Is My Pool or Spa Drain Safe?

We know to get out of the pool at the first sign of a thunderstorm. We protect our skin from sun exposure. We get out of the water at the first sign of a thunderstorm. We closely monitor children at all times.

These rules are just part of owning a backyard swimming pool. But do you know there is another potential danger lurking at the bottom of your pool or spa? Although cases are rare, suction entrapment caused by an improperly covered drain can lead to severe injuries and drowning. Anything from a necklace to a dangling swimming suit strap to an arm or a leg can get trapped by a pool drain’s powerful suction.

What is a pool or spa’s main drain?

A pool or spa’s main drain is the suction outlet – usually located on the floor -- that helps the water circulate. For many years, these outlets have been called drains even though they don’t work in the same way as the drain in our sinks or bathtubs.

Instead of relying on gravity, a pool or spa drain uses suction supplied from the pump to draw water into the circulation system.

How can a pool drain be dangerous?

Swimming pool and spa drains use an enormous amount of pressure to filter out dirt, debris, and body oils. A typical pool main drain can exert up to 700 pounds of pressure, a force that can easily trap and hold someone in a tight grip until the suction is released.

Since 2007, all pools and spas must have specially designed covers that help prevent entrapment. That was the year President George W. Bush signed the Virginia Graeme Baker Act (VGBA) into law. The act is named for a seven-year-old girl who died after becoming trapped by a hot tub drain with a faulty cover in 2002.

Anti-entrapment covers have no accessible spots for body parts or small items to get stuck, and their curved lids that make it difficult to form a vacuum if they are covered.

How can you prevent pool drain accidents?

A drain cover must remain securely in place in order to work. In addition to the cover, another related drain safety feature is a safety vacuum release system that shuts off automatically if there is a sudden increase in flow restriction.

You also could install a dual main drain system to reduce the risk of the hazard.

However, entrapment could still happen if both drains were blocked.

Here are some other steps you can take to make sure your main drain is safe.

  1. Regularly inspect your main drain cover to make sure it is securely attached.

  2. Never allow swimmers in the pool without main drain covers securely in place.

  3. Teach swimmers to stay away from pool and spa drains. The Consumer Products Safety Commission encourages parents to say something like “When you see a drain, stay away!” to make it clear to little ones.

  4. Tie up long hair into a bun or wear a swim cap.

  5. Do not wear jewelry or swimwear with dangling ties into the pool. Long necklaces are particularly hazardous.

  6. Know the location of your pump’s power switch and show it to other family members. That way, they can turn off the drain function in an emergency.

  7. Supervise all swimmers, regardless of age or swimming experience.

  8. Install safety features to prevent people from using the pool when you’re not around.

  9. Most swimming pools and spas need the main drain in order for proper filtration and circulation of the water. When installed and maintained correctly, the main drain will do its job without causing any problems. However, just as you do with every aspect of your pool or spa, you need to exercise caution.

  10. If you have any further questions about main pool drain safety or pool safety in general, visit You could also give us a call at Tops Pools, where your safety is our top priority.