Swimming pool owners spend a great deal of time and effort planning the perfect backyard oasis for their family and friends. Many are surprised to find that they can also choose from a variety of pool surfaces and finishes that best meets their needs and their budget. 

No matter what you choose, you still need to know how to care for the surface and finish of your pool. Having a better understanding of the difference between the two and the differences between the various types of pool surfaces and pool finishes can be extremely helpful.

In this article, we’ve broken all of that down for you! Let’s take a look:


The Difference Between a Pool Surface and a Pool Finish

A pool’s surface is the actual material that makes up the pool’s walls and floor. A pool finish is what is then applied over the pool surface to make it more aesthetically pleasing and, in many cases, keep it protected.

Some pool surfaces can reduce maintenance costs and time later, while others can save costs right away. Finishes can be chosen in a range of styles, too.


The 3 Types of Pool Surfaces

Again, the material that the walls and floor of the pool are made of is the pool’s surface. There are three primary pool surfaces on the market:


Concrete and gunite are often used to describe the same material. And there are really only two main things that differentiate gunite from concrete. First, concrete uses large and small aggregates (gravel or stone pieces), while gunite only uses small aggregates.

The second difference is how the material is applied. Concrete comes ready mixed and gunite is a dry mix with the water being added as the mixture is sprayed through a hose. Gunite is the most popular surfacing option in the U.S. since it gives you the most flexibility with the appearance of your pool.

Gunite or concrete surfaces do erode over time. The result can be cuts, scrapes, and scratches on the swimmer’s body. To help prevent that from happening, this is then where a pool finish comes in. For example, a plaster finish typically lasts between 10 and 12 years if properly maintained.



vinyl liner pool surface | types of pool surfaces | types of pool finishes
Source: Penguin Pools

For vinyl surface pools, after the builders dig the hole and build the floor and metal frame for the pool, a layer of vinyl liner is applied. Vinyl liner pools are the least expensive option compared to other pool surfaces and takes about a month to install.

When properly cared for, a vinyl liner pool usually lasts about 10 to 12 years. There is the risk the vinyl can get torn, which will shorten the life of the pool. Vinyl liners can also become bleached out from the sun and/or from low pH or high chlorine levels. Adding undiluted chlorine shock to the pool causes these liners to look older sooner than normal, too. Shrinking can also happen if not enough water is kept in the pool, especially during cold spells.



A fiberglass pool arrives on site in a pre-molded form. The builders place the prefabricated, fiberglass pool into the hole prepared for it. This makes it the fastest to install of the three types of pool surfaces. It is non-porous and easy to maintain and doesn’t need to be resurfaced over time. Repairs are difficult, though, and design options are limited.


What About Pool Finishes?


tile pool finish | types of pool finishes | types of pool surfaces


As mentioned above, pool finishes for gunite (or concrete) pools are necessary due to the porous nature of those surfaces. They have to be sealed to prevent leaks and other damage. Plus, in general, pool finishes make any pool more aesthetically pleasing.

There are several main types of pool finishes, including:


Traditional white plaster gives pools a smooth, classic appearance and is still a popular choice despite the range of newer pool finishes available. Plaster also now comes in an array of other colors, which can give more dimension to the poolscape.

A plaster finish will usually last between 10 and 12 years. The pH levels in the pool to keep algae growth under control will need to be monitored closely to prevent staining or damaging the plaster.



Aggregate pool finishes are either exposed or polished materials made up of concrete, pebbles, plaster, and sometimes even glass beads. Pool owners can choose from a wide selection of custom-blended colors and textures that can be used to create a one-of-a-kind outdoor oasis. 

Aggregate finishes are durable, give your pool a beautiful appearance, and are low-maintenance. This type of finish can last up to 20 years without refinishing because of its resistance to chemicals, staining, and algae growth.



Tile pool finishes come in a variety of materials, such as porcelain, stone, ceramic, glass, or quartz. It is the most expensive of the choices of finishes but can help give a pool a high-end look. Tile is durable but will need a secondary sanitizer added periodically to keep the water clear and clean.


Pool School Videos Can Teach You How to Take Care of Any Pool Surface and Finish!


pool finish maintenance | types of pool surfaces | types of pool finishes

No matter which surface and finish your pool has, they all require ongoing maintenance. Now that you know the basics about pool surfaces and finishes and the differences between the various types, we can teach you how to properly maintain your pool and keep it in top condition. 

Pool School Videos provides in-depth, understandable information on both common and not-so-common pool maintenance problems. For example, one of our videos addresses how to avoid the #1 thing that can absolutely destroy your gunite pool finish. This is just one of our 20-video series.

When you purchase the Pool School Videos series, you’ll have access to your own expert in “The Pool Doctor” Mike Steele, who has over 30 years of experience in the pool maintenance industry! With a single purchase of the videos, the Pool Doctor is there to help.

Our self-paced DIY pool maintenance videos provide in-depth, easy-to-follow instructions on how to properly take care of your pool. You won’t find this kind of information anywhere else. Once purchased, you own the videos, so you can watch them as many times as necessary, whenever you want!

Plus, with your Pool School Videos purchase, you also become a member of our private Facebook group. Through this group, you can request customized guidance by posting specific questions and you will receive a personal response within 24 hours!

Click here to preview our top 5 videos and meet the Pool Doctor, Mike Steele. Let us teach you how to properly maintain your pool surface and much more! Get started today!