During the dog days of summer, taking a dip in the pool can provide sweet relief from the sweltering heat. But pools need routine maintenance to ensure their chemistry is in check and the water is safe and pleasant to swim in. A solar pool cover can help with that. In addition to keeping leaves and other debris out of the water, solar pool covers help regulate water temperature, retaining heat as temperatures drop at night or the air gets cooler later in the season. They could also save you money on your utility bills and on chemicals, too, since they reduce the amount of heat and chlorine lost when you’re not using your pool.
To help you navigate the dozens of pool covers that are on the market, we spoke with swimming pool experts about how solar pool covers work and how to pick the right one. With their guidance, we rounded up a few options based on high ratings from shoppers.
Our top picks
- Best aboveground option in a hot climate: Blue Wave 8-Mil Solar Blanket
- Most durable option in any climate: Midwest Canvas Ultra 16 Mil Solar Blanket
- Best middle-of-the-road option: In The Swim 12-Mil Solar Pool Cover
How we picked the best solar pool covers
To compile our roundup, we spoke with experts to find out how solar pool covers work and what quality indicators you should look for when shopping for one. While solar covers are not a one-size-fits-all and depend heavily on your pool’s sun exposure and your local climate, our experts say it is important to keep in mind the following:
- Thickness: Thicker pool covers (14 mils to 16 mils) offer better insulation in colder, windier climates. Thin pool covers — around 8 mils to 10 mils — are sufficient in warmer climates. Solar pool covers with a thickness between 10 mils and 12 mils fall in the medium range.
- Color: Solar pool covers come in many colors, including clear, light blue, silver, dark blue or black. Choosing the right color is important, because it determines how effective the cover is at transferring heat and blocking UV rays. A clear color is best for heat gain, while a dark color is better for heat retention. Light blue is one of the most popular options, as it falls in the middle for both heat gain and heat retention.
- Storability: If you live in an area where it’s not feasible to use your pool year-round, it’s important to store your cover in a place that is clean and dry. Our experts say it’s helpful if the solar cover comes with its own storage bag.
- Warranty: Solar pool covers should last out in the elements and stand up to sun exposure. Our experts say it’s a good idea to look for a cover that has a good warranty.
Best solar pool covers to consider in 2023
The following list of solar pool covers are highly rated and align with our expert guidance. They come in several sizes and all include a long-term warranty.
This polyethylene translucent light-blue solar pool cover from In The Swim comes in both rectangular and round shapes, as well as a variety of sizes. After five to seven days of consistent sunlight, the cover can increase the temperature of the water by 8 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the brand. Because of the light blue color, it can both absorb and retain heat in the medium range and also offers some protection against chemical breakdown, says our experts. It has an average rating of 4.2 stars from over 800 reviews on Amazon and comes with a seven-year manufacturer's limited warranty.
This rectangular solar cover is extra thick and comes in silver, which means it’s excellent at absorbing and retaining heat and protects against any chemical imbalances. It also protects against evaporation. The Midwest Canvas Ultra comes in five sizes, so there’s several options to choose from. At 32 pounds, this solar cover stays in place on windy days, but that also means it’s tougher to maneuver. It has UV protection built right in to minimize risk of sun damage and comes with an eight-year manufacturer's limited warranty. It has a 4.3-star average rating from more than 300 Amazon reviews.
If you live in a warm climate and have a round aboveground pool, this thinner, 8-mil solar pool cover is sufficient enough to increase your pool’s water temperature. In fact, according to Blue Wave, it can increase your pool’s temperature up to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, saving you on heating costs. Its opaque, light-blue color allows the maximum amount of sunlight to reach the water and it’s resistant to damage from UV rays. It can also reduce water and chemical evaporation from your pool by up to 95%, says the brand. It comes in 12-, 21- and 24-foot sizes and has a three-year manufacturer's warranty and a 4.4-star average rating from over 1500 reviews on Amazon.
This rectangular polyethylene cover comes in both translucent blue and clear, which means it is excellent at absorbing the sun’s heat, says our experts. It also has twice the bubbles of standard solar pool covers, which doubles the amount of heat transfer, according to Doheny. It comes in 10 sizes and can be cut to the size of your pool without voiding the warranty. The brand says this cover reduces enough evaporation to cut water heating costs by 70%, and it can reduce chemical consumption by up to 60%. The Clear-Tek Micro-Bubble cover has a 4.2-star average rating from nearly 700 reviews on Amazon and comes with an eight-year warranty.
This heavy-duty blue solar pool cover comes in six sizes and two thicknesses and offers options for both aboveground and inground pools. The cover is made up of thousands of air bubbles to absorb the UV rays and lock in the temperature. It can also reduce water evaporation by 95%, while also maintaining the chemical composition of the pool, says the brand. This cover has a 4.5-star average rating from over 200 reviews on Amazon.
How to shop for a high-quality solar pool cover
Choosing the best solar pool cover depends heavily on the size of your pool, your local climate, sun exposure and whether you want your cover to absorb heat or retain it, our experts told us. To figure out which type of solar cover will best meet your needs, Dobrica says you must first confirm these four factors before you can decide on the best size, color, material, UV resistance and thickness to best suit your needs.
The size of your pool. You need to cover the pool exactly from edge to edge, says Gilda Dobrica, founder of ProSwim NYC and creator of the Teach-Your-Child-To-Swim e-course. So before you shop, be sure to measure the width and length of your pool from edge to edge exactly. If your pool cover is slightly larger than your pool, you can usually cut it to size without voiding the cover’s warranty. Large, high-quality solar pool covers close to 800 square feet may cost in excess of $200, whereas a smaller cover, closer to 100 square feet, will be about $100 or less.
Sun exposure. Pools that receive a lot of direct sun during the day benefit most from a solar cover because it will heat your pool quickly and efficiently. If your pool is shaded, the cover is much less effective. If your pool does sit under direct sun all day long, a UV protectant built right in will protect it from sun damage.
Local climate. Wind, air temperature and sun all affect the effectiveness of a solar pool cover and will greatly determine the color, thickness and material you should choose. For instance, if you live in a windy climate, you should opt for a thicker, more durable cover that is 16 mil and made of vinyl, which is more rigid; in a hot and sunny climate, an 8-mil cover made of polyethylene may be sufficient enough.Your needs. Are you trying to retain your pool’s heat overnight, or do you want to attract more heat to make your pool warmer overall? Do you use your pool a lot? All of these questions will directly impact your choice in solar covers. For instance, a clear solar cover absorbs the most direct sunlight, but this also leads to quicker chemical breakdown, so you must check levels regularly. Dark blue, black and opaque solar pool covers keep your chemical consumption in check and are better for retaining heat, which make them a good choice if your aim is to keep your pool warm overnight. If you use your pool often, you may want to consider a cover made of polyethylene, which is more flexible and easier to take on and off.
Thickness. Thicker pool covers (14 mils to 16 mils) offer better insulation in colder, windier climates, says Dobrica. Thin pool covers — around 8 mils to 10 mils — can save you about $100, broadly speaking, and may be sufficient in warmer climates. Solar pool covers with a thickness between 10 mils and 12 mils fall in the medium range.
Material.The most common types of solar pool covers are vinyl, polyethylene and polypropylene. All are non-permeable and designed to absorb sunlight and avoid evaporation, but the benefits vary. For instance, vinyl covers are the most durable, which means they are less inclined to tear. Polyethylene covers are lighter in weight and less rigid than vinyl, but they aren’t as durable. Polypropylene covers maintain heat very well but are very thick, so they are more difficult to maneuver.
Color.“A UV-protected, translucent blue color offers a better balance between heat retention and pool chemical protection,” Dobrica says, adding that a clear cover will warm the pool water the most, but it will also allow more UV rays, which can make chlorine less effective as a disinfectant. A chemically imbalanced pool without enough chlorine could lead to algae blooms.Solar pool covers come in many colors, including clear, light blue, silver, dark blue or black. Choosing the right color is important, because it determines how effective the cover is at transferring heat and blocking UV rays.
UV resistance. If your pool is in direct sunlight, you will want to consider a solar cover’s level of UV resistance to make sure it can withstand long-term exposure to the sun. Covers that are thinner than 10 mils and are translucent have less resistance, say our experts.
How do solar pool covers raise water temperature?
Solar pool covers have two sides: a flat side and a side with air bubbles, which you place facedown in the pool water. When sunlight hits the flat side of the blanket, it warms the air in the bubbles, which in turn heats up the water. In addition to heating the pool, Dobrica says, the air bubbles on solar pool covers also serve as insulation, preventing more heat from escaping the pool water as the weather cools later in the summer season.
How do solar covers slow evaporation?
Solar pool covers can help reduce evaporation from your pool, which consequently slows down its heat loss and helps keep important chemicals in the water. Since the atmosphere is almost infinitesimally cold, heat from ground level soil and water will radiate to the atmosphere, especially if it’s colder, later in the day and when skies are clear, says Stephen Carr, a professor emeritus of materials science and engineering at Northwestern University. “A pool could easily lose 5 degrees Fahrenheit worth of temperature just due to radiation at night,” he says.
Chlorine in pools is “volatile” and will release into the air from the water, Carr says, explaining that this is why your eyes may hurt when swimming in an indoor pool — what you’re feeling is the chlorine gas that’s evaporated from the pool. Reducing the evaporation can keep those necessary chemicals in the water, saving you money on both heating and chlorine costs.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Gilda Dobrica is the founder of ProSwim NYC and creator of the Teach-Your-Child-To-Swim e-course.
- Stephen Carr is professor emeritus of materials science and engineering at Northwestern University.
Why trust Select?
Barbara Booth has published several roundups for Select, including Best vacuums under $100, Best ellipticals and Best exercise bikes. For this piece, Barbara interviewed two experts and researched dozens of solar pool covers, choosing the most highly rated options that aligned with expert guidance.