Saturday, January 18, 2014

The BBB Method Explained - Using Bleach, Baking Soda and Borax to Maintain your Swimming Pool

Can regular household items be used to maintain your swimming pool? It sounds fanciful at best and if you have ever been in your local pool store you will surely doubt this method. But the BBB method was started by PoolSolutions and the term was coined by CarlD. It stands for Bleach, Baking Soda and Borax. The only other chemical you will need on a regular basis is Muriatic Acid which I will cover later in this article.

Here is a video on the BBB Method:

There are wide misconceptions about using bleach in your swimming pool as a sanitizer. Let me lay all doubts aside. This will not turn your pool plaster yelllow, nor will it create Ammonia and create cloudy water. Reality: it is the exact same thing as the liquid chlorine sold in your local pool store and used by pool service companies - just a little weaker in chlorine content. Clorox bleach contains Sodium Hypochlorate same as liquid chlorine. I use 12.5% liquid chlorine on my route and most bleach is 6%-9% by content. If the pool sales clerk tells you otherwise just nod, smile and leave graciously.

Here is a video on using Clorox Bleach:


I just want to touch briefly on a variation of the BBB method, that being using a Salt Water Generator (SWG) to add sanitizer instead of the bleach. Without breaking things down too much here is the basic formulas.

Adding bleach to the pool looks like this:
NaOCI + H20 ---> HOCI + Na+ + OH-

HOCI is the bacteria, micro organism and virus killing element in the bleach.

Salt Water Generators do basically the same thing:
Salt is converted CI2 is made from CI- with electricity - reacts with H2O to produce HOCI.

Your average salt cell will produce the equivalent of one gallon of bleach each day. 

Here is how a SWG works:

A 5 lb. bag of Baking soda at Walmart is $3.47. A 5 lb. bag of Alkalinity Up at your pool store is $14.99.  Both have 100% active ingredient sodium bicarbonate. Are you scratching your head now? Baking soda is used to raise the Alkalinity in your swimming pool without moving the needle on the pH level much at all. I know Arm & Hammer is running YouTube Ads promoting the use of Baking Soda to raise your pH and technically it will, but it will take large amounts of it to do so at the cost of raising your alkalinity pretty high also. If you feel uncomfortable with adding Baking Soda to your pool to raise the alkalinity, go ahead and purchase a bag of Alkalinity Up at your local pool store. The bag looks cooler ;)

There has been a push in my industry in the last couple of years to get Pool Guys to start using Borate instead of Soda Ash to control and raise the pH in the pools on our route. It is a good idea since the misuse of Soda Ash can really screw up your pool chemistry. I've been to pools where the owner has added loads of Soda Ash - pH 8.4+ and Alkalinity 200+. Using Borax is much safer and easier. You can find this brand in your local store in the Laundry isle. You need to note however that the Alkalinity level effects the amount of Borax needed more so than if you use Baking Soda or Soda Ash. Use this website to correctly calculate the amount of Borax to use:

Some side benefits of Borax is that the Borate Acid will inhibit algae growth and your water will look more sparkling and soft. I will write a separate article on Borax.

This is the safest way to lower both Alkalinity and pH. The dry acid has been known to stain your pool surface when used incorrectly and you will need larger amounts of it to achieve similar results that liquid 31% Muriatic Acid can achieve. Jut remember that the pH and Alkalinity are tied together so lower one will also lower the other. Here is a video that may help you:

Basically if the pH gets above 7.8 and the Alkalinity is over 120 you will need to lower both with the acid. If you have a good test kit it will have an Acid Demand test. use that to determine the amount of acid to add to your pool.

Just about every chemical calculation is based on 10,000 gallons of pool water. So knowing your pool size is critically important. You can't just stand there and guess how much water is in there. It is actually quite deceiving sometimes how large your pool actually is. You can find formulas online and I have a helpful video that will assist you in calculating your pool size:

You can't do the BBB Method unless you know how to test your pool water. I suggest a Taylor Test Kit as they are the best. Depending on how large your pool is and how hot it gets in the Summer you will have to test your water at least once a week or in some cases every other day. You can also use a basic 5-in-1 test kit and I recommend using test strips just to double check your readings. Here is a  videos that you might find useful:

One thing you will need to test at the beginning of the pool season is your Conditioner level. Conditioner or Cyanuric Acid is used to protect the Bleach from the Sun's UV rays. The Cyanuric Acid will bond at a molecular level to the chlorine molecule slowing down the rate at which the sun destroys it. The Sun will still destroy the chlorine level but at a much slower rate.  Simply put the Cyanuric Acid molecule will bond and then un-bond to the chlorine molecule continuously thus allowing the HOCI to kill bacteria and micro-organisms when it is un-bonded and protect it from the Sun when it is bonded. To learn how to test your Conditioner level:

That is the benefit of the BBB method. By using Clorox bleach you eliminate the need for Trichlor Tablets and Dichlor Granular which both contain large levels of Cyanuric Acid (about 50% by weight). The drawback is that high levels of Conditioner in the water will slow down the kill rate of the chlorine, create chlorine resistant algae and require higher and higher levels of chlorine in the pool to create an active chlorine level. 

Part of successfully doing the BBB method requires having good working pool equipment, a clean filter and time to clean your pool regularly. For more information on the BBB you can visit these pool forums: