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Phosphates in Water: Everything you should know in 2020

The complete guide to Phosphates in Water

Phosphates are chemicals that contain phosphorus, their presence in water can cause algae growth. Phosphates are the primary food source for algae, excessive algae formation can disrupt the chemical makeup of the water. In this article, we are going to primarily focus on phosphates in outdoor swimming pool water. How do high quantities of phosphates affect pool water, should you get rid of them and how do you test for excess phosphates in pool water? 

What Causes Phosphates in Pool Water? 

Phosphates are usually present in decaying leaves, cosmetics, and various other swimming chemicals or products. Generally speaking, phosphates are present in everyday drinking water as the water companies often put phosphates in drinking water to reduce the number of copper particles in the water. Phosphates can be removed from pool water however, there should always be some level of phosphates in the water. You should be aiming for less than 1,000 ppb.

Testing For Phosphates 

In order to identify phosphates in your swimming pool water, you need to test the water to check the levels. How do you carry out phosphate tests? You can purchase special phosphate testing kits however, these products do not provide you with an accurate reading simply because it takes some time for phosphates to accumulate in pool water. Therefore, to get the most accurate reading it is best to collect some of your pool water and take it to the nearest swimming store, they can carry out an accurate test for you there. 

Your phosphate result should be less than 1,000 ppb however, if they are higher than this, you could consider reducing the levels a bit. One way of reducing the phosphate levels is by utilizing a  phosphate reducing product, these products work by constantly cleaning the filter media, they introduce a chemical that reduces phosphates over time. These products can be effective in reducing phosphates however, some experts say that it is not necessary to use them.

The most effective way of keeping phosphate levels down is to make sure you keep the pool clean and regularly clean the filter. 

Phosphate Mythbuster 

There are lots of misconceptions pertaining to phosphates in pool water, here are 3 phosphate mythbusters: 

  • Phosphates Cause Algae Growth No Matter The Amount 

Many outdoor pool owners believe that no matter how much phosphates in pool water, algae growth is inevitable. This is not actually true, algae growth is only possible when the phosphate levels are more than 1,000 ppb. 

  • Natural Elements Cause Algae Growth 

Natural elements like rain, decaying leaves and flowers do contribute to rising phosphate levels however, they are not the main cause. There are other factors such as the swimming pool chemicals that you use to remove stains or to prevent or remove scales. 

  • Phosphate Reduces Chlorine Levels  

Another myth is that phosphate reduces chlorine levels. This is most certainly not the case. Phosphate levels and chlorine levels are not connected at all. 

More About Phosphates 

The main argument connected to phosphates in pool water is that phosphates cause algae growth and generally mess up the overall chemical makeup of the swimming pool. 

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Here is a little more information about phosphates: 

Phosphorus was initially unearthed by Hennig Brand in 1669. He accidentally discovered it when he was carrying out a research project. Since then, phosphorus has been used as a primary component in fertilizers and agricultural chemicals. It is also used in washing soaps and detergents and in cleaning products in general. 

Phosphorus is a harmful chemical when used alone but when combined with other elements, it is relatively harmless. 

Another question that is often asked by swimming pool owners is, should you utilize phosphate reducers or removers? Are they safe? 

The bottom line is that phosphate removers are not really necessary products. Why? It is impossible to remove phosphates completely from your pool water, they will always be there no matter what. The key is not to totally remove them but to keep the levels low. Keeping the levels low is achievable by keeping the pool clean, removing leaves and excess debris from the pool on a regular basis and keeping the filter clean as stated above. 

Phosphate removal products can actually cause more harm than phosphate itself Why? Some of these phosphate removal products contain an ingredient called lanthanum. Some research has shown that this particular chemical is highly toxic and when it comes into contact with humans, it can cause various health problems such as cancer and other issues. 

One thing to bear in mind is that in order for phosphates to really start causing damage, they have to reach a certain level. It often takes years for them to reach the level that they need to reach to cause any damage. Really, adding extra chemicals to your swimming pool water is probably not necessary. 

There are a few things that you can do to keep phosphate levels down. If you do these things regularly, you probably will not need to use any extra chemicals to bring the phosphate levels down. 

  • Remove leaves and other plants from your swimming pool on a regular basis. Also, pay attention to other dirt that could be swimming in your pool 
  •  Utilize algae prevention products on a regular basis 

Cover your pool when you are not using it 

  • Monitor your pH and alkaline levels on a regular basis 
  1.  Check your chlorine levels regularly 
  2.  Keep your skimmer clean 
  3.  Regularly clean filters 
  • Get rid of spores regularly by brushing the pool surface weekly or every few days. 
  • If you want to test for phosphates, clean your pool first and get rid of any algae before doing so. 
  • 1You might need to replace the filter media after a severe algae outbreak especially for cartridge and sand filters. 

You Should Also Be Concerned About… 

Nitrates are also a cause for concern, they are not the same as phosphates but they are in some way similar. Algae feed off nitrates too, they are also found in plant foods and fertilizers. The best way of dealing with nitrates is to drain some of the water and also to figure out the source of the outbreak. Once you have done this, you would need to monitor things closely. Just like with phosphates, unless the levels reach a dangerous point, you don’t need to utilize chemicals to get rid of it. 

Something Else to Consider 

One other thing to consider closely is chlorine levels. Some experts say that keeping chlorine levels in check will essentially keep phosphate levels in check. Shocking your pool once in a while is also a good idea. What does it mean to shock your pool? When you shock your pool, you add a significant amount of chlorine or other pool chemicals to your pool to raise the free available chlorine levels to an acceptable point. The usual amount to add is about 10 times the normal amount. 

A chlorinated pool is not the ideal environment for algae, therefore, as a pool owner, if you are carrying out the regular maintenance of your swimming pool and you are paying attention the amount of chlorine that is in your pool, you really should not be too worried about algae formation as a result of phosphate is present in the pool water. The main thing you need to focus on is keeping your swimming pool water clean and free from debris. Also, using a good quality algaecide on a regular basis can also help to ensure that you do not experience a significant algae outbreak. 

Another Thing To Consider When Thinking About Using Phosphate Removers 

Another thing you should consider when you are thinking about using phosphate removers is the effect that phosphate removers have on sequestrants. Think about it like this, copper or iron in water can change the color of the water. Therefore, to reduce the copper or iron levels, you would need to use a metal sequestrant. Mostly metal sequestrants are phosphate-based. Therefore, if you were to use a phosphate remover it would prevent the metal sequestrant from working. 

Therefore, the best thing to do to keep phosphate levels in check is to follow the steps mentioned above and pay very close attention to the levels of chlorine in your pool water. Be very diligent when it comes to cleaning your pool and getting rid of dirt, debris, and falling leaves. Phosphate removers are generally unnecessary when it comes to reducing phosphate levels. The main issue as stated above is algae formation, however, if you are using a high-quality effective algaecide and ensuring that your chlorine levels are kept at an optimum level, you really should not have a problem. If you are concerned about phosphate levels, the best thing to do is collect some of your pool water in a container and take it to your local swimming pool to store to get it tested. They can provide you with an accurate reading and they can also give you some practical advice to reduce the levels of phosphate in your swimming pool if necessary. 

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