Reasons Why Your Pool Liner is Pulling Away from the Wall (and How to Fix)

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Having a pool at home is an awesome perk –you can step outside your house into an oasis without having to travel anywhere.  But, as most pool owners know, they require their share of upkeep and periodic maintenance.  

One particularly unsettling experience for a pool owner may be when a pool liner is pulling away from the wall.  This is a scenario that is unique to above ground and in ground pools that use a vinyl liner.

In some instances, a small distance of the liner may simply be slipping out of the track.  In other cases, a large portion of the liner may be billowing away from the floor or wall.  

When the pool liner is not against the wall, it is important to assess the cause and determine means to fix the issue.  

Fortunately, in many instances the liner can be salvaged without needing an expensive repair from the pool shop.  However, allowing the issue to go unresolved has the potential to snowball into larger issues that may end in catastrophic damage to the pool.

This article will explore some common reasons why a pool liner may be pulling away from the wall, along with methods to remedy the situation.  

Improperly Sized Liner

For pools that have had persistent issues with the liner pulling away from the wall since day one of installation, it is possible that the liner may not have been sized appropriately.

Beaded liners –commonly used in both above ground and in ground pools— are fabricated to meet the exact measurements provided by the installer in order to avoid wrinkles caused by too much slack.  Wrinkles in the liner are not only unsightly, but can also harbor dirt and growth causing difficulty in cleaning.

Liner measurements can become particularly complex for in ground pools that have custom contours, slopes, and safety ledges.  Although the elasticity of vinyl liners provide some forgiveness in minor measurement errors, they can only stretch so far.

When the liner is installed it will naturally be a tight fit due to the precise measurements.   

If the pool is full of water and the new liner is pulling away from the wall, this may be a sign that the liner was measured too small for the pool shell.  However, there may still be hope that the liner could stretch into place.

New Liner Stretching

When water is added to the pool, it helps push the liner against the subsurfaces and keep it locked in place.

However, even after a pool has been completely filled it’s possible that small sections of the liner may not sit tight with the walls or the coves (where the wall meets the floor).  Certain areas such as corners feel soft or squishier in comparison to the rest of the liner.  

The lack of slack in the liner to avoid wrinkles may sometimes prevent the liner from fully reaching every nook.

Soft areas of a properly measured liner are likely to resolve as the water temperature heats up.  A new liner especially should have enough elasticity to finish taking shape across the full surface of the pool.  

A new liner that has soft areas should be monitored over a period of time to ensure it does eventually settle into place tightly against the pool floor, walls and corners.  

Soft areas of the liner are more prone to being damaged (such as a hole being poked through) due to lack of solid reinforcement behind the liner.   For this reason, if the soft areas persist after water temperature has warmed up it may be worth discussing options with the liner installer as a proactive approach to any future issues.

Improper Air Removal

When installing a new liner, it is important that the air between the wall and the liner is removed.  

Prior to filling the pool with water, a shop vacuum is typically placed behind the liner to remove air and help set the liner into place.  The vacuum hose is sealed behind the liner using duct tape during this process.

During air removal, the liner generally sits tight to the pool shell and provides opportunity to eliminate wrinkles through re-positioning of the liner.  By the time 6 inches of water has been added to the shallow end, the liner should be pretty much in place and tight to the floor and walls.  

If air is not fully removed from behind the liner during installation, there is potential for an air bubble to remain present even after the pool is filled with water.  The air bubble may cause the liner to push outwards from the wall.

To eliminate the air bubble, two or more people may carefully try to push the air bubble upwards towards the track.  It may be helpful to unhook a small section of the liner from the track in order to provide a clear path for the air to escape.

Improper Placement of Liner

Overlap liners for above ground pools are designed to be taller than the pool wall itself in order to allow excess material to hang over the wall and be secured in place. This type of liner is sometimes referred to as a hung liner. 

During installation of an overlap liner, it is possible that too much material is hung over a portion of the wall. This could prevent the liner from fully reaching the sections of the floor or wall even when filled with water.  

If there is excess material hanging over the wall, an adjustment can be made as follows:

  1. Temporarily remove sections of the top rail and coping strips. 
  2. Allow excess liner to be released towards the pool until it seats properly into the floor and wall.
  3. Re-install the coping strips and top rail to secure the liner in place. 

Liner Age

Liners have a typical lifespan of 10-15 years.  Sun and chemical exposure will tend to cause the liner to lose elasticity and perhaps shrink.

If the liner is pulling away from the track, it may be due to shrinkage that can occur as the liner loses elasticity.

Depending on how much flexibility remains within the liner, it may be possible to pull it back into the track.

How to Insert Liner Bead Back into Track

It is important to note that if the liner is approaching the end of its expected life, it may be more prone to tearing if attempting to stretch it back into place.  

To pop the liner bead back into the track, the most challenging part is wrangling the liner back to where it needs to be.  Here are some quick tips to help:

Step 1: Maximize elasticity of the liner

A warm sunny day can sometimes be enough to help provide the elasticity needed to stretch the liner back into place.

If the sun isn’t enough, you can carefully pour boiling water on the pool side of the liner.  While the liner is still very warm, attempt to pull it upwards.

If the section of liner that needs to be pulled back into place is several feet or more, heat alone may not be enough to stretch it into place.  It may help to drain some water out of the pool to reduce the amount of pressure being applied to the liner at the wall –just ensure you maintain at least 12 inches of water in the shallow end if going this route.  

Step 2: Insert Bead Back into Track

Once you’re able to gain enough elasticity with the liner, it’s time to re-insert it back into the track.  

Brute force with finger strength might be enough to push the bead back into the track.  Otherwise, a blunt object such as a paint stick may be useful in pressing the liner into the track.

Step 3: Lock Bead into Place (if needed)

If you find that the bead doesn’t want to stay in the track, you may need to Macgyver a solution.  

Some simple household items, such as pennies or popsicle sticks can be inserted with the bead into the track to provide more holding pressure.

Alternatively, you can use something more ‘official’ to keep the bead in place, such as liner-lock.  Local pool shops may have this available to purchase by the foot, so you don’t need to buy a large roll of it.

Water Behind Liner Causing It to Float

Walking out to the pool area to find that the liner is floating is not a sight that any owner wants to see.  In some cases, a floating liner may appear as though a ball or bubble is under the liner.  In severe cases, the entire liner may be truly floating in the pool.

When a liner floats, it becomes unseated from its intended location at either the wall or floor of the pool due to water behind the liner caused by either ground water (water table) or pool water itself.  

High Water Table

A floating liner is often caused by excessive pressure around the pool due to a high water table relative to the pool.  

A high water table can often be caused by heavy rainfall.  Pools are most susceptible in being overcome by a high water table after the pool has been closed, particularly if some water had been drained from the pool.

If the pool is built in a low-lying area, this also poses risk of the water table overtaking the pool liner.

Fortunately, in many cases a floating liner may resolve itself as the water table recedes.  

If the liner float continues to persist or worsen, water may need to be manually removed to prevent worsening.

If the liner had been floating significantly, it’s possible that the liner may not rest in the correct location after the water is removed.  This may result in wrinkles in the liner.  

While it may not be possible to fully remove the wrinkles after fixing the floating liner, some wrinkles may be removed through careful use of a plunger.  

In severe cases, the liner may be completely out of position once it settles back into the shell.  This may either require either significant efforts to bring it back to a somewhat normal state, or it could even warrant replacement.  

Preventing a Floating Liner Due to High Water Table

If a pool is built in a low-lying area that is susceptible to a high water table, it is common for a hydrostatic valve to have been installed.  A hydrostatic valve prevents a high water table from displacing the pool liner by actually allowing the ground water to enter the pool.

Another means to prevent a floating liner is to keep the water table low through a drainage system around the pool.  This may be done through use of a sump well that uses a submersible pump to remove water from near the pool.  Or, it could be done through a gravel bed with drainage pipe around the pool.

Keeping the pool full of water is another way to help reduce the probability of the liner floating.  A full pool can better counteract the forces of the water table to help keep it in place  

Pools that are drained partially over the off-season are more at risk of being overcome by an elevated water table.  Mesh safety covers that allow rain and melted snow may help keep the pool at a normal level during the winter months.

Even when a solid winter cover is used, accumulated rain and snow on the cover will provide the same benefit of a normally filled pool.  For this reason, it’s recommended not to pump the cover until very close to opening the pool.

Leaking Liner 

It is possible that the liner may be pulling away from the wall due to a leak in the liner allowing water to sneak behind it.  

If you suspect water behind the liner, it may be difficult to determine whether it’s coming from the pool or from ground water (high water table).  

A simple means to determine the source of water is to take a sample of water from behind the liner and measure its pH and chlorine levels.  If the pH or chlorine match the pool, then it is likely that the water is coming from a leaking liner.  

If you suspect a liner leak is causing your liner to become displaced, you will need to carefully inspect the liner underwater to find the hole.  A syringe with red dye –such as phenol red– can be used in still water to assist with locating the leak.

Once the leak is identified, an underwater vinyl patch can be applied to seal it up. 

If water remains behind the liner after the leak is fixed, it may need to be manually removed.

Pool is Too Full

In some cases, a pool completely filled to the brim could result in the liner shifting away from the wall.  Overfilling may occur due to heavy precipitation, or perhaps a hose being left running a bit too long (oops!). 

Fortunately, pools are generally designed to withstand being overfilled, especially considering all the splashing that occurs in the area –typically the worst that happens when overfilled is some wet ground around the pool.   

However, beaded liners can be somewhat vulnerable when overfilled due to the bead-track connection. There’s potential that if water has risen above the bead, it could infiltrate behind the liner –this is especially true if a portion of the bead is not secured in the track, which could provide easier means for water to enter.

If your liner has pulled away from the wall and the pool is in an overfilled state, it is best to drain water to the normal operating level –this will also help improve skimmer performance!  Water may also need to be removed from behind the liner if it does not dissipate on its own.

Removing Water Behind Liner

If you find water behind the liner of the pool that does not recede on its own, it may be necessary to remove it yourself:

  1. Detach approximately 1 to 2 feet of the liner from the coping or track nearest the area of water.
  2. Insert a hose from either a shop vacuum or a small service pump behind the liner.  Depending on the volume of water, a pump may be more effective than a shop vacuum.
  3. Using the shop vacuum or service pump, suck water from behind the liner.  Ensure the discharge location is far away from the pool to prevent water from flowing back under the liner.
  4. Re-secure the liner to the coping or track after water is removed.

Final Takeaway

While a pool liner unexpectedly coming out of place is never a fun experience, it’s not always a death sentence for the liner.  There are several common reasons why it may occur, many of which may stem from issues occurring behind the liner.  

Fortunately, there are some simple (and not so simple) solutions that may allow you to get the liner back into place yourself.  If you find the situation too severe, or the liner won’t cooperate, it may warrant a call to the pool shop to get professional service.

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