Best Above Ground Pools Liners
This is more than just an above ground pool liner reviews article. While I do rate pool liners, and tell you where to buy good ones cheap, I teach you how to compare one liner to another. After reading this article you will be able to buy a good liner from any manufacturer. I also share my experience, and offer industry insights so you can learn for yourself which liner is best for your pool.
I included this short video clip below, so you can start to understand the process of making a liner. Manufacturers buy vinyl stock, cut the material into patterns, and weld the seams together. Vinyl is sold by Thickness (Mil) and quality.
This short video was shot by me at Vyn-All, a local pool liner manufacturer in Newmarket NH. I was there picking up some liners. This company has since been bought by Latham, but is still operating as Vyn-All.
Vinyl Liner Manufacturer Stock
All manufacturers buy stock from suppliers, some from the same suppliers. Some vinyl is cheap and includes recycled plastics. Some prints will not hold up well to chlorine and UV rays, some will. Some liner prints/patterns come in more than one thickness. Same pattern/different vinyl!
The best above ground liners are thick (20/17 mil), made with a special blend of 100 percent new vinyl, and mixed thoroughly with plasticizers. The better liner material also has UV protection in the ink that is used to print patterns.
Here is the problem: No “above ground pool” liner manufacturer includes the mil measurement. They do not put it on the box, the order sheets, literature, they simply do not include it. Whereas, inground pool liner manufacturers only speak of measurements in terms of mil’s.
A thousandth of an inch is a derived unit of length in an inch-based system of units. Equal to 0.001 inches, it is normally referred to as a thou /ˈθaʊ/, athousandth, or (particularly in the United States) a mil. -Wikipedia
Know this… As of the year 2017, there is no thicker “above ground pool liner” than 20 mil. Also, that each year there are only a handful of liner patterns made of 20 mil stock. And as noted above only the wall is 20 mil, the floor is still just 17 mil, and this is the best liner I know of (Brighton Prism HG), made by the best manufacturer.
I go to pool conventions, I read all the trade magazines, I earnestly look for the best above ground pool liners every year. I am a bit of a pool liner connoisseur if you will. All this, and I can only find a few patterns to choose from.
I am listing them for sale on my new online store (link to store). The best liner I have is called the Brighton Prism HG, Blue Denali / Blue Mosaic; Beachview Boulder Swirl, Outlook, and Mystri Gold.
Keep in mind the last three I mentioned are made in 5 different Mil’s or thicknesses. I obviously only buy the better quality. They are actually made custom to fit my exact above ground pool measurements. I mainly sell the Brighton Prism HG as it is the Thickest, and cut to fit all true radius pools.
True Radius means that a 24 round pool has an exact diameter of 24 feet, not 23 feet 10 inches, not 24 feet 1 inch. Hence the radius is a true 12 feet.
Above Ground Pool Liner SECRET… Shhh!
Many above ground pool liners for sale are not going to fit your pool. Not the way they should at least. You are buying off the rack so to speak. Manufacturers are allowed to advertise a pool as a 24 round round, as long as it’s actual measurement is within 10% of 24 feet. This goes for any pool size, pool liner thickness etc…
So if you buy a pool liner off the rack for a 24 round, and your pools actual diameter is 23 feet 9 inches, the liner is going to be to big. This is why you end up with wrinkles. Whats worse is when you get a liner that is to small. A lot of pool liners are thin enough to begin with without over stretching them also.
This is one reason Buster Crabbe Pools last longer than others. They have all their liners made to fit their pools. Other pool companies just buy them off the rack to make packages, because they cost less that way. Maybe your pool brand did this too! Put a tape measure on it and make sure your 15 x 30 is actually 15 x 30 and not 15.2 x 29.6…
Consider spending a bit more, and get a liner that fits the way it is supposed to.
Pool Liner Thickness
No matter your choice of design, how do you compare apples to apples, when they each describe thickness in different terms? Whatever the term used by the manufacturer, to buy the best, Buy the Highest Number.
Gauge, Perma, & Mil – Thickness Terms
Gauge is used in other industries, but should not be used interchangeably with Mil. Gauge is used to misrepresent the thickness of the product, to dupe unsuspecting, uninformed consumers into paying more for what is often, a weaker, thinner, or inferior product.
Another game that liner manufactures play, is called embossing. Embossed liners seem thicker, and measure thicker, but they are not. Embossing is like corrugating, it makes it look thicker through manipulation, not by adding more material. They squeeze the material so it is thicker in 50% of the area, but it also makes it thinner than the original thickness in the other 50%.
With above ground pool liners, nobody is going to tell you the mil, or they will bullshit you to sound like they know something. Your best bet when not buying from me, is to find out the name of the liner manufacturer, call them up or find out what they call their thickest liner. Then only buy liners made with the higher number.
Latham is the company that makes my above ground liner, the Brighton Prism HG. They use the term HG to signify their best above ground liner material. If you call Latham up in Latham NY, and wait on hold, when the nice lady gets on the phone, ask her what her the thickness of her best above ground liner. She will tell you 20/17. That is a 20 mil wall, and 17 mil floor.
False Claims Galore
Lies, lies, and more lies… Everywhere I look on the internet, I see false claims of thickness. I see above ground pool packages marketed with “30 mil” pool liners. First of all, the thickest vinyl they make is 27 mil (often marketed as 30 mil), but this material is only used for inground pools.
Perma 20 | Perma 25 | Perma 30
Another manufacturer has taken to using these terms to describe thickness. I don’t know how they could be more vague. I understand the need for branding, but please, this is just super cheesy!
These new terms are more brand names than anything else. Maybe they mean something to the companies that use these terms, but, for the purpose of my pool liner reviews, Perma is just more deceptive marketing talk.
I sell a few patterns made by this company which shall remain nameless, as my pool manufacturer has them custom made to fit their oval pools. We only buy liners made of the better vinyl. If you run into this, only buy the highest number.
To Deceive or Not To Deceive That Is the Question?
I have no theatrical background, nor have I studied plays by Shakespeare, but the title seemed to fit. While using anything but Mil seems like a deceptive practice. If you own a store, you need to describe what you’re selling, you can only go with the information provided to you by your supplier, and or by what the manufacturer puts on the box.
I also know this to be true: when manufacturers of vinyl pool liners buy material from their suppliers, vinyl that is later cut into patterns and assembled into pool liners. They do not say to their suppliers: send me a roll of 20 gauge, or send me a roll of Perma 20, they say, I’ll take two rolls of 17 Mil, 20 Mil, or 10 Mil. Or they may ask, Do you have any new patterns in a 20 Mil? Or, I’ll take 10 rolls of prism pattern in a 20 mil and a 15 mil.
The term gauge has become pretty standard. Even good manufacturers use the term now for above ground pool liners. I know for a fact that one of the liners I buy and sell, is 20 mil, but all it says on the box is HG (heavy gauge). Luckily you have me, and I have these liners in my hands every year as I install them. I am always on the lookout for a new great thick liner
Why do different companies have the same pool liner patterns with different names?
Some liner manufacturers design their own patterns, and have their suppliers print them. This gives them an advantage, as they hold the patent for the design. Suppliers can’t sell other manufacturers patterns without permission.
Vinyl suppliers also have in house designers, and they print their own designs, their stock is then sold to many liner manufacturers. Just keep in mind, that these exact same prints, are printed on vinyl of many thicknesses.
Liner manufacturers can name the patterns designed by suppliers anything they want (branding). This is why you see the same liner pattern sold by different companies, with different names. They are simply buying vinyl from the same suppliers. Remember, just because the pattern is the same, it does not mean the thickness is also the same.
What is “Virgin Vinyl?
Though I explained this a little above, I figured this term deserved its own paragraph or two because you will see it everywhere.
I wish all vinyl was created equal, but then you would not be looking for pool liner reviews, and would not be reading this article. So, know this, while thickness matters, you only want to buy liners made of “Virgin Vinyl” (without recycled plastics).
Virgin Vinyl is a term used in the industry to describe vinyl that is made of 100 percent new vinyl. There is no added plastics, or recycled vinyl in “virgin vinyl”. Liners that are made with added plastic or recycled vinyl, do not expand and contract evenly, and thus, do not fit as well, or stand up to extreme weather conditions. Ultimately, all this means is liners made with recycled vinyl or plastic, do not last as long, and should cost less.
Pool Liner Wall and Floor Thickness Shenanigans
Another trick pulled by liner manufacturers is this. They sell a 17 or 20 Mil liner, but what they don’t tell you is the floor and wall are different thicknesses. The wall may be 20 mil, but the floor is only 15 or 12 mil’s thick. Nobody is discussing this, and it happens all the time.
The inground pool liner industry have always discussed the difference from wall to floor, as in: 28/20, or 20/20, or 30/30. Each describing a different preference, describing wall to floor thicknesses.
The area that should be the thickest in my opinion on a above ground pool liner (the floor) is often thinner than you know. Thicker vinyl cost more, and so to cut corners or compete on cost, they make liners with thin floors.
Pool Liner Warranty
The two most important things you should know about pool liner warranties:
- There is no such thing as a warranty!
- Read number one.
I should end it there, but I will explain. All warranties are for manufacturer defects. The only defect that I have seen covered, or my buddy David whose been at it longer than me, with over 45 years experiences, is for a leak at the seam (seam separation).
If for some reason the liner separates or leaks where it was welded together, they will cover it. If leaks or separation are going to happen, it will happen during the first year. So don’t buy a liner based on the years of warranty. Believe me when I tell you, after the first year, whatever happens afterwards is your fault, not a manufacturers defect. Anyone trying to sell an extended warranty, is a thief!
Don’t Buy Old Stock
You see people dumping old stock online all the time. You absolutely don’t want a liner older then 5 years. This problem has lessened over the last few years, but again, buyer beware. If you see prices to good to be true, they probably are.
Swimline and GLI Manufacturer Reviews – A Pair to Beat A Full House
Combined, these two probably sell more above ground pool liners than anyone else on the planet. At the present moment I sell their higher end offerings.
I tried to talk with the Swimline reps at the booth at the 2014 Atlantic City Pool and Spa show, and their attitude was dismissive and arrogant. I asked them point blank, what is the mil of your liners, and which liner is your best? One of the guys with beady blue eyes turned his nose up and said “we don’t speak in terms of Mil”.
I asked him why, seeing everyone else in the industry does, to which he replied, “we are the largest suppliers of above ground pool liners”. In my opinion he was quite full of himself.
Despite their arrogance we have had good luck with there higher end liners. Just stay away of the cheapo low end options.
If most people knew what you now know, I don’t think they would be the largest supplier for long. People don’t want to buy headaches. For a few bucks more you could buy quality and value.
The best liner manufacturer I know is Lathem. I copied there header for this page. Photo credit for this pages header https://lathampool.com/products/above-ground-pool-liners.html.
Latham has to compete with the Swimline’s, and the GLI’s of the world. They also make liners from thinner vinyl, but they are upfront about it, and charge accordingly. They are known in the pool industry as innovators, and premium liner manufacturers. When buying Latham liners, always buy HG.
Places I know Sell Good Products
I have always done business with local companies I know. Their vinyl is good, and comes from good suppliers. It is also important to me, that I support American companies.
Design options get pretty limited because there just isn’t as much demand for more expensive quality liners. Or perhaps people would not spend the extra 1-3 hundred because they could not differentiate. Last year, the best above ground pool liner on the planet was called “Brighton Prism HG” (seen on right), and it is made by Lathem. Beware: The same pattern is also sold on thinner vinyl.
I would tell people this is the best liner on the planet, but this is the only pattern it comes in. 40% opt for a different liner because they didn’t like the design. Also perhaps because I have some other good alternatives.
New 2017 Above Ground Pool Liner by Latham
Latham has included a new design for their 2017 collection. It is called: Blue Denali Blue Mosaic. It is my new favorite design. I expect it to be very popular this year, as many homeowners have made a move toward more of a natural looking border.
Blue Denali for the top area of the liner, and Blue Mosaic for the bottom area.
This pattern will take me 2-3 weeks to deliver during the summer. I wish I had the capital to stock more options than I do, But the Brighton Prism pattern is almost always in stock. Manufacturers focus mainly on the custom inground market during the summer months, so It takes longer and cost more to get above ground liners made.
Above Ground Pool Liner Installation Cost
Prices vary based on the quality and thickness of the vinyl, size of the pool, print / design, and bead type. In this industry, more than any other, you always get what you pay for. With the cost of installation being $300.00 to $600.00, you may only want to replace your liner once in 10 years. Unless you are installing the liner yourself, and water is free, I urge you to buy a good liner when its time.
Pool Liner Bead Type Explained
Overlap liners are the least expensive, and are usually limited in design options. Overlap liners do not have a bead. They are stretched over the wall and held in place with plastic comming. These liners are easily identified, as liner material is usually seen hanging a foot or so on the outside of the pool wall. This is my least favorite liner and is usually the thinnest.
Beaded liners hang in a bead channel that is attached at the top of the pool wall. Beads come in different sizes depending on you pool manufacturer. There is a standard bead size that fits most above ground pool bead channels, then there are Esther Williams pools, and Wilkes / Gibraltar pools that are beaded, but require their own special bead size. Beaded liners usually come in full print designs and are considered better than overlap.
NOTE* Pools with overlap liners can easily be converted to a thicker more attractive beaded liner.
V-Bead or J-Hook
These are the same style, and are hung liners like beaded liners. The difference is that these liners hook onto the top of the pool wall, and do not require a bead channel. These are now the most popular of all the bead types.
EZ-Bead starts out as a V-Bead, U-Bead, or J-Bead for easy installation, but will also fit into standard bead channel for pools with a existing standard bead channel. Lathems Brighton Prism HG liner is an EZ-bead.
Universal bead, often called uni-bead starts out like J bead, but it can be cut and a section stripped away to convert it to a standard bead.
Pool Liners – Proper Fit
Custom made above ground liners cost more because they are custom (1 off’s) , but they fit like they should, and they last as long as they are supposed to. If you ever seen the movie “Tommy Boy” you know… you don’t want a “fat man in a little coat”…
Summary & Conclusion Of Pool Liner Reviews
As you suspected and now know for certainty, not all pool liners are created equal. Don’t buy a liner if you don’t know how thick it is. If you are buying a liner from xyz company, find out how xyz describes the quality and thickness of their products, and then buy the best they offer.
You should also try to find out if the floor is thinner than the wall. Ask your sales professional to show you patterns available in their thickest vinyl, specific to your bead type with the same wall and floor thickness. Unfortunately, many will not know what your talking about.
We would like to sell you a quality liner. Moreover, we would like to install it for you if you are in our service area.
I hope I have given you enough information to go out and buy your own liner with your eyes wide open.
Please give us a call or fill out our contact form for a free estimate (978) 710-8667. Please include your pool size and bead type, when using our contact form. We can order a custom made liner for any pool type, size, bead, or brand.
We hope you found this article informative and helpful. For more product reviews please check out the following posts.