Filter Refresher

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With prices of steel, petroleum-based products, chemicals and energy skyrocketing, pool and spa owners are being asked to pay a little more for their backyard oases lately. And the problem is bound to get worse before it gets better.

Dealers and service professionals have two options: They can ignore the problems and hope, in vain, that they go away. Or they can look at all the costs associated with ownership and figure out ways to ease the financial burden on their customers.

One way to do that is to educate them about filter care. Proper maintenance and care can extend a pool or spa filter's life, thus reducing the cost of pool or spa ownership. In addition, a homeowner who learns to do the maintenance him or herself will save the cost of paying a service professional to do a job that can often be done by a nonprofessional.

While the overall cost of ownership is ultimately important to spa and pool owners, a more-immediate concern is water clarity. Cloudy water doesn't sit well with someone who's shelled out a hefty sum for a spa or pool, and knowing something about filter cleaning can go a long way toward making sure the water in his or her backyard stays clean and beautiful.

"It's not hard to hose down a filter and brush it out, but dealers need POP info that's available to the customers," says Sam Miller, president of Pleatco Filter Cartridge Corp. in Glen Cove, N.Y. "That goes back to the manufacturer of the filter and the retailer. I think somewhere along the line that information should be made readily available."

Without proper understanding of filter cleaning, customers and even service pros can clean too frequently, not frequently enough, or they can clean incorrectly and cause more problems than they solve.

"I think filters are definitely overlooked a lot of the time," says Christina Cates, product manager for Advantis Technologies, an Alpharetta, Ga., company that makes filtercleaning products. "Cloudy water makes people want to do all sorts of things to fix it, when it sometimes just means you're not treating your filter properly."

AQUA spoke with several filtration experts about the basics of filter care and cleaning. Follow these tips on your service routes or pass them on to your customers. Either way, you'll be doing them a favor by saving them time, keeping their water clearer and easing the strain on their pocketbooks.

Oil Is The Enemy

When cleaning a filter, whether it's a cartridge or D.E. (sand filters can only be cleaned by backwashing), it's crucial to first determine exactly what type of debris needs to be cleaned off.

"Sometimes it's oil, sometimes dirt and debris, and sometimes it's both," says Sue Robach, national training manager for Sta-Rite Industries, a Delavan, Wis., manufacturer of cartridge, D.E. and sand filters. "It's important to decipher because if there are oils and you acid wash the element to get the dirt out, you set the oil into the element and it shortens the cycles between cleanings and shortens the life."

Short cycles and short life are doubly bad for consumers, who have to spend more time and money on filtercleaning and who have to replace the cartridge or filter elements more frequently. To avoid that predicament, you've got to not only clean the filter, but clean it in the proper order.

"The reality of it is it's a three-step process," says Steve Frey, director of sales and marketing for Unicel, a cartridge filter manufacturer based in Chatsworth, Calif. "First, you have to totally flush the particulate, and that will remove the loose debris. Second you degrease the filter and break the organic bond between the oil and the filter material, and that'll get the organics off of there. Lastly there's some calcium that has to be removed with a muriatic acid solution."

The key step, perhaps, is the degreasing. Skip that procedure at your filter's peril, Robach says.

"There are cartridge or element degreasers that will remove the oils, and they should be used if there's even a question about whether there's oil on the element," she says. "And most often there is oil. It comes from bodies, suntan lotion, whatever. I feel strongly about degreasing before acid washing."

In addition to commercially produced degreasers, enzyme products and diluted trisodium phosphate can also be used to address the oil issue, according to Robach.

Advantis is among the companies that make products designed to rid filters of both oil and mineral buildup. For cartridges, it offers two types: "instant cleaners" and "soaking cleaners."

"Instant cleaners are typically for cartridges, and they're better than a hose, but not as effective as soaking the filter overnight," says Cates. "You'll get some minerals and some oils off but not as effectively as a soak will.

"With the soaking type, you typically mix them in a bucket of water, using enough to cover the filter and soak it. With cartridges you're trying to lift and remove the dirt, grease and minerals. We recommend the instant cleaners be used once a month and the soaking cleaners once every three months."

Cates adds that while a lot of people still use trisodium phosphate to get rid of the oils and muriatic acid to get rid of the minerals, "Advantis's formulations take into consideration that you need to use both."

For sand filters, Cates says cleaning once or twice a year will help the sand last longer β€” approximately three to five years β€” and keep the filter running efficiently. This requires the homeowner or service pro simply to remove the filter lid and pour in a solution of, in Advantis's case, 1 pound of GLB Filter Cleanse to 5 gallons of water.

For D.E. filters, the process is more involved.

"With D.E. filters, you have to remove the D.E. from the elements before you clean," she explains. "Instant cartridge cleaners are great for D.E. filters because they remove oils which can cause the D.E. to not properly coat the grids.

"In addition to using instant cartridge cleaners, you can use a soaking-type cleaner and soak the elements or turn to the precoat cycle using the cleaner solution and rinse the elements to remove buildup. After cleaning, the elements need to be recoated with D.E."

Acid Bath And Rinse

In the case where a separate degreaser is used, the next step is to acid wash or clean the filter.

"Muriatic acid is the most common and it's used to remove dirt, metals and calcium," says Robach. "Everyone has their own solution. A lot of people use 1 part acid to 20 parts water, but I've seen people use 1 part acid to only 5 parts water."

You can tell the cleaning solution is working when the filter bubbles when you drop it into the bucket of solution. That shows you the filter has some calcium buildup that needs removing. When the bubbling stops, all of the calcium has been removed.

Frey adds a word of caution about acid baths: "Acid-washing a spa cartridge is probably going to ruin it. The concentration of body oils in a spa means the oleophilic properties of the fiber are going to be holding a lot of oils. If you acid wash a cartridge with a lot of oil, it'll make the surface tacky and since it doesn't burn off the organics they'll become permanently embedded into the media. You'll never get the organics out if you do that."

The final step is to hose off the filter. In the case of a cartridge or element, you want to use a high-pressure nozzle to spray the filter until it returns to a white or slightly gray color. Another visual cue is the water, which will run clean coming off the filter when it's fully rinsed. If the filter isn't rinsed properly, the water can foam up. This is especially a concern when you're cleaning filters with general-purpose cleaners, which Miller says he does himself.

"Cartridge filters are made of spun-bonded polyester, which is basically the same thing your clothes are made of. I'll take liquid detergent, let it set overnight, take it out, let it air dry, then take a brush and brush out the pleats," he says. "But chemical manufacturers prefer to sell you their product, and they're a little safer, too. That's because when you're cleaning with soap, if you don't get all of it out, for a pool filter it won't make that much difference, but in a spa it'll bubble up, and you want to make sure that doesn't happen."

Again, it comes back to water quality. Customers with unsatisfactory water β€” whether its' filled with bubbles or body oils β€” aren't going to be satisfied and aren't going to recommend you to their friends and family. On the other hand, if you can show them how to keep their water clearer and save them a little money in the process, you'll have earned a lifetime of trust and loyalty.

Better Backwashing

Unlike cartridge filters, both sand and D.E. filters can be backwashed. Chemical manufacturers make products to help with that, too.

"When you backwash with water, it's not going to break the oils and minerals that are coating the sand," says Christina Cates, product manager for Advantis Technologies, Alpharetta, Ga. "We recommend using a backwash cleaner any time you backwash, and we recommend deep cleaning it one or two times a year with the soaking-type products."

Backwash cleaners are added through the skimmer during a backwash cycle.

In addition to using chemicals to break up organics attached to a sand or D.E. filter, it's important to make sure the O-rings and gaskets on the filters' backwash valves are in good working order. They should be either lubed or replaced when necessary.

"I used to have a service business and unfortunately people don't know a ring needs to be replaced until the push-pull valve gets hard to pull up or push down," says Sue Robach, national training manager for Sta-Rite Industries in Delavan, Wis. "In that case the valve needs to be taken apart and inspected.

"A good way to determine if a gasket or O-ring needs replacement is if the dirt is bypassing the gasket and getting back into the pool. A homeowner may look at it and think the filter is really dirty, but most service techs would know to check the bypass valve."

Other possible non-filter sources of debris re-entering the water are a torn D.E. element or a torn air-release screen, Robach adds.

β€” B.K.

When To Clean

Manufacturers recommend cleaning a filter once the system pressure rises 7 to 10 psi above the so-called clean pressure.

"When you run the filter new, note the system's pressure. The pressure is going to increase over time, and that will be contributed by the filter," says Steve Frey, director of sales and marketing for Unicel, Chatsworth, Calif. "In other words, as the filter gets dirty the pressure increases."

Frey recommends marking the clean pressure with a grease pen, then making a second mark 8 pounds above it.

"The reason we say 8 is so that they'll get around to it before 10," Frey says, adding that if you let it go too far beyond that, the pressure "will start to incre ase exponentially" and damage the cartridge.

"The pleats will pinch off and obstruct water flow and put stress on the entire system, not just the filter," Frey adds.

The 10-psi rule works well for pools, Miller agrees, but spas don't have pressure gauges, so be sure to stick to manufacturers' recommendations on scheduled cleaning. Miller says a rule of thumb is to do it every couple of weeks.

"The best thing to do with a spa cartridge is to buy two so you can clean one while the other is in use," Miller adds. "It's a good idea for pool filters, too."

While cleaning too infrequently can hamper a filter's ability to do it's job and put stress on the entire system, cleaning a filter too frequently can also have bad and unintended consequences.

"When they just came out, people were over-cleaning them," Frey says. "We don't want them to do that. Instead, we want them to build up a dirt cake."

The dirt cake is important because a little dirt coats the element and helps the filter trap even finer particles.

"The media that's used in cartridges is rated at 15-20 microns," Miller says. "Once it's in use it'll drop down to about 7 microns, and at that level it's very efficient."

Why, then, shouldn't a homeowner or service person let the filter get even dirtier? After all, if cleaning down to 7 microns is considered efficient, cleaning down to 1 or 2 must be ideal.

Not so, says Miller: "That would burn pumps out because they'd have to push too hard to get the water through."

In time, the cycle between required cleanings decreases, as does the filter's ability to do its job properly. That's when it's time to replace it.

"When it gets to the point where you can't get the dirt out and/or the pressure doesn't drop again, it's time to replace," Miller says. "But properly treated you can get two to three years out of a filter."

Micro Pure, a filter cartridge manufacturer in Edmonton, Alberta, makes a filter that takes the guesswork out of the cleaning replacing equations.

"You never clean them," says Brandon Friesen, vice president of sales. "You let them do their thing and then take them out and put a new one in."

In a spa, Micro Pure's filter will last from three to five months, depending on bather load, and in a pool they'll last as long as a year.

"Customers don't want to be troubled with maintenance," Friesen explains. "Nobody likes cleaning filters. It's disgusting."

β€” B.K.

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