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How to keep a kiddie pool clean: naturally, and without a filter

Learn how to keep a kiddie pool clean without using chemicals. Calling on natural salt, baking powder and even vinegar can help sanitize and clear inflatable pool water, with little effort.

An inflatable swimming/paddling pool being filled with water outside on decked surface
(Image credit: Getty / krarte (#1331226830))

Got kids? Then when warm weather comes about, you'll probably need to know how to keep a kiddie pool clean. The routine tends to go, playing tag on the lawn or on the patio followed by jumping into this inflatable, over and over again, so it's no surprise that the crystal clear water, turns into a murky mess throughout the course of the day. Of course, it's not just kids that pop in there to cool down, so keeping a paddling pool clean is more important than ever. 

From dirt on mucky feet, to leaves, grass clippings and more garden debris that might blow in, much like with inflatable hot tubs, you may find algae that can grow in the water also, so there is lots to stay on top of. 

Thankfully, you can avoid using harsh cleaning agents like bleach to clean your inflatable pool. Using household ingredients and pantry staples like salt, vinegar and baking soda are great ways to sanitize the inflatable itself to keep the water clean and ready for splashing about in.

The best ways to keep a kiddie pool clean

Cleaning a paddling pool needn’t be an onerous chore. There are plenty of simple ways to keep the water in your best paddling pool clear and clean plus, easy tricks to cut out the elbow grease when you have to give it a good wipe over. As with many things, prevention is often better the cure. 

Kiddie pool cleaning essentials

1. Paddling pool cover (opens in new tab)
2. A king-sized bed sheet (opens in new tab)
3. Weed control membrane (opens in new tab)
4. A pool skimmer (opens in new tab)
5. A pool vacuum (opens in new tab)
6. A garden hose (opens in new tab)
7. A pressure washer (opens in new tab)
8. Baking soda (opens in new tab) or borax powder (opens in new tab)
9. Pool salt (opens in new tab) (or regular fine table salt (opens in new tab))
10. White vinegar (opens in new tab)
11. pH test strips (opens in new tab)
12. pH reducer (dry acid) (opens in new tab)

1. Get a cover to keep a paddling pool clean

A paddling pool cover will keep debris and insects out of the pool overnight. It could also help keep the water warm, which the kids might appreciate if the pool’s a large and deep version. Check out the ConBlom dustproof and rainproof inflatable paddling pool cover (opens in new tab) on Amazon, which comes in a range of sizes (for round and rectangular setups) and prevents leaves and more falling into the water.

2. DIY your own pool cover

Like the idea of keeping the muck out overnight but want a hack to do it? How about using a fitted sheet to keep the pool water debris-free? It works better if your paddling pool is rectangular, of course, and you might need a cheap king-size bed sheet (opens in new tab) in order to get the right fit. But even black plastic sheeting (like the stuff you get to control weeds on your garden bed ideas) will keep the pool clean AND is said to keep the water as warm as possible, too.

This heavy duty weed control membrane from Amazon (opens in new tab) will do the job, and you can order it on your smartphone while in the pool!

3. Scoop up pool scum with a net

A cover is not going to be on all of the time, so it’s inevitable that things will blow into the water. Making like you’ve got a swimming pool and using a net to clean out debris from the paddling pool is, therefore, a good idea.

Try a model like the Aquatix pool skimmer (opens in new tab). It has five sections so you can make the pole as long or short as you need, plus it has a fine mesh net to pick up the maximum as you skim. It's also great for getting floating bits out of your garden pond too.

Alternatively, if you really don't like the slimy texture of fallen leaves, use a pool vacuum in your jacuzzi or splash pool for a hands-free method of removing leaves. Amazon has some good models that are under $30, including the Poolmaster 28300 Big Sucker swimming pool leaf vacuum (opens in new tab). This unit works in conjunction with your hosepipe and is one of the more effective ways to clean a pool.

4. Avoid the debris in the paddling pool with a dip tray

Yes, you can be the cause of unwanted additions to the pool water. So, don’t mow the lawn just before they’re about to use it, sending grass clippings flying. You could also cut down any branches that overhang the area where you put the pool to stop leaves falling in from above. And do regularly clean your deck or patios as debris can accumulate and blow from these areas, into the pool when it's breezy.

Of course, you can encourage anyone getting in it to make sure their feet are clean before they come in, by using your best garden hose to spray down dirty feet. Failing that, an old washing up bowl filled with water by the pool that kids dip their tootsies into before getting in should take care of most of the debris.

5. Choose a paddling pool with a filter

If you haven't bought one yet, investing in a paddling pool with a filter pump is well worthwhile. It can remove dirt and debris and improve water circulation. We like the Intex 10ft x 30in Easy Set Pool (opens in new tab) on Amazon, which comes with a filter pump to keep the water cleaner.

6. Tend to algae with baking soda

Cleaning with baking soda is a good (and cheap) alternative to using specialist pool-cleaning products that contain bleach. Algae in itself isn’t dangerous, but it's hardly nice to look at, and it can still allow bacteria to thrive.

'If algae are hard to remove with soap, two household products that work well to scrub away without being too abrasive are borax (opens in new tab) and baking soda (opens in new tab).' says Samantha Davis, mom, and writer at Experienced Mommy blog (opens in new tab).

'You can use either of these products to make a paste by adding just a little water until you have a thick measure. Use this to scrub hard to clean parts of the swimming pool. Then, rinse and dry as you would normally.'

7. Sanitize pool water with white vinegar

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (opens in new tab) warns against using conventional pool cleaners to keep a kiddie pool clean. Aside from their strong smell, they can also irritate kids' skin and sting little eyes. So if you're looking for gentler, more natural solutions, try cleaning with vinegar.

'Vinegar can reduce how often you change the water in your pool,' says Davis. It's also a weed and grass killer, though, so you’ll want to use caution. The amount of vinegar you need depends on the pool. For a smaller kiddie pool, you might only need 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of vinegar.'

8. Keep bacteria at bay with salt

As well as using salt to kill weeds and slugs, using sodium chloride can also do away with bacteria and viruses in pool water. Normal table or fine sea salt will do, so fill up on salt at Amazon (opens in new tab), or on your next supermarket trip.

'If you need a less costly way of keeping the pool clean – consider using salt. Salt inhibits the growth of bacteria and viruses that breed in water,' says Den Hicks, interior designer, and blogger at Den Residence (opens in new tab).

'Granulated salt is more recommendable due to its low solubility. Thus it takes a longer time to liquefy in water. High acidity levels affect the working of salt. Hence if your pool water ph is below 7.2, you should raise it using sodium disulphate to restore its alkalinity properties.'

9. Use dish soap for hard-to-clean stains

If you've got stubborn stains on your PVC paddling pool, empty it out and take the best eco-friendly washing-up liquid to it – we like using Mrs. Meyers Clean Day Liquid, available on Amazon (opens in new tab); sponge the algae carefully, rinse and repeat. Make sure there's no trace of dish soap left in the pool before you add the clean water.

10. Blast off bugs and slime with a pressure washer

If you don't want to risk touching the slimy stuff that's on the plastic, consider cleaning a paddling pool with the best pressure washer. The sheer power of the spray will degrade dirt and debris in no time. What's more, if you've placed your pool on a decked area in your backyard, you can quickly kill two birds with one stone.

'Paddling pools are likely to build up with dirt consisting of elements such as mold, fungi, and sunscreen oils which can be arduous to clean,' says Harry Turner, product manager, Karcher (opens in new tab).

'Using a pressure washer on a low setting can help get the job done quickly and efficiently whilst ensuring dirt is removed. To start, connect your pressure washer to a water supply, and then turn the pressure washer on to a low setting, doing a few test sprays on a small area to ensure you have the right pressure setting to not damage the paddling pool material.'

'Now you can begin washing down your paddling pool with the pressure washer, ensuring to focus on ridges and folds as these areas are likely to have a build-up of dirt. It’s important to leave the paddling pool to dry before packing away to prevent mold from growing as a result of being left damp.'

Visit the Karcher store on Amazon (opens in new tab) to save yourself some gas money and have a pressure washer delivered straight to your home.

Using chlorine correctly in a kiddie pool

Debris, filters, covers, and nets will all do a great job, but for what you can’t see in the water, you’ll need a different approach to cleaning. If you've tried the natural cleaner aboves, but want something with a bit more oomph, and are comfortable with using chemicals, arm yourself with a purpose-built product like the In the Swim Basic pool opening starter kit (opens in new tab), which contains all you need to disinfect the water, including an algaecide, chlorine to shock the pool, clarifier, and sun sorb to remove body oil and lotion) left on the surface of the water.

Keeping the pH levels balanced is essential too. Too low and the contents of your pool will be too acidic, too high and it'll be more alkaline than needed. Because blow-up pools are used by babies and young children, it's important that this is monitored as the potential hydrogen levels can affect sensitive skin. You can test this using pool and spa test strips, available on Amazon (opens in new tab)

'Believe it or not, pH influences the efficacy of your sanitizer. You will need a small test kit or test strips so that you can test and maintain the pH level in your kiddie pool water, which can naturally rise just from regular pool use,' says Davy Merino, author at InTheSwim Pool blog (opens in new tab).

'When pH gets too high, chlorine becomes less effective, and algae and bacteria can bloom more easily. Or, with a low pH, chlorine dissipates more quickly. Both conditions can cause cloudy water, damage your pool, and may irritate skin and eyes. When pH levels rise above 7.6, the general recommendation is to add 0.2 oz of pH Reducer (dry acid) (opens in new tab) for every 100 gallons of pool water, and recheck the pH level in a few hours. Always follow product label directions for exact dosage and handling instructions! A pH reading in the 7.4-7.6 range is ideal. 

How do you clean an inflatable pool without draining it?

Draining and refilling a kiddie pool with fresh water can be wasteful, and in most cases unnecessary. Unless your child has pooped, urinated, or vomited in the water, a small chlorine tab should keep the water clean and safe to bathe in.

'The best way to obtain a constant, consistent chlorine level in the pool is to use 1″ tablets or 3″ tablets in a floating chlorinator, aka chlorine floater,' says Merino.

'Most inflatable pools need just half of one 3″ tablet per week, or several 1″ tabs at a time, replaced promptly when they dissolve. That said, your test kit will tell you for sure.'

'Test for chlorine levels 2-3 times each week to make sure Free Available Chlorine levels are in the 2.0-4.0 ppm (parts per million) range. Use enough tablets to dose the pool with a consistent level of chlorine.'

You don't need to go to a specialist store to buy these tabs – Clearwater's CH0019 1 kg Multifunction Chlorine Tablets have a 4.5-star rating on Amazon (opens in new tab).

Can you put Epsom salt in a kiddie pool?

Put simply: No. Michael Dean, swimming pool expert and author on Pool Research (opens in new tab)advises that you specifically shop for pool salt. With 25 years in the industry, he explains that: 'Pool salt is not the same as some popular kitchen varieties. People use Himalayan salt, Epsom salts, Kosher salts, and other salts in their food, but these often have additives or minerals that give them their distinctive flavors and properties that are bad for pools.'

'The best pool salts are as close to pure sodium chloride as possible. It’s prohibitively expensive to get 100% pure salt because there will always be trace minerals and impurities, but up to 99% pure is both easy and affordable.'

Sarah Warwick
Freelance Editor

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor writing for websites, national newspapers, and magazines. She’s spent most of her journalistic career specialising in homes – long enough to see fridges become smart, decorating fashions embrace both minimalism and maximalism, and interiors that blur the indoor/outdoor link become a must-have. She loves testing the latest home appliances, revealing the trends in furnishings and fittings for every room, and investigating the benefits, costs and practicalities of home improvement. It's no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house revamper. For, Sarah reviews coffee machines and vacuum cleaners, taking them through their paces at home to give us an honest, real life review and comparison of every model.

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