The Best Above-Ground Swimming Pools

Best Cheap Above-Ground Pools


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Best Cheap Above-Ground Pools

Best Cheap Above-Ground Pools

2021-Cheapism-Choice-Best-Above-Ground-Swimming-PoolsKeeping young children entertained is easy with a plastic or inflatable kiddie pool. But if you want the whole family to stay cool during the hot summer months, you’ll need a backyard pool. An in-ground pool is one option, but be prepared to dig deep into your wallet (they run about $30,000 or more) and consider the many potential drawbacks of a backyard pool. Above-ground pools are far less expensive and many are easy to assemble. We identified several cheap pools that should offer at least a couple of seasons, if not several years, of warm-weather family fun. Even better, you don’t need to go to a specialty retailer; you can find many decent above-ground pools at Walmart, Target, or Amazon. Our full buying guide includes expert tips on what to consider when buying a backyard pool, regardless of retailer or price.

Prices and availability are subject to change.

Intex Ultra XTR 24' x 52" Frame Pool

Intex Ultra XTR 24' x 52" Frame Pool Set

Best Value Above-Ground Pool

Available from Intex, Amazon, Home Depot (20’ x 48”), and Best Buy (20’ x 48”).
Price: $1,250 at time of publishing

When it comes to cheap swimming pools, Intex is the brand to beat. This 24-foot-by-52-inch round steel-frame pool is one of the most popular models and gets better user feedback than most others in its class. With a generous 12,481-gallon water capacity, it’s spacious enough to comfortably accommodate multiple adults as well as kids, with room left for floats and toys. It’s also comparatively sturdy, with quality components like an extra-strong galvanized steel frame as well as a heavy-duty three-ply pool liner.

The included sand filter pump can help save money on maintenance, as there’s no need to pay for frequent filter cartridge changes, and the kit is pretty close to complete with a ladder, ground cloth, and cover. The only missing accessory is a skimmer — easy enough to order online. Another plus: The snap-together assembly requires no tools and is relatively quick. The manufacturer claims it’s ready for water in 60 minutes, and many users say that’s about right (as long as you have multiple hands to help with installation).

2021-NEW-Cheapism-Best-Value-Above-Ground-Pool.pngWhile a majority of reviewers suggest this pool should stand the test of time, there is some grumbling here and there about pools that arrived damaged or soon developed leaks. Still, with a best-in-class two-year warranty on the frame, liner, and filter pump, there’s more than enough to recommend taking the plunge with an Intex Ultra XTR.

Intex 32' x 16' x 52" Ultra XTR Frame Rectangular Pool

Intex 32' x 16' x 52" Ultra XTR Frame Rectangular Pool Set

Best Rectangular Above-Ground Pool

Available from Intex, Amazon, Home Depot, and Walmart.
Price: $1,750 at time of publishing

This rectangular pool is a little more expensive than similar pools available at big-box stores, but users say Intex Ultra XTR metal-frame pools, including the Intex 26373EH, are worth the extra outlay. Kits come with just about everything needed for setup, including a comparatively powerful, high-quality sand filter pump, ladder, pool cover, and ground cloth. Putting the pool together is relatively easy, according to reviews, thanks to the simple snap-together system, but the 90-minute estimate to getting it water-ready is probably a bit optimistic. Assembly is at least a two-person job, especially given the pool’s large size, and watching a few YouTube videos to supplement included instructions might help.

Still, most owners say the most difficult part of the installation process is ensuring there’s a firm surface large enough to accommodate the pool and getting that area leveled. Once it’s up and running, this Intex pool earns plenty of raves and can host a full party’s worth of swimmers along with floats. It also lends itself nicely to deck structures, which certainly ups the aesthetic appeal. The pool comes with a two-year warranty on the liner, frame, and filter pump. Intex also sells 18- and 24-foot versions of this rectangular pool, as well as frame pools that come outfitted with saltwater systems.

Bestway Steel Pro

Bestway Steel Pro 157" x 83" x 32" Rectangular Frame Pool

Best Cheap Rectangular Pool

Available from Amazon, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Walmart.
Price: $190 at time of publishing

There’s not much to this Bestway Steel Pro metal-frame pool. It’s on the small side for a rectangular pool, at just 13 feet by 7 feet by 32 inches; the construction quality is iffy; and this model lacks some key accessories, such as a filter and ladder. For the most part, however, owners don’t care: The relatively low price is a big selling point for parents who just want a cheap pool for a little summertime fun with the kids.

The fact that it’s incredibly fast and easy to set up and take down for storage between seasons is another plus; we saw reviews that claimed the pool was ready to go in as little as 30 minutes. Although this Bestway pool may not be as durable as pricier models, reviewers say it's adequate for little swimmers just getting their feet wet and grown-up shoppers who understand what they’re buying. In fact, overall ratings for this Bestway model are much better than typical for pools of this type. The Steel Pro 56512E-BW comes with a six-month warranty.

Bestway Steel Pro Max

Bestway Steel Pro Max 10' x 30" Frame Pool Set

Best Small Above-Ground Pool

Available from Amazon, Walmart, and Lowe's.
Price: $154 at time of publishing

If your budget is tight, and you’re fine with a smaller pool for just the kids and/or an adult or two, this  10-foot-by-30-inch round pool from Bestway is very much worth considering. Don’t expect years of service from this small metal-frame pool, but the construction quality is good enough to last through a couple of summers, according to reviews. It’s easy to set up, and includes a filter, but some other important accessories — most notably a ladder and pool cover — are not included.

While the pool’s size is a minus for some, others say it’s perfect for their backyards and their needs. A drain valve with garden hose attachment also makes breakdown and storage through the winter months simple and a bit less messy. It might make sense to stock up on filter cartridges, which some owners say can be hard to find. There’s a one-year warranty on the filter pump and 90 days on the liner and accessories.

Intex Easy Set Above Ground Swimming Pool

Intex 8' x 30" Easy Set Pool Set With Filter Pump

Best Inflatable Above-Ground Pool

Available from Amazon, Walmart, Home Depot, Target, Best Buy, and Lowe's.
Price: $65 at time of publishing

Don’t expect more than a season or two of service from this Intex Easy Set pool, but for buyers who consider that an acceptable lifespan, this inflatable pool is the best value among pools of its type. As the name suggests, setup is fast: Simply inflate the top ring and it’s ready to go. The manufacturer estimates around 10 minutes to get it water-ready, and owner feedback suggests that’s about right. Just be sure that the ground below the pool is absolutely level, or you may be in for a collapse. Also be on the lookout for split seams and leaks, a relatively frequent problem according to the reviews we read.

While this pool set does come with a cartridge filter pump to keep the water clean — pretty impressive given this pool’s rock-bottom price — you don’t get a lot of swim space for this kind of money. The Intex Easy Set 28111EH can serve as a small pool for kids (6 years and up) or a splash pool for adults, and sometimes that’s all you’re looking for on a hot summer day. Larger versions are also available.

Intex 57190ep Swim Center Family Lounge Pool
Home Depot

Intex 88" x 85" x 30" Swim Center Family Lounge Inflatable Pool

Best Kiddie Pool

Available from Amazon, Walmart, Target, Home Depot, and Lowe's.
Price: $45 at time of publishing

A neat take on the traditional blow-up kiddie pool, this Intex Swim Center Family Lounge is a standout option. It’s larger than some pools suitable for kids as young as 3, so children of many ages should have sufficient room to frolic. Even better, for adult supervision — or just lounging around without the kids — there’s a built-in bench seat with backrest, along with cup holders to cradle beverages of choice. Like all blow-up pools, this one doesn’t promise more than a season or two of usage at best, and we did see some reports of pools that were defective right out of the box. Still, most owners are pleased. Intex backs its 57190EP with a 30-day satisfaction guarantee.

Summer Waves Elite

Summer Waves Elite 15' x 48" Metal-Frame Pool

Good Cheap Above-Ground Pool

Price: $522 at time of publishing

If you’re just looking for a little summer fun for your family and don’t want to invest a lot of money in a lot of pool, this metal-frame Summer Waves pool is a more-than-decent choice. It’s smaller and a little less well-made than our top pick for an above-ground pool, but the Summer Waves brand (manufactured by Polygroup) is the most popular name in cheap pools next to Intex. For a decidedly low price, buyers get a package that includes an A-frame ladder with safety barrier, pool cover, and maintenance kit complete with vacuum hose and head. The unique cartridge filtration system with integrated surface skimmer also helps keep the pool clean and debris-free.

Although some owners complain of flimsy construction and underpowered filtration, and there are reports of faulty pumps and failing liners, overall user feedback indicates that those who opt for the Summer Waves NB2030 are generally pleased. The short 90-day warranty doesn’t provide much coverage, but reviewers say if you follow the instructions and make sure the pool is set up on level, firm ground, things should go swimmingly.

Buying Guide: Types of Above-Ground Pools

Buying Guide: Types of Above-Ground Pools

To determine our top picks for best above-ground pool, we leaned heavily on pool reviews from owners posted on the websites of retailers such as Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Amazon, and elsewhere. Cheap pools don’t attract a great deal of commentary from consumer product experts, but we did find credible feedback on sites like Best Reviews. We also consulted Steve Goodale, a well-regarded technical specialist and educator in the swimming pool and spa industry. The founder of the website Swimming Pool Steve, he provided a wealth of information regarding price, materials, and maintenance that any prospective pool owner will find helpful. In this buying guide, you’ll find excerpts from our interview with Goodale, along with answers to frequently asked questions and tips on what you need to know before buying an above-ground pool.

Types of Above-Ground Pools: What type of above-ground pool is best?

Your choice of pool will depend largely on how much money, time, and effort you’re willing to invest in the purchase, installation, and upkeep — and whether you want to keep the pool around for just one summer or more.

Above-ground pools can cost less than $100 or more than $10,000. A variety of factors go into explaining that price difference, but essentially it comes down to the manufacturing materials. According to Goodale, price is a pretty good indicator of quality and longevity. “The expected service life from an above-ground pool will vary dramatically based on the quality of the pool kit and the quality of the installation,” the pool pro said. “Some of the cheapest above-ground pool kits are really only suitable to last a season or two at the most, where on the other end of the spectrum, you can easily have a high-quality above-ground pool last for multiple decades.”

Inflatable pools are the least expensive type of above-ground pool and, of course, have the shortest lifespans. These pools are the easiest to set up, however, and can work with most any surface — just make sure the ground is generally level and devoid of rocks, twigs, and branches. A majority are on the small side and are often thought of as kiddie pools, although inflatables up to 18 feet in diameter are available. While they run the gamut of shapes, round and rectangular are the most common varieties. The cheapest are made of simple vinyl and are filled with air throughout, while “ring pools,” named for the inflatable ring at the top that rises as water is poured in, frequently boast PVC-coated walls. Some are even equipped with features like built-in filters to keep the water clean. As suggested, durability is the main drawback with these types of pools, however, and reviews indicate that anything more than one summer of use is a bonus, although with a ring pool you may get a slighter longer lifespan than with the typical inflatable pool.

Soft-side pools or metal-frame pools consist of a heavy-duty vinyl or PVC pool liner, which serves as the floor and walls, that’s suspended on a frame, usually made of steel. They can be set up and taken down without special tools or required skills and frequently come with filter pumps and other accessories like ladders and covers. Frame pools are medium-term investments; the best last for a few seasons (with proper care). Less expensive pools of this type tend to carry fairly limited warranties — 90 days is common — but better quality frame pools with higher price tags, like the Intex Ultra XTR series we recommend (which comes in both rectangular and round models), offer coverage for up to two years. We even saw owner reports of these Intex pools lasting eight years or more. Better steel frame pools can be left up year-round, especially in milder climates, while budget models should be taken down and stored away between seasons.

Hard-sided pools, made of steel, aluminum, or resin, are the sturdiest of above-ground pools, and also the most expensive, although prices range widely. According to our expert Steve Goodale, whereas lower-end models may be “hastily manufactured,” consumers can expect that with more expensive hard-sided pools “materials like the wall panels will be thicker and more durable, and the fasteners and hardware will be higher-quality metals with better machining.” These types of pools can be winterized and are intended for permanent (or semi-permanent) installation. For setup, they require that the ground be leveled and all grass and sod dug out, and sand may need to be imported, as well. There must be an electrical source close by. Despite a fairly involved set of requirements, however, depending on the purchaser’s skill level and access to willing helpers, they can often be a DIY project. If professional installation is required, expect to add a few hundred dollars, potentially even thousands, to the cost. And several reviews warn that trained installers may balk at setting up pools bought online.

What are the best swimming pool brands?

Brands like Intex, Bestway, Summer Waves, and Blue Wave are among the most common names in store-bought backyard swimming pools. Intex is by far the biggest fish on the cheaper end of the market and the largest manufacturer of soft-side models. The brand dominates every list of best above-ground pools. Slightly higher-end Blue Wave makes saunas, spas, and many accessories in addition to pools and is more of a crossover brand, likely to be found in professional pool suppliers’ stocks as well as at retailers like Walmart and Home Depot or for sale on Amazon. Consumers’ overall ratings for the brands discussed here cluster in the 3- to 4-star range, although Intex gets the nod more consistently from a significantly greater number of reviews.

For homeowners set on a hard-sided pool and willing to pay a bit more, brands like Cornelius and Embassy (owned by Doughboy, a well-regarded manufacturer known for its pricey steel and resin models) are well-recommended and still relatively affordable. But you’ll have to be willing to shop around with independent dealers; sites like Amazon and other general retailers have only a very small assortment available for order. (Note: For delivery, hard-sided pools are packed on a pallet and come by truck, which must be met by the buyer. The driver will not bring the pallet to the door, let alone to the backyard. Shipping costs can also be quite hefty.)

Buying Guide: Swimming Pool Size
Sam Flint/istockphoto

Buying Guide: Swimming Pool Size

What size swimming pool should you buy?

When it comes to pools, bigger is often considered better. And it goes without saying that, among pools of the same type, the larger the pool, the larger the price tag. The extra outlay might be worth it, though, especially if the pool is going to be used by multiple adults. If you’ve got more serious swimming in mind, a rectangular or oval pool is obviously better suited for laps than a round one. (Note that oval pools tend to be more expensive than comparably sized round pools because the structure requires more parts to keep it properly supported.) But the size and shape of your backyard will be a determining factor: A larger pool not only takes up more real estate but requires that the entire area where it’s installed be both level and firm. And there may also be local ordinances that regulate how close the pool can be to surrounding structures or property lines.

Larger, heavier swimming pools require more extensive ground preparation, as well, including some type of support (ranging from treated lumber to a concrete pad) capable of carrying the pool’s weight. Neglecting to follow manufacturer guidelines regarding the pool’s site and ground preparation will likely void any warranty, at the minimum, and could be a recipe for disaster should the pool fail because of improper support.

Pool Accessories: What do you need for an above-ground pool?

The cost of the swimming pool itself isn’t the only factor to consider when determining your budget for a backyard pool. There are several basic accessories that you’ll most likely need to complete the setup.

A pump and filter system are imperative for all but the simplest of blow-up kiddie pools (and experts still recommend some sort of chlorination setup to keep water clean in those). Many cheap backyard pools come with a replaceable cartridge filter system that should be changed as often as weekly; make sure to read the instructions. In reviews of most of these pools, however, there are owners who gripe about the undersized pumps and filters included in kits, citing pumps that fail within days of purchase or filters that clog quickly and don’t circulate water sufficiently. Several consumers say hosing down the filter every few hours or even daily helps ensure clean water and can extend the filter's useful life.

Many pool owners insist that buying a heftier pump and better filter is a worthwhile investment, although it can represent a significant chunk of the original purchase price. But you can also step up to a different type of filter system. Sand filter pumps, starting in the neighborhood of $150, are costlier than the standard filtration systems on cheap pools, but a sand filter will not require as much maintenance as regular cartridge filters — Intex says the sand in its pumps needs to be replaced every five years. (Note: This is a schedule that could outlast your cheap backyard pool.)

Pricier equipment doesn't release you from the need to add all the chemicals required to get and keep things right. One alternative to the chemical-based routine is a low-maintenance, eco-friendly saltwater system that relies on salt, rather than chlorine, to keep swimming pool water sparkling. While Intex offers some pool models already outfitted with saltwater systems, it also sells a saltwater system separately. Intex says the system can be used on any make of above-ground pool and doesn't leave the water feeling or tasting like the sea. Based on the user reviews that we read, saltwater systems have won numerous converts.

Aside from a pump and filter system, a pool ladder, a pool cover, and a skimmer are some of the other main accessories you’ll probably want to have. A vacuum might also be in order, particularly if there are a lot of leafy trees in the area. Many, but not all, pool kits include some or all of these items for free (or at least as part of the price of the pool). However, we saw lots of feedback in user reviews for pools in all price ranges that said that the included accessories often feel flimsy and leave a little — or a lot — to be desired. A ground cover to protect the pool's underside from stones and pebbles and other debris that could puncture the pool liner is critical, and often provided in kits. Some risk-averse pool owners suggest putting down a heavy-duty tarp, foam pad, or even old carpet as an extra barrier.

Essential accessories aside, many prospective pool owners jump right ahead to thinking of the many toys and floats they’ll “need” to make a splash with summer pool fun, but it’s imperative that you don’t forget the gear that may be required to keep your pool safe. Many communities require fencing with a latched gate for swimming pools, so be sure to check local regulations. Regardless what the laws say — or don’t — there are safeguards that always should be taken. Remove ladders and secure covers tightly when the pool is not in use, and always have adults present when it is.

Buying Guide: Maintenance

Buying Guide: Maintenance

How do you maintain an above-ground pool?

In our research, we saw lots of split opinions regarding the longevity of even the best liked pools. Some reviews complain of premature failures with a specific model, while other purchasers claim to be extremely pleased with the same pool’s durability and performance. In many cases, unhappy experiences may be the result of user error. While we noted the importance of proper site preparation above, proper ongoing maintenance is also critical to getting the longest life out of any swimming pool, cheap or otherwise.

“The single greatest factor that will impact the service life of an above-ground pool is how well the chemistry is balanced in the water,” expert Steve Goodale says. “Poorly balanced pool water is the No. 1 cause for early component failure in pools. Just because the water looks clear does not mean the water is safe. Poorly balanced sanitizer levels, pH, alkalinity, and calcium hardness levels can all cause advanced deterioration of integral pool components.” Dirty water can pose health hazards, as well.

Goodale’s advice: “If you want your above-ground pool to last as long as possible, then pick a high quality kit, have it installed professionally, and then work very hard to monitor and maintain your water chemistry. This will result in the longest possible service life for an above-ground pool.” Maintaining proper water chemistry will also cut the cost of multiple pool refills, which can significantly increase your water bill: A modest-size swimming pool measuring 15 feet in diameter and 48 inches deep can hold more than 4,400 gallons. That’s a lot of water wasted if it has to be replaced due to improper care.