by Rob Cox, August 2, 2012
It happens. One day you look out on your vinyl liner pool, and you notice that the liner has pulled out of the track. Argghh.
Why did your beaded pool liner decide to pop out of it's track? Your pool liner may have been a bit loose in that area, a bit long for the wall length. The track could be broken (hopefully not). Or, it could be the warm temps and bright sun shining on the waterline area of the liner. It could be the work of water gremlins, and no, I'm not talking about your kids.
No matter how your liner fell out of the track, the important thing is to put it back in as soon as possible, to avoid water getting behind the liner, and to prevent shrinkage of the vinyl, as it begins to acclimate to the new relaxed position.
Let's discuss how to get your liner back in the track. These steps can be used for all beaded liners, on both aboveground and inground pools.
Note: If your liner is extremely old and brittle, exercise care on the following steps. Pulling and pushing too much on an old pool liner can cause it to snap, or break - that's the last thing you want, right?
Clean out the track. You may find ants, dirt or even dried up mud in the track. While you are cleaning the track out with a dull screwdriver or a Popsicle stick, inspect the track for any cracks or missing pieces. For inground pools, the track is usually part of the pool coping, or connected to the pool wall, so track replacement is very difficult. For aboveground pools, track repair or replacement is simpler, but still a difficult task - to be avoided. If you find your track is cracked, it may be best to attempt a repair with superglue or epoxy, and allow it to set up for a day before proceeding. Usually however, you will find the track to be in good shape, with no cracks, so just give it a quick cleaning and you can move on to step 2.
Heat up the liner. Use gentle heat. You may start with rubbing the liner rapidly with your hand to generate some friction heat. The heat is needed to allow the liner to stretch, so that you can pull it back up, and pop it back into the track. If direct sun shines on the liner, it may be best to do this repair during the heat of the day, when the liner is at its warmest. If the friction technique doesn't give you enough stretch to the vinyl, try some hot water from the kitchen tap, and pour the water over the area that you want to stretch. Don't use boiling hot water, but you can microwave it for a minute if necessary.
There is a third method of heating the liner, which I hesitate to tell you about. It can be very effective, yet dangerous. In my old service truck, I carried a small hair blow dryer, just for the purpose of heating up vinyl that had popped out of the track. One time I wasn't paying very close attention, and I melted a hole right through the liner! If you keep the blow dryer moving, and hold it a few inches away from the vinyl, you need not do something as stupid as that, but do be careful! Another hazard to using a blow dryer is that electricity + water = electrocution. If the hair dryer or heat gun were to slip out of your hands, into the pool, you may have bigger problems than the liner bead coming out of the track.
You may find that you need to lower the water level to accomplish the repair. For one thing, a lot of water weight on the sidewalls of the liner can inhibit your stretching the liner, and secondly, the colder temperature of the water will absorb much of the heat that you need to be able to stretch the liner. Usually you will need to lower the water level only down to the bottom of the skimmer, but if you have a large section of several feet that has come out, or if you are working in the corner of the pool, you may find it necessary to lower the water even further. Avoid lowering the water too low however, or you may have more liner popping out of the track, or wrinkling may occur when you refill. Always keep a depth of at least 6-12" above the shallow end floor, to avoid such problems.
Pull and Push! With the liner heated up, you want to fold over the bead, towards the wall, and pull the liner up towards the track, and if you have sufficient stretch, just pop the bead back into the track, horizontally, or perpendicular to the pool wall, and then allow it to hang down towards the pool. You need to work fast, while the heat is still keeping the vinyl pliable. I should mention that you should be kneeling on the pool deck, overhanging the edge of the pool - not in the pool. For above ground pools, you may have to stand on a stool, so you can lean far enough over the top rail, to have a clear view of the track.
If you have a large area that popped out, you will pull and push it in to the track in stages, about 6 inch at a time. After you get one section in place, use a penny, or a popsicle stick to hold in place the vinyl that you just pulled up, before moving on to the next 6 inch section. In this manner, you will find it best to heat up only 1 foot of liner at a time, adding more heat just before pulling up the second 6 inch section. Work your way from one side of the popped-out section to the other side.
Be prepared to have sore fingers and knuckles for those liners that require a lot of strong pulling to get the liner to pull up high enough to be able to pop it in. For some liners that have come out of the track, the liner is loose enough that you don't even need heat. In the worst case, you will need a lot of heat, and you may need to lower the water level up to 2 feet, to be able to heat and stretch a larger area of the vinyl liner.
Now that you have the liner back in the track, and before it pops out again, use something to wedge in between the liner bead and the top of the track. Especially if your liner seems a bit loose, this will act as a shim, to take up the extra space, and help prevent the liner from falling out of the track again. You can use pennies or Popsicle sticks, but for a more finished look, use Liner Lock, which is a barbed and tapered soft rubber that you can push into the space with the handle of a screwdriver. Liner Lock comes in 120 ft. rolls of flexible or sometimes you can find it available in 4 ft. sections of rigid Liner Lock.