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Pool Painting Tips & Tricks

By Kevin Harrington

Painting is one of the best ways to protect and beautify commercial pools. In addition to adding a vibrant, fresh color, a new coat of paint can be a cost-efficient way to give new life to concrete, plaster or fiberglass pool surfaces. Painting a pool is not as difficult as one may think. Proper planning, surface preparation and using best practices from the field will help ensure the best results.

Choosing the Proper Paint

There are three types of coatings that are suitable for aquatic surfaces:

Water-based acrylic: This paint can be applied over most types of coatings, provided they are in sound condition. Additionally, water-based acrylic paint can be used on damp surfaces, which can be especially beneficial. This is a cost-efficient painting approach and, when done correctly, may last up to two seasons.

Chlorinated or synthetic rubber: Chlorinated rubber coatings provide excellent hiding, protection and coverage for previously painted chlorinated rubber surfaces. These coatings can also be applied to bare concrete, marcite or plaster. These finishes are designed to last between four and five years. Synthetic rubber coatings can be applied over existing chlorinated or synthetic rubber systems, bare concrete or plaster and are intended for use where adherence to volatile organic compound (VOC) regulations is required. When properly applied, this finish can last up to three years. Both of these coating systems can also be used for fountains and ponds.

Epoxy: This paint option creates a tough, durable finish with unsurpassed stain, chemical and abrasion resistance. Epoxy can be an excellent alternative to re-plastering; two coats of a high-build epoxy will achieve a hard, abrasion-resistant surface that costs one-third less than expensive resurfacing finishes. With proper preparation, a high-build epoxy finish can last up to eight years. Traditional epoxy will last approximately five years.

Remember to also consider self-priming paints that will reduce the amount of time needed to complete the job and save money by avoiding the purchase of a primer. These paints eliminate the need to apply a primer before applying the first layer of paint.

Pro Tip: Always check into the VOC regulations where the pool is being painted before purchasing a coating product, as regulations vary in Canada and the United States.

Paint selection begins by determining what type of coating is currently on the pool. Unfortunately, with many pools, pool professionals must deal with a pool that has many, many layers of built-up paint. Pool professional are often dealing with a pool that has more than one type of paint under the various layers.

Some pool paint suppliers offer a free paint chip analysis, which can be very helpful—especially with pools that have many layers of old paint. To prevent an expensive mistake, a paint chip should be sent to the paint supplier for analysis, as they can provide information such as thickness, number of coats present and integrity of adhesion—as well as make recommendations for the best paint to use in the particular pool application. If the pool is currently coated with an epoxy, this paint must continue to be used as other rubber and water-based paints will not adhere to it. Always select the same type of coating to ensure compatibility.

Pro Tip: Some plaster surfaces that show signs of serious deterioration should be resurfaced before painting. Acute flaking, chipping or peeling may indicate a surface that is soon to fail. If the surface is not suitable, the paint will peel and remove the plaster with it.

Painting a pool with a two-coat epoxy paint system can prolong the life of the plaster, but only if the pool's surface is in good, sound condition. However, paint is not a solution for a failing plaster surface; therefore, surface preparation is extremely important. Whatever type of coating is being used, it will adhere best to a solid and clean surface.

Inspect and Prepare the Pool Surface

Once you have determined the best type of paint to use on the pool, the next step is to carefully inspect the pool surface and repair any minor damage. To do this properly, the following steps must be taken:

  1. Drain the pool and allow it to dry.
  2. Clear away any debris left on the bottom.
  3. Visually inspect the empty pool, scanning for peeling paint, cracks, chips or surface defects.
  4. Scrape any peeling, flaking or chipped paint, and sand smooth.
  5. Repair any minor cracks or chips. A structural engineer should be consulted if any major cracks or surface defects are found. These areas should be thoroughly investigated as they may compromise the integrity of the pool.

Clean the Surface

The pool surface must be completely clean and free of loose paint, dirt, oils or solutions before applying a new coating system. There are products designed specifically for pool surface preparation, and using them is highly recommended. In most cases, these products can reduce the amount of time needed to clean the pool's surface, allowing the job to be completed with just one step in one-third the amount of time.

Pool professionals who are not using a specialty "clean and prep" product should use the following three-step process:
  1. Power wash the entire pool surface using a minimum 3,200-psi power washer.
  2. Once dry, sweep or use a blower to clear away any leftover paint chips or debris.
  3. Use a garden sprayer to evenly apply a preparation product to the entire surface, following the manufacturer's mixing instructions.
  4. Scrub the solution, which will begin to foam and etch. Continue scrubbing until the foaming stops, paying extra attention to areas where heavy soil accumulates, such as the waterline and steps.
  5. Flush the surface three times with a strong stream of clean water from a garden hose. Do not flush using a power washer as it lacks the volume of water required to effectively flush the surface. It is important that all residual preparation solutions are removed.

Pro Tip: A clean, bare concrete or plaster surface that is ready for painting should have the texture of medium-grade sandpaper.

Outdoor pools that are not covered during the winter accumulate all types of fall foliage and debris, which can affect the painted surface. Unfortunately, sometimes industry standard cleanup procedures can adversely affect the success of painting a pool.