Maintaining a saltwater pool isn’t quite like maintaining a regular chlorine pool. In fact, if you try to maintain it the same way, you could damage your swimming pool and its support systems. In this guide, I will walk you through everything you should know about maintaining a saltwater system.
- Saltwater pools use a saltwater chlorinator that uses salt to produce chlorine instead of manually adding chlorine to the pool.
- You’ll still need to shock a saltwater swimming pool if the pool is dirty or algae infested.
- The salt cell is the most important part of a saltwater pool system and should be regularly inspected and thoroughly cleaned of any debris or calcium buildup.
Why Maintaining A Saltwater Pool Is Different From A Traditional Chlorine Pool
Chlorine is the chemical of choice for sterilizing swimming pools, primarily because of its cleanliness, oxidation levels, and low price point. Regular chlorine pools ask you to add chlorine as needed to maintain a more-or-less constant level within the pool.
Saltwater pools also use chlorine, but rather than dumping chemicals in, they pass water through a unique system known as a salt chlorine generator. When you add electricity to the water and salt, the chemicals change into hydrogen gas and hypochlorous acid. The acid sanitizes the pool while the hydrogen bubbles out of the water and into the air.
Unlike traditional chlorine pools, which require frequent chemical adjustments, saltwater pools require minimal maintenance and can work for extended periods without modification. This means significantly less time spent maintaining your pool.
However, it’s not all positive because salt is fundamentally corrosive. It’s not harmful to pool equipment in normal concentrations, but if something goes wrong and salt exceeds 6000 parts per million, it can start breaking down everything from railings to your pool liner (you can use something like zinc anodes to fight against equipment corrosion). That’s a high cost, and pool owners must actively work to limit it.
Read my chlorine vs. saltwater pool comparison guide for a more in-depth look at the pros and cons of each and my article on how to convert your pool to salt water if you want to make a move.
Maintaining Proper Pool Circulation
The first part of maintaining a saltwater pool is ensuring proper pool circulation. If the water doesn’t circulate properly, the saltwater concentration could keep going up in specific areas. This is the main reason why irregularly-shaped pools rarely have salt chlorine generators. Making them work is possible but requires expert planning and additional circulation devices.
Fortunately, maintaining proper pool circulation is relatively easy in most pools. All you really need to do is check to see whether all the water in your pool can rotate through your filters. You should be good to go as long as all the water turns at a reasonable pace.
You can use several different devices to check your pool circulation. Many pool owners prefer using salt concentration detectors in various areas. You know you’re fine if the numbers are similar throughout your pool. If the numbers are distinctly different, you may need to change the angles on your jets.
Cleaning Your Pool Regularly
The next part of maintaining a saltwater pool is cleaning the pool regularly. This is where things start to differ from cleaning a regular chlorine pool. Many popular tools and cleaning devices aren’t as durable in saltwater pools, so you must ensure you get one designed for the environment you’ll be using it in.
You also need to pay attention to how the cleaning functions. Constant splashing from pool water could lead to high concentrations of salt on the outside of your pool liner, ultimately leading to significant damage over time.
Ideally, you won’t have any water splashing outside the pool during your cleaning, but this is probably inevitable, so consider using a hose and regularly spraying down the area to push salt back into the pool. This step should minimize the risk of buildups while ensuring adequate cleanliness in your pool.
You should not see salt crystals anywhere in your pool. If you see them starting to grow on anything, there’s something wrong with your swimming pool, so refer to the manufacturer’s instructions and address the problem as soon as possible.
Like a traditional chlorine pool, ensure you keep your filter, pool pump, and skimmer clean.
Maintaining Proper Pool Chemistry
Maintaining pool chemistry is the trickiest part of maintaining a saltwater pool, but it’s not as difficult as it initially sounds. Just keep in mind the following.
Maintain the Salt Level
While the exact level varies by manufacturer, most use about 3400 ppm. Salt chlorine generators require at least 3000 ppm to work at all, so if your salt level is too low to start with, you may need to add pool salt until it reaches the starting level for the generator. Use our calculator to figure out how much to add.
Morton makes a high-purity pool salt that I frequently recommend for saltwater pool owners.
Manage Your Stabilizer
Stabilizer stops chlorine from evaporating straight out of the pool. Most saltwater pools use cyanuric acid, which bonds well with chlorine and helps it remain within the pool. When your stabilizer is at the right level, your pool’s chlorine levels should remain mostly stable. You can read my complete article on cyanuric acid for more information on this chemical.
Stabilizer is just a fancy name for cyanuric acid. Pool Mate makes a good product that is affordable.
Manage the pH Level
The ideal pH for a saltwater pool is 7.4, which is close to the middle of the safe range for drinking water. This number naturally fluctuates over time and, in saltwater pools, will continuously increase. Keep an eye on this and use your choice of tools to lower it as needed.
You should regularly test your pool’s pH and free chlorine levels using a test kit to make sure your salt cell generator is dialed in so you can prevent nasty stuff like algae in your salt water pool.
This is the best liquid testing kit on the market based on my testing.
Add Granular Chlorine to Shock Your Pool as Needed
Every pool needs the occasional shock to get it back to where it should be. For saltwater pools, the best choice is granular chlorine, which you can use to burn up any organic material if the normal chlorine levels drop too low. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for shocking your saltwater pool.
Depending on your pool’s surface, you may need to use different cleaning tools or chemicals. When in doubt, contact the manufacturers and ask for their suggestions. Many companies provide this information on their websites to help you clean and maintain your saltwater pool. If you live in a climate that has colder winters, you should winterize your saltwater pool too.
Get My Free Pool Care Checklist
Download my free, printable pool maintenance checklist to help you accomplish regular pool care tasks for any type of swimming pool.
Inspecting the Salt Cell Generator
Minerals like calcium tend to build up on salt cells over time, so you’ll need to examine the cell visually and use cleaners as required. As with your chemicals, the exact process to follow may vary slightly based on the system you have. That said, most salt cell generators are compatible with these instructions.
Step 1: Check the Cell
Turn off the power to your salt cell generator. This is usually a button or a switch. To be sure it’s safe, unplug the salt cell generator after turning it off. You may also need to shut off pumps or other devices that feed water through the cell.
Once you’ve done that, unscrew the salt cell at both ends, take it out, and visually inspect the metal plates inside it. Mineral deposits typically look white and flaky and should be easy to see on the metal.
If you don’t have any deposits, reassemble the system and turn it on again. Go ahead and check back in another month. You should review the salt cell at least every two months. Most need cleaning a minimum of every six months, and sometimes more often, so checking the cell is essential to make sure it doesn’t need replacing.
If you do have deposits, continue to the next steps.
Step 2: Physical Cleaning
If the cell does have buildups, try physical removal first. Pull out any large debris with your hands or a small grabbing tool. Don’t try to force your hand into the cell. Afterward, rinse the cell with a hose to remove random bits and chunks. This should remove most of the mineral buildup.
Step 3: Chemical Cleaning
If there’s still a lot of buildup after the physical cleaning, put on some coveralls, goggles, and latex gloves. Make a solution of five parts clean water to one part of muriatic acid, pouring the acid directly into the water. Do not mix it the other way around.
Cap the cell, then pour the solution into the salt cell. It should foam for about ten minutes. When you’re done, pour the solution back into the bucket. Then wash the inside of the cell with the hose and reassemble the system.
Try to limit how often you chemically clean your salt cell. This form of cleaning does damage the cell, so the less often you do it, the better. You can get rid of the cleaner at your local hazardous waste collection center; don’t pour it down your pipes or onto the ground.
Questions about saltwater pool maintenance? Let me know!