Total Dissolved Solids in Swimming Pools

Written by Michael Dean
December 6, 2023

measuring total dissolved solids in pool

Having a swimming pool is certainly a lot of fun, but taking care of it can be time-consuming and laborious. There are many different tasks involved in keeping your pool up to par, and it can definitely become overwhelming to keep up with everything.

Today, I will cover TDS, or total dissolved solids, a term you may have heard floating around. I’ll go over what TDS is, how to measure it, ideal TDS levels, how to reduce those levels if needed, and more.

Main Takeaways

  • TDS is a measurement of all solids, good and bad, that are dissolved in your pool water.
  • The TDS level in your pool will rise over time for several reasons, including evaporation, a faulty filtration system, and water quality.
  • The ideal TDS level for freshwater pools is around 500-2,000 mg/L; for saltwater, the ideal level is 5,000-6,000 mg/L.
  • You should run your filter for at least 8 hours a day and ensure the filtration system is running smoothly as the first line of defense against lowering the TDS level.

What Are Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), and Why Do They Matter?

Total dissolved solids, or TDS for short, is a measurement of all the solids that have dissolved into your swimming pool water. This includes both good and harmful substances that have dissolved in your water. The list could go on and on, but here are the most common total dissolved solids:

  • Magnesium
  • Pesticides
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Aluminum
  • Zinc
  • Lead
  • Copper
  • Arsenic
  • Iron
  • Chlorine
  • Sodium
  • Fluoride
  • Bicarbonate
  • Sulfates
  • Chloride
  • Herbicides

Some of these are chemicals you intentionally add to keep your pool clean and safe for swimming, like chlorine. Others may have entered the water through rain, runoff, or leaves and other debris falling into your pool. Monitoring and managing your TDS level is key to keeping your swimming pool in tip-top condition all year round.

How Does TDS Affect Pool Water Chemistry?

As a pool owner, you know maintaining correct water chemistry levels in your pool is paramount to having a safe pool for your family and friends to enjoy. Although TDS is not necessarily bad in and of itself, a high level of over 2,000 mg/L can lead to many issues.

A high TDS level will most notably decrease chlorine efficiency while also causing skin and eye irritation. This is because pool water with a high TDS level is corrosive, leading to hardness of the water, scaling, and cloudiness. You may also notice an unwanted salty and metallic taste in your pool water.

How to Measure TDS

Measuring the TDS level of your swimming pool is the only way to get a picture of what exactly is in the water and know whether it is safe for swimming. If you are wondering what is in your water, here is a quick guide on effectively and accurately determining what solids have dissolved in your swimming pool.

Use a TDS Meter

A TDS meter is the easiest and most accurate way to measure your TDS level. This will provide a reading of the milligrams of solids dissolved per liter of water (mg/L). A score of 150 mg/L is considered a low score. This means that for every 150 mg of dissolved solids, there are 999,850 liters of water.

CityFarmer TDS Meter

This TDS meter will tell you exactly what the TDS level in your pool is.

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According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), drinking water should not contain more than 500 mg/L. But, we’re not talking about drinking water here. Water containing more than 2,000 mg/L (in a freshwater pool) is considered unsafe for swimming and indicates an issue with your filtration system.

Breaking Down the Solids

While a TDS meter will accurately measure the quantity of solids in your water, it will not break down the contaminants. To break them down, you need to know which contaminants are in your pool – some dissolved solids are good, while some are unsafe.

You will need a home water test kit or a lab water analysis to find out what elements are in your water. This will give you a clear picture of exactly what is in your swimming pool and if it is clean and safe to use.

Hire an Expert

If you feel uncomfortable measuring the TDS level yourself, hire a pool cleaning expert to take these measurements for you.

Whether you choose to do it yourself or consult a professional, knowing your TDS level is essential to confirm that your swimming pool is safe and that your filtration system works effectively.

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Why Is TDS Always Rising?

One thing you will quickly notice with your TDS level is that it is continually rising. In fact, commercial swimming pools that use liquid chlorine can have their TDS levels increase by thousands of mg/L every year. This happens for a multitude of reasons.

  • Chlorine
  • People swimming in the pool
  • Environmental factors
  • Water quality
  • Faulty filtration system
  • Evaporation: As water evaporates and leaves your swimming pool, the ratio of contaminants to water increases. This is why maintaining a pool in warm climates can be more expensive and complicated.

A high TDS level can be a serious issue, depending on what compounds are present in your pool. Chlorine is obviously a sanitizer you want in your pool and is pretty easy to raise and lower depending on the reading you get. Common contaminants such as arsenic or lead are toxic in high quantities. And many contaminants can make it tougher to keep your pool water chemistry in balance.

In particular, a high level of total dissolved solids in your water can make it very difficult to maintain an appropriate chlorine level in your pool. The solids reduce the activity of free chlorine, leading to decreased sanitation and unwanted algae growth. Furthermore, a high TDS level can be corrosive to the metal components in your pool, like railings or steps.

Ideal TDS Levels for Pools

Now that we have established what a TDS level is and why it is constantly rising, let’s cover the ideal TDS level for your pool. Whether you have a freshwater or saltwater pool in your backyard, knowing and maintaining the proper level of TDS is critical to keeping it safe for swimming and relaxing.

Ideal TDS Level for Freshwater Swimming Pools

As a general rule, a lower TDS level is better. The commonly agreed-upon safe level of TDS is 500-2,000 mg/L. A level of TDS under 500 mg/L is practically unattainable. And a level that exceeds 2,000 mg/L can be harmful to swimmers.

A TDS level above this limit in a freshwater pool can also indicate an issue with your water supply or filtration system. If you measure the TDS level of your freshwater pool and it exceeds this amount, check out the tips below for how to reduce TDS levels.

Ideal TDS Level for Saltwater Swimming Pools

In a saltwater pool, the TDS level should be much higher than in a freshwater pool. Consider that regular tap water has a TDS level of about 500 mg/L, and the salt content of saltwater adds about 3,000-3,500 mg/L to the TDS level. In addition, you must account for other contaminants that also naturally occur in a saltwater swimming pool. These combined usually result in a TDS level in the range of 5,000-6,000 mg/L.

The safe TDS level for a saltwater pool is considerably higher than for a freshwater pool. However, if the TDS level of your saltwater pool exceeds 6,000 mg/L, you may have issues with your filtration system.

Signs of High TDS

If you’re seeing any of these common warning signs, it’s probably time to check your TDS levels:

  • Your pool water is getting cloudy or discolored and has algae starting to form in it despite good sanitizer levels.
  • Your water is salty and leaves a crusty film in the pool deck.
  • You’re having issues maintaining a steady chlorine level (increased chlorine consumption) after shocking your pool, and your cyanuric acid levels are under 50 ppm.
  • You’re starting to see excessive calcium scale deposits, and your calcium hardness is under 400 ppm.
  • You’re experiencing skin and eye irritation.
  • The metal components of your pool (such as the ladder and railing) are starting to corrode.
  • Your water tastes salty.
  • You are getting faulty test readings for other aspects of pool water chemistry.

Does any of this sound familiar? Use the steps below to reduce your TDS levels if you find them too high after testing.

How to Reduce the TDS Level in Your Pool

If you need to reduce the TDS level in your pool, installing a meter is a great way to monitor the level consistently. While a TDS meter does not specify exactly what contaminants are in your pool, it does show the level, meaning you will be able to see how your TDS reading is trending.

Here are a few steps you can take to lower the TDS level effectively:

  1. Make sure your pool filter runs long enough during the day, at least 8 to 9 hours.
  2. Check your filtration system to ensure everything is working properly, and change out the filter. This should be a regular part of your pool maintenance routine as a good quality filter will remove solids from your water. However, it may be time to troubleshoot your filtration system if you have a high TDS level.
  3. Check your water circulation. Ensure your valves are working correctly and your skimmer basket and pool pump aren’t clogged up.
  4. Test your pool water to check your water chemistry. Ensure pH, alkalinity, cyanuric acid (CYA), calcium hardness, chlorine levels, and phosphate levels are all within range. If they aren’t, head over to my chemistry guide for tips on getting your balance back in order.
  5. If all else fails, it’s probably time to drain your pool and add fresh water.
Taylor High Range Swimming Pool Test Kit

This expansive test kit includes nine tests for most pool chemical measurements you need.

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Keep Track of Your TDS Levels!

You should now be an expert on TDS and know precisely how to deal with it if needed. To recap:

  • Don’t be afraid of your TDS levels; many of them occur naturally, and good dissolved solids help you sanitize your pool.
  • Test your pool water frequently to figure out which levels are getting out of balance.
  • Act quickly to squash the issue before it becomes a problem!

Any more questions about pool chemistry? Let me know.

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