Last year, travel restrictions due to COVID-19 forced a lot of moms and dads to become experts at finding family vacation ideas that didn’t involve leaving the house. The pandemic took its toll on many families’ finances, too. So last summer became all about cheap staycations: roasting marshmallows over the fire pit, watching outdoor movies on the big screen under the stars, and getting a lot of use out of inflatable pools in the backyard.
Like, a lot of use.
With indoor water parks, Great Wolf Lodge locations, and even free public pools out of the question last year, inexpensive inflatable pools became the focal point of a lot of sunny summer afternoons (and a some humid summer nights, too). Necessity being the mother of invention, many of us are now an accidental authority on the best inflatable swimming pools.
Here are a few things we’ve learned about selecting the right swimming pool, plus our picks for the best blow-up pools to buy if you’re looking to add an inexpensive splash zone to your own backyard.
Buying an Inflatable Pool: Important Things to Know
Inflatable swimming pools are affordable, easy to set up, and way easier to maintain than permanent in-ground pools, traditional above-ground pools, or those trendy stock tank pools you see all over Pinterest. Inflatable pools come in a huge variety of sizes to fit any backyard, too. And, bonus: Many blow-up pools also come with pool toys and shade structures, especially smaller inflatable pools meant for toddlers and little kids.
When choosing an inflatable swimming pool, look for one that’s made of non-toxic materials, rugged enough to tough out multiple summers, and just the right size for your yard. Many inflatable pools are sized for very small children, but some brands like Intex make giant inflatable swimming pools that can fit an entire family comfortably and are actually deep enough to swim in, rather than just big enough to cool off.
A few important things to know when shopping for an inflatable pool:
1) Most inflatable pools are inexpensive, but not cheaply made.
A professionally installed in-ground permanent pool will run you tens of thousands of dollars and take over your whole backyard. A quality above-ground pool is cheaper, but not orders of magnitude cheaper. But you can get a giant inflatable pool from Intex that’s 18 feet wide and 48 inches deep for $600 to $750. And smaller pools, including kiddie pools and even adult-sized wading pools, sell for well under $100. If you take care of them, inflatable pools can last you years.
2) Inflatable pools are easy to set up, but you really need to buy an air pump.
Because a backyard pool can become the centerpiece of a summer staycation, you might be interested to know that some inflatable pools are nearly as big as an average aboveground pool. The 18-foot Intex swimming pool arrives in a giant box that includes a pool ladder (assembly required), a tarp for the ground, pumps and tubes for water filtration, the pool itself, and an electronic air pump.
The air pump is a life saver. No matter what kind of inflatable pool you select, you’ll need an air pump to make installation go smoothly. Many inflatable swimming pools don’t come with air pumps, but they’re easy to find and not expensive.
3) Intex makes the best overall inflatable pools on the market.
If you just want a kiddie pool or inflatable baby pool, you don’t have to be too picky when it comes to which brand you get. But if you’re going for a big inflatable pool you can swim in, one that’s basically like a full-blown permanent pool, choose something from the Intex Easy Set line of inflatable swimming pools. Intex swimming pools are well made, sturdy, and come with clear instructions. With good care, you can reasonably expect to get three to five summers out of an Intex inflatable pool.
4) There are a lot of imitators, so read the reviews.
There are a lot of Intex pool knockoffs and imitators, especially on Amazon, but you may have seen them in your social media feeds as well. These fakes look like Intex pools (in fact, the less scrupulous ones actually use the same photos) but often are outright misleading about pool size and what’s included.
For example, some don’t include a water filter system, or they include a cheap one that short circuits after a few days. Others are considerably smaller than they claim. If you take only piece of advice from us, make it this: If you’re looking for an inflatable pool big enough to swim in, don’t buy a knockoff. This is one time you want to hold out for the brand name.
5) Supply and demand economics are real.
Inflatable pools are super affordable if you buy them early in the year. But once spring turns the corner toward summer, supply goes down and demand goes up, leading to serious price gouging online. We’ve seen those 18-foot Intex inflatable swimming pools selling for as much as $2,500 on Amazon (yes, you read that right). Even the imitation pools go for thousands of dollars. Especially when it comes to big blow-up pools you can swim in, buy as early as you can or risk paying an outrageous price just to make your kids happy.
6) Level outdoor space really does matter.
The bigger the inflatable pool, the more it matters how level your backyard outdoor space is. With a small pool, it’s not the end of the world if the ground is off by an inch or two from one end to the other. But with a giant Intex swimming pool, even a difference of a few inches can have a huge impact on how much water the pool will hold and how well the plastic walls will hold up to water pressure.
You can check to see how level your yard is by planting metal stakes on the perimeter of the pool area and then tying a rope between the stakes. Use a carpenter’s level to check the grade of your yard and make adjustments to the surface of your outdoor space as necessary, either by adding soil to make the area level or choosing a different area to place the inflatable swimming pool.
The Best Inflatable Pools for Backyard Fun
Now that you know what to look for in an inflatable swimming pool, here are our picks for this year’s best blow-up pools.
Intex 18′ x 48″ Easy Set Inflatable Swimming Pool
Intex makes a variety of giant inflatable swimming pools under the Easy Set label. If you have the outdoor space for it, go for the biggest and best of them, which is 18 feet wide and four feet tall. Big enough for an eight-person pool party, this giant inflatable pool is basically the equivalent of a full-size above ground pool, except you can easily set it up by yourself and use it multiple summers if you take good care of it.
The 18-foot Intex Easy Set inflatable swimming pool comes with a ground cloth, debris cover, air pump, electrical filter pump, a pool ladder (yes, it’s big enough that you need a ladder), and is made of super-strong PVC plastic. The top ring is inflatable, and the rest of the pool is self-rising as you add water (its water capacity is 5,455 gallons).
The pool does not come with a floating chlorine dispenser or chlorine tablets, both of which I highly recommend as an easy way to keep your water clean and clear all summer long. You’ll also want to order some replacement filters and maybe even a pool net skimmer with a pole. Because despite being inflatable, this is a real swimming pool and needs to be maintained if you want to use it for multiple years.
“This pool is just big enough to swim around underwater as an adult,” says one reviewer on Amazon. “It takes about 15 to 17 hours to fill and is simple to put up. At the end of the season, we empty it, clean out any debris, and dry it before folding and rolling it up for winter storage.”
The entire line of Intex Easy Set pools is worth your attention. If the 18-foot swimming pool is too big or too expensive (or sold out), there are also 15-foot, 12-foot, 10-foot, eight-foot, and six-foot options available.
Intex Swim Center Family Lounge Inflatable Pool, 90″ x 90″ x 26″ for Ages 3+
Also from Intex, this inflatable lounge pool swim center is perfect for little kids who want to splash and play, or for anyone who wants to relax and keep cool with minimal effort. The four seats with built-in back rests are great for lounging or supervising little ones, and the two drink holders are a nice touch. This inflatable kiddie pool holds 265 gallons of water (about 14 inches deep) and is a 90-inch by 90-inch square design, with 26-inch tall chair backs at each corner.
“I cannot stress enough how wonderful this pool is,” raves on reviewer on Amazon. “This pool is the right size for my family of three (two adults and a two-year-old). It could easily fit another pair of adults or children. My son is active and he has room to splash around and shoot water guns while my husband and I relax comfortably … we used a small Little Tikes slide, also purchased on Amazon, to make a water slide for my son and he is entertained for hours.”
Homech Family Inflatable Swimming Pool, 118″ x 72″ x 22″ Full-Sized Inflatable Lounge Pool
This Homech Family Inflatable Swimming Pool is cafted from BPA- and lead-free materials. Big enough for the entire family to lounge in with a 162-gallon water capacity, this blow-up pool can hold up to two adults and four children. It’s much thicker than many on the market, which makes it a smart choice for water-loving families that plan on spending lots of time splashing around.
The soft floor is inflatable, too, offering more protection for younger kids. The blow-up pool inflates in about four minutes with an air pump (not included), and has three individual air chambers with double intake and free-flow exhaust valves, so there’s no air or water leaking out. There are two built-in curved water valves that help the pool drain quickly when it’s time to take it down. Bonus: An inflatable white top ring reflects the sun’s heat, so you won’t burn yourself getting in or resting against it.
“This was exactly what I was looking for to keep me cool in the backyard. It’s just big enough for me to float on a full size raft while enjoying a book and a cold cocktail,” writes one reviewer on Amazon. Says another, “It holds a depth of water enough to allow our kids to actually try swimming and floating in it, though not hugely deep, but enough for them to paddle about it, without touching the bottom. Our entire family of six (adults included) can easily fit with room for the kids to play.”
Intex 100-inch x 77-inch Inflatable Ocean Children’s Play Center Outdoor
Children ages two and up will love the Intex Ocean Inflatable Play Center, which feels more like a backyard water park than a swimming pool. (“More fun than you can imagine,” writes one reviewer. “BEST SUMMER TOY EVERRRRR!” says another.) This brightly colored inflatable play center has two pool areas: one small area and one larger wading pool area. There’s also a waterslide, an inflatable palm tree, and inflatable turtle, whale, and ring toss games.
An adjustable built-in spraying rim will keep little ones cool on scorching hot days, and the pools are six inches deep, shallow enough for toddlers to safely play in while you keep a close watch. When it’s time to store it away, this children’s blow-up swimming pool is the a cinch to disassemble.
Intex Ice Cream Stand Inflatable Playhouse and Pool
Is it a pool or an ice cream stand? Actually, the Intex Ice Cream Stand Inflatable Playhouse and Pool is both! Designed for children ages two to six and made of durable vinyl, this kiddie pool can also be transformed into an imaginary ice cream parlor, and it comes with three oversized inflatable ice cream treats and built-in holders so your budding entrepreneurs can set up a pretend side hustle.
The small inflatable pool can be filled with about five inches of water, allowing your little one to cool down on hot days. And when summer’s over, set it up in the playroom for year-round creative play. “Super cute and toddler approved,” writers one reviewer. “It’s big enough to have space to play yet small enough that I don’t waste too much time filling it up or dumping the water out,” adds another reviewer.
Bestway Space Ship Swimming Pool for Kids – Backyard Inflatable Pool – 5′ x 62″ x 16″
If your family is big on space-themed adventures, they’ll love the Taylor Toy Bestway Space Ship Swimming Pool for Kids. This large inflatable pool has three air chambers, so the padded sides are extra-comfy and safe. It looks really cool, too, and kids ages three and up will feel like they’re floating in a flying saucer or futuristic space movie right in their backyard. A plug on the bottom of the pool makes drainage a snap when you’re ready to put it away.
“Easy to inflate [and] the plastic is heavier than expected, which is great,” says a reviewer on Amazon. “Nice and durable kid pool.”
FUNFEED Inflatable Kiddie Pool – Flamingo Swimming Pool for Baby, Kiddie, Kids, Infants, and Toddlers – 63″ x 47″ x 35″
Nothing says tropical escape like this FUNFEED Flamingo Inflatable Pool. The bright pink bird shape will delight small kids ages three and up. Portable enough to bring to the grandparents’ house or to set up on the lawn, this blow-up kiddie pool has enough room for two toddlers to comfortably splash around.
Each air chamber has its own safety non-returning valve, making it a breeze to inflate with an air pump in minutes, and the built-in drain plug at the bottom works quickly. Bonus: It can double as a drinks cooler at family barbecues.
This inflatable pool is rated 4.7 out of 5 on Amazon based on more than 300 reviews, with reviewers noting it’s “a good size swimming pool for toddlers,” “a two-year-old can lay flat in it,” and it’s “easy to inflate.”
XFLATED Inflatable Watermelon Kiddie Pool, 3-Ring Inflatable Pool for Kids
Beat the heat with this oversized Inflatable Watermelon Kiddie Pool from XFlated, which makes swimming even more fun. Designed to look just like the sweet summer treat, this 45-inch by 10.5-inch inflatable pool has plenty of room for up to five children. It’s made from PVC and comes with a repair patch just in case someone punctures it. Reviewers love that the three individual watermelon rings are easy to inflate. The central pool area can hold up to 89 gallons of water.
This durable pool is low enough for younger kids to easily climb in and out of, but deep enough for them to sit inside and lean against the comfy walls. Plus, you won’t have to tip it over to empty the water because there’s a drain plug at the bottom that makes this task easy. This inflatable kiddie pool also comes in hamburger and ice cream shapes.
Intex Sun Shade Inflatable Pool, 62″ x 62″ x 48″ for Ages 2+
Parents love this Intex pool’s extra large sun shade, which makes it safer for younger kids to play in an inflatable pool for hours on end without worrying about the sun. The sun shade is removable for those times when you want the sun to heat up the water. There’s also a convenient drain plug and an included repair patch for when play gets rough.
Rated 4.3 out of 5 on Amazon based on nearly 3,000 reviews, this inflatable kiddie pool is “the best $20 I’ve ever spent” according to one reviewer. “Very sturdy for a small pool,” says another.
JOYIN Whale Baby Shade Beach Tent Kiddie Pool Play Tent – 54″ x 56″ x 28″
Adventurous kids will enjoy swimming in the “mouth” of this inflatable JOYIN Whale Baby Kiddie Pool and Play Tent. Made of heavy-duty, non-toxic materials, this pool has plenty of space for two or three small children, and it provides built-in shade you’ll be thankful for on especially hot days.
It holds 14 gallons of water and features a padded bottom for extra comfort. Set it up on the grass, or use it as a float inside another pool so your toddler can float in it. One five-star review says, “I really like this little soaking pool because the material is thick, not flimsy, and can withstand some heat.” Another notes that it’s “very easy to inflate” and “absolutely adorable.”