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As the end of summer approaches, people do all they can to enjoy the outdoors and we’ve seen increased interest in solar pool covers. They’re designed to help regulate water temperature, keeping it warm as temperatures drop and keeping the pool water’s chemistry in check. In addition to extending your swim season, solar pool covers might save you money on your utility bills and chlorine since they reduce the amount of heat and chlorine lost when you’re not using your pool. We spoke with swimming pool experts and a materials scientist about how solar pool covers work and how to pick the right one. We rounded up highly rated options based on their brand recommendations, including some of their specific product recs.
What to look for in a solar pool cover
Size, thickness and color are likely the most significant factors in choosing a solar pool cover — you should also take into account cost and environmental conditions.
Pool covers need to cover the pool from edge to edge. Large, high quality solar pool covers close to 800 square feet will cost around $300, whereas a smaller cover closer to 100 square feet will be closer to $100 or lower — budget brands like Intex will have cheaper options available for many sizes. If your pool cover is slightly larger than your pool, you can cut it to size.
Thick pool covers are better, sometimes. A thicker cover (14 to 16 mils) will have better insulation but will also cost more, said Gilda Dobrica, founder of ProSwim NYC and creator of the Teach-Your-Child-To-Swim e-course — they would be most useful in colder, windier climates. Thin pool covers — around 8 to 10 mils — can save you about $100, broadly speaking, and may be sufficient in warmer climates. Solar pool covers with thickness between 10 to 12 mils fall in the medium range.
Blue solar pool covers are best. “A UV protected, translucent blue color offers a better balance between heat retention and pool chemical protection,” Dobrica told us. Blue covers absorb UV Rays better, according to James Collins, vice president of curriculum development at the Goldfish Swim School, an organization that teaches kids how to swim, who recommended them collectively as the higher quality option. Dobrica said that a clear cover will warm the water most, but doesn’t offer much chemical regulation — UV rays can make chlorine less effective as a disinfectant and algae could bloom in your pool.
Best solar pool covers
Experts we spoke to recommended their preferred brands across use cases, from affordable options to best quality — and recommended a few specific products, too.
Both Dobrica and Collins recommended the Sun2Solar line of products. Dobrica hailed its ability to retain heat and said it had an above-average life-span. Collins also mentioned that it works very well with his reel of choice, the Vingli, so it stores very easily. This 1600 series cover is blue and can be cut to fit your pool’s size, without affecting the warranty.
Dobrica recommended this cover for its easy maneuverability, UV protection and high-quality insulation. Blue on the flat side and silver on the bubble side, this cover from MidWest Canvas has a futuristic look and should absorb UV rays well. You can also cut it to size without impacting the warranty.
Collins and Dobrica both called Blue Wave a high-quality brand in this space. Dobrica specifically mentioned this 12 mils cover’s UV protection, medium weight, easy maneuverability and its ability to retain heat.
Collins recommended Intex covers for above ground pools for their great selection and affordable price, and while Dobrica said that Intex covers are not usually top quality, they are a lower priced option. This round blue cover is cheaper than the other covers recommended, at only $70, and comes with a carry bag for easy storage.
How do solar pool covers work?
A solar pool cover essentially absorbs energy from the sun to heat pool water, concurrently helping maintain its heat and regulating the chemical balance of the water by preventing evaporation.
A solar pool cover looks like a sheet of bubble wrap, where the bubbled side faces the water and the flat side faces the sun, explained Collins. When sunlight hits the flat side of the blanket, it warms the air in the bubbles, which in turn heat up the water. Collins told us that “solar pool covers raise pool water temperatures by an average of 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit.” Dobrica said that in addition to heating the pool, the air bubbles on solar pool covers also serve as insulation, preventing more heat from escaping the pool water. Especially when it’s later in the swim season, using a solar pool cover keeps the water warm by not only heating the water itself, but by also keeping the heat from escaping.
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, said Stephen Carr, PhD, a professor emeritus of materials science and engineering at Northwestern University. Carr said that a pool “could have easily lost 5 degrees Fahrenheit worth of temperature just due to radiation at night.” Using a pool cover “prevents up to 95 percent of evaporation,” according to Collins.
Chlorine in pools is “volatile” and will release into the air, Carr said. He explained that this is why sometimes your eyes hurt when you go to an indoor pool — you feel the chlorine gas that’s evaporated from the pool. Reducing the evaporation can keep those necessary chemicals in the water. You’ll save money on both heating and chemical maintenance by using a solar pool cover.
CORRECTION (Oct. 18, 2021, 7 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the unit of length used to measure the thickness of solar pool covers. They are measured in mils, not millimeters.