Pool Liner Wrinkles
If you have a vinyl liner swimming pool one of the biggest concerns (other than a hole) is having wrinkles in the liner. Pool liner wrinkles can happen for a number of different reasons. They can develop suddenly, or slowly over a long period of time. Wrinkles can also happen when the liner is first installed if the liner is not measured correctly, manufactured correctly or it is oriented poorly during the installation. Regardless of the reason why you have wrinkles in your pool you will find the cause for, and solution to your problem within this page. The information about pool liner wrinkles on this page applies to both inground as well as aboveground pools.
The good news about having wrinkles in your liner is that in most cases this is not an immediate concern for leaking. Many pool liners live their entire life with a few wrinkles (and sometimes wrinkles everywhere) and while this is obviously not ideal it might be something you can live with. Wrinkles and creases in a vinyl liner will trap dirt and debris which will work against your free chlorine reserve. Wrinkles also would be prone to developing holes since they are physically raised above the surface of the pool which makes them a perfect catch for your toe, or for an automatic pool cleaner to get hung up on. While these are concerns most pool wrinkles will never develop into a bigger problem than just being a cosmetic deficiency. Does that mean that you should not worry about wrinkles in your pool liner? Not exactly...first you need to determine why you have a wrinkle in your liner. It could be that you have a more serious problem developing and the wrinkle in your liner is a symptom of this. In order to determine if your wrinkle is an indication of a bigger problem you need to determine what kind of wrinkle that you have.
** The picture above shows a wrinkle in a vinyl liner due to a chemical reaction of a concrete product used to patch the floor of the pool which is not compatible with vinyl liners. If you have something that looks like growing patches under your liner you should read this article about concrete mixes for use with pools that will explain why this is happening.
Wrinkles In A New Pool Liner
If you have a pool liner that was not measured well, not manufactured correctly or not oriented in the pool properly during installation this can be the cause of
wrinkles. Wrinkles in a new pool liner installation are not considered a necessary evil. Wrinkles in a new pool liner are a clear indication that something went
wrong. A new pool liner should be 100% absolutely free of wrinkles on every surface. Some pools are much more challenging than others to install without wrinkles
however wrinkles should still be considered an installation error. Even if the manufacturer is responsible for the error in the liner, the onus is on the installer to
notice this and stop the installation unless they are able to lose the wrinkles by adjusting the orientation of the fit while the liner is under vacuum. If you are not
familiar with how a vinyl liner is installed it might be helpful for you to familiarize yourself with the process with this detailed tutorial about how to install a pool liner.
When a pool liner is properly measured and installed there will be no wrinkles anywhere in the finished product. In the event that there are wrinkles then the best course of action is to have the liner oriented better, or altered by the manufacturer if no wrinkle free orientation can be found. This may take time from the installer that they will not recover if the error is their fault. When the liner returns from being altered, the installation process takes almost as much time as the first time the liner was hung. This means the installer needs to do two to three times as much work for the same money. If the error is in the measurements and the manufacturer of the liner is not willing to assume any of the repair or replacement costs, then the installer can find themselves doing two to three times as much work for less, or even no money at all. An installer really loses out when there is a wrinkle in the finished product whether it is their fault or not and for this reason some installers will neglect to mention the wrinkle at all. If the wrinkle is minor then you might not even notice it for quite some time...and that is just what they are hoping. There is almost zero chance that an installer would not see a wrinkle during the installation process. Once the water is in the pool that is a different story however. You will often end up feeling the wrinkle while you are swimming before you ever see it.
Wrinkles On Vinyl Over Steel Steps
There are some services where you can have a wrinkle (or wrinkles) in your liner cut out and professionally reseamed. For a new liner installation I would be not
inclined to go this route. While professional vinyl welders can do an amazing job at cutting out and repairing large liner sections on-site, a brand new liner should
not need this. If your installer has recommended that a mobile vinyl welder comes out to resolve your problem with wrinkles in the liner I would not likely agree to
this. If you are a professional in the industry there should be no problem to install any size, shape or orientation of pool liner wrinkle free. The only possible
exception that I would grant for this is in the case of vinyl-over-steel steps. Vinyl over steel interior steps are becoming very popular in recent years, especially
given the staggering cost of having resin in-wall steps installed (which always gives pool owners sticker shock from the price). Vinyl over steel stairs are about 50%
- 60% the price of in-wall steps and do not require alterations to the pool deck. The downside with vinyl over steel steps, aside from that they are slippery (even
with the textured vinyl option), is that they are very difficult to install without wrinkles. Wrinkles in even well measured vinyl over steel steps are so common that
many manufacturers do not even try to remotely make the liner to fit. They simply send a regular liner for the pool with no alterations for the step, along with an
extra roll of matching vinyl material. With these liner manufacturers the process is to have a mobile vinyl welder finish the installation on every job. This is far
from ideal, but reduces the occurrence of wrinkles around the steps. The extra steps involved in this process bring the price of the liner installation up and lowers
the quality of the liner installation as a whole in my opinion. Many liner installation companies who offer vinyl over steel steps now simply warn against the
potential for small wrinkles around the stairs. It is considered a risk of this type of vinyl installation and one that the pool owner assumes should they want to go
in this direction. Obviously, you must have a lot of trust in your liner installer if you are willing to sign a contract stating that wrinkles around the steps are
beyond the installers control.
On a new liner installation any wrinkles in the floor must be removed before the water covers them (or while there is only an few inches of water on the wrinkle). After this point the weight of the water prevents you from manipulating the wrinkle further. A plunger is one of the only methods to removing a wrinkle that is deep underwater and even this is a very cumbersome and difficult process that will produce varying degrees of success. Wrinkles under the return fittings, skimmer faceplate, light flange or in-wall step flange are an indication that the liner has shifted or stretched after the faceplate has been installed. The right time to install a faceplate on a new liner is once the liner has stopped stretching and shifting. As the pool fills the water will stretch the vinyl. Since liner installations are a very thin margin job in most places, where speed is the name of the game, many installers short cut by installing all of the faceplates and gaskets before the pool is full. While it is possible to do this without (almost) any negative consequences, cutting in the fittings while the liner is still dry increases the potential for stretching of the liner and wrinkles underneath the fittings. There is no fix for wrinkles under fittings other than to cut and weld in new vinyl in these areas.
Wrinkles From A Floating Liner
It is important to differentiate between wrinkles as a result of a problem with the installation, and wrinkles for any other reason. If there is a problem with
the installation such as a poor measurement, or a poor fit, or cutting the fittings early, or any other wrinkle related issues this will be present from the time the
pool is full. A wrinkle will not develop at a later point as a result of installation issues. If you are going to have a wrinkle then it will be there from day one.
Any wrinkle that develops at a later point will be from an entirely different cause. The only way a wrinkle can develop after the installation is complete is if the
liner continues to shift. Once the pool is full the liner should no longer be inclined to shift or move. Most commonly movement of the liner would indicate the
presence of water underneath the liner. This could be from a high water table surrounding the pool, or this could be from a leak relating to the new installation.
First, you would need to determine of your pool is losing water. If you are losing water then this is a clear indication that there is a leak in the pool somewhere
and this water is accumulating under the liner and causing it to float. If the pool is not losing water then the water under the liner is from a natural source such
as the ground water table surrounding your pool. If you are not sure how to tell if your pool is losing water or not then read this detailed article about pool leak detection which starts with a section about how to figure out if your pool is in fact leaking.
A floating pool liner is a problem and many times this can be fixed by pumping the water from behind the liner back into the pool. If the water under the liner was from a one time event this may very well solve the problem. If the pool is losing water after a new liner installation, plus you are seeing evidence of a floating liner, then you may have a separated seam somewhere in the liner. Also, you could have a leak around one of the flanges such as the stairs, lights, returns or skimmer. Pumping the water down from behind the liner might help the liner to sit back down but in doing so this will very likely result in wrinkles. When the liner is initially installed it must be manually manipulated into position. Once the liner is floating you are at the mercy of gravity for where the liner ends up sitting. In a best case scenario you may be able to get in the pool and manually work the wrinkles towards the edges of the pool with a toilet plunger as you pump from behind the liner. If you need weight in the pool to help hold the liner in certain places like at the shallow end break where the long slope begins, you can use bags of pool salt. Salt is better for the pool than sand and will not harm anything. Once you are finished using it as a weight just take the bag out of your pool and let it drain out. Very little salt will actually end up in your pool water and having some weight to use can be extremely helpful in losing wrinkles.
Wrinkles Under Pool Returns
A very common location for wrinkles in a vinyl pool is under the return fittings. You can sometimes get wrinkles underneath a pool return from cutting in the flanges
before the pool has filled with water (at least to within a foot or so from the flange being cut in). Much more commonly however a wrinkle under the return flange is
an indication that the liner has shifted. By far the most common reason for that is due to draining the pool. A vinyl liner pool is not meant to be drained once the
liner is installed. If you drop the water any lower than about one foot of water standing in the shallow end then the weight of the water in the deep end will begin
to pull the liner from the shallow end. This can result in wrinkles (or buckles) in the liner under the flanges. When you attempt to fill the pool back up again to
operating level the liner directly under the flange will develop a wrinkle. Imagine having a plastic bag which you can lay flat on the counter. Now grab that bag
and stretch it, not to the point of ripping but just before this point. Now when you try to lay the bag flat on the counter you will not be able to. The material has
stretched past the point of its elasticity. This is the same with your pool liner around the returns. In other areas of the pool the liner will stretch evenly across
large areas of vinyl. The flanges are all fixed points from where the liner can not shift, and there is less material overall to be able to stretch.
One of the bigger concerns if you notice that you have wrinkles under your return fittings is that there is the potential for a leak to have developed from this stretching. If you have this problem with your pool then you need to very closely inspect the underside of the flange. What you are looking for is any sign that the liner has actually pulled out, or ripped, away from the flange. Sometimes the pull on the liner is so great that the liner can stretch right out the bottom of the flange. If this is the case you should be able to see (or feel) this problem starting from where the screw holes for the flange are as the liner is weakest in this location from the screw holes. Patching a leak found in a location like this would be tough and most likely require a larger patch job that involves removing the return faceplate completely and welding on an oversized patch over the whole return area.
What Causes Wrinkles In Pools?
Wrinkles in a swimming pool that are NOT a result of an installation error, and are NOT a result of water under the liner (either from a leak or from a high ground
water table), are caused by chemical reactions with the vinyl itself. There are two specific chemical conditions that can result in your liner developing wrinkles
suddenly which is why it is so important to properly maintain your water chemistry.
If you, admittedly, do not know how to balance your pool chemistry then you might like to read the pool chemistry crash course that I wrote. There are literally hundreds of resource available online to help you learn how to balance your pool chemistry and I am sure there are others that are more detailed or more scientifically accurate. In this chemistry crash course I tried to compress the information into a palatable version that will help you to get your head around the core principles.
Low pH Levels - Low pH levels are responsible for a phenomena known as "pH wrinkles". If the pH in the pool falls too low this causes a chemical reaction in the vinyl material your liner is made from. The result is that the liner absorbs water which results in a net increase in the total size of the liner. Where the liner once fit perfectly in the pool, now there is simply too much liner everywhere. Small wrinkles only a few inches long will develop on every surface of the pool and number from dozens to hundreds in total.
Once the pH has caused the liner to absorb water unfortunately there is nothing that can be done to reverse this process. You will need to live with the liner in the condition it is until you one day replace the liner completely. The reason that a low pH is so significant is that the pH scale that measures the relationship between acids and bases is logarithmic. A pH level of 8.0 is ten times more basic than a pH level of 7.0. A pH of 6.0 is ten times more acidic than 7.0 and a pH of 5.0 is 100 times more acidic than a pH of 7.0. What might seem like the difference of just a few numbers on your test kit actually has extreme real world consequences in your pool. With pool water 100 times more acidic than the ideal range you can expect that there is more damage being done than just the liner wrinkles - the liner wrinkles just happen to be one of the first symptoms that you will unfortunately not be able to miss.
High Sanitizer Levels - In addition to low pH causing the liner to absorb water, so will high sanitizer levels. At levels above 5 ppm chlorine your liner will begin to absorb water. When the sanitizer level exceeds 25 to 30 ppm a significant amount of water will begin to be absorbed by the liner. As the liner increases in size it will eventually erupt into small wrinkles that will not go away once the sanitizer levels normalize. Obviously there are other concerns to having sanitizer levels so high in your pool however ruining the liner is one of the bigger costs associated with this type of chemical imbalance issue.
** High sanitizer levels in addition to low pH levels is one of the worst chemical conditions that you can subject your pool to. The liner is very likely to sustain permanent damage and low pH combined with high sanitizer will aggressively attack the internals of your heater.
How To Fix Pool Wrinkles
Step one in fixing this problem is to identify why you have wrinkles. If the wrinkles are a result of a chemistry issue then you will not likely find the answer that
you are hoping to find here - you will eventually need a new liner. Other forms of wrinkles in pools can be dealt with, at least to a certain degree, by manually
manipulating the liner. When there is water under the liner it is easy to move wrinkles around with your feet or with a toilet plunger. Once the water has receded
the liner will now be stuck in place on the floor under the weight of the water sitting on it in addition to the suction of the wet liner sitting on smooth concrete.
When you use a plunger to move wrinkles you would depress and then lift the plunger slightly while pushing the plunger sideways with your foot. You might get an inch
or two of movement before the plunger slips off and you need to reset it. Also, the liner itself will have a memory and sometimes the liner will move but as soon as
you let go the wrinkle returns back to its original position. This is the type of wrinkle that is easy to solve when the liner is first installed but challenging to
remove once there is water weight on the liner. The best you can hope to do with a problem like this is to slowly work the wrinkles towards the edges of the pool
where you can hopefully try to lose it in the cove.
Wrinkles on the wall of a vinyl liner pool are usually a result of a liner that has shifted while water was under it, but has now settled since the water has receded. If this is the case it can be very hard to move the wrinkles as they will be inclined to return to their original spot. If you remove the liner from the coping track in this area (use boiling water to help) then you can stuff a garden hose down behind the liner. If you run water behind the liner directly above where the wrinkle is, even for a few moments, this can be enough to help get the liner to sit flat against the wall since the wrinkles will respond better to manual manipulation.
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