Fiberglass and vinyl swimming pools are two of the most popular options. They’re soft, reliable, and flexible. However, there’s a massive price difference, not to mention the colors, shapes, and other customization limitations. Choosing the right pool for your home starts with the liner, so let’s get into it.
When it comes to fiberglass pools vs. vinyl liner pools, fiberglass pools last longer and feel softer, whereas vinyl liners are cheaper and offer more customizations. You can get any shape, pattern, or color with a vinyl liner. However, fiberglass pools come in preset shapes and only a few patterns.
In this article, I’ll dive into the differences, pros, and cons of fiberglass pools and vinyl liners. I’ll also discuss which one is better for you while comparing their maintenance requirements.
What’s the Difference Between Fiberglass and Vinyl Pools?
There are countless differences between fiberglass pools and vinyl liners. Both of them are easier to install and much cheaper than plaster pools. However, vinyl liners are separate from their frames. Fiberglass pools make up the entire structure, so a small crack needs to be handled with extreme care.
Here are the four biggest differences between vinyl liners and fiberglass pools:
- Fiberglass pools are often brought in one or two pieces. This is one of our main advantages when it comes to fiberglass vs. concrete pools. While most companies need a large entry into the backyard, they can install the pool quickly. The longest process is digging the hole and installing the plumbing.
- Vinyl liners are made of a different material, which affects everything. The material change impacts the softness, flexibility, chemical resistance, etc. Material difference is completely based on personal preference. Some people enjoy the softness of fiberglass, whereas others prefer the squishy texture of vinyl liners.
- Vinyl is often stretched over a metal frame. While they’re typically called vinyl pools, the liner makes up a small portion of the setup. Your vinyl pool also has a metal frame, support beams, and a few other components. On the other hand, fiberglass pools are almost entirely made of fiberglass.
- You can cut the vinyl to the desired shape around skimmers, inlets, and outlets. Vinyl liners are extremely customizable. You can upgrade your skimmer basket and gate but cutting a bigger hole. However, fiberglass pools can’t be modified as quickly or easily as vinyl liners. Some companies refuse to work with fiberglass pools.
None of these differences make one pool better than the other. However, there are undoubtedly several pros and cons to each. Let’s examine everything you need to know below.
Pros and Cons of Fiberglass and Vinyl Swimming Pools
It’s impossible to say one pool type is always better than the other. Fiberglass is an excellent choice for many pool owners, but vinyl liners are more readily available and inexpensive. You can get an above-ground vinyl pool for less than $300, whereas the cheapest fiberglass pool is several thousand dollars.
Nevertheless, it’s essential that you analyze the upsides and downsides of both pool options to find the best one for you. Below, I’ll explain what you need to know before getting a vinyl liner or a new fiberglass swimming pool.
Advantages of Fiberglass Pools
- Fiberglass pools can have stones, tiles, pebbles, and more. While you can’t switch the color or shape too often, fiberglass pools have unique customizations. You can get tile appearances on a vinyl liner, but they’re not as durable or reliable as the ones that come with fiberglass and gunite pools.
- The fiberglass feels incredibly soft on the walls and bottom of the swimming pool. It’s known for being the softest swimming pool material available. Not only is it better for walking on the bottom of the pool, but it also prevents cracks, wrinkles, and tears. The softness is one of the main reasons people get fiberglass pools.
- Fiberglass pools can be restored instead of replaced. You can use sandpaper or muriatic acid to strip small sections of the pool. While you can’t acid wash the whole pool to remove a layer, you can scrub it with a pumice stone or sponge to fix surface cracks. There’s no need to get a brand-new liner.
- Most fiberglass pools are installed very quickly. They come in a couple of pieces. All the installation company has to do is dig a hole, install the plumbing, lay the pool, and fill the gaps. It’s a quick process that usually takes less than a month. Some fiberglass pools can be installed in a couple of weeks.
- You can use any pool vacuum in a fiberglass pool. Vinyl liners are too fragile for harsh brushes, not to mention the difficulty of some above-ground setups. Fiberglass pools are a bit tougher, so you can use robotic vacuums with textured wheels, circular scrubbers, and stiff brushes.
Disadvantages of Fiberglass Pools
- Fiberglass pools need to be maintained or they’ll leach itchy fiberglass into the water. Using wire brushes, harsh chemicals, or failing to brush it weekly will expose the fiberglass. There’s nothing worse than swimming in a pool full of itchy fiberglass. It causes burning, redness, and discomfort.
- These pools will cave in if they’re left with less than ⅔ full. Never drain more than ⅓ of your fiberglass swimming pool. The water holds the pool and supports the edges. Without enough water, the fiberglass will crack and fall into the water. You can ruin a high-quality fiberglass pool in a couple of weeks if it’s drained too much.
- Fiberglass pools only come in a handful of pre-determined shapes. Some companies offer five shapes, while others offer over 40 designs. However, there’s always a limit to the customizations. Vinyl liners come in any shape or size you want. This may or may not be an issue if you don’t want a unique pool style.
- Most fiberglass pools gradually decrease the pH and alkalinity. Fiberglass has a neutral pH of around 7.0. Your swimming pool’s pH should be about 7.2 to 7.8. Fortunately, you can convert your pool to saltwater to maintain the pH and alkalinity. Saltwater raises the pH while fiberglass lowers it. The result is a near-perfect balance.
- Fiberglass pools can be extremely expensive compared to vinyl liners. The average fiberglass pool is almost $10,000 more than the average vinyl liner pool. The material costs and building requirements are much pricier. However, both options are much cheaper than gunite swimming pools.
Advantages of Vinyl Pools
- You can get a vinyl pool with any shape, color, pattern, and size. Vinyl pools have fun water patterns, sea creatures, and everything in between. You can get a sloped pool with a beach edge that tapers to the shore. There are countless options with a vinyl liner swimming pool.
- Vinyl liners are the cheapest option available. The price was one of our biggest factors between concrete and vinyl liner pools. You can set your budget and find out which options are available. Many pool owners start with small $400 swimming pools to see if they want to upgrade to a full-sized pool.
- You can have an inground or above-ground vinyl swimming pool. Whether you want an inground sloped vinyl liner or a partially inground pool, vinyl is the way to go. You can convert it to an inground pool or keep it a few feet above the ground. Vinyl pools work very well with wrap-around pool decks.
- Vinyl liners can use corrugated plastic hoses or PVC pipes. Above-ground pools have multiple plumbing options. No company in their right mind would use corrugated plastic hoses with a fiberglass pool, but they pair well with vinyl liners. These flexible hoses are inexpensive and easy to replace.
- You can replace the liner with a new style whenever you want to. Whether you’re fixing a massive tear or looking for a new appearance, you can replace the liner in less than a day. Your vinyl swimming pool can look completely different after an afternoon of switching the liner, skimmer, equipment, and other components.
Disadvantages of Vinyl Pools
- Vinyl pools tend to develop wrinkles. Stairs, ladders, pets, jumping into the pool, and many other things can wrinkle your vinyl liner. If the liner isn’t flattened, it’ll tear and crack. This is one of the only maintenance differences between vinyl and fiberglass pools. You can use a plunger to suction the wrinkles out of the liner.
- Vinyl liners are much weaker than fiberglass pools. Thorns, sticks, pet nails, and almost anything sharp can rip the liner. It’s important to protect the liner whenever it tears. You can use a vinyl patch kit to cover the holes, but they’re never as strong as the original vinyl liner. I’d say this is the biggest disadvantage of vinyl liners.
- Most vinyl pools can get bleached by the sun. Darker colors are much more prone to bleaching. You’ll notice discoloration throughout the liner after a few years to a decade. You can prolong and prevent these bleached spots by keeping a solar blanket on the swimming pool. It also keeps sharp debris out of the water.
- Vinyl liners have the strongest chemical reactions of any pool liner. You have to use dry acid, soda ash, liquid chlorine, and chlorine tablets. Muriatic acid and most granular chlorines are too strong for the liner. They’ll deteriorate the vinyl and cause rips, cracks, and long-term damage.
- Vinyl pools indent easier than fiberglass pools, which means they can shift the soil. The weight of the water can push and move the soft soil. You’ll have to add rebar, gunite, compacted soil, or pool pads below the pool to prevent the vinyl from sinking. Small above-ground vinyl pools can use pads or thick blankets.
Are Fiberglass Pools Easier to Maintain Than Vinyl Liners?
Fiberglass pools are easier to maintain than vinyl pools because you can use stronger chemicals and harsher brushes. However, you’ll have to add acid more frequently because fiberglass lowers the pool’s pH. The maintenance schedules are quite similar, but there are a few dissimilarities that could affect your decision.
The primary maintenance difference is that you’ll likely have to add soda acid to fiberglass pools every couple of weeks to balance the lower pH and alkalinity. Fiberglass can handle stiff brushes, but stay away from wire brushes with either pool.
If you have a vinyl liner, make sure you don’t use liquid acid or concentrated granular chlorine. Stick with chlorine below 70%.
Which Pool Liner is Best for You?
To know which pool liner is best for you, ask yourself these questions:
- What’s your budget? Vinyl pools can be quite cheap or very expensive. However, fiberglass pools are always pricier. If you have a limited budget, I recommend starting with a portable above-ground vinyl pool before switching to an inground vinyl liner or fiberglass swimming pool.
- Do you prefer customizations or soft liners? Fiberglass pools are much more comfortable for swimming, but they can’t be customized too much. What you see is what you get, and it’s usually what you’re stuck with. You can paint a fiberglass pool, but it’s not as reliable or vibrant as vinyl liners.
- Do you want an inground or above-ground swimming pool? If you want an above-ground pool, you’ll have to go with a vinyl liner. However, you can get a vinyl liner or a fiberglass pool if you prefer inground setups. Above-ground vinyl liners can use
- Do you have pets? If you have dogs with sharp claws, I suggest staying away from vinyl liners (if they swim in the pool). Your pet’s claws will rip through the vinyl, costing you quite a bit of money on vinyl patch repair kits. Large tears often lead to full liner replacements, so it’s important to repair them as quickly as possible.
I have no doubt that you’ll be happy with either selection. Vinyl liners and fiberglass pools are more than worth the investment. They’re both durable, more affordable than gunite pools, and vibrant. Brush your pool weekly, remove algae immediately, and maintain the chlorine between 2ppm to 5ppm to prevent long-lasting damage to fiberglass or vinyl.