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How to Remove Calcium from Pool Tiles

Calcium pool

As a pool owner, you take the best care you can of your favorite weekend relaxation spot. You add chemicals each season, skim for leaves and bugs, and even vacuum the floors.

Once you do all this cleaning, you feel like you are taking great care of your pool.

Except, you notice after some time, that your pool liner is discolored, and that your pool tiles are fading. And you wonder, “what is going on”?

Don’t fret, because like millions of other pool owners, you are experiencing calcium buildup in your pool. This is not negligence on your part – calcium buildup is a natural process. But, calcium deposits are difficult to remove and become more cumbersome over time.

We are going to show you how to remove calcium buildup from your pool using several different methods. But first, let’s learn more about calcium buildup and why its on your pool.

Why is there calcium on my tiles, and why is it so urgent to remove it?

To put simply, calcium is a mineral that has many important functions in our bodies and throughout nature. It is a normal part of life. Since calcium is in the water we drink, that also means it is in the water that fills your pool. As the water level in your pool rises and lowers, tiny water droplets containing calcium atoms will be left on the side of the tiles and lining. When the water evaporates, the calcium is left behind and sticks to the side of your pool.

1. Regular buildup from hard water

Calcium deposits are either uniform in distribution, like on the pool liner at water level, or they aggregate in certain spots. Perhaps you have a fountain that always runs off in a certain spot – over time, an aggregate of calcium will form which spreads like wildfire, leaving you with a thick, dense deposit of calcium.

The calcium deposit will grow faster and faster as time goes on, leaving you to scramble to fix it before it becomes unmanageable.

2. Your pool is too alkaline

When your pool’s pH is too basic (alkaline), this speeds up the scale release from the water and buildup occurs at a faster rate. Getting your pool to optimal pH can slow the process, but reverse it or eliminate it entirely.

Although calcium removal can be a labor-intensive process, both professionals and homeowners can get the job done with a variety of tools and chemicals. We are going to walk you through several different chemicals to use that can remove calcium buildup and the tools you are going to need to use with a little elbow grease.

As always, make sure you are wearing personal protective equipment including gloves, safety glasses, and a respirator or mask if you are inclined. The chemicals we are going to walk you through are common household items but should still be handled with care. The chemicals used are not listed in any order of effectivity, and pool owners like yourself should make the choice on which chemical to use based on safety, handling, and availability at your local pool or hardware store. Let’s get into it.

Acetic Acid (Vinegar)

Acetic acid is the active ingredient in vinegar and has applications ranging from agricultural to cleaning to cooking. Some people even drinking apple cider vinegar for stomach health. Acetic acid will be manufactured at concentrations between 5-20% - most concentrations that are higher than 5% are used for cleaning and agriculture.

Acetic acid is the safest option for removing calcium buildup because of its milder nature and common usage. As always, this chemical should be handled with the appropriate personal protective equipment. We do not recommend using acetic acid on heavy buildup – acetic acid should be used for maintenance cleaning or when you first notice the buildup occurring. We discuss stronger chemicals for heavy deposits later in this article.

Here is what you will need to get started cleaning your pool liner or tile with acetic acid:

  • 1-4 gallons of acetic acid (5-20%)
  • 2 paint buckets (at least 1-gallon)
  • Funnel
  • Spray bottle
  • Personal protective equipment – gloves, safety glasses, mask/respirator
  • Abrasive brush
  • Optional: plastic wrap

First, lower the water level in your pool 1-2 inches below where the calcium buildup starts. This will let you access the deposits above water to apply the chemical directly.

While your pool is lower, dilute your acetic acid to 5% if you have a percentage higher. Most cooking vinegar comes as 5% - if you have that then you’re good to go. If not, add 1 gallon of water to 1 gallon of 10% acetic acid in your gallon bucket – or add 3 gallons of water to 1 gallon of 15-20% acetic acid.

Next, pour your working solution into your spray bottle, ensuring the trigger is set to “off”.

By now, your water level should be low enough to start working. With acetic acid, you can work in the pool or by standing on the sides – it is safe enough that it is up to personal preference. Begin spraying acetic acid on your tile or liner and let it sit for 3-5 minutes. You may see some foaming and that is ok – it just means the acetic acid is working its magic.

Next, begin scrubbing with an abrasive brush to agitate the calcium buildup. This will help remove the microscopic bits you are unable to see. Once you’ve scrubbed for about 10-30 seconds, either spray the sides of your pool with water from your garden hose, or splash water from your pool. We recommend the garden hose as it will have less calcium in it.

Now that your tile or liner is looking spectacular, rebalance the pH in your pool and let the filter run its course for 1-2 days.

Muriatic Acid

Muriatic acid, also known as hydrochloric acid, is a common pool chemical used to balance the pH from being too basic. When your pool becomes too basic, some corrosion processes speed up including calcium scaling. Muriatic acid can help restore the pH to a slightly basic range of 7.4-7.6. Too much acid, however, can lead to excessive algae growth.

Not only can muriatic acid be added to your pool water - it can also be applied to pool liners and tiles to help remove calcium scale. Here are the chemicals and tools you will need to get started:

Disclaimer: muriatic acid, if not handled safely, can cause respiratory irritation, burns on your skin, and may damage some surfaces. Always consult the application directions and apply test spots to any surfaces you will be working on.

  • 1 gallon of muriatic acid
  • 2 paint buckets (at least 1-gallon)
  • Funnel
  • Spray bottle
  • Personal protective equipment – gloves, safety glasses, mask/respirator
  • Hammer
  • Wood chisel or paint scraper
  • Abrasive brush
  • Optional: plastic wrap

First, you are going to want to lower the water level in your pool below the line of calcium scale by 1-2 inches to allow you to work in the muriatic acid. While the water level is lowering, you can begin to make your working solution of muriatic acid. You will want to dilute your muriatic acid by adding 1 gallon to every 3 gallons of water in your paint bucket. If you have a 1-gallon bucket, add 1 quart of acid to 3 quarts of water. Be sure not to splash the acid as it will etch concrete and can cause skin and eye irritation.

Next, you will want to carefully fill a spray bottle with your diluted muriatic acid. Make sure the spray nozzle is turned to the “off” setting.

By now, the water level in your pool should be low enough to get started. We do not recommend being in the pool during application, as you would be in a pool that is slowly accumulating acid. Begin by spraying muriatic acid on your tile or liner using the “stream” setting. Do not use the “spray” setting as the acid will aerosolize easier, making you more likely to breath it in.

You will notice the muriatic acid is working if you see a foaming effect on the liner or tiles – this means the muriatic acid is reacting with the calcium deposit.

For heavier buildup, let the muriatic acid sit for 3-5 minutes to start working into the buildup. Now, it’s time to grab your hammer and paint scraper. Begin lightly tapping the hammer on heavier buildup to break it into smaller pieces. This allows the muriatic acid to get deep within the deposit and work from the inside out. Once you break up the heavier deposits, begin using your paint scraper to remove the plaques. You will want to make sure the scraper does not scratch the surface you are cleaning, so always do a test spot at an inconspicuous location.

Tip: use plastic wrap to cover the spots where you applied acid to let it soak longer – we recommend 1-2 hours.

Your scraper will start accumulating calcium on it – you can either brush it into the pool and vacuum it out later, or you can brush it into your second paint bucket – its up to the pool owner.

Once you get rid of the heavier buildup, go back with a second application of muriatic acid and let it sit for another 3-5 minutes. Once you let it sit, begin working in solution using your abrasive brush. This will help agitate the microscopic bits of calcium that are not visible to the naked eye.

When you’re satisfied with the way your tile or liner is looking, give the side a good rinse with either a garden hose, or by splashing water from the pool onto the side. This will help remove any calcium that is left sitting on the surface. We recommend the garden hose for faster application and cleaner water.

Finally, remove any calcium that fell to the pool floor with a vacuum, and rebalance the pH with your arsenal of pool chemicals. We recommend letting the pool filter work its magic for 1-2 days before taking a swim. This removes any floating calcium and lets the pH restore its natural balance.

Recap: Acetic Acid vs Muriatic Acid

You may be unsure which chemical is the right tool for the job. Both chemicals can be used to keep your pool in top shape. We recommend using acetic acid for maintenance cleaning and muriatic acid for when calcium buildup is becoming unmanageable. Below we have summarized the information below so you don’t have to.

Acetic Acid

  • Safer
  • Good for maintenance and light buildup
  • Cheaper

Muriatic Acid

  • Stronger, more dangerous
  • Good for heavy buildup
  • More expensive

Let the professionals handle it while you relax

If you are unsure if your chemicals will damage your pool tiles, or if you do not have the right tools for the job, we recommend passing it off to the professionals so you can get back to what is important to you.

Mount Pleasant Pressure Washing is one of the area’s top-rated experts in pool tile and pool liner cleaning. If your salt water or chlorine pool is burdened by heavy calcium buildup, developing white streaks, or is newly installed, we have the perfect cleaning package for you.

Using a professional-grade chemical lineup, we not only remove 99.99% of the calcium scale, we also prevent the calcium buildup from coming back. Not only does our application process save you hours of manual labor and chemical handling, we save you an enormous investment in future cleanings using our Calcium Prevention process.

If you are a pool owner unable to get rid of those unsightly mineral streaks on your pool, or if you are just looking to save yourself time and energy, look no further. Contact us using our estimate form or give us a call at (843) 471-0799 to schedule a free, on-site estimate to develop a comprehensive cleaning plan for which we guarantee a night and day difference in your pool’s appeal. Nothing sells like peace of mind.

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