Maintaining a pool requires you to meticulously monitor the water chemistry and make adjustments as needed. It sometimes feels like you’re a chemist – add a few drops of this, a few drops of that, and voilà, your pool is now safe to swim in.
Except, it’s not always so timely. Sometimes you need to wait hours or even days before proceeding to the next step.
The good news is, at least with baking soda, a.k.a. Sodium bicarbonate, you can theoretically use the pool immediately after adding a small amount of it. However, if you need to add a large amount of baking soda to increase the pH of an acidic medium or to stabilize pH bounce, then a 6-12 hour waiting period is recommended. Make sure your pool pump is on to help with dispersal.
Keep reading on, and we’ll go over in more detail what baking soda does for your pool, what are the risks you need to know, and how to use baking soda to clean your pool.
Clearing up misconceptions
Baking soda is a very versatile product that you can use to clean pool tiles, furniture, grout, and so on. Therefore, some people have the misconception that simply adding it into the pool will “clean” it. As logical as this seems, that’s not really what happens.
Rather, baking soda is added into a pool to increase the pH and alkalinity. Baking soda has a pH level of 8.3-8.6, and a normal range for the pool is 7.4-7.6. If the pool has a lower pH than that, then it is a perfect time to add some baking soda to bring the pH level up to normal.
At the normal pH level, the pool will be safe to swim in because the chlorine will be effective at killing harmful microorganisms. At the end of the day, it is still chlorine that keeps the pool water sanitary, not baking soda. Just make sure not to add too much baking soda, otherwise the chlorine will not be effective any more.
pH levels and alkalinity in the pool
As a pool owner, you must track the pH levels and make sure it is within the safe range of 7.4-7.6 to ensure the water is safe for people to swim in.
If the pH levels are too low, then the pool becomes acidic. This can cause skin irritations, burning in one’s eyes, dried hair and skin, and various other negative effects. Acidic water will also corrode pool tiles and fixtures.
Pool water naturally becomes more acidic over time. Rain has a pH of 4-5, so if you let the rain water fill your pool, some work will need to be done to increase the pH later.
Some other sources that can increase the pH are body fluids, chlorine, and organic debris. You need to monitor how the pH level is changing over time and add alkalizing agents such as baking soda to stabilize the pH level in your pool water.
As it relates to the primary question of this article, the more acidic your pool is, the more baking soda you will have to add and the longer you need to wait until the pH has reached safe levels once again. Assuming you are just topping up the pH level by adding a small amount of baking soda, then you don’t need to wait long or at all.
What if the pool water becomes too alkaline?
If you add too much baking soda into your pool, then you have the opposite problem: your pool becomes too alkaline. No, this is not any better than a pool that is too acidic. If the pH goes above 7.8, then these are some of the following effects:
- Like acidic water, it can also cause itchy skin and rashes.
- The water can become cloudy, reducing visibility and making it harder to see walls or the bottom.
- High pH renders chlorine ineffective, resulting in germ and bacteria growth.
- High pH, along with other disinfectants containing calcium, can lead to scaling on tiles and even the plumbing of the pool.
When this occurs, pool owners will need to add an acidic substance to bring the pH level down to 7.4-7.6. This process may require some fine-tuning. If too much acidic substance is added, then add some baking soda to even things out.
Again, the time it takes for the pool to be safe to swim in depends on how much acidic substance is added, or how much baking soda is added to even things out. You may be able to swim in the pool right away, or you may need to wait 6-12 hours.
How safe is baking soda?
Generally speaking, baking soda is an extremely safe cleaning agent. You may have heard of people dumping pounds of baking soda into their pool, and as we mentioned, there can be some side effects.
However, since it is a natural product, its risk to your health and the pool is low. If you add too little, your pool will remain acidic. If you add too much, you can cause calcium buildup in your pool.
You don’t hear stories of people getting seriously ill or losing their life because they added baking soda into their pool. That said, a safety issue that can present itself when too much baking soda is added is cloudy water, which reduces visibility and can increase the chances of an accident.
However, since water tends to become more acidic as time passes, you will rarely have an issue with the water becoming too alkaline unless you add way too much baking soda.
When you add a large amount of baking soda, you will need to wait until it is fully dissolved to know how it has affected the pH level. That is why you should wait 6-12 hours while running the pool pump to help the baking soda disperse and dissolve.
How to clean the pool with baking soda
All this talk about adding baking soda into the pool, but how much exactly should you add? Here are the steps:
- Test your pool’s water for pH levels and alkalinity. If the pH level is lower than between 7.4-7.6 and your total alkalinity is below 80 ppm, then you need to increase them by adding baking soda.
- Calculate how much baking soda your pool needs. Some basic math is required here. As a rule of thumb, 1.5 pounds of baking soda raises the pH level of a 10,000 gallon pool by 10 ppm. Depending on the size of your pool and how much alkalinity you want your pool to measure, this can vary. Either do the math yourself or use a pool alkalinity calculator to help you out. This can also help you calculate how much muriatic acid to add if you accidentally make the pool too alkaline.
- Buy baking soda in bulk. You will likely need several pounds of baking soda, so the regular sizes at the grocery store are a little too small. You can get a big bag of sodium bicarbonate at a pool supplier or order it online.
- Add the baking soda to the pool. Add the baking soda by sprinkling it over the surface in wide arcs, making sure not to put it all in one spot, or you can pour it into a skimmer. A circulation motion can help it dissolve more quickly. Leaving the pool pump running also helps to disperse it and prevents the water from being cloudy.
- Wait after adding baking soda. Depending on how much you added, you may need to wait 6-12 hours.
- Re-test your water and add more baking soda or muriatic acid if necessary.
The bottom line
If you want to swim in crystal clear water without any side effects like irritated skin or dry hair, then you need to ensure the water chemistry is well-balanced. To achieve this, baking soda is a crucial pool maintenance product that increases the pH and alkalinity of the water.
You will likely need to add baking soda on a weekly basis. To know exactly when to add baking soda and how much to add, you will need to test your water. The quantities used can be minor, from just a little more than a pound to over a dozen pounds. If you need to add large quantities of baking soda, you will need to wait 6-12 hours before swimming in the pool.
If you only needed to add a small amount, then you can splash away right afterwards. That said, you may need to consider any other chemicals used. If they specifically state that you should wait, then regardless of how much or little baking soda you used, you should wait on the other chemicals to be safe. Better to err on the side of caution and be patient than risk your health.