Pool painting tips and tricks: Selecting and applying coating products
By Kevin Harrington, RAMUC Pool Coatings
Painting is one of the best ways to protect and beautify both commercial and residential pools. In addition to adding a vibrant, fresh color, a new coat of paint can be a cost-efficient way to give new life to concrete, plaster, or fiberglass pool surfaces. Painting a pool is not as difficult as one may think. Proper planning, surface preparation, and using best practices from the field will help ensure the best results. This article will discuss the various tips and tricks involved in painting commercial and residential pools, including preparing the pool surface, and choosing the right product—whether it be epoxy, rubber, or acrylic paint.
Choosing the proper paint
There are three types of coatings that are suitable for aquatic surfaces:
This paint can be applied over most types of coatings providing they are in sound condition. Additionally, water-based acrylic paint can be used on damp surfaces—which can be especially beneficial in many situations. This is a cost-efficient painting approach and when done correctly, it may last up to two seasons.
Chlorinated or synthetic rubber
Chlorinated rubber coatings provide excellent hiding, protection, and coverage for previously painted chlorinated rubber surfaces. These coatings can also be applied to bare concrete, marcite, or plaster. These finishes are designed to last between four and five years. Synthetic rubber coatings can be applied over existing chlorinated or synthetic rubber systems, bare concrete, or plaster and is intended for use where adherence to volatile organic compound (VOC) regulations is required. When properly applied, this finish can last up to three years.
Both of these coating systems can also be used for fountains and ponds.
This paint option creates a tough, durable finish with unsurpassed stain, chemical, and abrasion resistance. Epoxy can be an excellent alternative to re-plastering; two coats of a high-build epoxy will achieve a hard, abrasion-resistant surface that costs one-third less than expensive resurfacing finishes. With proper preparation, a high-build epoxy finish can last up to eight years. Traditional epoxy will last approximately five years.
Remember to also consider self-priming paints that will reduce the amount of time needed to complete the job and save money by avoiding the purchase of a primer. These paints eliminate the need to apply a primer before applying the first layer of paint.
Pro tip: Always check into the VOC regulations where the pool is being painted before purchasing a coating product as regulations vary in Canada and the United States.
Paint selection begins by determining what type of coating is currently on the pool. Unfortunately, with many pools, pool professionals must deal with a pool that has many, many layers of built-up paint. Pool professional are often dealing with a pool that has more than one type of paint under the various layers. Some pool paint suppliers offer a free paint chip analysis, which can be very helpful—especially with pools that have many layers of old paint. To prevent an expensive mistake, a paint chip should be sent to the paint supplier for analysis, as they can provide information such as thickness, number of coats present, and integrity of adhesion—as well as make recommendations for the best paint to use in the particular pool application. If the pool is currently coated with an epoxy, this paint must continue to be used as other rubber and water-based paints will not adhere to it. Always select the same type of coating to ensure compatibility.
Pro tip: Some plaster surfaces that show signs of serious deterioration should be resurfaced first, before painting. Acute flaking, chipping, or peeling may indicate a surface that is soon to fail. If the surface is not suitable, the paint will peel and remove the plaster with it.
Painting a pool with a two-coat epoxy paint system can prolong the life of the plaster, but only if the pool’s surface is in good, sound condition. However paint is not a solution for a failing plaster surface; therefore, surface preparation is extremely important. Whatever type of coating is being used, it will adhere best to a solid and clean surface.
Inspect and prepare the pool surface
Once one has determined the best type of paint to use on the pool, the next step is to carefully inspect the pool surface and repair any minor damage. To do this properly, the following steps must be taken:
- Drain the pool and allow it to dry.
- Clear away any debris left on the bottom.
- Visually inspect the empty pool, scanning for peeling paint, cracks, chips, or surface defects.
- Scrape any peeling, flaking, or chipped paint and sand smooth.
- Repair any minor cracks or chips. A structural engineer should be consulted if any major cracks or surface defects are found. These areas should be thoroughly investigated as they may compromise the integrity of the pool.
- Preparing the surface before beginning to paint is very important.
Clean the surface
The pool surface must be completely clean and free of loose paint, dirt, oils, or solutions before applying a new coating system. There are products designed specifically for pool surface preparation, and using them is highly recommended. In most cases, these products can reduce the amount of time needed to clean the pool’s surface, allowing the job to be completed with just one step in one-third the amount of time.
Pool professionals who are not using a specialty ‘clean and prep’ product should use the following three-step process:
- Power wash the entire pool surface using a minimum 3200-psi power washer.
- Once dry, sweep or use a blower to clear away any leftover paint chips or debris.
- Use a garden sprayer to evenly apply a preparation product to the entire surface, following the manufacturer’s mixing instructions.
- Scrub the solution, which will begin to foam and etch. Continue scrubbing until the foaming stops, paying extra attention to areas where heavy soil accumulates, such as the waterline and steps.
- Flush the surface three times with a strong stream of clean water from a garden hose. Do not flush using a power washer as it lacks the volume of water required to effectively flush the surface. It is important that all residual preparation solutions are removed.
Pro tip: A clean, bare concrete or plaster surface that is ready for painting should have the texture of medium-grade sandpaper.
Outdoor pools that are not covered during the winter accumulate all types of fall foliage and debris, which can affect the painted surface. Unfortunately, sometimes industry standard cleanup procedures can adversely affect the success of painting a pool.
Pro tip: Always wear rubber gloves and protective eyewear when handling chemicals and paints. Pool professionals should always follow all safety precautions on power equipment being used, too.
Let the surface dry
The type of coating being applied will dictate how dry the surface must be before the process can begin. Acrylic paint can be applied to a damp surface; however, it must be completely dry when using epoxy paint. In any case, a pool professional should check the instructions on the product label to determine the dryness requirements. Moisture may still be present even if a surface looks and feels dry; therefore, pool professionals should use the following steps to test for dryness:
- Use duct tape to affix 2-sf sheets of clear plastic to three different areas of the pool—one to the floor in the shallow end, another to the floor in the deep end, and the third on a wall in the deep end that receives shade.
- After the plastic sheets have been applied, wait four to five hours.
- After the waiting period check inside the plastic for any signs of moisture from condensation.
- If moisture is present, remove all three areas of plastic and let the surface dry for another 24 hours. Then, repeat the test.
Applying the paint
When applying the pool coating, it is important to adhere to the recommended coverage. Paint that is applied too thin will not provide adequate coverage or yield a long-lasting result; whereas a thick coat may cause air bubbles, ‘alligatoring,’ or blistering.
Pro tip: Pool professionals should avoid painting if the temperature is below 50 F, above 85 F, or if the overnight temperature will drop below 50 F. If the temperature is above 85 F, the paint can blister. Temperatures under 50 F will cause the paint formula to become more ‘viscous’ or thickened, making it difficult to apply evenly.
A water-based paint will be susceptible to freezing, which can change the formula properties. Pool paints are designed to dry and cure within a defined temperature range. The chemicals that make up the paint require the proper temperature to bond together and adhere to the surface. If the paint is not able to cure, uneven coverage, peeling, bubbling, cracking, and other problems can occur.
In addition, do not paint in direct sunlight as it will affect adhesion, primarily because it causes the paint to dry too quickly. The solvents in the formula will not be able to evaporate properly and result in adhesion failure. High temperatures can cause the paint to bubble and blister, which results in peeling once it cures.
To apply pool paint correctly, it is important to use these best practices from the field:
- Sweep or use a leaf blower to clear away any remaining leaves, paint chips, or debris before starting to paint.
- Use masking tape to protect any areas that are not to be painted (e.g. tiles or fittings). To avoid getting paint on larger areas, cover them with plastic and tape.
- Paint around small or hard-to-reach areas (e.g. drain openings, corners, and ladders) using a paintbrush.
- Use a roller to paint larger areas, beginning with the walls.
- Once the walls are complete, move to the floor and start at the deepest section.
- Always paint toward the shallow end, and plan to finish at a ladder or stairs to exit the pool without stepping on the wet paint.
- Refer to the product recommendations to determine if a second coat is necessary. If so, allow for the proper drying time as per the product’s instructions. Then, follow the same application steps.
“The ‘time’ between coats of paint can get tricky on pools that are outdoors—especially if it rains between coats of paint,” says Lenz. “Rain can really slow down the process as the painting of the second coat typically needs to happen within eight to 48 hours.
“In our experience, once you get beyond the 48-hour mark, the second coat won’t bond to the first. When this happens, you need to roughen the surface of the first coat to get the second coat to stick. We end up having to do this manually to get the second coat to adhere, which is terribly time consuming.”
Pro tip: If rain interrupts the pool painting progress, a good rule of thumb is to add one day for the surface to dry for each day of rain.
Opening the pool
Some pool professionals may be eager to refill the pool once they have finished painting the surface so it can be opened quickly for use. However, allowing adequate drying time (specified on the product label) is the last step to a successful pool paint application. To be certain, it is a good idea to repeat the dryness test mentioned earlier. After confirming the new coating is completely dry, the pool can be refilled using a constant, steady stream of water. The pool’s water chemistry should be routinely monitored to keep the paint looking new and vibrant. Should levels go out of balance, the water may appear cloudy and/or the paint may wear too quickly. It is very important to keep water chemistry in balance to avoid problems such as ‘chalking.’ Making sure the water chemistry is balanced is key in pools and spas that are painted.
Painting pools is one of the most economical ways to keep them looking good and performing well. Repainting the pool also offers the opportunity to discuss renovating the pool’s surrounding decks. Acrylic water-based deck paints can upgrade and renovate many different types of surfaces. Proper planning, surface preparation, and using best practices from the field will help ensure amazing results. Before embarking on the next pool painting job, take the time to get a paint chip analysis of the paint currently on the pool surface and choose a paint that is formulated with quality raw materials and best manufacturing processes to achieve the best results and complete the job successfully.
About the author:
Kevin Harrington is the division manager of the Ramuc Pool Paint Company, located in Rockaway, NJ. A graduate of Rutgers University, Harrington has been in the coatings industry for more than 41 years. As an industry veteran, he has vast product knowledge and extensive industry experience making him the go-to person for those seeking expertise in aquatic coatings. Harrington can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.