The Essential Saltwater Pool Maintenance Routine

Written by Michael Dean
December 21, 2023

saltwater swimming pool maintenance

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.

Main Takeaways

  • 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.
  • Don’t snooze on brushing, vacuuming, and cleaning your pool filter.
  • 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.

Basics of Saltwater Pool Maintenance

It is a common myth that saltwater pools don’t require much maintenance. While they are generally easier to take care of than traditional chlorine pools, many pool owners expect their saltwater pool maintenance to be essentially hands-off, which is simply untrue. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears go into keeping a saltwater pool crystal clear and sparkling, so I will cover everything in bite-sized chunks. 

The most important parts of maintaining your saltwater pool are:

  • Ensuring your pool chemicals are at the proper levels
  • Regularly cleaning your pool
  • Checking your salt cell and cleaning or replacing it if necessary
  • Ensuring your pool’s circulation is adequate to prevent stagnation

Here is a breakdown of the tasks I will cover organized into daily, weekly, monthly, and annual tasks.

Daily Tasks

  • Skim your pool
  • Empty your skimmer basket
  • Run your pool pump for 4 to 8 hours

Weekly Tasks

  • Shock your saltwater pool
  • Test and adjust your chemical levels (pH, alkalinity, chlorine, salinity, calcium, etc.)

Monthly Tasks

  • Backwash and clean your pool filter
  • Deep clean your pool surfaces (brush, vacuum, etc)
  • Check and rinse your salt cell

Annual Tasks

  • Deep clean your salt cell
  • Winterize your pool
  • Deep clean your pool filter

Cleaning Your Pool Regularly

One of the most important parts of maintaining a saltwater pool is keeping it clean. Many of the pool cleaning tasks are the same for saltwater pools as for chlorine pools. Let’s take a closer look at some of these important tasks.

Skimming, Brushing, and Vacuuming

The big three of pool cleaning. You should skim your pool daily to remove larger debris from your pool surface. Brushing and vacuuming won’t need to be done as often, but I still recommend doing this weekly to prevent algae infestations from occurring. Manual cleaners are a solid option, but if you want to save time, you can also invest in a robotic pool cleaner.

Backwashing and Cleaning Your Pool Filter

Your pool filter is one of the most important components in your entire saltwater system. So, it is super important to keep it clean to ensure it can adequately filter dirty water. The method you should use to clean your pool filter varies depending on your filter type. For example, you should backwash sand or DE filters every 4 to 6 weeks, but cartridge filters must only be rinsed off.

You should also deep clean your pool filter occasionally (generally 2 to 3 times per year). 

How Cleaning a Saltwater Pool Is Different

There are a few aspects of cleaning a saltwater pool that 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 and your pool decking, ultimately leading to significant damage over time.

I recommend 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.

Maintaining Proper Pool Chemistry

Keeping up with your 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 my calculator to figure out how much to add. On the flip side, if your salt level is too high, it can cause corrosion and rapidly wear down your salt cell.

Morton Pro Pool Salt

Morton makes a high-purity pool salt that I frequently recommend for saltwater pool owners.

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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.

Pool Mate Swimming Pool Stabilizer and Conditioner

Stabilizer is just a fancy name for cyanuric acid. Pool Mate makes a good product that is affordable.

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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.

Test Regularly

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 cloudiness or algae in your salt water pool.

Poolmaster 5-Way Test Kit

This is the best liquid testing kit on the market based on my testing.

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Add Granular Chlorine to Shock Your Pool as Needed

Contrary to popular belief, you actually should regularly shock your saltwater pool. 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. I recommend shocking your saltwater pool once every week or two.

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.

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.

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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.

Inspecting the Salt Cell Generator

Your salt cell is the heart of your entire saltwater pool system. Without a functioning salt cell, your pool would quickly fall into disarray. A common issue you’ll deal with in your salt cell is mineral buildup. 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 buildup, 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. You should clean your salt cell around every 3 months.

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 of 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.

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 having to manually dump the chemicals in, the salt cell generates the chlorine. 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; 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a Saltwater Pool Difficult to Maintain?

Saltwater pools are actually easier to maintain than traditional pools because they produce their own chlorine and won’t require as much monitoring and maintenance. While there are some tasks that are unique to salt pools, they are generally easier to care for than standard chlorine pools.

Should You Hire Someone to Maintain Your Saltwater Pool?

This is entirely up to you. Maintaining a saltwater pool isn’t rocket science, and most pool owners with a reasonable amount of time on their hands should be able to DIY. However, hiring a professional is always a good route if you are too busy to properly care for the pool, or want to do as little hands-on work as possible.

How Do You Winterize a Saltwater Pool?

If you live in a climate with colder winters, you should winterize your saltwater pool. Winterizing involves deep cleaning your pool, adding winterizing chemicals, and shutting off your pump, filter, heater, salt cell, and other equipment. You’ll then need to cover your pool with a winter pool cover and periodically check on it throughout the winter.

Saltwater Maintenance Made Simple

In a nutshell, taking care of your saltwater pool is like giving it a little TLC. While there are definitely a lot of maintenance tasks to keep track of, the reward is worth the effort. Treat your pool right, and you’ll be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor throughout the pool season.

Questions about saltwater pool maintenance? Let me know!

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