Pool Cover Pitfalls, Unveiling Risks and Improving Safety

While beaches and public swimming pools are manned by trained lifeguards, private pools in the back yard of family homes are protected only by fences in some cases and, in other cases, also by additional pool covers. While some of these covers provide genuine safety, others may simply mask the inherent dangers of swimming pools. So, on balance, are pool covers dangerous?

In many instances, pool covers can be dangerous. Many people are unaware of the difference between a safety cover, a simple protective cover that prevents leaves and winter debris from falling into the pool, or a thermal cover designed to heat the water using solar energy.

Approximately 2600 children a year, mainly aged between one and three years, are hospitalized after pool-related accidents, and some suffer permanent brain damage. While fences and gates are the first lines of defense, pool covers are also vital. But which pool covers save lives, and which may cost lives?

Are Pool Covers Dangerous? The Facts

Private swimming pools are an asset in any property, providing entertainment, fun, and a chance for family and friends to cool off on hot summer days. They’re also potentially lethal – reports show that approximately 350 children under five years drown yearly in the US, most of those in backyard pools.

As a product, pool covers are not dangerous, but what is dangerous is the ignorance of some pool owners who don’t know what the cover they’ve installed is designed for.

When Pool Covers Are Dangerous

It’s important to highlight the various ways that pool covers can be hazardous to the safety of anyone, and small children in particular, who have access to the pool.

When The Pool Cover Cannot Bear The Weight Of Someone Standing On It

A cover intended to catch leaves and debris is often made of lightweight plastic and anchored to the pool surround by flimsy hooks, if at all. It may look solid enough to a small child but will tear under their weight or pull away from the anchors.

When The Pool Cover Doesn’t Cover The Whole Surface

An “off-the-shelf” pool cover is unlikely to have precisely the correct measurements to cover the whole surface of your custom-made pool. Any gaps around the perimeter are potential death traps for kids or animals. If they slip through and fall into the pool, they’re not visible, and there may not be enough space between the water and the cover to allow them to stay above the surface, even if they can swim.

When The Pool Cover Isn’t Anchored To The Deck

Some pool covers, including thermal “bubble blankets” and winter covers, are designed to float on the pool surface and are not anchored to the pool surround. Any child or animal that walks out onto this type of cover will cause the cover to dip under its weight.

Not only does this make it impossible for them to get off the cover to safety, but a pool of water in the hollow – and children can drown in as little as two inches of water. And if they slip off the cover into the pool, the cover will become level again, and show no sign of the body underneath.

What Are The Safest Pool Covers?

While I’ve highlighted how dangerous the wrong type of pool cover is, there are safe options that combine safety with all the benefits of pool covers that I mentioned earlier.

Mesh Safety Pool Covers

Mesh pool covers are moderately tightly woven vinyl or PVC but are not made from a solid fabric.

Able to catch leaves and all but the finest debris but enables water and snow to drain through.
  • Can carry considerable weight but are lightweight for storage and usage convenience.
  • Are securely anchored to pool surround.
  • Require installation of anchor points in pool surround.
  • Quite expensive to purchase.
  • Don’t provide much UV protection, so chemical use remains unaffected.

Solid Safety Pool Covers

Generally made from vinyl sheeting, slightly stronger but more expensive than mesh covers.

  • It will catch even the finest debris, keeping the pool completely clean.
  • It provides complete UV protection, saving up to 60% of chemical usage.
  • As with mesh, it requires anchor points to be installed before fitting.
  • Water and snow will collect on the surface and must be drained.

Hybrid Safety Pool Covers

These pool covers combine solid and mesh panels, with all the benefits of both.

  • Will drain the snow and water but filter out all leaves and debris.
  • It can carry a substantial weight, even an adult walking on it.
  • It will provide UV protection and saving of chemicals.
  • More expensive than both mesh and solid covers
  • Requires anchor points to be installed.

The chances of a life-threatening episode are significantly reduced with safety pool covers, provided they fit the pool perfectly.

Keep your pool in prime condition by following our comprehensive weekly pool maintenance checklist.

A Pool Cover Can’t Be Effective If It Isn’t Used

The only other proviso is that the covers are always used – that’s the pool owner’s responsibility. The pool cover may be rolled out manually or semi-automatically from a powered roller, or you may have the benefit of a fully automated system where the cover expands out over the pool on a supporting frame from a powered roller.

The essential rule that must be remembered if lives are at risk is that the cover is always in place, except when the pool is used.


Pool covers are dangerous, but only when used inappropriately. Pool leaf covers and thermal blankets can never be used as safety devices. The correct safety cover will only save lives if used correctly and continuously. Hopefully, with the facts I’ve shared, you’ll be better equipped to play your part in reducing those tragic poolside accidents we’ve read about.