system. Its primary job is to fight off acids that try to make the water too acidic, keeping the pH level from bouncing around too much. By doing this, the TA acts like a buffer.

This buffering capacity of Total Alkalinity is like a sponge, soaking up fluctuations in acidity so your pool's pH stays stable. A balanced pH is vital for the pool's cleanliness and safety. Without this alkaline buffer, your pool would be subject to wild swings in acidity, which could lead to everything from cloudy water to damaged equipment.

crystal clear pool

The Critical Role of Total Alkalinity in Your Pool

Think of Total Alkalinity as the unseen guardian of your pool, its role often goes unnoticed but it is absolutely pivotal to maintaining a well-balanced and healthy swimming environment. When Total Alkalinity is at the right level, it creates a stabilizing effect on the water's pH level. This is really important because when the pH level stays steady, the water is less likely to turn acidic or basic, thus preventing a host of problems.

Let's delve a bit deeper into what happens when the Total Alkalinity is not at the right level. When it dips too low, the water becomes a playground for a condition known as "pH bounce." This simply means the pH level is bouncing around, fluctuating at a rapid rate. This instability turns the water acidic which is a real problem for your pool and swimmers. Acidic water is like a silent destructive force, gnawing at the pool liners and equipment, causing corrosion. Even worse, when you or your loved ones dive into such water, it could result in skin and eye irritation.

On the other hand, when Total Alkalinity is too high, the water turns into a breeding ground for scale-forming substances and can become cloudy. This leads to a rise in the pool's pH levels, which sets the stage for other issues like ugly stains on your pool surfaces and unwanted algae growth.

In essence, the Total Alkalinity in your pool is like a tightrope walker's balance pole, ensuring everything remains steady. The balance it provides is essential for the health of your pool, and the comfort and safety of your swimmers. It underscores the importance of keeping a watchful eye on Total Alkalinity levels in your pool.

Determining Ideal Total Alkalinity Levels: A Delicate Balance

Achieving the perfect balance for total alkalinity in your pool is more of a science than an art. The "sweet spot" that you're aiming for typically falls between 80 and 120 parts per million (ppm). However, there are certain situations where you might need a slightly different range. For instance, if you have a plaster or concrete pool, or if you're using a biguanide system - a chlorine alternative for sanitizing your pool - your target total alkalinity level would be slightly higher, between 100 to 150 ppm.

But why these particular numbers? Well, this range is carefully calculated to give you the best of both worlds. It's high enough to prevent your pool from turning acidic and causing corrosion or a rapidly fluctuating pH, yet not so high that it would lead to scale formation or excessively high pH levels.

This fine balance of total alkalinity is key to ensuring not just a safe and enjoyable swimming experience, but also to protecting your pool's infrastructure over time. By maintaining the total alkalinity within this range consistently, you're helping to protect your investment in your pool and avoid unnecessary repair or replacement costs down the line.

With this in mind, there are a number of testing methods available, from simple test strips to digital test kits, each with its own pros and cons. By maintaining vigilance with regular checks, you'll ensure that your pool stays clear, clean, and safe for everyone to enjoy. We recommend Taylor Safety Plus Total Alkalinity Test to ensure your pool chemicals are properly tested quickly and efficiently.

How to Spot Total Alkalinity Imbalance

Detecting an imbalance in total alkalinity in your pool is akin to playing detective, requiring vigilant observation and routine testing. Let's discuss the signs of a total alkalinity imbalance.

Cloudy Water

One of the first signs of an imbalance in total alkalinity you might notice is cloudy water. It's more than just a sight for sore eyes; it's a telltale signal that something's off with your alkalinity level.


Next up is scaling. This refers to the chalky, white residue you might start to see on your pool's surfaces or equipment. Scaling is often a clue that your pool's total alkalinity level is tipping the scales on the higher end.

Rapid pH Level Changes

Remember, one of the main roles of total alkalinity is to act as a buffer for pH levels. If you notice that your pH level is swinging up and down like a seesaw, your total alkalinity might be out of balance.

Corrosion of Metal Components

Corrosion of any metal parts in your pool, like ladders or handrails, is another red flag. If you start seeing signs of rust, it could indicate low total alkalinity.

Skin or Eye Irritation After Swimming

Finally, if swimming in your pool leaves you or others with irritated skin or eyes, it's more than just an inconvenience. This could be a warning that the pool's total alkalinity level is too low, resulting in overly acidic water.

crowded pool

Factors Contributing to Total Alkalinity Imbalance

Understanding what causes an imbalance in your pool's total alkalinity is a key part of managing it effectively. It's a bit like knowing what causes traffic on your daily commute - when you know the reasons, you can anticipate and deal with them more effectively. Let's explore some of these factors:

Environmental Factors

Our environment has a major role to play in the balance of total alkalinity in our pools. Weather conditions such as rainfall can dilute the pool water and reduce the TA level. Conversely, excessive heat can cause water evaporation, concentrating the remaining substances and potentially increasing TA.

Additionally, wind can carry and deposit debris like leaves, dirt, or even pollutants into your pool, all of which can alter the balance of alkaline substances.

Swimmers and Organic Materials

The humans who enjoy your pool can also inadvertently affect its total alkalinity. Sunscreen, hair products, sweat, or other organic materials that swimmers bring into the pool can introduce acids or bases that disrupt the TA level. It's another reason why showering before entering a pool isn't just about personal hygiene; it's about preserving the delicate chemical balance of the pool water too.

Pool Chemicals

The very chemicals you add to your pool to maintain its health can also affect total alkalinity. pH increasers or decreasers, chlorine stabilizers, or shock treatments all have the potential to shift TA levels. It's crucial to add these substances carefully, following manufacturer's guidelines, and to regularly test your water afterward to ensure the TA remains within the ideal range.

Source Water

Lastly, even the water used to fill the pool can contribute to total alkalinity imbalances. Different water sources can have varying levels of alkaline substances. For example, well water can often contain higher mineral content, which can increase the TA.

Monitoring Your Pool's Total Alkalinity Levels

Monitoring the total alkalinity in your pool is an ongoing task that demands regular attention, akin to the routine of checking your car's oil level or tire pressure. A proactive approach can help you nip potential issues in the bud and maintain optimal pool conditions.

Reliable Pool Test Kits

The cornerstone of your monitoring strategy is a reliable pool test kit. Just as a doctor uses a stethoscope or a thermometer, a good pool test kit will provide you with an accurate and quick assessment of your total alkalinity levels. These kits typically use reagents or test strips that react with the pool water to give you a reading of your total alkalinity.

Frequency of Testing

So how often should you roll up your sleeves and test? Ideally, you should conduct a test at least once a week. Regularity is key because it can help you understand your pool's natural rhythm and make it easier to spot any sudden changes.

Situational Testing

In addition to the weekly check-ups, there are certain situations where you might want to test more frequently. For instance, if your pool sees heavy usage - such as a pool party or a busy weekend - it's wise to test the water afterward. The increased number of swimmers can significantly affect the chemical balance of the pool, including the total alkalinity.

Also, after significant rainfall, you should test your pool water. Rainwater can dilute your pool's chemical concentration, potentially throwing off your total alkalinity.

free chlorine

Adjusting Total Alkalinity Levels

Correcting your total alkalinity levels might seem a daunting task, but with the right knowledge and tools at hand, it's a hurdle that's easy to overcome. Adjusting the total alkalinity in your pool is a bit like tuning an instrument, requiring a careful ear and the right adjustments to get the perfect harmony. Let's explore how to effectively tune your pool's total alkalinity:

Increasing Total Alkalinity

If your pool's total alkalinity is falling short of the ideal range, you'll need to increase it. One common method for increasing total alkalinity involves adding sodium bicarbonate, more commonly known as baking soda, to your pool water. This substance reacts with the water to increase its alkalinity. We recommend Clorox Pool&Spa Pool Total Alkalinity Increaser.

Decreasing Total Alkalinity On the other hand, if your pool's total alkalinity is too high, you need to lower it. This process usually involves the addition of an acid. Common choices include muriatic acid or sodium bisulphate.

Using acid to decrease total alkalinity needs to be done with care. These substances can be hazardous, and they must be handled and stored properly. As with increasing total alkalinity, be sure to calculate the correct amount needed and add in stages to avoid overshooting.

Before adding anything to your pool, ensure you calculate the correct amount needed to reach the ideal total alkalinity. Lifeguard LI's pool chemical calculator can be a handy tool for this. Add the baking soda in small increments, allowing each to fully circulate before adding more, to avoid overshooting the desired level.

Even Distribution

Whether you're raising or lowering total alkalinity, it's crucial to ensure even distribution of the chemicals you're adding. This can be achieved by pouring the chemicals in different areas of the pool or by using your pool's circulation system to disperse them evenly. Always allow the chemicals to fully circulate before retesting the water.

latex gloves

Handling Total Alkalinity Safely

When it comes to pool care, safety is every bit as crucial as precision. Handling chemicals used to adjust total alkalinity can feel intimidating, but with the right approach and a commitment to safety, you can navigate this task confidently and responsibly.

Protective Gear

Your first line of defense is wearing the right protective gear. Just as a chef wouldn't handle a hot pan without oven mitts, don't handle pool chemicals without suitable protection. This means donning safety glasses to protect your eyes from any potential splashes or fumes, and wearing gloves to prevent skin contact with the chemicals.

Remember, these chemicals are designed to alter the balance of substances in a large body of water, so even small amounts can be harmful if they come into contact with your skin or eyes.

Safe Handling Practices

The way you handle these chemicals can also significantly affect safety. An important rule of thumb is to always add chemicals to water and not the other way around. This might seem like a small detail, but it can make a significant difference in preventing harmful reactions. For example, adding water to concentrated acid can cause the mixture to heat up rapidly, potentially leading to a dangerous splash or vapor release.

Storage and Disposal

Proper storage of your chemicals is also a crucial safety consideration. Keep them in a cool, dry place, out of reach of children and pets, and away from any open flames or heat sources.

Similarly, if you have any leftover chemicals, don't just dispose of them in your regular trash or down the drain. Check with your local waste disposal facility for guidelines on disposing of pool chemicals safely and responsibly.

Seeking Professional Assistance

If you ever feel uncertain or uncomfortable handling these chemicals, don't hesitate to seek professional help. Pool maintenance companies have trained professionals who can safely and effectively manage your pool's total alkalinity, along with other aspects of pool care.

pH testing

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Total Alkalinity in a Pool?

Total alkalinity in a pool refers to the capacity of the water to neutralize acids. It's a measure of all the alkaline substances in the water, including bicarbonates, carbonates, and hydroxides. Maintaining the right total alkalinity level is crucial as it helps to stabilize the pH levels of the water, preventing drastic fluctuations that can damage your pool and cause discomfort to swimmers.

How Do I Raise Total Alkalinity in My Pool?

If your pool's total alkalinity is low, you can raise it by adding an alkaline substance such as sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). The amount you'll need to add will depend on the volume of your pool and how much you need to raise the total alkalinity. Always add the baking soda in small increments and allow the water to circulate fully before retesting and adding more if needed.

How Do I Lower Total Alkalinity in My Pool?

Lowering total alkalinity involves the addition of an acid to the pool water. Common choices include muriatic acid or sodium bisulphate. Similar to raising total alkalinity, make sure to calculate the correct amount needed and add the acid in stages, allowing the water to circulate between additions. Remember to handle these chemicals with care, wearing appropriate protective gear.

What is the Ideal Total Alkalinity Level for a Pool?

The ideal total alkalinity level for a pool ranges between 80 and 120 parts per million (ppm). For pools with plaster or concrete surfaces, or those using a biguanide system, the total alkalinity level can be a little higher, between 100 and 150 ppm.

What are the Signs of Imbalanced Total Alkalinity in a Pool?

Imbalanced total alkalinity in a pool can manifest in several ways. If the total alkalinity is too low, it may result in fluctuating pH levels, potential corrosion of metal components, and irritation of skin or eyes for swimmers. On the other hand, high total alkalinity can lead to cloudy water, scaling on pool surfaces, and a rise in the pH level leading to algae growth or stained surfaces.

How often should I test my pool's total alkalinity?

It's recommended to test your pool's total alkalinity at least once a week. However, during periods of heavy pool usage, after significant rainfall or addition of a large volume of new water, it's advisable to test more frequently to ensure that your pool stays within the ideal total alkalinity range.

Lifeguard LI may receive a commission for purchases made through the affiliate links in this article. However, our goal is to provide unbiased advice on the best and most eco-sustainable products on the market. Our recommendations are always based on thorough research and testing, regardless of any potential affiliate relationships.


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