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Are Pool And Spa Main Drains Safe?

Should I Be Afraid Of Using My Pool Or Spa Main Drain?

There is a lot of information circulating on the internet surrounding the topic of main drains that are found in most all pools and spas. There is also a lot of information on the internet surrounding the dangers of main drains being used. Finally, there is unending amounts of misinformation on the internet surrounding the dangers and operation of a pool or spa main drain. This article seeks to do address the following information surrounding Main Drains:

  • What is a pool or spa main drain?
  • How does a pool or spa main drain work?
  • Are main drains safe?
  • How do I make my main drain as safe as possible?
  • Provide further resources for main drain safety

Once you understand these points, you can then make an informed decision on what to do with your pool or spa main drain.


What is a Pool or Spa Main Drain?

A main drain is essentially the suction outlet located at the bottom of a swimming pool or spa that can aid in the circulation of the water. For decades these have been labeled as a "drain" when in reality they don't work using gravity like the drains in our sinks. Instead, the pool and spa main drain draws water into the circulation system through direct suction. The pool and spa industry is slowly moving toward changing the language used around bottom suction lines in an attempt to properly help operators and patrons understand what that hole at the bottom of the pool is and its inherent dangers as well. But as it is, the language hasn't changed so we will label these "main drains" in this article. 


How Does A Pool or Spa Main Drain Work?

In a traditional commercial pool or spa, a main drain works off of suction created by the poo or spa's pump. This suction causes the water to be sucked from the body of the pool or spa through the main drain hole at the bottom of the pool and into the PVC piping that leads to the circulation system.

This water is being drawn by the pool or spa pump. This pump is highly effective at creating this suction. In fact, a typical pool pump is capable of pulling up to 700 pounds of suction force. What does that even mean? Essentially if you were to have a tug-of-war match with the main drain you would lose every time unless you were able to pull 700 pounds. Hopefully by now it is starting to become a little more clear why so many people are worried about their main drains. 

Are Main Drains Safe?

The question of a main drain's safety or risk is a complicated question to answer specifically. Simply and bluntly stated, no, the main drain is not safe. In fact, any outlet where suction can be introduced to our swimmers presents a suction entrapment risk, not just the main drain. We will talk about other suction outlets in another article in the future though. 

Main drains are not safe because they can introduce our swimmers to that intense suction power our pumps are capable of creating. This suction can hold a swimmer under and potentially seriously injure the swimmer or cause that swimmer to drown. But this article doesn't end here. Thankfully, there are things we can do to make our drains safer.


How Do I Make My Main Drain Safe?

Keeping our swimmers safe is our #1 priority as operators and preventing any hazards from being introduced into the swimming environment is crucial to the environment in our homes, condos, apartments, hotels, etc. So what can we do to make our main drains safer? In 2008, the federal government, in a bipartisan agreement, passed the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. This law mandates that we protect all swimmers in our commercial pools and spas from entrapment hazards. In regard to main drains, the law addresses some measures we as operators can take to maintain a safe environment. These steps include but are not limited to:

  • Installing anti-entrapment drain covers
  • Plumbing in multiple main drain outlets
  • Installing secondary anti-entrapment devices
  • Disabling our main drains all-together 


What Is An Anti-Entrapment Drain Cover?

An anti-entrapment drain cover is a grate that is screwed down to cover the main drain at the bottom of the pool or spa to prevent swimmers from interacting with the main drain directly. It is crucial to note, though, that this anti-entrapment drain cover does not eliminate the dangers of entrapment. If someone is able to pry off the main drain cover, that person may become entrapped upon that drain. It is crucial that our main drain covers stay tightly secured at all times. It is also crucial that we check twice daily to ensure that the cover is firmly in place. 


Can Plumbing In Multiple Main Drain Outlets Prevent Entrapment?

The standard main drain designs now require that two main drain outlets be installed at the bottom of a pool. They must also be covered by anti-entrapment drain covers. The theory behind this design is that if a person is able to block one of the drain outlets, the suction would divert to the other main drain, thus mitigating the entrapment hazard. Again though, this only mitigates, it does not eliminate the possibility of main drain entrapment. 


What is an Anti-Entrapment Device?

A secondary anti-entrapment device is something that should be installed on your circulation system that will prevent suction entrapment. There are multiple options when searching for anti-entrapment devices, so be sure to ask your local pool and spa supplier which is the best one to fit your needs. It does need to be noted though, that even with a secondary device installed, main drain entrapment can still occur if the device fails to engage. 


Can I Drain Disable My Pool or Spa Drain?

According to the VBG (Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act), an operator is allowed to simply disable suction circulation through the main drain. This is the only proven way to completely eliminate main drain entrapment. This option is also heavily endorsed by Pool Training Academy as the only way of truly knowing your pool and spa main drains pose no suction hazard to your swimmers.


Do I Need To Use My Pool And Spa Main Drain?

Simply stated, no, you don't need to use your main drains so long as your skimmers (surface water removal method) are plumbed to match your needed flow rate for your pool. If you are able to operate only using your surface removal techniques, that is the way to go.

By disabling your main drain, you pool and spa have become a significantly safer swimming environment!


How Do I Learn More About Pool And Spa Safety?

Pools and spas are tricky beasts and the main drain is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to making sure your property or home is as safe as possible. Enrolling in one of Pool Training Academy's CPO® (Certified Pool Operator) Courses is the best step toward making sure you and your property are as covered from liability as possible. We have CPO® classes taking place all over the United States, from Denver, CO to Billings, MT, Park City, UT to Kansas City. Pool Training Academy's Certified Pool Operator Class is the premier choice for those who want to learn more about their pools and spas. To sign up for a class near you just click here. 


Main Drain Safety Resources

Everything spoken about in this article is for educational purposes. If you are looking for legal advice regarding VGB code, please contact a lawyer or visit the following site for more details:


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