Home » What’s Best: Borax, Baking Soda, or Soda Ash for a Pool?

What’s Best: Borax, Baking Soda, or Soda Ash for a Pool?

So maybe you’ve recently tested your pool water, noticed that the pH and alkalinity levels were off balance, and are now trying to restore them to normal. In this article, I’ll be going into detail about three types of products (those being Borax, Baking Soda, and Soda Ash) that can bring your pH and alkalinity back to balance, as well as which product is best depending on your situation.

Soda ash raises both the pH and alkalinity (albeit to a smaller extent) in your pool, baking soda mainly raises alkalinity, and Borax raises only the pH in your pool water. It’s best to use soda ash for pH and alkalinity increases, baking soda for alkalinity increases, and Borax to stabilize the pH.

Before we move on to see which product works best in certain situations, let’s first take a look at each product one at a time so that it’s clear why they don’t apply to all circumstances.

Borax for the Pool

Borax, is made from sodium borate, which is a type of powdered mineral of the element boron that is used to lower the pH of your pool, as well as for other household cleaning uses. Here are some details regarding its usage.

Can You Use Borax in a Pool?

Borax is safe to use in your pool to help control the pH level. Along with borax, you’ll need a testing kit and safety gloves to properly handle the chemical.  

There are also other products designed for pools that contain borates. The advantage of these pool products is they are often pH neutral and will not raise the pH of the water. But Borax works just as well too.

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What Does Borax Do for a Pool?

Borax has a variety of uses for a pool ranging from raising the pH and stabilizing the pH of the water to preventing the growth of bacteria and algae.

Its high pH allows you to raise the acidic pH levels in your pool back to their normal range.

In addition, it’s used as a pH buffer so that the pH can remain stable despite other chemical changes or pool usage by acting as a barrier to prevent pH levels from changing. It’s common practice to use Borates or Borax in saltwater pools to prevent the pH from rising.

Because borax helps stabilize your pH while leaving the alkalinity of the water unchanged, it’s able to enhance the effectiveness of your pool sanitizer so that it can improve its job; killing any bacteria or algae roaming around in the water.

Related Reading: Low PH in Pool: How to Raise

Pros to Using Borax in Your Pool

  • Unlike baking soda or soda ash, borax doesn’t degrade or get used up, so you don’t have to worry about replacing it anytime soon
  • Borax allows your water to stay softer
  • Soda ash is easy to overuse, Borax is safer
  • Chloramines will take less time to form
  • You’ll require less chlorine
  • Only raises pH without the worry of raising alkalinity along with it

Cons to Using Borax in Your Pool

  • Borax has a high pH (roughly 9.5), so it can raise the pool pH if you add too much at once
  • Might require a pH reducer (i.e. muriatic acid) to bring the pH back down if it’s accidentally increased too much

Baking Soda for the Pool

Baking soda (also known as sodium bicarbonate or bicarb soda) is an alkaline compound that is either in a crystalline or powder form and is used for a variety of purposes from baking goods to raising the alkalinity in pool water. Here’re the details for baking soda concerning pools:

Can You Use Baking Soda in a Pool?

Baking soda is one of the most common pool products you can find. You’ll need to dilute the baking soda in a bucket with water, check how large your pool is, and how far you’re trying to raise the alkalinity before adding the mixture to your pool.

Baking soda is usually sold by pool supply stores under names such as Alkalinity Up or Alkalinity Increaser.

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What Does Baking Soda Do for a Pool?

Baking soda can be used in swimming pools to raise alkalinity levels and pH levels. As baking soda has a pH of 8, it’ll only raise the pH slightly (soda ash or Borax should be used if you need to raise the pH more). As such, baking soda should be used if your alkalinity levels are low, but your pH is around its optimal range (between 7.2 and 7.6).

Related Reading: How to Raise Alkalinity In Pool Without Raising pH

Pros to Using Baking Soda in Your Pool

  • Reduces corrosion in your pool
  • Buffers the pH and reduces pH swings
  • Baking soda can clear cloudy water when used with chlorine
  • Allows the pool water to stay softer
  • You’ll require less chlorine
  • Using it after an algaecide will normalize pH levels

Cons to Using Baking Soda in Your Pool

  • If you’re trying to raise pH as well as alkalinity with baking soda, you’ll need to add a significant amount of it since that isn’t its primary purpose
  • Too much baking soda in your pool can lead to high total alkalinity and calcium buildup, which in turn can lead to cloudy water, scaling buildup, and clogged filters
  • Frequent pH testing is required if you’re trying to raise it

Soda Ash for the Pool

Soda ash (also known as sodium carbonate) is an alkaline chemical that has a pH between 11.3 and 11.7, making it highly basic. It comes in the form of an odorless, white, water-soluble powder that is typically used to manage a pool’s pH. Here are some more details regarding the usage of soda ash in swimming pools:

Can You Use Soda Ash in a Pool?

Soda ash can be used safely in a pool. You’ll be able to find it at almost any pool supply store and online retailers. Pool owners have been using soda ash for years to manage the pH level of their pool water.

It’s sold in pool supply stores under names such as pH Up, and pH Increaser.

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What Does Soda Ash Do for a Pool?

The main purpose of soda ash is to raise the pH of your pool. It will raise the alkalinity to a lesser extent. Typically, when your alkalinity level has dropped, it’ll bring down your pH with it. Therefore, it’s best to use soda ash if your pH has dropped considerably (less than 7.2) while your alkalinity level is slightly lower than optimum (typically below 80 ppm). 

Related Reading: Fix a Cloudy Pool After Adding Soda Ash (pH Increaser)

Pros of Using Soda Ash in Your Pool

  • Soda ash works well for large pH increases without significantly affecting your overall alkalinity level
  • Reduces eye and skin irritation due to acidic conditions
  • Slows the speed at which sanitizers dissipate due to acidic conditions
  • Works much faster than baking soda or borax/borates

Cons of Using Soda Ash in Your Pool

  • Soda ash can result in cloudy water if it hasn’t been dissolved well before being added to the pool
  • Adding calcium chloride simultaneously to the water with soda ash will result in cloudy water
  • Adding too much soda ash can result in the alkalinity levels being too high and resulting in cloudy water
  • It’s easy to increase the pH levels too far. Soda ash is powerful.

Which Product Should You Use

Now that we’ve gone over the three products in detail, let’s take a look at situations in which you might pick one over the others.

No one product is better than the other for your pool as each has a specific use. Here’s when you should use each product.

When Should You Use Borax

  • Use borax if your pool’s pH is low but has normal alkalinity levels. Since borax doesn’t contain bicarbonate, it won’t affect the alkalinity of the water. Therefore, it’s best used if, for whatever reason, you realized you only need to raise the pH in the water.
  • Use borax if you have rising pH levels and you’re looking to stabilize the pH. You won’t have to worry about fluctuating pH levels either since borax won’t change other chemical levels in the pool. This product is particularly good for use in saltwater swimming pools as it helps combat continuously rising pH levels.

When Should You Use Baking Soda

  • Use baking soda if you’re looking to raise the alkalinity level in your pool. Of the three products we’ve looked at, only baking soda is meant to be used for raising low alkalinity levels. If your alkalinity levels are too low, rapid pH fluctuations can occur, so you’ll want to get that fixed.
  • You should also use it if you’re trying to improve the clarity and softness of the pool water. Rebalancing the alkalinity and pH will help clear the water.
  • Low alkalinity and pH levels can also cause corrosion to the pool parts and equipment. Ladders, pipes, and other metallic components can be corroded due to either low alkalinity or pH, so adding baking soda will help avoid any further corrosion
  • Baking soda can be used if you have algae in the pool or the water. After using an algicide and shocking your pool, you’ll usually want to add baking soda to rebalance the water chemicals as well as to remove any remaining algae with a brush. But test your water first to be sure.

When Should You Use Soda Ash

  • Soda ash should be used if you’re looking to make large increases in the pH level. It will also raise the alkalinity but not as much as baking soda. Specifically, if your alkalinity levels have dropped below 80 ppm and pH below 7.2, using soda ash will be your best option.

    After all, the two are closely associated with each other, so if they’re both lower than their optimal range, it’s best to be able to raise both simultaneously.
  • Baking soda also increases pH, it’s to a smaller extent. Therefore, if you’re mainly focusing on pH and not as much on alkalinity, you should use soda ash

Final Thoughts

Having gone over the three most common options for raising the alkalinity and pH levels of swimming pools, it’s clear that each is meant for a certain situation. Borax is best for raising pH only, baking soda is best for raising alkalinity as well as pH to a lesser degree, and soda ash is best for raising both pH and alkalinity. 

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