The Ultimate Guide to Pool Finishes

Everything you need to know about finishing your pool—from plaster to porcelain to patterned mosaics.

The interior finish of a pool can elevate the pool’s design to a whole new level of style and grace. Finishes include plaster, tile, and aggregate, and each type comes in an array of materials, colors, and textures—from classic white plaster, to sparkling iridescent glass tiles, to a kaleidoscopic blend of river pebbles or glass beads.

Whether you’re building a new inground pool or starting a pool renovation project, make sure you choose a finish that complements your pool’s design aesthetic. Explore the different pool finish options below to find out which option is best for you.

Plaster Finishes

The pool’s white plaster finish reflects light around the inside of the pool, creating a brilliant, light blue glow. Photo courtesy of Krisco Aquatech Pools, an Aquatech member.

Plaster, a timeless option, is the most common pool surface finish. It’s a simple mixture of water, Portland cement, and either marble dust or silica sand.

Traditional white plaster (or marcite) gives pools a smooth, classic appearance and remains a popular choice despite the range of pool finishes that have emerged over the years. The most inexpensive pool finish option, it typically lasts five to seven years before any signs of etching or chipping appear.

A combination of purple plaster and glass tiles merge this bold pool design with its striking desert setting. The purple plaster gives the pool a deep blue hue, which plays off the deep burgundy red presented in the nearby mountains. Photo courtesy of Red Rock Pools & Spas; photography by Michael Woodall.

Plaster mixed with colored pigments or dyes gives more dimension and drama to the poolscape. The most popular colored plaster pool finish is medium grey, which gives the pool’s water an enticing blue tint.

Darker plaster colors, like deeper shades of grey and black, add depth to the pool and enhance the water’s reflective quality. A dark finish is often used to give the appearance of a natural lake or pond. It can also create a stunning mirror effect, reflecting the surrounding landscape or architecture.

Aggregate Finishes

A polished colored quartz finish was used to give this tropical pool its brilliant aqua blue interior. Photo courtesy of Essig Pools; designed by Michele Sherman.

Aggregate pool finishes are the new generation of plaster pool surfaces. They combine white or colored plaster mixed with small pieces of quartz, granite, river stones, or glass beads. Aggregates come in two forms: polished or exposed.

These finishes, becoming more popular and desirable, provide a luxurious pool surface that’s more resistant to chemicals and staining than plaster alone. They also offer an array of beautiful colors and textures and can be custom blended to create a truly one-of-a-kind look.

Polished Aggregates

A polished marble finish gives this pool a smooth and even luster. HydroScapes, LLC; Photography courtesy of Scott Sandler.

Polished aggregate finishes contain finely crushed colored stones like quartz, granite, or marble. After the aggregate finish is hand-applied with a trowel to the pool shell, it’s polished to bring out the stone’s luster and create a smooth surface. The flecks of colored quartz or granite give the finish a decorative sheen and extend the life of the plaster by 12 to 20 years. Polished aggregate finishes have a timeless beauty that works well with classic pool designs.

Exposed Aggregates

Exposed aggregate finishes contain tiny river pebbles or glass beads. As with polished aggregate finishes, exposed one are hand applied by trained craftsmen. However, once the application is complete (and while the surface is still wet), the finish is power washed with a mixture of water and muriatic acid to remove the top layer of concrete and expose the colored pebbles or glass beads within.

The exposed aggregates in the plaster add traction to the pool surface and also allow a range of textures and color combinations.

The pool’s pebble aggregate finish lends the look and feel of white sand to the beach entry yet deepens to an island blue hue as the pool’s depth increases. Designed and built by Year Round Pool Co., Inc.; Photography by Rob Kaufman Photography.

Pebble finishes have a more rustic look and complement natural surroundings; they are often used for tropical or lagoon-style pools.

It’s tough to determine what part of this vanishing-edge pool is more breathtaking: the spectacular view of Manhattan or the dazzling glass bead finish. Photo courtesy of B&B Pool and Spa Center; Photography by Chris Nelson.

Glass bead finishes
 catch the sparkle of the sunlight and give the pool surface a three-dimensional effect. A glass bead finish adds beautiful elegance to any pool design but best enhances the visual effect of contemporary pool designs.

Tile Finishes

Tile, one of the most durable pool finishes, offers an array of design possibilities. While tiles are often applied to just the pool’s waterline, floor, or steps to provide a colorful accent, they can also finish the total interior of a pool. Tile’s glossy appearance makes the most of water’s reflective properties, not to mention the artistic look and upscale glamour they lend to pool designs.

Though tile is the most expensive pool finish and takes longer to install than plaster and aggregate, it’s the longest lasting pool surface. With proper application and minimal maintenance, tiles should never need to be replaced.

Tile pool finishes come in ceramic, porcelain, glass and stone. They also come in a vast selection of shapes, styles, colors, and sizes, offering virtually endless combinations and designs.

The bright blue porcelain tiles complement the home’s Mediterranean style and shimmer in the sunlight thanks to a silicon glaze which also makes them non-slip. Photo courtesy of Red Rock Pools & Spas; Photography by Rick Chafey.

Ceramic and Porcelain Tile

Ceramic and porcelain tile are the most popular and least expensive tile finish. A number of ornate patterns and mosaics—from whimsical fish to flowers to Art Deco graphics to Mediterranean motifs—can be hand painted on ceramic pool tiles for a bold and unique look.

Stone tile finishes are often used to lend a natural look to beach entries and tanning ledges. Photo courtesy of Banks Pool & Spa Design; project designed by Land Art.

Stone Tile

Stone tile, like granite, marble, slate, and limestone, is popular for finishing natural pool designs because they help blend the pool with the surrounding landscape.

Stone tile also complements pools or homes with a modern architectural style.

Featuring an avant-garde design, this pool demonstrates the multitude of color, shape, and pattern combinations that can be created with tile. Photo courtesy of Creative Environments; photography by Vern Nelson, Sonoma Vistas.

Glass Tile

Glass tile’s popularity has been on the rise over the past few years thanks to its resilience and mesmerizing aesthetics.

Glass tile is non-porous and impervious to moisture, so it doesn’t erode or stain. It can also manipulate and magnify light, which gives pools a bright, clear shimmer like no other.

All of the pool finish options above will provide years of performance and dazzling beauty in a well-made and well-maintained pool. Discuss the various pool finish options with your pool builder and consider using multiple finishes throughout your pool design for a stunning, multidimensional effect.

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