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Vinyl Liner Pools vs. Gunite Pools: Which Is Better?

Vinyl and gunite are two of the most popular pool liners in the world. One of them is flexible and budget-friendly, whereas the other is durable and long-lasting. Choosing the right liner for your pool will determine the chemicals and equipment you use. It’ll also affect the brushes, vacuums, and other accessories.

When it comes to vinyl liner pools vs. gunite pools, vinyl liners are cheaper and come in more colors. However, gunite pools last longer and can handle harsher chemicals. Both pools last multiple decades with proper care. Unlike pebble tech, you can’t layer vinyl with plaster.

In this article, I’ll dive into the differences between vinyl and gunite pools, which one is best for you, and the pros and cons of each.

What Are the Differences Between Vinyl and Gunite Pools?

The differences between vinyl liners and gunite pools are that vinyl liners are flexible, easily removable, and come in multiple colors. Gunite pools are made with plaster and rebar, and they’re always inground pools. You can have an in-ground or above-ground vinyl liner pool, though.

Let’s jump into each of these differences below.

  • Gunite pools (also known as plaster or concrete pools) are always inground. You can’t have an above-ground plaster pool because they’re too heavy. The pool would crack and you’d have a massive mess on your hands. However, you can place a liner pool inground, above-ground, or partially inground.
  • Vinyl liners can be removed and replaced within a day. They’re very quick because all you have to do is remove the retainers, drain the pool, and lay the new liner. It’s important to use a vacuum to suction the vinyl. Nevertheless, this process is much quicker than any other pool liner.
  • Vinyl is a much softer material compared to gunite. People often enjoy vinyl liners because they’re non-abrasive. They’re a top choice for people with children, but it’s important to keep pets and other sharp objects away from the vinyl. The soft material can be torn and ripped apart.
  • Gunite pools often use rebar for support beams to prevent the pool from sinking or caving in. These support structures act as walls behind the gunite. There’s a layer of plaster on top of the gunite that adds internal support. People often call plaster pools gunite and vice versa.
  • Gunite pools almost always use PVC, whereas vinyl liners can use PVC or corrugated plastic hoses. Corrugated hoses aren’t very durable, but they’re inexpensive and very flexible. They’re often used in above-ground swimming pools, especially low-cost inflatable pools.

There are plenty of differences between these pool liners. Neither of them is definitively better than the other. If you want to compare the pros and cons of vinyl vs. gunite pools, read on.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Gunite vs. Vinyl Liners

Weighing the advantages and disadvantages of these pool liners will help you determine which one is right for you. Keep in mind that you can replace a gunite liner with vinyl, but you can’t replace vinyl with gunite. There’s too much support required for a gunite pool that you wouldn’t find in any vinyl liner pool.

I’ve cleaned, maintained, and swam in plenty of gunite pools and vinyl pools. Some of the pros and cons are based on personal preference, so I’ll leave them out of the list. Without further ado, below are the pros and cons of gunite pools and vinyl pools.

Pros of Gunite Pools

  • Gunite pools typically last much longer than vinyl liners. Your plaster pool can last well over three decades. Proper maintenance will let them look and feel the same. However, minor cracks and stains need to be treated as soon as possible. They can expand and shorten the gunite’s lifespan.
  • Plaster can be acid washed to reveal a fresh layer. Drain the pool and scrub the plaster with a wire brush and muriatic acid. This combination rips off the top layer, removing debris, stains, brittle plaster, and algae. I suggest hiring a professional for the first acid wash since it can be a bit tricky.
  • You can use abrasive chemicals and accessories on gunite. There’s no need to choose low-concentration shock treatments, dry chlorine, and other weaker chemicals. This advantage lets you balance your pool’s chemistry much quicker and more effectively because you can spike the chlorine within an hour.
  • Gunite is quite durable and resistant. Clumped salt, shock, and other chemicals won’t do much to the gunite if they’re only there for a few hours. Brush them away and turn on the pump for instant results. You also don’t have to worry about direct sunlight harming the plaster for many years.
  • You can use any vacuum, heater, and other equipment with your plaster pool. Much like the chemicals, there aren’t any limitations for plaster pools with equipment. Choose the fastest pumps with the biggest plumbing if you want to. Furthermore, you can use the harshest brushes.

Cons of Gunite Pools

  • Gunite is much more susceptible to black algae blooms. Plaster is a porous material that absorbs phosphates and other organic matter. Black algae stick inside of the pores, damaging the plaster. They look like tiny black or brown specks on the bottom and walls of the swimming pool. Unfortunately, black algae are the hardest to get rid of.
  • Most plaster pools leak calcium into the water. It’s important to maintain the calcium levels since they can saturate the water, place deposits all over the swimming pool, and stain the gunite. Excessive amounts of calcium can also damage salt systems, heaters, pumps, and booster pumps.
  • Gunite pools are significantly more expensive than vinyl or fiberglass pools. They’re the priciest pool material on the market. You’ll have to spend even more money if you want a layer of pebble tech or tiles around the edges. However, many pool owners believe they’re worth the initial investment.
  • Cracked plaster is quite pricier than torn vinyl. You can patch a vinyl liner, but you can’t patch cracked plaster. You’ll need to hire a professional to fill the crack or wash the top layer with acid. Heavy objects and earthquakes can cause irreparable damage to gunite swimming pools, though it’s quite rare.
  • You’ll likely have to fight an ever-increasing pH with a plaster pool. You could lower your pool’s pH naturally to reduce the number of chemicals you have to use. The calcium in the plaster constantly raises the pH. It’s even harder to maintain if you have a salt system since salt slowly increases the pH and alkalinity. 

Pros of Vinyl Liners

  • Vinyl is much cheaper than any pool liner. Future pool owners on a budget should opt for vinyl because you can get any shape and size without breaking the bank. You’ll save even more money if you get an above-ground vinyl pool because you don’t have to hire someone to dig the hole or place support beams.
  • You can choose any color or pattern you want in your swimming pool. Vinyl liners come in unique wavey patterns, coral designs, and almost anything you could think of. Choose your favorite design and instantly turn your vinyl pool into a customized underwater paradise for many years to come.
  • Vinyl is very easy to clean. All you need is a soft bristle brush and a wheeled vacuum. Vinyl is soft and doesn’t absorb algae too easily. You’ll have a long time before the liner permanently stains. There’s no need to scrub for several hours since the debris brushes off the vinyl in a few minutes.
  • You can’t quickly patch a vinyl liner if it tears. Try the Boxer Adhesives Vinyl Patch Kit. It comes with multiple patches to help you cover any tear in the liner. Each patch can be used underwater, so there’s no need to drain the pool. You can also use them on pool inflatables and other vinyl items.
  • Most vinyl liners can’t get too much black algae. Black algae typically dig into porous surfaces. Vinyl is flat and non-porous, which means there’s nowhere for black algae to grow. However, you’ll still have to deal with pink and green algae. Brushes, vacuums, chlorine, and proper filtration will remove most algae blooms.

Cons of Vinyl Liners

  • Vinyl can’t handle harsh chemicals. Most granular shock treatments are too harsh for vinyl liners. They’ll brittle the vinyl and make it much less durable. Corrosive chemicals, such as muriatic acid, can harm the vinyl. You’ll have to use dry acid, liquid chlorine, and chlorine tablets for most pool treatments.
  • You can’t use stiff wire brushes in vinyl pools. Stiff brushes get the job done, but they can slowly weaken the vinyl in your swimming pool. Never use a wire brush on vinyl. I’ve seen far too many customers brush their vinyl liners with wire brushes, almost all of whom had to patch or replace the liner within a year.
  • Vinyl doesn’t last as long as most plaster pools. You’ll usually get about 10 years less from your vinyl pool than you would if you had a gunite pool. It’s up to you to determine if the cost difference outweighs the shortened lifespan. Many people enjoy replacing their vinyl pools with a new appearance or location.
  • Vinyl stains are very difficult to remove. While you can quickly clean a vinyl liner, failure to do so can permanently change the color. For example, a light blue liner can have light green discoloration if you don’t get rid of a heavy-duty algae bloom. Fortunately, you can replace the liner without changing the whole swimming pool.
  • Direct sunlight can ruin a vinyl liner, requiring you to replace it. I recommend using a solar cover. Placing a solar cover over a vinyl swimming pool will prevent evaporation and chemical loss, but it also slows the sun’s UV rays. Pool blankets are some of the best accessories to increase your swimming pool’s longevity.

Are Vinyl Pools Easier to Maintain Than Gunite Pools?

Vinyl liners are easier to maintain than gunite because they don’t require as much brushing. While you need to brush all swimming pools, you can lightly brush a vinyl liner once per week. However, gunite pools need to be thoroughly brushed one to two times weekly with a stiff brush or a wire brush.

Here’s a handful of other reasons vinyl pools are easier to maintain than gunite pools:

  • Vinyl pools can use cheaper equipment since they don’t need heavy-duty cleaning.
  • You can blow the lines with a garden hose instead of a high-end pressurized hose or auger.
  • Wrinkles and tears are repairable, but cracks in a plaster pool aren’t easily fixed.
  • You don’t have to worry about the pool’s calcium levels too much if you have a vinyl pool.
  • You won’t need to use as many chemicals in a vinyl pool because there’s rarely black algae, calcium buildup, or pH problems.

Some people prefer a plaster pool’s maintenance schedule, though. Here are a few reasons gunite could be easier to maintain:

  • It’s much easier to adjust a gunite pool’s chemistry since you can use the harshest chemicals.
  • You won’t have to worry about liner repairs as often if you choose a gunite pool.
  • Robotic gunite vacuums drastically reduce the amount of cleaning you have to do.

Should You Choose a Vinyl or Gunite Pool?

To know if you should choose a vinyl liner or gunite pool, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is your initial budget? Gunite pools typically cost three to four times more than vinyl pools.
  • Do you prefer an in-ground or above-ground pool? Vinyl liners work with all pools, but gunite pools have to be inground.
  • Are there a lot of pets swimming in your pool? Claws and teeth can damage the vinyl, so I’d suggest a gunite pool.
  • Is time an issue? If you want your pool as quickly as possible, you’ll need to opt for a vinyl liner.

While vinyl and gunite are some of the best liners available, I recommend checking out our fiberglass vs. concrete pool comparison before making your decision. Fiberglass offers dozens of unique benefits.