How to clean a paddling pool

Keep your family and pets happy and healthy this summer splashing about in the garden.

While nothing says summer more than a splash around in a paddling pool, a poorly maintained one can be a breeding ground for bacteria and germs.

“It is very easy for paddling pools to become dirty very quickly,” says Nigel Bearman, founder of Daily Poppins. “There are many things that can get into a pool, including grass, mud, leaves, sun cream, and even algae.”

To keep your children and furry friends from catching a nasty bug, here’s what the experts recommend for keeping your paddling pool clean – and it’s more than just a quick swish around with a hose.

Toddler with inflatable and German Shepherd dog in paddling poolCredit: Shutterstock/Christin Lola
Paddling pools need to be cleaned to avoid the spread of germs

Why you need to keep your paddling pool clean

It can become a breeding ground for germs and bacteria

Paddling pools can become a habour for all sorts of horrible nasties, which make verrucas sound almost pleasant. “Bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella, and Shigella, are among the common contaminants, as well as other pathogens like Cryptosporidium (a parasite that causes gastrointestinal problems),” says Valeria Velikoa, domestic cleaner at Fantastic Services.

“Dirty water, faeces, and unclean surfaces can all introduce microorganisms into a pool. Therefore, keeping proper hygiene and sanitation practices is essential to minimising the possibility of spreading such germs,” she adds.


Water-saving and paddling pools

Whether your water supply is connected to a water meter or not, it’s important to think sensibly about the amount of water you consume so you can protect the wider environment. See our tips below on how to reuse paddling pool water.

The best way to clean a paddling pool

It doesn’t have to be empty, but it helps

A paddling pool can be cleaned in two ways – either with the water still in or with it completely empty. Our instructions detail how to clean the pool by emptying it, but we also include tips on keeping the pool clean when it’s full. After all, “no one wants to spend sunny days refilling their pool continuously,” says Bearman. “There are plenty of cleaning tips that will help to keep your pool in good condition without having to empty it and start from scratch every time.”

1. With the pool still full, collect any algae

It’s easier to do this with the water in

Algae will build up around the edges of your paddling pool, so before you empty out the water, give it a good scrub down with a stiff brush. If you’re worried about damaging the material, use a softer version. Any build-up of algae will then end up in the water.

2. Drain your pool

See clearly what dirt you have to work with

Empty your pool of the dirty water. Your plants will love you if you give them a sprinkle with the leftover water. Then, check your pool for any remaining spots of algae and give them another scrub.

3. Give it a good spray down

This will dislodge more dirt

Next, using a hose on its jet setting, give the pool a good spray, targeting any remaining spots of algae that have refused to shift. Then give it another good rinse.

If there’s a hosepipe ban in your area, we suggest using water collected in a water butt to rinse the pool, or water collected from a bath or shower. Find out how to get free water-saving devices to help with this.


4. Try a homemade cleaning solution

Find cheap cleaning ingredients in your kitchen cupboards

“Paddling pools can be cleaned with homemade solutions, but you should ensure the ingredients are safe and effective,” says Velikova. She recommends the following options:

Homemade cleaning solutions for your paddling pool

You can clean the paddling pool by mixing equal parts of vinegar with water. Velikova advises scrubbing the surface of the pool with the solution. “Besides its mild disinfecting properties, vinegar can also be used to remove stains and grime,” she says.

Apart from helping cakes rise, baking soda has superpowers in the cleaning arena. Velikova suggests mixing it into a paste with water to apply on stubborn stains or dirt, then “rinse well after gentle scrubbing with a soft brush”.

If you’ve got a spare lemon or two in your fruit bowl in readiness for your summertime G&T, you can mix the juice with water to clean your paddling pool. “Adding lemon juice to your cleaning solution will help to break down dirt and stains since it contains citric acid [link to Sarah’s article],” says Velikova. “It’s especially useful for removing mineral deposits or hard water stains,” she adds.

In The Wash, an online website sharing cleaning and laundry tips, recommends mixing ½ cup of vinegar with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, then mixing in ½ cup of water for an all-purpose cleaning solution.

One of the easiest methods to clean your paddling pool is to mix some washing-up liquid with water. It’s something we all generally have to hand. “Scrub the pool surface with a small amount of dish soap mixed with water,” says Velikova, “and then ensure the soap residue is removed by rinsing thoroughly.”

To ensure your homemade cleaning solution won’t cause damage or discolouration to the paddling pool, Velikova advises testing the product on a small, inconspicuous area first. “Whenever the pool has been cleaned, remember to rinse it thoroughly with fresh water before refilling,” she adds.

5. Or use an off-the-shelf-product

You don’t have to make your own cleaning solution

Spray the pool with your cleaning solution of choice – either an off-the-shelf solution or your homemade product – then give it a good scrub and wipe over it with a dry cloth. There are plenty of products suitable for cleaning paddling pools, both in tablet and liquid form, but always check that the quantity of cleaning solution you use is correct for the amount of water in your pool.

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6. Make sure the pool is completely dry

Then you can fill it

Taking another dry towel, wipe off any excess water and leave your pool to dry. This will prevent any mould or mildew from forming.

7. Fill the pool, then sterilise the water

Keep the bugs at bay

“If you have a larger pool that you don’t want to empty every time you can use a paddling pool sanitiser to keep the water clean,” says Henry Paterson, cleaning expert at Housekeep. “Remove any toys and use a net to fish out any leaves, twigs or other debris. Then apply the paddling pool cleaning product.”

But he warns: “Make sure that any product is designed to be used in paddling pools to ensure the instructions are relevant. And do double-check that the product you’re using is safe for children and pets, if they’ll be using the pool.”

Bearman adds that sterilising the pool shouldn’t be seen as a long-term solution: “It’s still necessary to change the water in the pool after a few days.”

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention specifically advises against using bleach or chlorine-based products in small inflatable and plastic paddling pools, and has on its website.

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8. When full, give it a regular clean with a vacuum

Suck out the muck

If your paddling pool is on the larger size and it’s not practical to refill it daily, you might consider investing in a pool vacuum. “There are many smaller vacuums that are available on the market for small pools and hot tubs,” says Bearman. “These vacs are perfect for keeping the floor of your inflatable pool clean and free of dirt.”

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How often should a paddling pool be emptied?

It depends how dirty the water is

How often you change the water in your paddling pool will depend upon how dirty it is – although some experts, including Velikova, recommend changing it after each use “to maintain good hygiene”.

“To reduce the risk of contamination, start each time with fresh water to prevent standing water from becoming a breeding ground for bacteria and other microorganisms,” she adds. “Furthermore, if the water appears dirty or cloudy, it should be replaced immediately.”

Best ways to stop your paddling pool getting dirty

Prevention is better than cleaning

While the sun is shining, we’d all prefer to enjoy spending time outside relaxing and having fun, rather than doing chores. So, to cut back on the number of times you’ll need to clean your paddling pool, we’ve come up with a few preventative measures to make your life easier.

We all go a bit quackers when the sun comes out Credit: Shutterstock/Gayle Zoe
We all go a bit quackers when the sun comes out

Ways to keep your paddling pool clean

If it’s below a tree, you’re likely to constantly be fishing out falling leaves. Perched birds will also be happy to bomb a paddling pool with their droppings. So if you’ve placed the pool under a tree for shade, think about using a parasol instead.

If your paddling pool is on a recently mown grass surface, make sure to clear up the clippings. If not, your pool will quickly resemble a grassy swamp.

If your pool is on a patio or decking area, sweep the surface regularly to avoid dirty feet transferring mess into the water.

Popping on flips flops from your house until you reach the pool will reduce the muck – but this can be a tall order for excited children. As an alternative, Bearman suggests setting up a foot washing station for children and adults to step into before they get into the pool: “The amount of debris that ends up at the bottom of the pool will be reduced if children get into the pool with clean feet,” he says.

A tennis ball does the trick. Besides garden debris, you might also see a sheen on the surface of the water because of sun cream. Bearman has an ingenious solution: “Putting a tennis ball in the pool for a few hours will remedy this problem. With the ball in place, some of the grease will be absorbed and the water will look much cleaner.” And once this powerful yellow ball has done its job, he advises it can be “washed on a low spin cycle in a washing machine”.

“Rain is the number one contributor to the pool water turning into a stagnant, fetid algae factory,” says Bearman. “Investing in a pool cover can reduce debris and rainwater entering the pool and contaminating it when not in use. The pool cover can be designed specifically for a paddling pool, or use something as simple as a tarpaulin or waterproof sheet that you’ve already got at home.”

Alternatively, if you don’t have a cover, turn the pool upside down to prevent it accumulating bugs overnight.




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Is it worth investing in a filter?

It depends on how big your paddling pool is and how often you use it

“A filter system may be worthwhile if you plan on using your paddling pool frequently or have a large pool,” says Velikova, “However, regular water changes and proper maintenance are still necessary, even with a filter.”

So what exactly does a filter do? “It will help to keep the water clear and reduce contaminants,” explains Velikova. “The purpose of a filter is to circulate and filter the water, removing debris and particulate matter. As a result, the water will remain cleaner for a longer period of time.”

Bearman adds that although inflatable pools don’t typically come with a filter, you should consider adding one if you use it regularly.

“To ensure that it can be draped safely into your pool, buy a filter that is smaller and made for the amount of water your pool holds,” he advises.

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Splash Eater filter pump, B&Q
It’s not just young children that enjoy splashing around in a paddling pool, pets also benefit from a cool down or a wash Credit: Shutterstock/D MacDonald
It’s not just young children that enjoy splashing around in a paddling pool, pets also benefit from a cool down or a wash

How much water does a paddling pool use?

South West Water claims on its website: “Refilling your padding pool every day for a week adds up to around 3,700 litres of water – the same as 46 baths.”

Of course, the amount of water your paddling pool contains depends on its size, so to reduce your water use, either half fill your pool, or if buying a new one, opt for the smallest one for your needs.

Severn Trent advises: “You can reuse pool water in a paddling pool for up to three days,” adding: “At the end of the day skim the top of the pool to remove any bugs and bits, and then top up with some fresh water.”

The water company also has a top tip if you don’t have a purpose-made paddling pool cover, and the weather forecast doesn’t include rain. It suggests an old bed sheet for protecting the water overnight to keep it cleaner.

Save your paddling pool water

Reuse the water wherever you can

Whatever you do, don’t discard the water from your paddling pool without considering the best way to make use of it. There are plenty of ways to save water in the garden to take advantage of this precious resource.

Put simply, tipping the water out onto the grass will cause a mucky mess – if the ground is dry and hard it won’t seep away and will create its own pool. Instead, use the water to refresh your plants or move it to another container, such as water butt to save for watering your plants later. You can even use it to wash your car or clean your decking or patio.

Camilla Sharman

Written by Camilla Sharman she/her


With her 30 years of experience, Camilla Sharman has covered a wide range of sectors within the business and consumer industries both as a feature, content, and freelance writer.  As a business journalist, Camilla has researched articles for many different sectors from the jewellery industry to finance and tech, charities, and the arts. Whatever she’s covered, she enjoys delving deep and learning the ins and out of different topics, then conveying her research within engaging content that informs the reader.