Maintaining Swimming Pools, Spas, Whirlpool Tubs and Saunas
By Wm R. Griffin, President
Cleaning Consultant Services, Inc.
In today's customer driven market place, swimming pools, spas and whirlpools baths are becoming common amenities in hotels, motels, apartment buildings, condominiums, private clubs, schools, and health care facilities. The National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF) estimates that there are over 9 million commercial facilities in the U.S. that have pools of one type or another. Along with more wide spread use of pools and spas, comes the need to operate and clean and maintain these facilities in order to meet health code regulations, customer expectations and to limit an organizations legal liability. With chemical automation, robotics, and a growing variety of design and build options for pools and spas, it's getting easier to maintain water balance and cleanliness in less time and with less technical knowledge.
You basically have three options when it comes to maintaining bathing facilities, you can hire, train and supervise your own staff, you can contract out for these services or you can use a combination of the above two options. Every situation is a little different and there are many things to consider when making a decision as to which approach is best in your specific situation.
Being that pools require daily testing, monitoring and cleaning, most facilities opt to hire their own pool maintenance staff and then as need, supplement in house skills with support from a local pool service vendor. Normally if you make arrangements to purchase your pool chemicals from a local supplier, along with that will come some degree of technical support, training and oversight.
Depending on the size of your facility, and your specific needs, it's best to hire or have your pool staff attend a Certified Pool Operator (CPO) course. More than 400 CPO seminars are offered through out the U.S. each year by local vendors in cooperation with the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPI) which has certified over 50,000 pool operators.
From a management point of view, it's best to have at least two people on your staff trained to handle water balance, monitoring, maintenance and pool cleaning issues. At the same time, you don't want too many people involved with a pool, as a high level of responsibility, consistency, and quality control is needed to keep things from getting out of control.
In most facilities, maintaining a pool and spa area is a shared responsibility between the housekeeping and engineering departments. Housekeeping normally takes care of the floors, walls, glass, trash and furniture, with engineering monitoring water balance, pump, equipment, back pressure, filters, vacuuming, scrubbing and maintaining daily records and adding chemicals as needed. An outside contractor with specific expertise often handles repairs, equipment and system upgrades, and resurfacing of the pool or surrounding deck areas.
How it's done at the Warwick Hotel in Seattle, WA
Tim Chiles, Chief Engineer at the Warwick Hotel, was good enough to take time out of his day to show me around the operation and explain how his employees keep their 11,000 gallon pool and 800 gallon spa safe, sanitary and inviting for guests. Chiles said "The key is to set up a program and then monitor it. Once you do that, it's pretty simple. In our case, pool maintenance takes about an hour a day. The number one thing is chemical balance. We have to keep the chlorine and pH levels within acceptable ranges that are set by the King County Health Department, which comes in about once a month to monitor our inspect our pools, and check our records.
"To prevent problems and to raise our level of customer satisfaction, we test our water twice a day, even though the County only requires once a day testing, other tests are done once a week. Our pool attendant, John Slaughter, is part of the Engineering Department and has attended the Certified Pool Operator (CPO) course in the past. He uses a Taylor Water Test kit that enables him to complete five tests: chlorine, pH, total alkalinity, calcium hardness and cyanuric acid."
According to Chiles. "If you don't keep the water in balance or do the required cleaning, your pool can get cloudy or contaminated with black or mustard algae. Algae can be tough to get rid of once it gets inside of the system hoses and equipment. We vacuum our pool each morning before they open. And every other day we scrub the edges and bottom with a stainless steel wire scrub brush before we vacuum. The spa we inspect and vacuum and or scrub when we can visually see it's soiled. Usually two or three times a week is adequate.
"We use chlorine in our pool as a sanitizer. In the spa we use bromine as the sanitizer as it tends to be more stable at higher temperatures. Our system is automated to test the water for pH and chemicals and to then automatically feed in chemicals to maintain the desired balance, although we can override the system if we need to make manual adjustments.
"Outdoor pools are more difficult," said Chiles. "They are impacted by rain, temperature, sun, and tend to quickly become contaminated with dust, soil, leaves and other debris."
Chiles went on to explain that filtration is another important element of maintaining pools. "We monitor the back pressure in our filters and run a back flush cycle to clean them out when the pressure builds up to 30 PSI. Our desired pressure is 22 to 26 PSI after back flushing. Every four to six weeks, back flushing no longer gets the desired results so we have to change out our filters. The frequency for the spa filters is different, as the bather load is lower than the pool.
"Being filters are quite expensive, we soak, clean and reuse them. It's important to back flush and change out your filters when they need it," said Chiles. "If you don't maintain the filters, they won't do their job and your chemicals end up going to waste. On average we spend about $300.00 to $350.00 a month on pool chemicals."
The elements that make up a balanced system include:
- Chemical checks
- Water Flow and quality
- Cleaning and maintenance
- Bather or usage level
Chiles said, "According to the county health code, we have to pump down or completely drain the spa every 30 days and refill it with fresh water. There is no set pump down requirement for the pool, so with proper maintenance and flow, we may not have to drain it for two or three years. When it's empty, we normally do a muratic acid wash of the sides, bottom and pool deck to brighten thing up. That is a periodic cleaning task that takes quite a bit of work and requires boots, gloves and a face shield for each worker, as the chemical is pretty harsh. When it comes to repairs or upgrading our system, we put it out to bid with an independent contractor or use our chemical supplier.
"The County code requires us to keep the spa temperature below 104 degrees. There is no temperature requirement on the pool, so we try to keep it right around 78 degrees, which seems to keep most people happy.
"The housekeeping department dumps the trash, and cleans the glass and poolside furniture. We mop the floor, each morning before the area opens using pool water, which eliminates the possibility of the disinfectant chemical getting tracked into the pool and contaminating it. We keep a separate mop and mop pail near the pool for that purpose. Once a year we do an acid scrub of the pool deck to remove discoloration and clean up the grout.
"As you can see," said Chiles, "we are real proud of our pool area and our employees people do a great job of maintaining it for our guests."
Basic Cleaning Procedures Pool and Spa Areas:
- Sweep or pick up debris, spot mop with a disinfectant or bleach solution if visibly soiled.
- Clean and polish water fountains to a shine.
- Spot clean glass.
- Dump trash and clean can exterior.
- Wipe clean scum line if visible at water level; use pool water or a neutral cleaner on a rag or a white scrubbing pad.
- Hose clean or damp mop with bleach or a disinfectant solution all floor areas in and around the pool deck.
- Drain the spa, spray with foam cleaner and use a soft brush to clean the tub interior. (frequency will depend on health code regulations and bather level, a busy pool may need to be drained and cleaned weekly)
- Scrub, acid wash or high pressure wash the pool or tub deck.
- High dust all vents, fans, speakers, and pipes, etc.
- Completely clean all glass inside and out, use a white scrubbing pad and white vinegar to remove water stains.
Note: Cleaning of the pool/tub and water treatment requires specialized training and certification. This is normally done by the maintenance or engineering department or an outside pool service contractor.
Frequency: After each patient or guest use.
- Fill tub with water two inches above water jet level
- Add disinfectant at dilution ratio (ounces per gallon) for quantity of water in tub
- Run whirlpool for 3 minutes
- Rotate each air induction knob thorough all bubble sizes or range of operations
- Use a soft brush to clean around jets, knobs and drain.
- Polish metal surfaces to a shine
- Drain tub
- Rinse with fresh water
- Wipe surfaces with a clean rag moist with fresh disinfectant solution. Allow to air dry.
- Inspect your work, redo if visibly soiled or proceed to next assignment area.
Note: If the tub is used for medical purposes or treatment, before patient use, refill tub with clean water to two inches above jet level, run whirlpool for 3 minutes, drain tub, and then refill with clean water for patient use.
Warning: Operating the whirlpool system with insufficient water in the tub will cause permanent damage to the water pump. Do not operate the whirlpool unless the water level is at least two inches above the highest jet in the tub.
- Spot clean door handle and glass
- Wipe clean the seats, walls and door with a towel damp with disinfectant solution to remove visible soil. Allow to air dry.
- Mop the floor with a disinfectant solution. Allow to air dry.
- Wipe clean exterior of heater (when cold)
- Inspect and test timer and thermostat
- Inspect benches for slivers and remove with sandpaper
- Wipe clean door jamb, hinges, ceiling vents and lights
- Vacuum under seats
- Clean floor drain
- Spray floor and mats (both sides) with a disinfectant solution, scrub mats with a stiff brush, rinse well with a hose or pressure washer and reapply disinfectant solution. Allow to air dry before use.
- Wash all wood surfaces with a disinfectant solution. Allow to air dry
- Treat with teak or sauna oil to keep the wood from drying out
- Allow to soak in and dry for 24 hours before use
- Pressure wash all surfaces (using light pressure won't damage the wood).
Safety, health and ergonomics
This type of work must be approached in a professional and consistent manner, this requires organization, and documentation, close supervision and management control, or it can quickly become a serious problem. This responsibility should not be taken lightly, as there are health, safety and liability issues involved. Customers and guest are very picky and have high expectations.
Care must be taken to perform cleaning tasks when areas are closed to customers to avoid creating unsafe conditions that may result in slip, trip or fall accidents. Cleaning tasks should be performed and chemicals applied in such manner that odors and dust do not become airborne or spread to other areas.
Workers should be aware of chemical hazards, blood and body fluid precautions and ergonomic injury risks associated with performing their tasks in these areas. Appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) should be worn when needed to prevent injury and/or exposure. MSDS sheets must be immediately available for all chemicals used on the job.
Equipment, Supplies and Chemicals
The equipment used to clean pools, spas and associated areas is the same used in other areas, with the possible exception of a high-pressure washer, foam gum, pool vacuum and brush.
Chemicals are very important and should be used only as instructed on the label by the manufacturer. Use chemicals in a light dilution, as guests, employees and patients are sensitive to odors and are often walking around in their bare feet.
There seems to be a trend away from using bleach, except around pools and hot tubs, and for more heavy cleaning of shower and steam rooms on a less frequent schedule. Most facilities are finding that using a foam gun for periodic or even daily cleaning is fast, safe and effective on tiled surfaces such as those found in shower and stream rooms. Brand name products such as Simple Green and Windex are popular, as employees are familiar with and comfortable using them.
Pool and spa chemicals are hazardous products. Care must be exercised at all time, product must be measured exactly and manufacturer instructions followed closely. As with all chemicals, employees must be properly trained in their use and hazards and be required to wear the personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times
Side Bar 1
Pool Servicing Procedures
Pool and Spa
- Check and log Chlorine, pH, Alkalinity.
- This is to be done at the start of the AM shift and PM shift.
- Pool: Chlorine - 2.0 to 4.0 Spa: Bromine - 4.0 to 8.0
- pH - 7.4 to 7.6 pH - 7.4 to 7.6
- Alkalinity - 80 to 120 Alkalinity - 80 to 120
- Calcium Hardness - 300 to 400 Calcium Hardness - 300 to 400
- Pool: 80 - 82 degrees F. Spa: 102 - 104 degrees F.
- Add 3 ounces of Algae 60. Add 4 ounces of Pool Clarifier, (green bottle)
- Check and log Calcium Hardness readings. Add chemicals as required.
Pool Filter Procedures
- The pool filter needs to be back flushed when the pressure reaches 30 PSI.
- DO NOT BACK FLUSH BEFORE THE PRESSURE REACHES 30 PSI.
- Back flush the filter till all cloudiness is no longer visible in the sight glass.
- Restart the filter and add 5 lbs. of DE filter media via the filter skimmer for the pool. Slowly add media to skimmer to allow it to properly coat the screen filter grids in the filter unit.
- After back flushing the filter the pressure reading should be 22 psi. If the pressure is 26 psi after back flushing, change out the filter screens and install the fresh ones stored in the mechanical room by the pool equipment.
- Do not change the filter screens before the pressure reaches 26 psi after back flushing.
- If you have any questions with this or do not understand what is expected please let me know.
Local swimming pool and spa supply and service companies. Check the yellow pages under swimming pool supplies and service
National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF)
National Spa and Pool Institute (NSPI)
Independent Pool and Spa Service Association (IPSSA)
Pool and Spa Marketing Magazine
Swimming Pool and Spa Age
The Ultimate Pool Maintenance Manual
By Terry Tamminen, second edition
Published by McGraw-Hill, ISBN: 0-07-136239-8
What Color Is Your Swimming Pool
By John O'Keefe, second edition
Published by Storey Books, ISBN: 0-58017-036-6