Not necessarily.  You can be a slave to your pool, or it can be a tremendous source of joy and fun – with maybe ten minutes a week in maintenance.  It’s certainly way easier than owning a boat!

Some people vacuum twice a week, some vacuum once a month, and some (with automatic pool cleaners) never vacuum.  On the physical “housekeeping” side, pools are pretty easy.  Keep an eye on the water level, have a quick look at the filter, brush or vacuum whenever you feel like it (or let the pool clean itself).

Here’s the short answer: use a DE filter, a salt-to-chlorine generator, or a biguanide chemical system (Baquacil or SoftSwim), and an automatic pool cleaner.  If you have the money, there are some amazing electronic control systems that can take a lot work out of pool care. You’re at five or ten minutes a week, and you can skip the rest of this discussion.

Here’s the long answer: most pool maintenance is chemical, or straightening out what happened because you didn’t use the chemicals properly.  There are three major chemical systems, plus a few non-chemical or semi-chemical systems.  They each require different amounts of work.

First, the non-chemical or semi-chemical systems: ozone, ionization, magnets, the dark blue mystery liquid, and voodoo.  When they are sold as eliminating the need for an EPA-registered sanitizer to kill bacteria, it is not true.  When they are sold as reducing the need for a sanitizer it probably is true.

However, the only method I’ve ever seen for keeping an effective amount of sanitizer in the water is by using close to the same amount as the people who didn’t have the “gadget” on their pool, and testing at the same levels.

Systems that work by activating oxygen are working primarily while the water is in the “gadget”, for a few seconds.  They can meet drinking water standards, but swimming pool water standards are more difficult to meet.

The difference?  In drinking water, we are killing bacteria before it enters a sealed pipe, and preventing new growth until it comes out the other end of the pipe (your faucet).  In swimming pools, we are trying to prevent the transmission of disease between two people in the same water.

Killing bacteria in a pipe next to the filter is only helpful in preventing green water and preventing disease when the sick person stands right in front of the skimmer, and the not-yet-sick person stands only in front of the return, and the filter is always running.

I’m not saying that they don’t work, or that they don’t save you money.  I just haven’t seen a Board of Health or the EPA define how I could tell they’re working.  Yes, I have heard that NASA uses one of the systems, but if they had swimming pools in outer space, I just think I would have seen that in the Telegraph.

Chlorine is the cheapest of the three common chemical systems, but it requires the most work.  If the pH drifts out of range, or if ammonia products build up in the water (sweat, urine, body oils, etc.) or if too little shock is used, the chlorine doesn’t work.  Heat and sunlight pull the chlorine right out of the water, so that it may not even be there at 4:00 in the afternoon in a heat wave (with the pool full of kids).  Chlorine pools should be tested every day right before sundown, and shocked every seven to ten days.  If you’ve ever had a friend complain about how much work a pool was, it is quite likely they were using chlorine.

Salt generators are generating chlorine from salt.  That means a “salt” pool is still a chlorine pool, and you are still taking care of a chlorine pool.

Their advantage is that you only buy salt every year, and a small amount of chlorine, because salt generators do not work at the beginning and end of the season, when the water is below 60°F.  The generator turns the chloride part of the salt into chlorine in the pool.  To shock, you push the shock button and run your filter 24 hours straight or so (by-passing your timer) until the generator has created enough chlorine to shock it.

Please do not think that this is an economic advantage.  The difference between chlorine and salt costs might be $75 a year for eight to ten years.  Then you pay $600 to $800 for new electrodes.  That’s why the generator cost $1500 when you bought it; the electrodes are platinum!  The advantage is in that you don’t have to store 35 pounds of chlorine in your cellar or pool shed.

Bromine is a halogen similar to chlorine, except it is not affected as easily by pH shifts or ammonia build-up. It’s more effective in heat, and doesn’t smell as bad.  Testing every few days is acceptable, and shocking every two or three weeks is fine.  However, bromine is the most expensive of the three systems, requires a machine to add the bromine, and is the only one that you can’t switch to chlorine without draining the pool.

Biguanide, or PHMB, is the medium-priced alternative.  Unlike chlorine and bromine, which come in hundreds of strengths, forms, formulations and brands; there are currently only two major brands of biguanide in the UnitesStates; Baquacil and SoftSwim.  In Europe, Africa, and Australia, where the patent ran out years ago, there are many more brands.  Some of those brands are just coming into the American market.

Biguanide was originally developed years ago for hospitals as the Stuart Pharmaceuticals product Hypocleanse.  Many surgeons wash their hands in it before surgery.  It is very gentle to human skin while killing harmful bacteria instantly and effectively.  Biguanide is also used in contact lens solutions to kill bacteria without harming the eye.  Imperial Chemical (the owners of Stuart Pharmaceuticals) developed Baquacil for use in swimming pools in the 1970’s, and brought it to the United   States in 1983.

Biguanides are totally unaffected by pH, ammonia, heat, sunlight, or most other chemicals.  They don’t smell, bleach bathing suits or liners, dry out skin or blow up!  It can take three weeks for the level to go down enough to add more – and almost two months before it’s entirely used up.  Testing once a week is plenty, and shocking once a month is fine.  Biguanides are not perfect, though.  They have problems dealing with bioslimes – a non-harmful but annoying family of growths that are even in our drinking water.  And fighting them, for about seven percent of biguanide users, raise the price from medium to high!

Chlorine is great for people who have more time than money or view their pool as a hobby.  It’s inexpensive (say $70 to $100 for a 10,000 gallon pool), and it works just fine if you keep up with it.  Adding an ionization purifier will add $90 a year, but will greatly reduce the chances of problems.  Biguanide is best for people who have more money than time – or just want their pool to be more fun and less work.  It’ll cost more – $100 to $140 for a 10,000 gallon pool.