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Pool Pillows – How Important Are They?

If you thought a pool pillow was what you put your head on while floating on your inflatable sunbed, you’d be in good company, but you’d be wrong. Pool pillows are recommended for use in pools that freeze over in winter and for a few other purposes as well, but have no real purpose in the warmer months or in areas that don’t have frozen pools in winter. So, are pool pillows necessary?

Key Takeaways

  • Essential for Above-Ground Pools: Pool pillows are crucial for protecting above-ground pools in winter, especially in freezing conditions, using durable vinyl for effective protection​​​​​​.
  • Ice Damage Prevention: Their primary role is to prevent ice expansion against pool walls, acting as ice compensators to avoid significant structural damage​​​​.
  • Proper Installation and Size: Center inflated pillows in the pool, and match the pillow size with the pool’s dimensions for effective weight distribution and protection​​​​.
  • Pool Cover Protection: They ensure even distribution of weight on the pool cover, reducing the risk of tearing and making it easier to remove water and debris​​.

Some pool owners swear by them, and others have found them to be more of a gimmick than an effective piece of pool equipment, so let’s examine what pool pillows are, what they’re supposed to do, and whether, in fact, they work and are worth using in the maintenance program of your pool.

Are Pool Pillows Necessary?

l must admit to never having had to deal with my own pool freezing over in winter, so it’s been interesting to learn about pool pillows and how effective they are.

A backyard pool in winter, featuring a dark protective cover topped with fresh snow, with the silhouette of a submerged pillow beneath.
Snow-Accumulated Backyard Pool with Dark Protective Cover

How Do Pool Pillows Work To Protect A Pool?

Simply put, a pool pillow is an air-filled pillow made from a durable material, such as vinyl, that is placed under your pool cover in winter. By doing this, you create a space between the water and the cover, and this works in three ways:

  • When the surface of the water freezes, the ice expands inwards towards the cushion as it is flexible, not outwards towards the walls of the pool.
  • The cushion prevents the cover from sagging with the weight of snow, ice, and debris, which may cause it to tear. Instead, the debris accumulates at the edges of the pool and can be easily removed.
  • Allowing the water to circulate more freely reduces the chances of algae and mold formation, improving the condition of the pool at the end of winter when the cover is removed.
A stylish backyard setting with a circular pool at the center of which lies a square inflatable pillow, surrounded by wooden decking and comfortable loungers.
Chic Backyard Circular Pool with Central Square Pillow

Do Pool Pillows Work In Inground And Above-ground Pools?

We’ve established that pool pillows are not 100% necessary but are strongly recommended in specific situations:

Above Ground Pools

All above-ground pools have exposed side walls, which are held in place by a robust framework that counters the outward pressure exerted by the weight of the water. If that outward pressure increases because of the creation of ice in the pool, there’s a real danger of damage to the pool lining, which might even lead to the collapse of the pool.

If you have an above-ground pool and live in an area where temperatures are below freezing in winter, pool pillows will prevent the ice from exerting the kind of pressure that causes this kind of damage. So, while they may not be essential, they are certainly a worthwhile (and not very expensive) accessory.

In-ground Pools

Pool pillows are not really necessary in inground pools as the shell will usually withstand the pressure exerted by ice. However, they still have the real benefit of causing the debris, ice, and snow that falls onto the pool cover to collect around the perimeter of the pool so that it is easily collected and removed.

How To Use A Pool Pillow

A well-kept backyard featuring a circular pool with a central pillow concealed beneath a draped blue pool cover, surrounded by wooden decking and greenery.
Backyard Circular Pool with Hidden Pillow Under Protective Cover

For the pool pillow to be effective, there are a few rules to follow:

  1. The pillow needs to be flexible to absorb the expansion of the ice that forms, so it shouldn’t be inflated more than 60-70%. That way, it’s able to compress with the force of the ice instead of that force being exerted against the walls of the pool.
  2. The pool pillow must be placed in the center of the pool and anchored so that it stays there. This can be done with a light rope or string tethered to the pool’s side or by means of Velcro strips that stick the pillow to the underside of the pool cover.
  3. Choose the right size pool pillow. Too small a pillow will be ineffective, while too large is just an unnecessary expense. Here’s a table of suggested pillow sizes for various pools:

Pool Size

Max. Pillow Size

12’ ROUND

4’ X 8’

15’ ROUND

4’ X 8’

18’ ROUND

4’ X 5’ (2)

21’ ROUND

4’ X 8’ (2) OR 4’ X 15’

24’ ROUND

4’ X 8’ (2) OR 4’ X 15’

30’ ROUND

4’ X 15’ (2)

8’ X 12’ OVAL

4’ X 8’

8’ X 16’ OVAL

4’ X 8’

12’ X 16’ OVAL

4’ X 5’ (2)

15’ X 24’ OVAL

4’ X 8’ (2)

18’ X 33’ OVAL

4’ X 15’

18’ X 40’ OVAL

4’ X 15’ (2)

Pros And Cons Of Pool Pillows

Pool pillows aren’t essential, but they do have benefits to offer and very few disadvantages.

Pros Of Pool Pillows

  • They are inexpensive and easy to install.
  • They are a safeguard against damage from ice in an above-ground pool.
  • They make winterizing an inground pool a lot easier.
  • They safeguard pool covers from sagging under the weight of debris, snow, or ice during winter.

Cons of Pool Pillows

  • Pillows may deflate during use in winter, so they become ineffective.
  • They may burst if the ice expands aggressively, and they can’t be reused.
  • Some pool owners believe that because they float on top of the water, pool pillows don’t affect the outward pressure of expanding ice, so they don’t protect the pool.

Conclusion

Pool cushions are not essential maintenance equipment, but they do provide some protection against the expansion force of ice formed when a pool freezes. This is particularly true regarding above-ground pools, so if you live in an area where winter temperatures are well below freezing, they are an inexpensive means of preventing ice build-up from damaging the pool. And yes, in summer, you can use them on your sunbed!