The BBB Method of Swimming Pool Care

What's a "BBB" method?
CarlD, one of the long time PoolForum moderators, coined the term to describe the  PoolSolutions' approach to swimming pool care I (PoolDoc / Ben) developed when I started  in 1997. In particular, it referred to one of my pool tips, about using grocery chemicals -- Bleach, Borax and Baking soda -- to treat swimming pools salt water system or “salt water chlorine generator” (SWCG, SWG) is used to replace traditional chlorine with chlorine produced from salt in the pool water.

How does it work?
CarlD created this outine summary:
  1. It's actually all simpler than most people think. There's no magic, no secret formula.
  2. Basically, you worry about chlorine and pH--and everything else is secondary to that.
  3. You raise your pH with ordinary 20 Mule Team Borax from the grocery, and lower with ordinary Muriatic Acid, from a hardware store or Home Depot/Lowes.
  4. Total Alkalinity (TA) is merely (mainly) a buffer to keep pH stable; you raise TA with baking soda. To lower it -- well, that's trickier, but is explained in this guide.
  5. Chlorine stabilizer (CYA, cyanuric acid) keeps sunlight from breaking down chlorine  too fast. But it's a 2-edged sword and the CYA level affects the ideal chlorine level. Easy to add, tough to lower
  6. Calcium (CH, calcium hardness) is needed for concrete pools, has to be considered on pool with heaters, but is generally irrelevant for vinyl pools.
  7. Most other swimming pool chemicals are useless junk. The ones that aren't junk are ONLY useful if something's messed up. Using them when you don't need them WILL mess something up . . . so don't do it!
  8. "Shock" is a verb, not a noun. You don't buy "Shock". You "Shock" your pool by raising the chlorine level high enough to kill everything growing in it. Chemicals labeled "Shock" are either regular chlorine, with a different label, or else stuff that doesn't belong in your pool.
  9. But, you would't be able to  anything right without a proper test kit.

Do I have to use bleach, borax or baking soda to use the BBB method?
Not exactly. I've mostly used calcium hypochlorite, stabilizer, a little muriatic acid, and NOTHING else on the handful of commercial pools I still operate.

The BBB Method is more about using just what you need, in the most efficient form, and nothing else, than it is about bleach, borax, or baking soda per se. For example, bleach cost relative to cal hypo (calcium hypochlorite) or dichlor (sodium dichloroisocyanurate) are up, compared to what they were in 1997. So either cal hypo or dichlor may be a better chlorine source for you.

Well, are there chemicals I can't use?

Pretty much every special, heavily advertised, pool chemical your dealer wants to sell you violated the BBB Method.

Swimming pools are enough work, even when done right. The BBB Method is ALL about not making it worse by adding stuff you don't need.

If you just want the practical info, you can stop here. But if you want more, keep going!

What chemicals are saying I should avoid?
Well, one of my tips pages covers some of them.

But any list would include
  • oxy-shocks and other non-chlorine shocks, defoamers
  • chemicals with names that conceal what they are or do, eg. Bioguard's "Silk Tabs"
  • chemicals that are dyed, decorated or come in packages with little bow ties.
    (Ok, I made that last one up. But the first two are common.)
  • chemicals that do the same thing as other chemicals . . . only worse, like Leslie's "SPP Lithium Pool Shock", based on lithium hypochlorite.
  • pool chemical gumbo, that combines SEVERAL of the chemicals listed above like the "Eclipse 3 Algae Control Program"
  • products that work like black magic: results now, but you lose your soul later. Coral Seas ammonium chloride based "Green to Clean" or "Yellow Out" is a good example. It works, but leaves you in chloramine hell after.
  • and so so.

So, you're saying that I can't really trust my pool dealer?
There are exceptions to every rule, but a basic element of the BBB method is to recognize that you cannot trust pool dealers to sell you just what you need, and only that.

There's a basic fact here: well-run swimming pools bankrupt pool chemical dealers!

A few years back there was a short of 'how low can you go' competition on the PoolForum. Some of the experienced BBB method pool owners were vying for the lowest cost per month to operate their pools. My memory is that the average, for a 24,000 inground pool was about $35 per month in chemicals. At that time, the pool industry was publishing an average cost to operate similar pools of around $120 per month.

Here's a fact: if all swimming pool owners used the BBB method, the US swimming pool chemical market would shrink from OVER a billion dollars per year, to less than 1/3 of that!

So, to put it another way, the BBB method, used everywhere, would bankrupt pool chemical dealers and manufacturers.

So my dealer is dishonest?

But, maybe not. Many pool dealers BELIEVE the goop published by the NSPF and the NSPI (before it went bankrupt). Most industry training is based on stuff that ranges from not quite true to truly bogus. Most swimming pool dealers didn't come into the business with prior training in chemistry . . . to they have to trust their suppliers.

Some of them eventually figure it out . . . and become dishonest. Some of them put their heads in the sand. But quite a few still believe.

So, while you can't trust them . . . they are necessarily lying to you deliberately.

What about the swimming pool chemical manufacturers -- are they dishonest?
I can't answer that question without saying things that will get me in trouble.

But, I can point out that "Chem_Geek", a regular on the PoolForum and elsewhere, has taking the practical proof I had of my methods, and built a comprehensive and very technical chemical explanation of how and why. He's worked very, very hard to try to persuade the NSPF, various state code bodies, and others to correct the published errors.
He's gotten some pretty nasty bruises banging his head on those walls. You can check out some of that in the "China Shop" on the Pool Forum, if you like

Aren't you afraid to say some of this stuff?
I used to be.

When PoolSolutions first started, when I looked in my webserver logs, I'd see BioLab's IP tracks crawling all over the site -- they were VERY familiar with what I was publishing. Long before the BBB method ever was called that, I realized that wide publication of the material here could hurt BioGuard, Robarb, HTH Chemicals and others a lot. I figured that every dollar I made selling information cost the pool chemical business $100, $200 or more.

I knew that I would win any lawsuit, if I could afford to pay expensive attorneys to defend me. But I couldn't. So, any of the big companies could have taken me out simply by filing a bogus lawsuit against me: they would have won, simply because I couldn't afford to fight back. My only hope would have been if I could get some "David versus Goliath" press coverage -- and I actually made preparations to do just that.

But several things have changed.

There are now at least two OTHER forums operating with the information first published here. Also, many pool service tech use at least some of the info here. And Chem_Geek's technical analysis makes it much hard to dismiss some of my criticisms as merely malicious speculation. So do the 50,000 or 100,000 pool owners actually USING these methods.

But, another fact is in play, as well. SWCG (salt water chlorine generators) are gradually eating the pool chemical manufacturer's lunch. I know, they know, and the generator manufacturers know that the pool chemical biz is going to shrink a lot over the next 20 years, with or without me.
So, what I write here is not nearly the threat it used to be, nor would it be as easy to slap down.


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