Guest Column - October 2004
Find a printable version here

Giving Pools a Fresh Look

Aquatic Maintenance

By Pam Keeler

It's never too early to think about next year's outdoor (or indoor) pool maintenance. If it's concrete, plaster, fiberglass or already painted—a fresh coat of paint can make that pool, slide or concrete pool deck look like new. If sandblasting is in your 2005 budget—think paint again. The economics of applying of two coats of a high build epoxy adds up—to almost two-thirds the cost of other more expensive resurfacing finishes. High build epoxies can last up to eight years or more; offer an array of colors; a hard, abrasion-resistant surface; and ease of cleaning. For those in California or 12 East Coast states, most epoxy coatings are VOC compliant now and will be after Jan. 1, 2005, when the new VOC regulations on pool paint take effect. (Check with your pool-paint manufacturer or pool-equipment distributor for specific product VOCs).

Pool/substrate preparation

Surface preparation and application of the paint is 99 percent of a successful paint job. If the surface is not cleaned and dried properly, you will get blistering and peeling. So save time and money by doing it right the first time.


  • Is more than 25 percent of the existing coating system peeling? Consider complete removal by sandblasting.
  • Is the surface to be painted in good, sound condition? Tip: Use a golf ball or ball-peen hammer around the water line after the pool is empty. If more than 25 percent sounds hollow, don't paint. That surface is probably an accident waiting to happen. Applying any type of paint will actually pull the plaster off the pool at this point. Consider sandblasting all hollow plaster to bare, sound surface.
  • If the surface is painted with less than 25 percent peeling or blistering, you must apply a like generic paint over what you currently have. Tip: Send a sample chip for analysis to your pool dealer, distributor or directly to the manufacturer. They will test and tell you exactly what type of paint you have, how thick it is, how many coats are on the pool and if there is any potential trouble lurking between coats. You'd be surprised how much information can be obtained by a "representative" sample (size of a dime or larger) from your pool's surface.


  • Scrub with TSP (tri-sodium phosphate). This removes all grease, oil and dirt. Tip: Do it twice at the waterline and steps, places where body oils tend to build up. You may want to consider a high-pressure (2,500 psi minimum) power wash to remove any loose paint.
  • Apply a solution of 15 percent to 36 percent muriatic acid in water to the entire pool. This removes any organic deposits or calcium buildup and opens the pores of bare concrete or plaster. A bare concrete or plaster surface should have the texture of medium-grade sandpaper prior to painting. Tip: You know the acid is working on bare concrete or plaster when it starts to foam or effervesce.
  • Neutralize the acid with more TSP. All acid must be removed.
  • If using a solvent base paint, be sure the surface is dry. Tip: When you think the surface is dry, duct tape three 2-foot-by-2-foot sheets of clear plastic to the shallow-end floor, deep-end floor and shady-side deep-end wall. Wait four to five hours. If there's any condensation, wait until the next day and repeat. If you had painted, you would have sealed in all the moisture and caused blistering.
Paint application

Always use premium-quality tools when painting. You've just paid hundreds or thousands of dollars for the paint—don't skimp on rollers, brushes or paint thinner.

Spread the first and second coats according to manufacturer's recommendations. If the label says 250 square feet per gallon, that does not mean 100 or 500. Too thin a coat will not give you the hiding or serviceability you need. Too thick will result in air bubbles, alligatoring and blistering.

If applying solvent base paints—don't fill the pool too soon. Wait the prescribed amount of days before filling. Filling a pool too soon will result in "blushing" or premature fading. It's actually the surface being contaminated by water too soon. And, wait an extra day for every day of rain.