How to keep a kiddie pool clean, so you can spend your summer actually enjoying it

No icky slime here

Inflatable pool with bubble and water background
(Image credit: Future)

If you've finally caved and bought the adorable pastel inflatable pool that's all over Instagram, we applaud you. It's the next best thing for staying cool when you're cooped up in an apartment all summer long and makes for a pretty cute set up next to your new outdoor furniture buys. But now that you have a place to paddle on lock, you probably need to know how to keep a kiddie pool clean. 

The first few uses tend to be fine, but after a while dirty feet (and paws) create a pretty gnarly brew that you definitely don't want to be splashing around in. To combat dirty blow-up pools, we've rounded up some helpful tips and ingredients for getting them sparkling clean again. You won't have to use any strong chemicals either — a few picks you probably already have in your kitchen is all it takes.

Haven't bought a blow-up pool yet? Um, it's time. Whether or not you have kids, this is the one accessory your summer needs to really feel complete. Don't worry about shopping around, I've picked out four cute options for you below, and then you can learn how to keep it clean.

The best ways to keep a kiddie pool clean

Cleaning a paddling pool doesn't have to be a total headache. There are plenty of simple ways to keep the water in your best paddling pool clear and clean. We're going to touch on some easy cleaning methods and preventative measures you can take so it doesn't get super gross.

1. Get a pool cover

Unless they're paying to use your pool, you probably want to keep bugs and any debris really out of your pool. There are plenty of pool covers out there, like the Intex one on Amazon. Just pick based on the dimensions of your pool and if it's round or rectangular.

2. DIY your own pool cover

If you're not about to drop some cash on a pool cover, you can also rely on this hack for keeping bugs and grime out of your inflatable pool. All you need? A fitted sheet. This works best for rectangular pools and you'll want to compare the sheet's dimensions to those of your pool. Amazon's Utopia fitted sheet is a good pick. Alternatively, black plastic sheeting (like the stuff people get to control weeds in their gardens) will keep the pool clean AND is said to keep the water as warm as possible, too. We like this weed control membrane from Amazon.

3. Scoop up pool scum with a net

Scum happens. When debris, bacteria, and dirt starts building up you might have a friendly layer of junk accumulating. Although you're probably used to seeing giant pool skimmers for in-ground pools, this PoolWhale pool skimmer from Amazon works just as well for your mini version as does this Mowend Swimming Pool Skimmer that's on sale for Prime Day. It has five sections so you can make the pole as long or short as you need. If you have other water features nearby or even a pond, this doubles as a net for that, too.

4. Get a dip tray or tub going

Cleaning up before you dip a toe is one of the best preventative measures for keeping an inflatable pool clean. A tray (like this fit-for-purpose one on Amazon) or a foot tub such as this collapsible choice filled with water can make an enormous difference. Dip your feet or your pup's paws in prior to jumping in the pool and your future self will thank you. Once you're done, dump the water in some of those balcony plants that need it and store the tray away. Easy!

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 on Amazon, which comes with a filter pump to keep the water cleaner.

6. Tend to algae with baking soda

Your cleaning arsenal probably doesn't include a whole lot of pool supplies, but you actually don't need them. Cleaning with baking soda is a good (and cheap) alternative to using specialist, bleach-heavy products to wipe out algae. Algae isn't dangerous, but no one wants to rub up against that slimy texture or leave it long enough to allow bacteria to grow. At RH, we love Arm & Hammer's version, which you can add to your Amazon cart.

7. Sanitize pool water with white vinegar

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns against using conventional pool cleaners to keep a kiddie pool clean. It can irritate eyes and skin, which sucks for you and your friends (and any pets or kids who use it). For something a li'l gentler, try cleaning with vinegar. You don't need too much to make a difference — around a 1/4 to 1/2 cup is great. Our fave at Real Homes is Heinz's white vinegar, which is also on Amazon.

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

If you've got stubborn stains on your PVC paddling pool, empty it out and grab your dish soap and sponge. Need a restock? We like using Mrs. Meyers Clean Day Liquid Dish Soap, available on Amazon. Once you have everything needed, use your sponge to rub away the algae, then rinse and repeat. Use a garden hose or a pitcher to rinse out all of the soap and grime before you refill the pool.

How do you clean an inflatable pool without draining it?

It's doable! Expert Davy Merino of the blog InTheSwim Pool says to use chlorine tablets to keep things clean without having to dump all the water out. "Most inflatable pools need just half of one 3-inch tablet per week, or several 1-inch tabs at a time, replaced promptly when they dissolve," he says. "That said, your test kit will tell you for sure." You'll want to test levels a couple of times each week, and you can buy these tabs on Amazon — Clearwater's CH0019 1 kg Multifunction Chlorine Tablets have a 4.6-star rating.

Can you put Epsom or regular salt in an inflatable pool?

Short answer: no. Michael Dean, swimming pool expert and author on Pool Research advises that you specifically shop for pool salt. With 25 years in the industry, he explains that pool salt isn't the same as what you use while cooking. 

"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," he explains. "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."

Melissa Epifano
Former Global Editor in Chief

Hi, I'm former editor of Real Homes. I cut my teeth in New York City, covering fashion and beauty but eventually made my way into the world of homes. I've spent several years writing and editing for The Spruce, Apartment Therapy, Forbes, MyDomaine, People, InStyle, Real Simple, Lonny and more. I track trends like it's a competitive sport but am equally excited about covering products and style ideas that stand the test of time.

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