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How to keep paddling pool water clean: chemical-free hacks and chlorine safety tips

When the temperature rises, it’s time to get out the paddling pool. But how do you keep it clean and hygienic? Here’s our guide to keeping paddling pool water crystal clear, with tips for all pool sizes.

By Poppy O'Neill | Last updated May 10, 2023

how to keep paddling pool water clean - 3 children playing in a paddling pool

We've all got our fingers crossed for warm weather this summer in the UK, and what could be better on a hot summer's day than a paddling pool in your garden? After spending hours researching the best paddling pools, we wanted to put together a guide to keeping yours clean and hygienic, combining expert advice with wisdom from the Mumsnet forums. 

Paddling pools are one of the best outdoor toys out there, but let's face it - they do have a reputation for getting dirty really quickly. As well as looking disgusting, dirty paddling pool water can contain pretty nasty stuff, such as:

  • Roundworms
  • Toxocariasis
  • Insect larvae

There are lots of ways to keep your paddling pool water free from nasties like these, and most of the methods are cheap and easy. So whether you have a small paddling pool or a large one, here's how to keep the water clean for longer. 

How to keep paddling pool water clean

Making sure minimal dirt gets into your paddling pool is the first thing to consider when setting up your paddling pool this summer. Make sure you position your paddling pool away from any trees that might drop leaves into it, and put a tarpaulin or bedsheet underneath to provide a buffer zone between the pool and the grass.

Clean your paddling pool first

Whether it's box-fresh or has been in the shed all winter, give your paddling pool a good scrub before you fill it, to remove any dust, dirt or other residues. 

Use washing up liquid to remove any visible muck, then hose it off to rinse away the soap. Add a good spritz of household anti-bacterial cleaner and give it a quick wipe, then you're ready to set up your pool.

How to fill a paddling pool

Paddling pools should be filled from a tap or garden hose and never from a water butt. According to water hygiene experts uRisk, 95% of water butts contain dangerous Legionella bacteria, which thrives in stagnant water - so keep water butt water for plants and ponds only. 

Use a bucket to carry water from your tap to your paddling pool, or use a hose. If you want to heat the water, Mumsnetters recommend hooking the hose up to your kitchen tap, or using the black bin bags hack:

"Black bags on top of the water. The sun heats the bags, the bags warm the water."

- Mumsnet user Soubriquet

Cover your paddling pool

There are paddling pool covers available online in every shape and size if you want something that fits perfectly and is waterproof. However, Mumsnetters say a fitted sheet does the job just as well for keeping leaves and creepy crawlies out of the water while the pool's not being used (although they won't keep out the rain).

"If I fill [our paddling pool] then I do my best to make sure that the water lasts as long as possible - using a fitted sheet over it at night so it doesn't become an insect graveyard, and towels down so the kids feet aren't too grassy when they get in." - Mumsnetter Findahouse21

Related: The best mud kitchens for messy outdoor fun

Add a foot-cleaning station

An old towel, washing-up bowl or even a mini paddling pool filled with water, positioned nearby for kids to wash their feet in before getting into the main paddling pool works wonders for reducing the amount of grass and gunk that reaches the water. 

A cheap 2-ring pool like these £3.99 ones from Bestway makes a brilliant foot bath. 

bestway 2-ring paddling pools

Use sterilising liquid to kill paddling pool bacteria

The same liquid you'd use in a cold water steriliser to clean baby bottles - like Milton - can be added to paddling pool water to limit the growth of algae. Cleaning experts In The Wash say this method is suitable for small to medium sized pools, and add that the water still needs to be changed every few days. 

Use tennis balls to soak up sun cream

If it's warm to play in a paddling pool, it's likely your kids are slathered in sun cream, which leaves a greasy layer on the surface of your paddling pool water at the end of the day. Chucking a couple of tennis balls into the water (or more if you have a large paddling pool) will soak up the sun cream residue overnight.

Get a pool skimmer net

A cheap pool skimmer net - like this £9.99 one from Blu Line - will pick up floating debris from the surface of your pool water, as well as any leaves, grass and assorted gunk that's sunk to the bottom. When choosing a skimmer net, make sure to order one with a pole included, as they're often sold separately.

Related: The best sand and water tables, as recommended by Mumsnetters

an inflatable doughnut floating in a pool

Tips for keeping small paddling pools clean

  • Empty your pool every day: Small pools get dirty quickly, and don't take that much time or water to refill, so if you have a two- or three-ring pool for your little one, it makes sense to change the water every day. The water can be used on the garden provided its free from chemicals.
  • Clean your pool after each use: Once it's empty, wipe your paddling pool dry with a cloth or an old towel, and store it up-side down to prevent water collecting in its nooks and crannies. Give it a wipe with antibacterial cleaner before the next use.

Read next: The best trampolines for kids

a baby in a small paddling pool

How to keep the water clean in a large paddling pool

Following all the above steps will keep dirt and debris out of your paddling pool as much as possible, but if you have a large pool which isn't practical to empty and refill every couple of days, the water inside is going to get unhygenic pretty quickly without the use of chemicals - chlorine being the most widely available and commonly used. 

Always check the pool manufacturer's guidelines before using any form of pool-cleaning chemicals in a paddling pool, to ensure the pool itself won't get damaged.

Here's how to use chemicals safely in a large paddling pool:

  • Get a chlorine dispenser: it's not safe to put chlorine tablets directly into the water, so buy a small dispenser with tablets and tester strips to get you started, like this £9.95 one from Suds Online.
  • You'll also need an algaecide: Mumsnetters recommend Kiddy-Safe Chlorine-Free Pool Treatment sachets, £21.49 for 4. 
  • Carefully work out the correct amount of chlorine to the volume of water in your pool. Too much chlorine can cause skin and eye irritation, and too little will allow bacteria to grow in the water. 
  • Check the pH levels every time you or your children use a chlorinated pool: this will tell you whether the water is safe for paddling. Most packs of chlorine tablets will come with tester strips included. 

"I have an 8.7ft paddling pool, been up since end of the Easter hols and only completely changed the water once. I have a cover over it and use a pool skimmer to get other debris out - no filter. I have a floating chlorine dispenser with a slow release tablet in, and add a new tablet once a week. You also need an algaecide though (learnt that the hard way!) as the chlorine alone won't stop algae especially when it stands unused for any time. I used these algaecide sachets for convince, which has kept the water clean for 2 weeks as advertised and are faff free, but will try a larger bottle next as cheaper." - Mumsnet user Sohypnotic

How to store a paddling pool ready for next summer

In order to get the most use out of your paddling pool, give it a thorough clean with warm water and washing up liquid at the end of the summer. Rinse the washing up liquid off and let it dry out completely before folding it away. 

Once it's clean and dry, store it somewhere cool and dry. To protect it from damage in the cooler months, store it in the box it came in, a clean bin with a lid, a storage bag or plastic storage box. 

Store all the parts of your pool together so they're easy to find next year - including any cleaning accessories, covers and plugs. Leftover chlorine tablets should be stored somewhere out of the reach of children or pets. 

How to recycle a broken paddling pool

If, despite your best efforts, your paddling pool has given up the ghost and succumbed to a puncture or split that can't be repaired, you don't need to send it to landfill. Although almost no UK councils recycle PVC (which most paddling pools are made from), there are schemes available to put old pools to good use.

Inflatable Amnesty make bags from salvaged inflatables - including paddling pools, inflatables and bouncy castles. Find out how to send inflatables to them here.

Read next: The best hot tubs, according to Mumsnetters