It’s good to think about what you want to put under your above-ground pool early, because there’s no better time to place it than before installing your pool. After the fact, you’ll need to drain your pool and disassemble it to be able to reach underneath – not fun.
Furthermore, choosing the right material is necessary to prevent a whole slew of bad stuff such as abrasions and punctures to the pool liner, mold/mildew growth, damage from grass, insects, and burrowing animals, and pain under your feet from stepping on something sharp or hard.
So before you decide to install your pool, you need to ask yourself the following questions: Where should you put your pool? That will affect what you decide to put under your pool. Then, what are the best options to place under your pool, what are their pros and cons, and which ones should you avoid?
In this article, I will answer all of these questions so that you can make an informed decision on what to place under your above-ground pool.
Where should you install your above-ground pool?
Before getting into what to put under your pool, you need to first consider where you want to install your pool. The most popular option is, of course, directly on the grass in your yard.
However, you can also install it on pavers, gravel, dirt, decks, and ideally on concrete. I single out concrete as the best option because it inherently provides numerous benefits.
First, concrete is a very solid surface – you don’t have to worry about it shifting or collapsing under the weight of a filled pool. It is also much more level and smooth than the other options, especially in the long-run. (That said, you should still put something under your pool on concrete).
Furthermore, grass cannot grow through it, and burrowing animals and insects cannot penetrate it as well.
Grass or soil are the most common options, but you need to remove any sticks, rocks, and other sharp objects from it. You also need to make sure it has been properly leveled, and to kill the grass off first.
You could install the pool on pavers, but know that the weight of the pool may compress the pavers and shift them out of position.
What can you put under your above-ground pool?
After you’ve decided on where to install your pool, you can then decide what to put underneath your pool to protect it even further.
Ideally, the material you put under your pool should meet the following criteria: breathable, durable, comfortable, easy to install, and affordable.
In this section, I will list the most popular materials and explain their pros and cons.
If you’re installing your pool on dirt, you may not need to put anything under your pool (I recommend placing the pool legs on pavers, however).
However, you must first ensure that the ground underneath your pool is cleared of any rocks, roots, grass, or other debris that could tear or puncture the pool liner.
You should also smooth out the surface with rakes or shovels until an acceptable level of softness in the soil has been achieved.
The main advantage of this is that obviously it requires no additional expense, and a little bit of manual labor.
The disadvantage is that you’re hoping that no burrowing insects or animals or nutgrass will puncture your vinyl pool liner.
However, if your pool includes a ground cloth, then you should at least put it on that.
Included ground cloth
If you purchased an Intex above-ground pool, then included in that purchase is a ground cloth for your pool.
This cloth is more or less like a tarp and it provides limited protection against abrasive surfaces and sharp objects, but not much. Some people found it to be too thin and not durable enough.
However, it’s “free” and requires no additional purchase. Since it came included with your pool, it is already cut exactly to the right size and can be easily placed on the ground with no effort.
Aftermarket pool pad
If you’re not satisfied with the included ground cloth, you can look for a dedicated pool pad that is much more durable and comfy to stand on.
An aftermarket pool pad is made from extremely durable materials that will protect the pool liner from pests, roots, grass, sticks, stones, and other annoyances. Some brands to consider are Gorilla Pad, Rhino, and Armor Shield.
Some pool pads come pre-cut to the size of your pool so you can just head straight to installation. The downside is that pool pads are quite a bit more expensive than the other options.
Interlocking foam tiles
Though not designed specifically for holding up a pool, interlocking foam tiles are highly versatile and can be easily found in nearly any department store.
They provide thick padding and feel comfy to stand on provided they are installed on a flat surface. It will make the bottom of your pool feel cushion-y and smooth. If needed, you can easily cut them down to size.
However, a major issue is that they aren’t breathable. If water gets under your pool, it will linger there and easily lead to mold growth. Furthermore, they are also relatively expensive.
I’ve heard some people placing carpets under their pool liner, but I would avoid it.
Carpets soak up moisture and stay wet for a long time. This will result in mold growth and result which will damage your pool.
Additionally, the carpet will smell really bad and start to rot away. It also is not durable enough to stop nutgrass or critters from puncturing it. Not a good idea, avoid.
Sand is a very popular material to place under an above-ground swimming pool because it is cheap and readily available everywhere in the country.
Furthermore, sand can do an acceptable job if used correctly. That is, don’t add too much: enough to make a smooth surface for the pool liner, but not enough that it becomes soft and creates footprints. The sweet spot for this is less than two inches of sand.
Some downsides of sand are that it shifts around easily and can get blown away by the wind. If you add too much sand, it can feel very uneven as you will sink down into it when you step on the pool bottom. This makes for a bumpy pool that is uncomfortable to walk on.
Flooring underlayment is a spongy, flexible foam sheet that is typically installed between laminate flooring and the subfloor. Some people place it under their above-ground pools.
This is an affordable option that is easy to work with. However, it is quite thin, so you would need to stack many layers on top of each other to provide adequate protection. You can also easily cut it down to size if needed, and it is widely available for purchase.
That said, it provides minimal protection unless you stack enough of them together, and it is not breathable which can lead to mold/mildew growth.
If your pool comes with a ground cloth, then a tarp provides roughly around the same level of protection, that is to say a minimal amount. However, it is better than nothing.
At a minimum, at least lay down a ground cloth or tarp under your pool. I highly recommend you go with the other options such as an aftermarket pool pad or foam tiles because they will provide far superior protection and comfort.