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Multitasking Borates

The EPA-registered product that can ease pool maintenance

Several in the pool industry believe that EPA-registered borates deserve more attention from dealers, technicians and owners.

“This is the most underutilized and overlooked product in our entire product line,” says Alicia Stephens, manager of training and education at BioLab Incorporated in Lawrenceville, Georgia. “And I hate that because it’s a wonderful product that can make your life easier, make a pool better and easier to maintain, and stop a lot of problems.”

There are two main forms of borates used in pool care: boric acid and sodium tetraborate. Boric acid benefits include increasing chlorine efficiency, stabilizing pH and improving clarity. Sodium tetraborate (commonly known outside of the pool industry as borax) touts the same benefits of water softening and improved clarity, with the additional benefit of helping to keep algae blooms from reproducing, Stephens says.

However, unlike boric acid, sodium tetraborate is not pH-neutral and raises the water’s pH, requiring an additional pH reducer. Sodium tetraborate is also slower to dissolve than boric acid, so it may require scrubbing or splitting up the application over multiple days. Boric acid, though, is easier to dissolve and does not require a pH reducer, but it cannot claim to have algaestatic benefits.

Regardless of the borate form used, pools still need some type of algaecide.

“The most common misuse (of borates) is techs substituting borates for basic chlorine and algaecide programs, believing borates kill algae when they do not,” says Scott Nichols, regional sales manager for EasyCare Products in Fresno, California.

While chlorine and algaecides must maintain their presence in pool care even with the use of borates, these two crucial products must also be replenished by pool owners and service technicians throughout the pool season. Borates, on the other hand, are often added once — maybe twice — in year-round pools, as borates do not disappear over time except with dilution and splashing out, Stephens says. “Once they’re in, they’re in; they don’t get worn out or used up,” she adds.

“For the most part, you put in a big dosage of boric acid [like BioGuard Optimizer] in the beginning,” Stephens explains. “The first time you do it, you may put in 50 pounds, but that 50 pounds stays in the pool for the most part. So the next spring, the only maintenance you may need to do is add five pounds to get your level back up where it’s supposed to be. But after that, you don’t think about it for the rest of the season.”

By using borates, especially those that have algaestat claims, other chemicals such as chlorine are able to be more efficient.

“You may not be able to see it, but there are probably algae spores in the water,” says John Bokor, regional sales manager for Haviland Enterprises, Inc., in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “If the chlorine doesn’t have to be used to fight that algae spore, it actually can be used to do other things to sanitize the water.”

Borates aren’t a necessity for pool care, but Nichols says they not only help make pools easier to care for and are often used to soften the way the pool water feels to swimmers. The water softening can have a direct impact on how hair and skin feels after being in the water — one of the biggest complaints among swimmers, Stephens says.

“If you have a consumer who uses regular chlorine tablets to sanitize their pool but they want the feel of a salt pool without the expense of installing a device, we can give you that feel with the use of borates,” Bokor says.

Even though borates can help freshwater pools mimic the feel of a saltwater pool, saltwater pools can also benefit from borates, Bokor adds. 

“Boric acid is a natural chelator with calcium,” Bokor says. “So the pools with salt chlorine generators where there’s scaling issues on the device itself, we can reduce the amount of calcium buildup by using borates.”

Stephens, Nichols and Bokor all believe the biggest hindrance to borate use is its cost.

“There is no good reason to not use it, other than not wanting to pay for it,” Bokor says.

“It’s a ‘one-more’ product,” Stephens says, adding that she believes it’s worth the investment and educating pool pros about the value of borates will increase its use.

Building on the call for increasing awareness of borate benefits, Bokor says there is also room for service technicians to reap the benefits of borates as it eliminates a lot of maintenance and makes water balance much easier.

“In the world of service, which is ever growing in the pool industry, [borates are] a great opportunity to offer the homeowner benefits that the next guy isn’t doing, doesn’t have, or it’s available but they choose not to do that,” Boker says. “We really feel that it’s important to get borates in everybody’s water, no matter how big or small,” Bokor says. “You’re going to save some money on efficiencies. You’re going to look and feel better. And it’s not something that you’re putting in weekly; it’s a testable amount that we’re looking for. And once we establish that level, the top-offs or the adjustments are very minimal.”

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