The Scoop on Soft Sided Above Ground Pools

The Scoop on Soft Sided Above Ground Pools

Some people don’t know this, but what I often call a “real” above ground swimming pool is one that has a metal wall and a separate liner. This has been the design for most above grounds for at least the fifty plus years that my family has worked with them and my guess is that is how it will be many years from now.

So what then is a “soft-sided” above ground pool? Well, since I’m asking this question to myself, I might as well answer.

Soft Sided Pool 101

what is a soft sided above ground pool?


The biggest thing that defines a soft-sided above ground is that the wall of the pool is also its liner. The material used for the wall/lining is canvas-like and waterproof. This means a lot of things. Soft-sided pools are much easier to install because of this as it only needs a framework to keep this canvas up and in shape and it’s done. They also aren’t as protected from sharp objects that get thrown by kids or blown by a gust of wind during a storm or something such as a sharp rock that can get propelled by a lawnmower.

Soft-sided pools don’t come in as many sizes as the regular above grounds and they don’t last nearly as long. Well, I say that, because most soft sided pools are cheaply made. The vast majority of these pools are sold through Wal-Mart and are really inexpensive. If you choose to get one of these, don’t expect to get any more than a season or two out of it.


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Intex Pools

These pools are not great. They are not even good, but are just OK. Intex makes more soft-sided pools than anyone by a long shot. You can get them at Wal-Mart and depending on the size and model, will cost only a few hundred dollars for everything. I’m talking like $400 for the pool, equipment, ladder, and maintenance kit. This is a ridiculously cheap price, but it’s also ridiculously cheap in quality.

Once in a while I’ll get a call from someone who thinks that one of these cheap $400.00 pools that is made in China is the same as a good standard metal walled above ground pool package that costs $3000.00. They’ll think the other pools are just grossly overpriced and the world is trying to rip them off at every turn. I’ve heard, “I can get a whole pool package for less than what this guy charges for just a pump and filter. Why would I pay all that extra money?” I used to try to tell them what a cheap piece of junk that $400 Intex pool is, but my efforts fell too many times on deaf ears so I don’t anymore. Their minds are already made up so I’ll just say good luck. After a year they call me back, because they are now ready to quit screwing around with Chinese landfill products and want something that will last and that they can properly maintain.

There are other soft-sided pools that are made in China and while most are the same quality as Intex, some are just marginally better. You’ll find new manufacturers every year that make these pools and they will be gone just a fast as they came. Names like Pro Series or Great Escape have been around for a bit, but these pools can be made under any name. Some are slightly better, so my best advice for getting one is to go by price. Soft-sided pools that are just a couple hundred dollars more than the Intex ones might be a little better, but don’t expect much.

By far the biggest issue with these cheap pools is the pump and filter that come with them. The pool itself isn’t too bad, but the pump and filter are abysmal. They are simply too small and too cheap to keep up with the demands of cleaning the water. Some will get a cheap soft-sided pool and then buy a standard good filter pack to use with it. That’s not a bad idea at all, but Intex makes it difficult to retrofit anything other than their equipment to their pools. They use ultra specific fittings on their pools to discourage anyone from using stuff other than their own. This is unfortunate, but you can still fit standard equipment to these pools. It’s just not easy to figure out. If you can successfully attach good equipment to these pools, that will help big time. The pool still won’t last more than a couple years, but at least the water will be nice and healthy.

The other big issue with these cheap pools is the steel frame rusting out. Years ago, gearheads would say that the steel used to make Japanese cars came from the melted down steel of old crushed American cars and that’s why it wasn’t as good. By that rational I’d say the steel China uses to make these pool frames must come from old Japanese cars. In other words, the steel is junk.

The Good Thing About Intex Pools

There are many people in this country who have kids and are broke. There is no way they can get the credit or can save up the money to buy a real above ground, but they can get a few hundred together to buy an Intex pool and I think that’s great. The landfills will be that much bigger in two years, but that family gets to enjoy a pool.

Another good thing about getting a cheap soft-sided pool is it’s a good inexpensive way to find out if you really want a swimming pool. I can’t tell you how many people call me for an installation of a real above ground to replace the Intex they bought a year or two ago. They discover that they really like having a pool, but need to have something maintainable that will last.


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Good Quality Soft Sided Above Ground Pools

I’ve been pretty negative about soft-sided pools, but that’s only because I’ve been talking about that garbage made in China. There are some soft sided pools that are awesome and will last for years and years. They are made of much better materials that don’t rust nearly as much or nearly as soon and come with great standard fitting equipment.

These high-end soft-sided pools are still easy to install and are truly mobile as they can be fairly easily disassembled/reassembled. The drawback to these pools is the cost and look. They often will cost more than a metal walled above ground and not look as nice in the yard. Great quality soft sided pools have been around for years, but I think for the above-mentioned reasons they never really became popular.

55 thoughts on “The Scoop on Soft Sided Above Ground Pools

  1. Hello
    Thank you for a great web site and info’ service.
    I wonder if it would be okay for me to ask a couple of questions regarding an indoor, inground pool I am building? I understand most questions appear to be regarding above ground pools so I wanted to check first that questions/discussions on inground and indoor pools would be okay?

    Thanks you very much.
    Best regards

  2. We bought an Intex soft sided pool from Wal-mart…..July 18, 2010. We did change from installed pump and filter to a standard Hayward. The only problem is a little fading to the liner from the chlorine. It has held up unexpectedly well. We also change to a better ladder.

    1. There are some soft-sided pool success stories but in our experience most end up being a temporary solution until you can get a steel wall pool.

      You did do the smart thing in upgrading your pump and filter.

    2. Can you give me instructions in changing out to Hayward pump? I have a doughboy above ground frame. Can I put this in the frame?

    3. Our Intex pool has been great! We got it in 2015. My husband upgraded the pump. We are replacing the stairs & the liner this year. The liner replacement is due to my husband, not the liner.

      1. It’s great to hear a positive about an intex pool! My 24′ x 52′ intex round pool is going on its 12th season. Its survived 4 kids and now 3 grandkids. I did upgrade to a sand filter. I love my intex pool!

    4. I have an intex 16×48 that we just finished cleaning and starting up for its 10th season. I also upgraded the pump do i do not believe that these are cheap pools. Mine has a deck built around it and has lasted through 2 young boys and it is still going strong. No issues except the liner has faded and is no longer pretty blue squares.

      1. hi,
        Can you show me the picture of your pool? we are thinking to have one with a deck built around as well. But can’t decide between intex or steel wall, thx!

    5. So far the only problem we have is the inside is bleached out but otherwise has help up well even in high Oklahoma winds !

  3. i have a above ground metal sided 15×30 pool that has been up for 4 years. i am now seeing in two opposite locations where the ground has settled and the pool is not there a chance the pool could collapse?
    can we drain the water and fill in the low areas and refill?
    what would you do?
    thanks,mike jarett

    1. Hello Mike,
      Here is Dan’s answer:

      It’s pretty rare that a pool settles because when full of water, the whole thing acts as one big mass and therefore doesn’t usually drop down on just one area. This can happen though and if it is, it could be an issue to worry about. More than likely, the pool was off level from install day one and you didn’t notice but maybe not. If you are up north and your earth freezes and thaws and freezes again, the wall could be lifting which is a separate issue.

      My observation is that an above ground pool doesn’t start to try to spill over and collapse unless it is off maybe three or four inches or more which is a lot.

      You can drain the pool down and jack up the wall in the lowered areas and that should be fine with two concerns: One is don’t leave the pool drained for more than an hour or so because the liner will start to shrink. And two, you should try to determine why the pool is dropping and fix that. Otherwise it may continue.

  4. Nice write-up. You have brands a little mixed up though. It’s Summer Escapes and Pro-Series is Summer Escapes “upgrade” line. I generally agree with you but it simply comes down to cost. After you buy a decent size soft sided pool, real steps or ladder, sand filter and anything else to make it work acceptably, the cost gets up there anyway. But these things are really tough where as a “real” pools liner is not. After replacing 2 liners in a 7 yr period of time to the tune of a grand every time, I said enough is enough. I got a 24′ X 52″ round soft side for $600 and it has lasted 4 yrs so far. Surviving being up and treated like a “real” pool through northern Illinois winters. At this point I am money ahead.

  5. We bought a $100 intex from Walmart to give our girls something to swim in and to see if I am further interested in going larger. The little pump this thing comes with isnt doing much of a job and Ive even had trouble finding new filters. Can you recommend a new pump for this little pool?

  6. Can the grandkids push off the side of our soft sided Intex pool? How about lifting themselves up on the side of the pool?

  7. Great article. We were given a pool, an intex ultra frame. A few hundred in to set up etc. And that sucker blew a gash in the side. I imagine it was our prep. But, it makes me want to have a nicer steel wall, or combo hard wall pool. (We live in Utah, we have snow here) I just will have 3 yards of sand sitting alone until I can get a better pool. I want a pool STILL. ANY SUGGESTIONS?

  8. i bought a Intex Steel Frame Round Pool Set and i was just wondering what kind of sand to use to put under and around it

    1. If you mean an “Intex” pool, then yes. There may not be a way to secure it to the top of the pool depending on which one you get but if you weight it down in the water enough, it’ll be stable.

  9. We have had two solid above ground pools that were built into our deck…one lasted ten years and the other twelve. Both literally blew out where the screws held the side wall together. As the residual damage can be extensive, thank goodness they face the “green belt” making up our back yard. We have been told several other above ground pool owners just expect this experience every ten years or so. Personally, I don’t care to relive the experience for the third time; we just replaced the most recent exploded pool with a soft side…even if it explodes the cost, clean-up, and headache will be much less.

    1. Getting an above ground with a stainless steel service panel will greatly reduce the chance of this happening. Most wall blow-outs are the result of leaking skimmers and/or wall return fittings.

      1. would you recommend draining an AG soft sided pool in winter and not covering it? I’m one of those peole considering a cheap soft sided to see if I really want a pool (neighbors on 3 sides have AG metal walled pools they haven’t used in years, I don’t want to live that reality)

  10. I have a customer that had a 24′ round A/G pool, surrounded by an expensive wood deck. The old pool blew out, I replaced it with the soft-sided pool, ( no way to reinstall another A/G ). Now he wants to add an overlap liner rather than replace the whole pool. pretty sure I can do it. But need something to lap over top to hold the liner in place. Maybe 2″ flex pipe? Any suggestions ?

    1. I have one suggestion. Get rid of that soft side garbage and replace it with a metal walled above ground pool. There is always a way to install a new above ground to an existing surrounding deck. Deciding to replace the blown-out pool with a soft side was just laziness. Trying to extend the life of that throw away soft side by putting an overlap liner in it is just continuing the trend of bad decisions. It’s time to bite the bullet and get a real replacement pool along with a new blade for your circular saw and your Sawzall and make it fit.

  11. We are considering a $3000 Swim Gymm soft-side exercise pool with the bells and whistles, because we are older and don’t know how much longer we will be living in our house, in addition to the very high $ for a hard sided swim spa. I had a recent back injury followed by back surgery and have been encouraged to exercise in the water.

    Are their any hard-sided options $5,000 or less and require minimal maintenance? After reading a lot of reviews, I worry we will get one 3 month season out of it and we will have to trash it. Thanks in advance for your help.

    1. Sorry. I have no experience with a Swim Gymm pool. Soft side pools tend to be problematic though if not installed level. I have seen some long lasting soft sided pools but they are usually just as expensive or more as metal walled pools though. The Swim Gymm comes with Intex equipment which is garbage so just based on that, I don’t feel like it will last very long and will be hard to maintain.

  12. Our 22×48 bestway soft sided pool we bought at ToysRus about 3 years ago is still going strong. We paid less than 300 bucks for it, and upgraded to a nicer sand filter. We are in FL and it gets used tear round. I have to disagree with you, I find it more cost effective to just get a new pool for sub 400 bucks, every 3-4 years, than to drop 3-8 thousand on a nice metal sided pool. Sorry, our have always lasted over 3 or more years, at that rate, it would be like 15-20 years before I would spend as much as I would have on a metal sided pool. It is a rip-off.

  13. We got a soft sided above ground splash pool with the metal support beams and I was wandering if it would need to be bonded?

    1. I don’t think any above grounds need to be bonded but it depends on who you ask and how much they know about grounding and electricity. My opinion is based on long term observation with thousands of pools. Plus, I don’t think that type of pool could be bonded very well as the metal pieces don’t connect well enough.

  14. I can see that this is from 2016… I believe your Intex comments are truly unfounded. I have had mine up for now 2013. I did upgrade to a sand filter from Intex as I also upgraded to saltwater generator. This pool as given me much satisfaction and low maintenance. The only problems I have ever had with it is some faded spots on the inside of the pool where I poured my winterizing chemicals in… yes it freezes here in Kansas. I love this pool so much that I built a deck around it. Heck I have more time and effort into the deck then I do the pool. If you are looking for an affordable and easy to maintain pool “system” then Intex is it.

    1. I have been working on, installing, observing, and documenting Intex pools since they began to appear sometime in the late 80’s. How then are my comments unfounded? I would instead declare that your extensive experience with ONE Intex pool that has been in your own backyard for a few years as “unfounded” comments for Intex pools overall.

      Certainly, for a few hundred dollars, you can get a complete pool by going with an Intex or Coleman and that’s a good value depending on one’s situation. To claim though, that they are anything more than what they are would be inaccurate. Intex pools are like using paper plates and plastic forks for dinner. They work great for the first meal but how many times can you re-use them? I suppose you could re-use paper plates for quite some time. I’m kind of a fan of ceramic or porcelain plates myself. #haveyoubeentoalandfill

  15. I bought a used intex to put up last year to test if we wanted a real pool, and we do. My question is can I use my intex pump/salt generator. I don’t see why not since I’ll be getting the same sized real pool and it worked great.

    1. I’ve seen some people use the Intex equipment on a metal walled pool, but they fairly quickly change to something much better. I am in Florida though so the garbage Intex equipment just can’t keep up with our brutal epic summer. You may be good with one though if you live in a two or three month swim season area in the north. Give it a shot. You can always buy something better later if it doesn’t work well.

  16. we paid 300 bucks for our 16×48 intex ultraframe pool we are going on our 7th year enduring the pa winters and its still going strong none of the posts have rusted and the liner has been fine i believe its been the best investment i made

  17. I love my Intex pool! Even if I have to replace it every year it only cost $150 for everything! Pool, maintenance kit, pump and filter, chlorine tabs, a floating dispenser and a cover. I’m still using the original Intex 350 gal/hour pump. It requires daily maintenance but is easy and I enjoy doing it anyway.

    The truth is I will likely get 2 or 3 years total use out of this current set up.

    I also have the freedom to drain and remove this pool without needing to hire a crane to remove it and somone to haul it away. I can switch it out in the winter for the Intex hot tub and vice versa for summer.

    With a soft sided pool I gain better freedom, the cost to replace if it fails is super cheap compared to a failure on a metal sided pool.

    If I replace my Intex pool at $150 every 2 to 3 years I am still only spending a total of $750 over 10 years compared to $3k to $20k for a pool that will last maybe 10 to 12 yrs. Not only that, cost of maintaining or repairing a soft sided pool is much less as I can replace my own parts without needing the help of a pool technician.

    You’re article was a good read but it’s very obviously biased towards the metal sided pool sale.

  18. I find this article very humorous. Because I have always considered a real pool a real in-ground pool. Anything else being a tupperware bowl that holds water.
    With that being said we have been chosen to use the Intex tupperware bowl.Number one what’s nice is we have upgraded this size over the last fourteen years as our granddaughter has gotten older and the kids that she swims with the neighborhood have gotten bigger. For the price we have had great luck.We ditched the little filter pump that comes with the pool right away and bought a nice sand filter pump. We also invested in a really nice ladder. We are up to an 18 foot 52 inch deep pool which I think is where we will stay. The nice thing is a replacement liner for this pool is $170 versus $3,000

  19. I’ve owned a 16 x 48 Intex pool for 4 years. It leaked this year because the person we hired to clean out the pool used a power washer and ripped a hole in it somewhere. YIKES! I cannot tell you how sad we were that we paid $190 for 5000 gallons of water only to wake up the next day and see it was halfway gone. Add the $50 that I paid the neighbor to clean out the pool, (or should I say to rip a hole in our pool) and I’m out $240 with a wet backyard.
    I am officially through being a pool owner and I wish I had the thousands back that I’ve put into this pool trying to make it work for us.
    My advice to a new pool owner is that it will cost WAY more than you ever expected.

    1. You spent thousands on an Intex pool for 4 years? Do you mean like one thousand dollars maybe including the beers everyone drank? My advice is to lower your expectations when paying just a couple hundred bucks for an entire swimming pool. By the way, you can drive about 400 miles on a doughnut type spare car tire. But you probably just want to use it to get to a tire store. Jus’ sayin’

  20. We’ve had our 15×48 metal frame, blue Intex pool for 12 years. We set it up in May/June and take it down in Sept/Oct every year. We’ve only replaced the pump once, and the hoses a couple of times. We’ve never even had to replace the ladder. We do clean and dry it meticulously before packing it away for the winter. It’s never sprung any leaks or anything. It’s been the best one of the best investments we’ve ever made. Our kids and their friends used it for years, and now that they’re grown and gone, my husband and I use it, and we’re in it every day. There’s some fraying starting around the top rim of the pool, so we may purchase a new one for next season, but so far this season, ours is still going strong.

  21. Pretty sad that you degrade a product I’ve read from the comments, a very durable one at best. Great topic though. Also, it would benefit your years of expertise/service, to know that its legal to build (crap) here (usa),
    and slap a China, Japan, Bangladesh, etc… label onto whatever product. also again, nothing lasts long, unless, as these bright folks have stated… TAKE CARE OF IT…tlc…

  22. We’ve had our 15 foot round Intex for fifteen years! We Take really good care of it, drying it, packing it away and storing it in the basement every winter. This week, setting it up for the season, we found our first tear in the liner. We’ve patched it and we are filling it up, likely for its final season. We plan to either replace it with the same pool next summer or perhaps look into a permanent above ground pool. This Intex has been the best investment we’ve ever made though. We paid 500 bucks for it in 2005, and we’ve had years and years of family fun in it. We are empty nesters now, but my husband and I are still in it all summer long.

  23. Do you have any experience with Sea breeze splash around pools? It has been impossible to find a pool this year and my neighbor has a soft sided pool. It is not a cheap brand from what I can tell. My biggest question is, how many years might the one I mentioned last? They bought it new 12 years ago…

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