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Weekend pool frolics: Soda ash edition

At some point along the line, Frugal Scholar remarked in passing that the swimming pool sounds like a royal pain. And there’s something to be said for that.

But it also has to be said that if you like to swim and you live in a hot climate, a pool has so many redeeming qualities that you can see why people build them. At this time of year, I’m in the pool two or three times a day, every day. And I’m so spoiled to it I can’t remember how I managed to get through an endless succession of 115-degree days without a puddle of Clorox water to dive into. Every time I jump in the pool, I think aahhh! this makes it worth all the work and hassle.

However and on the other hand… When something happens to render the pool unusable, one’s memory is jogged; especially when dealing with the “something” requires a great deal of work, worry, or both.

The acid level in the pool’s water has been slowly climbing since the middle of last winter. I haven’t added any acid since early spring (normally one adds acid pretty regularly to a plaster-lined pool), but the pH keeps dropping. You recall high-school chemistry, right? Low pH = high acidity. Well, the pH has been at 7.2 for quite a while; that’s on the far low side of sort of OK. In other words, the acidity was a bit too much but nothing to panic over. The Leslie’s guys said if I just left it alone, eventually the pH would rise.


Au contraire, by Friday the pH had dropped to 6.8, the “add pH stabilizer” level. It was low enough that even the Leslie’s guys had to allow that the acid level was out of control.

So, come Saturday morning, Biker Phil, the Harley-ridin’ Leslie’s sales guy, says to me, “You need to add 30 pounds of soda ash.”

“Give me a proverbial break,” say I. “I can’t lift 30 pounds!”

“Well,” says he, “then add 20 pounds, wait four hours, test the pH, and if it’s still too low, come back and get another 10 pounds.” With that, he sells me two 10-pound containers of soda ash: that’ll be $48, thank you very much.

Biker Phil advises me to administer the entire 20 pounds of this stuff to the pool by walking around the perimeter and sprinkling it in, as evenly as possible. He says it will cloud the water, but in four hours or so the water should clear and be swimmable.

Okay. I go forth and do likewise.

Instantly, and I do mean instantly, the filter pressure gauge shoots over 20 psi.

Sumbitch. I backwash; recharge the filter with diatomaceous earth; go on about my business.

An hour later, I look out the window and notice a glass-smooth surface on the pool. “That’s odd,” think I. “The pump must have shut down.”

Oh, nooo. The pump was laboring away. Filter pressure had topped 30 psi! The filter was so clogged the pump, which is one tough little fellow, couldn’t move any water at all through the plumbing system.

The water, so lately sparkling like a mountain spring in a Coors ad, is opaque. Shut down. Major backwash. Recharge filter. An hour later: PSI is up to 30 again.

On the phone to Biker Phil. He can’t figure out the problem. “It can’t be the soda ash,” says he. “It’s dissolved. It can’t clog the filter.”

Phil. Phil, Phil, Phil. Were you not paying attention in your chem class? Or were you, like me, gathering wool from the clouds outside the window? What’s happened here is that when we deposited 20 pounds of soda ash into 18,000 gallons of water, we got a supersaturated solution. Think of the time you added several spoonsful of salt to a glass of warm water, to gargle your sore throat: what you got was a glass of salty water with a layer of salt crystals on the bottom. That. is. what. we. have. here.

Soda ash dunes.

Soda ash dunes, precipitated out of the saturated water, cover the steps, the seat, and the floor of the pool. I do not know how many pounds of soda ash is not dissolved, but I’ll bet it’s a lot. And, I figure, that’s what’s clogging the filter. Since Bob the Wonderful Leslie’s Guy was over here last week to disassemble, clean, and reassemble the filter, and since it was working so well the effervescent pool could’ve been used as an ad for Leslie’s Swimming Pool Supplies and Service, I associate the soda ash episode with the gagged filter.

Having followed Biker Phil’s instructions and met fiasco, I belatedly google  the function of soda ash in pool chemistry. At site after site I learn that one should never, ever, nooo never add more than two (count’em, 2) pounds of soda ash to a pool at a time. Biker Phil has had me add ten times the standard amount to the pool. Is there a question why the system has run amok?

The specific scientific details of the problem explained and comprehended, Phil recommends that I “bump” (a very short backwash) the pool every time the pressure threatens to move into the 30 psi range and says he thinks in time the problem will dissipate.

This requires me to do a minibackwash, illegally into the alley, every twenty minutes all day Saturday! In 114-degree heat. Sunday was cooler: a mere 110 degrees. Started with a full backwash at 5:30 Sunday morning. Opted the junket to church, where I wanted to hear the new pastor address the assembled masses for his virgin sermon, in favor of backwashing every twenty minutes. Around 11:00 a.m., reach Phil’s boss on the phone—the Phil himself being out until next Wednesday.

Seemingly unsurprised at the extravagant dosage of soda ash, Manager Jay speculates that the frequent full backwashes—which by now have added up to four in two days (one normally backwashes a DE filter about once every three months)—plus the three-times-an-hour “bumps” may have drained out most of the DE. He observes that when filter pressure jumps suddenly, one normally suspects too little DE. He recommends that I add five pounds of DE to the filter.

Refraining from observing more than once that the system was working fine Before Soda Ash, I feed 6 1/2 pounds of DE to the filter. This works pretty well: slows the process so that it takes an hour or two to reach a “Clean Filter” level of 20 psi. How long it would take to reach 30 psi, I do not know, not having enough nerve to overwork the pump to that degree. Probably another hour or so.

This adventure obviously is going to require another service call. Since I just paid to have Bob the WLG spend an hour working on the system, I am less than thrilled at the prospect of paying to have him come by again. I think Leslie’s should pay for whatever needs to be done to undo the mess that’s resulted from their advising me to add 10 times the recommended amount of soda ash to the pool.

Stay tuned! This promises to turn into an entertaining comedy of errors!

5 thoughts on “Weekend pool frolics: Soda ash edition”

  1. Boy that’s a shame that Phil gave you bad advice. I would suggest in the future to read the directions on the back of every product, no matter what someone says. 4lb/10,000 gallons is the maximum recommended dose within 4 hours for Soda Ash. It is also to be premixed in a bucket of water, instead of administered directly to the pool. Also if you contact Leslie’s for a “Pool School” they will teach you how to clean your own filter, that way you don’t have to keep having them come out.

    • This isn’t the first time an alleged pool professional has suggested doing something that differs from the label instructions, and so it didn’t seem extremely odd to me. Also, every time I’ve spoken to any other Leslie’s employee about this and said “20 pounds of soda ash,” the person has said, “Yes…,” as though that were perfectly normal. They don’t seem at all surprised by the idea that you should apply 20 or 30 pounds in one swell foop. Tho’ the package instructions suggest 1 pound per 10,000 gallons (and say nothing about the total amount), they do say it’s OK to apply it without mixing in water.

      As an aging woman, I don’t have the physical strength to clean the filter myself. It’s large and heavy, and it has to be dragged out to the alley to wash out the spent DE. Temperatures are hovering upwards of 110 degrees here, every day. If I didn’t hurt myself, I’d give myself a heat stroke trying to do a big job like that. Besides, Bob the WLG dispenses some very useful advice, he being a fellow who apparently does know what he’s talking about. He also repaired Harvey the Hayward Pool Cleaner after the in-store guys failed to fix him in three separate trips.

      Leslie’s needs to train its in-store staff adequately, and not expect them to work unholy numbers of hours — which is what happens in this right-to-work-for-nothing state and which no doubt explains the store’s high turnover.

      Two Leslie’s employees have now stated that I should not have to pay for whatever work needs to be done on the filter. However, the denizens of the corporate office have yet to agree to this. One way or the other, something will have to be done about it. They’re trying to fit a trip into tomorrow’s schedule. If they try to charge me, I’ll take them to small claims court.

  2. Hm, p’rhaps you ought to get those Leslie’s employees to email you their statement that you don’t have to pay to try and save yourself the grief of small claims court when fighting with corporate.

    It should be obvious that Phil’s bad advice and the subsequent lack of help. I should think that if he screwed it up, he should at least have been there helping you fix it. But then again, I have some odd ideas of what defines customer service …

  3. oops. There’s a fragmented sentence in there: “It should be obvious that Phil gave you bad advice and the subsequent lack of help was a bit of a fail.”

  4. It sounds like a lot of work, but I sure wish we had one. Or at least lived nearby to one, I love being in the water. Last week went to conference for my job, the Hilton hotel’s only route to the pool was through the middle of the lobby… not fun for a plus sized gal. When I tried to make an early pool run on Friday morning at 5:30am, was told they couldn’t possibly open the pool until the scheduled 6am (the pool gate sign said 7am) due to some kind of insurance rules (they have signs posted that they have no lifeguards so couldn’t be that). I will be complaining, just to let them know it wouldn’t have been THAT difficult to bend the rules so they could keep their promise that “Everyone on the Embassy Suites team has the power to ensure your satisfaction.” Right. Did read your update, glad the problem has been resolved.

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