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Are There Any New Finishes for Concrete Swimming Pools?

Many changes in the material used to cover concrete pools which help to make your pool safer and easier to maintain.  These changes have occurred gradually since the 1990s.  Besides making it easier to keep your pool safe and easier to maintain, these new improvements have also changed the look and feel of your new or refinished swimming pool.  Before getting into the new improvements to the material used to finish your pool, we need to take a quick look at the history of pool finishes.

A Brief History of Swimming Pool Finishes

So since this is a “brief” history, let me start somewhere around the end of WW II.  Up until then, backyard swimming pools were the purview of the rich.  Most pools at that time were finished with glass or porcelain tiles.  Once the war ended and the economy started to shift from military spending to consumer spending and the raise of the middle class did the backyard swimming pool start to be more affordable to more people.  As more pools were built the cost started going down and science began to improve the materials used to make swimming pools. 

One of the biggest changes that helped lower the cost of swimming pools was the advent of gunite (a concrete Mixture) being applied with pressure.  To help reduce the cost of building a swimming pool, paint was started to be used instead of tile.  This paint contained copper and lead.  Somewhere around 1980, the federal government mandated that copper and lead be removed from paint, thus making the paint less durable.  To solve the durability problem, the pool industry turned to using Marcite, a very common soft plaster, to finish gunite pools. 

At first, the only color plaster came in was white.  Not too much later, however, the industry figured out how to add color pigment to the plaster.  Marcite seemed to be the answer to a beautiful, colorful, swimming pool finish.  However, Marcite contained asbestos.  In the 1990s, the Federal Government required the asbestos to be removed from plaster making it less strong.  At that time, the industry started adding small pebbles, and aggregate, to the plaster to increase its durability.  This addition not only increased the longevity of the finish but also made it more pleasing to the eye.

The Current State of Swimming Pool Finishes

The current state of swimming pool finishes is that there are several choices, from the initial cost-effectiveness of plaster finishes to the very costly yet extremely durable ceramic or glass tile finishes with various aggregate finishes in the middle.


The original pool finish was white plaster.  Because of its initial cost effectiveness, white plaster remains a popular choice even though there are now more choices available on the market. White plaster is a combination of white cement, white marble dust, and water which makes for an economical choice and will give that classical swimming pool appearance. Not only does the white plaster finish provide a very smooth surface, but it also creates a brilliant, clean, light blue appearance to the pool water. However, if that is not the desired color, not to worry, because today various colored pigments or dyes can to added to change the color appearance of the pool’s water.  Because of the inherent softness of white plaster, it is susceptible to damage, especially from improperly maintained pool chemistry.  This does require more maintenance than the other surfaces.  It is estimated that the pool plaster lasts between 5 and 10 years.

The next step up in price and durability is a general category called Aggregate pool finishes.  This type of finish has a white plaster base that contains pebbles, glass, quartz, or ceramic-coated crystals.


Aggregate swimming pool finishes have been growing in popularity over the last few decades. Today, they have taken the top spot from pool plaster as the most desirable pool finish option. Aggregate pool finishes contain river pebbles, stones, ceramic-coated crystals, or glass, which are combined with portland cement-based pigmented plaster and applied pneumatically.  There are two types of aggregate finishes, Exposed and Polished.

As the name implies, the Exposed aggregate pool finish is rougher to the touch than plain smooth plaster finishes.  The benefit of adding material such as small pebbles to the base plaster adds not only resilience but aesthetic qualities as well. Because of this, aggregate finishes are more resistant to pool chemical imbalances than other finishes and last much longer. Exposed aggregate pool finishes have been shown to have a lifespan of between 15 and 20 years. If you think the exposed surface will be too rough on little feet, then you may want to consider a polished aggregate finish.

The polished aggregate finish uses ground and sanded pebbles which are crushed and added to the plaster base.  Although, this option is a little more expensive that the exposed aggregate, it is just as durable and a lot easier on little feet. 


Quartz pool finishes are a combination of quartz aggregate and polymer-modified cement. Quartz holds up well against poor pool chemistry maintenance because of its non-porous nature. Because the quartz aggregate surface is very hard and smooth, stains will have trouble making a home on this surface. Quartz surfaces are more durable than plaster and offer some color variety like pebbles.


The most expensive and yet most durable pool finish can only be had with either ceramic or glass tile.  Besides the material cost, the primary reason a tiled pool is more expensive than plaster is the labor required to install the tiles. Glass and Ceramic tile usually come on a 12” x 12” sheet, thereby, giving it the name “sheet tile”.  As you can expect, sheet tile is applied differently than plaster base finishes. Rather than pouring or pneumatically applying the mixture and smoothing it over, this type of finish consists of a collection of hand-applied sheets of tiles that can create attractive mosaic patterns or dazzling displays of color.  As a general rule, when it comes to price, there is not too much difference between glass and ceramic.  The same goes for durability.  Ceramic tiles have a glass glaze finish, so they posse the same durability as glass tiles.  One of the biggest differences is that glass tiles appear to have a deeper color and can also pose a wide variance in hues of a given color thereby making for a more aesthetic appearance.


The good news is that over the past 50 or so years much progress has been made by the pool industry to develop a whole range of pool finishes for the buying public.  The bad news is that the decision as to what finish to have is a good deal more difficult…so many choices.  Just keep in mind, that no matter what finish you choose, the quality of the material and its application has gotten to the level, that even the simple white plaster finish is more durable than it has ever been.  So focus on price first and then focus on the many different choices you have in your price range.


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