Choosing Your Swimming Pool Colors

Photo under water in a pool

Installing a swimming pool is a major decision, but the choices don’t stop there. You can not only choose the color of the water, but influence its shade with many of your other selections, such as the type of finished used and even the landscaping around it. The color of the water will affect the entire look of your yard, and you should choose based on what you want as the end result.

What factors can affect the color of the water in a pool? The color of a pool is influenced in a number of ways, from the depth of the pool to the surrounding vegetation, and most particularly by the color of the finish. There are only two primary water colors, blue and green, but a plethora of shades within that, and the color of the finish will have the most impact on it.

Knowing exactly the color you want to achieve with your pool is only half the battle. The other half is figuring out how to make that happen and what else you need to factor into your planning. The types of finishes, to the landscaping, and even the color of those finishes can all change the way you see your pool.

What Influences the Color of the Water?

Despite the fact that water is colorless, once it becomes contained within a space it begins displaying characteristics of its environment. Nature can produce a variety of water colors, but swimming pools have either blue or green, and the color of the finish is the first way to create your personal atmosphere. 

Landscaping, sunlight, and the depth and shape of your pool provide the other influences. Consider how you want to feel when you’re outside, and browse through photos of pools. These can be invaluable in making your backyard dreams come true. 

Remember that these photos only capture a moment in time, and don’t reflect all the variations possible from light and shadows. Many photos have also been photo shopped, so when you go searching for a specific color, pay less attention to the notes on the photo and more to what the color looks like. 

Pool Finish Colors

This is the area where you will have the most control over the end color result of the swimming pool or spa. The specific type of finish and the materials used in it will bring its own personality to any pool, but the color of the finish will do far more to influence the overall color of the water than any other factor around the pool. 

For a light blue color, choose a finish that is white or light blue. Darker blues and teals can be achieved using gray, dark blues, or black. For green water, choose finishes that are tan, green, or brown, and again, the shade of the finish will largely determine the color and shade of the water. 

The color of the finish that you choose will also affect how it reacts to the landscape. A lighter colored pool tends to have softer looking edges, blurring the lines between water and land, while darker water gives sharply delineated edges. It all depends on the effect you’d like the pool to have in your yard. The material of the pool finish can also influence the color of the water, as glass tile will react differently with the water and sunlight than plaster. 

In this instance, talk in depth with your pool builder, and physically look at pools to have a good idea what can be achieved with the right finish and color.

Pool Size and Depth

The depth of your pool will strongly affect the color of the water. Have you ever stared out at the ocean and noticed the color variations as the water gets farther from shore? Right on the beach the water tends to be an aqua color, which is not only due to the shallowness of the water, but the color of the sand beneath it. 

As the ocean gets deeper, the color changes to a dark blue. As less light reaches the depths there is less refraction of that light. This is the same with a swimming pool, where the shallow end is lighter while the deep end is darker. Shallower water allows more light refraction and deep water concentrates the colors.

If you want a shallow pool that looks dark, you can choose a dark finish. For a deep pool that still looks light, then a white or light blue color paired with a glass bead finish may give you amazing results. Definitely consult with your builder to see what works best for your location. 

Landscape and Sunlight

When you’re looking at colors, note that the pool you’re taking inspiration from may receive more or less sunlight than your own area, which will affect the color as well. Sunny days produce the liveliest colors, so a covered pool will look vastly different to an uncovered pool of the exact same color.

If you’ve landscaped when you installed the pool, check how large the new plants will grow. If these plants end up shading the pool then you’ll end up with a darker color than the one you had when you started. 

Those same plants will give your pool a greenish cast, so a blue pool may look aquamarine and a light green pool can turn dark. Also, desert landscaping will make the pool look green as well. Remember, tan and brown are two of the finishes necessary to give your pool green water. 

Popular Pool Finishes

There are three main pool finishes, with a few variations of each one. Plaster is the original gangster of the pool world, and tile and aggregates are the new kids on the block. There are several varieties of aggregate and tile finishes, and there are some serious benefits to each type. 

The finishes are the first way to achieve the color you want in a swimming pool, and the material each one is made from also plays a part. Since water refracts light, having a solid plaster finish in light blue will look completely different than if you had light blue glass tiles. This is particularly true since with the tiles you can use multiple shades in the pool, and even mix it up by placing feature color tiles randomly, such as dark blue with the occasional gold tile. 

The color of the finish will affect how the water reflects all colors from the surface, such as from sunlight, vegetation, and even your house. A tan finish that creates light green water will appear as a much darker green if you have a jungle theme in your back yard or stone walls surrounding it. 

Plaster Finish

Plaster is the original pool finish, and is made from a mixture of water, Portland cement, and silica sand or marble dust. White plaster remains the most popular choice of finish for its classic looks and affordability. 

It has a lifespan of five to ten years, and during that time the color may change by staining, streaking, or displaying a little unevenness. This is all completely normal, and doesn’t affect the quality of the finish. It may create a few interesting color shifts over time, however.

The most common problems with plaster come from poorly maintained and fluctuating chemical levels within the water. In most cases, these variations in the chemicals are what causes the unevenness and streaking in the color. As time continues, it may erode the plaster, making it susceptible to cracks and chips, which can cause water leakage. Maintaining proper chemical levels is the first step to prolonging the life of your pool finish.

Tile Finishes

Tile is one of the sturdiest pool finishes available, and also offers you a lot of room to play with the colors and combinations thereof. While tiles are usually used at the waterline and on the steps, you can completely finish the pool in tile and really bring out your artistic side with the colors. 

A popular thing to do with tile is choose a color, such as dark blue, and sporadically add another color like gold for that extra pop and refraction. Tile is made from a variety of materials, and each specific one brings its own character and merits to the look and color of a pool.

Tile finishes can be difficult to install, and you should have experienced professionals install it. This is the most expensive finish to install, but with proper care it should never need replacing, making it the cheapest to maintain.

Ceramic and Porcelain Tile

As tiles go, ceramic and porcelain tiles are the most affordable and popular to use in modern swimming pools. It’s not uncommon for a pool to have a mosaic inside of it, either using colored tiles or by painting directly onto the tile.

This tile is slightly less durable, so there may be maintenance costs, however, these costs are still less than that required by plaster. The tiles can also be glazed with material like silicon to make everything non-slip, keeping your pool time fun and safe.

Stone Tile

Stone tiles are made from granite, slate, marble, and limestone, and are used to create a natural look. Stone tiles are rarely used for the entire pool, rather it’s kept to the waterline and any shallow, wading areas. With stone, you can keep the same look from your patio into the pool, which produces a spacious feeling.

Various stone finishes are used in combination with modern homes so that the same theme is carried over into the backyard. Stone can be used in a variety of ways, for example, stacked stone tiles for multi-level water features gives a rustic, natural look that can be enhanced by using tiles with rough edges. 

Glass Tile

Glass tiles are the rising star of pool finishes, courtesy of its durability and because it’s aesthetically pleasing. Colored glass in the sun has a mesmerizing effect. Combine that with the light refraction of a pool of water and you would be forgiven for choosing to sit outside and simply stare into your pool to relax. 

Glass tiles will not erode or stain, making it more durable than porcelain or ceramic tiles. One thing to be aware of is that glass will expand and contract in heat and cold, so make sure you hire an installer with a lot of experience dealing with glass tiles.

Aggregate Finishes

Classic aggregate finishes consist of white or colored plaster mixed with tiny pieces of granite or quartz, or combined with river stones or glass beads. Aggregate finishes are a popular alternative to plaster because it’s harder, more resistant to stains and chemicals, and can be used to create a unique finish.

Colors can be blended in swirls and streaks for an intriguing new look which can be varied depending on the materials used in the mix. This finish comes in two forms, polished or exposed aggregates.

A basic plaster finish has a lifespan of five to ten years, but that same plaster used as part of an aggregate finish can double its lifespan. While the exact number will vary depending on materials used and how well it was applied, the average aggregate finish may last from ten to twenty years.

Aggregate finishes work well in pools that have higher chemical levels or wide variations in weather and temperature. These can also be difficult to properly install, and as a result have a higher installation cost. 

Polished Aggregates

Polished aggregates uses crushed colored rocks like marble, granite, and quartz to achieve its effects. The aggregate is applied much like plaster, with a hand trowel, and looks unremarkable until the final step.

Once the aggregate has dried, the entire surface is polished, exposing the chips of stone to sunlight, which create flecks of light and color once the pool is filled. Polished aggregates also extend the life of the plaster by several years, depending on care and maintenance. 

Exposed Aggregates

Exposed aggregates use larger pieces suspended within the plaster. Where polished aggregates used small chips of stone, the exposed version uses river pebbles or glass beads to create its effects. 

As with polished aggregates, exposed aggregates are applied by hand with trowels. Once the product is dry, however, the surface is power washed with a mixture of water and muriatic acid to remove the top layer of plaster and expose the pebbles or beads beneath. 

Exposed aggregate finishes provide a lot of traction within the pool, making it safer all around. This allows you to not only have color differences, but textural ones as well.

Glass Bead Finishes

Glass bead finishes were originally made with perfectly round beads combined with Portland cement. The round beads didn’t hold inside the cement, and it quickly became apparent that other measure needed to be taken. Now, the beads are irregularly shaped and capture the light in a way that crushed quartz or marble can’t match.

This finish offers the appearance of greater depth and softens the edges of the pool, making it merge with its surroundings. Glass beads are an elegant finish and combine well with tan colored walkways for increased visual impact. 

Pebble Finishes

Pebbles are the other exposed aggregates available as a pool finish and can bring a distinctive, earthy look to the pool and surrounding areas. While glass beads give you fanciful options, pebbles come mostly in tans, browns, blacks, and grays, the perfect combination to give the pool a greener color. 

You can even choose how the texture will feel with larger or smaller pebbles. Some people find larger pebbles painful on their feet, but those who are familiar with the benefits of reflexology and a good foot massage will enjoy the feel of the larger pebbles.

Related Questions

How do I choose between similar shades?

If the shades are close enough in color, then it actually doesn’t matter which one you choose. Once the pool is filled the light refraction will make the color shift constantly, and the exact base shade won’t matter as much or be as noticeable as it is when the material is dry.

Can I expect to see any problems with tiles?

It’s always a possibility, but hiring professionals with a good reputation to install a finish, particularly the tile and aggregates, can negate most, if not all, of any potential issues. Not every tile is suited to a pool installation and these aren’t always properly labeled, so a company with many years’ experience will be able to steer you in the right direction. 

Is it possible to combine one or more finishes?

It’s absolutely possible to do this, though you should make sure the installer has prior experience combining the finishes. It’s not unusual to see one finish for the steps and waterline and an entirely different one for the pool itself. A new alternative is to blend glass beads and pebbles to create a stunning look. 

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