Guide to Cleaning Tile at the Waterline
Waterline pool tiles are one of the easiest (and worst) ways to tell when your water calcium levels are way off – in the form of white or gray deposits, also known as scaling. These can stain and damage your tiles, are a sign of extreme calcium hardness, and may be wreaking havoc on your pool water’s chemical balance. That balance is what helps keep your pool clear, blue, and safe for as long as possible.
If your pool’s waterline tiles are stained white with chalky buildup, removing it can be a pain. Before you start scrubbing, take the time to figure out what kind of buildup you’re dealing with – and gather your cleaning essentials respectively. Read further on how to clean pool tile.
Identifying the Scale
Mineral deposits on your waterline tiles can be identified as either calcium carbonate or calcium silicate depending on their texture and color. The reason this difference matters is because different approaches are needed to remove either.
Calcium carbonate deposits are white, flaky, and easier to remove. They also react to muriatic acid by bubbling up. If you have any muriatic pool acid on-hand, you can use a touch of it to test on the stains and see if it reacts accordingly. This is because muriatic acid, also known as hydrochloric acid, causes calcium carbonate to separate into carbon dioxide (hence the bubbling) and calcium chloride.
Calcium silicate stains and buildup are gray, less flaky, and do not react to the same acid. If the staining has been present on your walls for some time, it becomes much harder to remove. You will need a different set of cleaning tools for grey calcium silicate scaling.
How to Clean Pool Tile
You will need a soft bristled brush, a stiff bristled brush, eye protection and gloves, a bucket, and either some baking soda, cleaning vinegar, or a simple store-bought tile cleaner.
You will also need all your usual pool cleaning equipment, including a skimmer and a pool vacuum.
- Get rid of debris. First things first, begin by removing as much organic matter as you see. Waterline tile grime can be blamed mostly on mineral buildup, but organic matter plays an offending role as well. Use the skimmer and vacuum to go over the surface and floor, run the pump, and clean out the filter.
- Drop your water level. If your main goal for the day is to clean up your waterline tiles, you will want better access to the tiles – and avoid risking your cleaning solution getting washed away before it can do its job. Drain your pool a few inches to make it easier for you to scrub away at the tiles.
- Brush. Start with a stiff brush, unless you have glass tiles. Work in circles, and don’t be afraid to use a little elbow grease. An old toothbrush can work wonders on the grout, if you can’t quite get to it.
- Apply a cleaning solution. After the initial scrub, it’s time to loosen things up further with your cleaning solution. You can either mix baking soda with a few drops of water to make a scrubbing paste, mix water with the vinegar, or apply the tile cleaner. Scrub thoroughly and rinse with water repeatedly.
- Try pumice. If hard bristles and detergent or vinegar aren’t enough to do the trick, you can try using pumice. Pumice is a porous volcanic rock popular for getting rid of mineral deposits in toilet bowls, bathtubs, and other places where calcium deposits build up over time.
What About Floor Tiles?
Some pool floors, steps, and outcroppings (such as Jacuzzis and kiddie pools) are completely encased in pool tiles, and can be stained through any number of ways. Most of the time, the staining occurs on the grout between the tiles rather than the tiles themselves and depending on the color of the stain, you may be dealing with several different issues.
Pool stains underneath the surface can be categorized as either organic (decayed berries, leaves, or algae) or inorganic (mineral and metal deposits from the municipal water, certain chemicals, or soil carried in by the weather).
You can get a general idea of the likely cause of the stain through its color. Certain metals have very distinct colors when they cause stains on grout and tiles, such as brown-red staining for rust and iron, or a purple black stain for manganese. However, these stains could also indicate old organic matter like leaves and berries. The latter is only possible if you’ve got berry shrubs and overhanging trees in your pool, though.
Organic stains are treated with chlorine-based spot cleaning, by slowly letting some of the chlorine sink onto the stain before gently scrubbing it away. Inorganic stains can be treated with a scrub and a metal sequestrant to capture and clump the metallic and mineral deposits after they’ve been knocked loose from the grout or tile.
If your tile stains have become a much bigger problem, you might need to call for professional help. Some stains can only be tackled by completely draining a pool and giving the walls and floor a thorough scrub and wash, in some cases even an acid wash (which is exactly what it sounds like).
Consistent Maintenance is Key
As with most common pool nuisances, excessive calcium buildup and scaling can be avoided through weekly maintenance. The most reliable indicators of potential scaling are your pool’s alkalinity and calcium hardness.
Bringing a sample of your pool water to your nearest pool experts can help them determine what your pool needs to avoid or reduce scaling in the long-term, and help you save both time and money. Getting professional help can also mean access to different options for cleaning – professional pool cleaners make use of pressure washers and special equipment to clean up your waterline tiles, without damaging them.