Salt Water Pool Maintenance

Salt water pool maintenance is actually quite simple with the technology available in todays chlorine generators and testing equipment.  You will spend less money and time monitoring the chemistry of your pool and spend a lot more time enjoying all the benefits.  You will never have to purchase, transport or add harsh chlorine to the water and since salt water is a lot more stable by nature it will require less balancing of chemicals than a regular pool.

salt water pool maintenance

At the start of the season it's important to ensure that you get your salt water pool started on the right track.  If you are just getting it up and running for the season we have an excellent step by step guide that will help you with opening your salt water pool in the spring.  

As the pool season progresses there will be some relatively simple weekly and monthly maintenance that can be carried out by any handy pool owner.  It's important to always follow the manufacturers instructions for your specific pool system and cell because the requirements can vary slightly.  

We've put together some recommendations specifically for salt water pool owners that you don't want to miss especially if you live in cooler climates in the northern United States and Canada.  As you continue reading keep in mind that not all pools, salt water systems and fresh water quality are the same which will present unique salt water pool maintenance challenges.  

Weekly Salt Water Pool Maintenance

Your weekly salt water pool maintenance routine will depend on a number of variables including pool usage, pool sanitation and environmental factors.  In addition to spot cleaning with a skimmer net or pool vacuum the most common thing you'll need to do is balance the water chemistry.  We recommend printing off the salt water pool maintenance checklist to use for quick and easy reference.  

1.  Salt Concentration or Salinity  2700 - 4500 ppm

A salt water chlorine generator will operate most efficiently and effectively when the salinity is within the range specified by the manufacturer.  This desired range can vary slightly with different models so it's important to know what your system requires.  If your generator does not have a built in salinity monitor or automatic chemical feeder we recommend testing weekly with a test kit that can include strips, droppers or digital meters.  A smartphone pool app is a great companion for pool owner's that want to keep their pool chemistry in check all season long. 

In extreme cases you can cause damage to the salt cell and other pool hardware if the salt concentration is outside the recommended range for your unit.  It could also lead to an unsanitary swimming environment if levels are low because there won't be enough chlorine produced which can lead to pool algae.  If your salt levels are low you will need to add the appropriate amount of salt and you should be careful to never add too much because the only way to lower the salinity is to add fresh water.  

See below for more information about adding salt to your pool including a calculator that will help you take your existing salinity to the levels required. 

2.  pH  7.2 - 7.8 (7.5 Optimal)

A proper pH is important for allowing chlorine to effectively remove germs, bacteria and create a safe swimming environment.  If you are using a salt water chlorine generator you may find that your pH rises slowly over time and if that is the case you will need to add an acid occasionally to keep it down.  It's important to add the acid or alkali slowly and in small increments, allowing the water to circulate for at least a 4 - 6 hour period before testing and repeating if necessary.  

  • Lower pH with a liquid hydrochloric acid or muriatic acid.  If you use dry acids under the name sodium acid sulphate or sodium bisulphate you may end up experiencing chemistry issues over time.  If you use muriatic acid be sure to follow safe storage and handling procedures
  • Raise pH with an alkali calcium carbonate or soda ash. 

3.  Free Available Chlorine  1.0 - 3.0 ppm (2.0 ppm optimal)

The free available chlorine levels should be monitored and tested every 2 - 4 weeks or more frequently if your other levels have been fluctuating.  The combined chlorine and total chlorine can be ignored for purposes of testing and balancing.  If you are testing at home be sure to purchase a quality pool test kit that tests for Free Chlorine (FC). 

If your free available chlorine levels are low you should make sure your salinity levels are sufficient so your chlorine generator can convert adequate levels.  Low levels of free chlorine can also be caused by calcium build up on the salt cell, an expired cell or inadequate pool circulation.  It may also be necessary to shock your pool at the start of the season, during heavy usage or at the start of the pool season to get chlorine levels up.  

  • Lower Free Chlorine by reducing the output setting on your chlorine generator, run your pool circulation system for less time or run your pump on a lower speed. 
  • Raise Free Chlorine by increasing chlorine production, pump run-times or using a pool shock. 

Monthly Salt Water Pool Maintenance

As a general rule you should ensure that the following levels are checked at least once a month.  It's common for them to fluctuate during times of high usage or extreme weather so you should keep that in mind throughout the year.  You may find that these levels don't fluctuate throughout an entire year while other pool owners will notice significant changes.  

It's always difficult to determine the extent of your overall maintenance until you get to know your pool because of the many variables.  You might be interested in our pool maintenance cost page that provides some estimates for how much you can expect to spend monthly and yearly.  

4.  Total Alkalinity  80 - 120 ppm

Alkalinity is important for keeping pH stabilized and preventing it from fluctuating out of control.  If you have low alkalinity it could lead to corrosion, staining or green water while high alkalinity can cause cloudy pool water and other problems.  If you are adjusting alkalinity in your pool it's important to do it slowly and in small increments, waiting 2 - 3 days before testing and adjusting again if necessary. 

  • Lower Total Alkalinity with sodium bisulphate and following the manufacturers instructions.  If your pH is also low you may also want to consider using muriatic acid.
  • Raise Total Alkalinity with sodium bicarbonate in a slow and methodical process to ensure you don't raise levels too high. 

5.  Stabilizer or Cyanuric Acid  30 - 80 ppm

The stabilizer levels are important to prevent the chlorine in your salt water pool from being lost due to UV rays and residual processes from the sun.  A pool without stabilizer could lose up to 90% of it's produced chlorine on a sunny day leaving your pool unsafe and unsanitary.  The lower the stabilizer level the quicker chlorine reacts to eliminate organic compounds. 

A salt water pool requires slightly higher levels of stabilizer than a regular pool and should be kept in the range of 70 - 80 ppm.  If you have an indoor salt water pool that doesn't get a lot of sunlight you should keep levels in the 0 - 30 ppm range.  It's important to understand that chlorine and stabilizer work interchangeably and when one rises, the other should also. 

  • Lower Stabilizer levels by diluting your pool water either by draining and adding fresh water or correct over time. 
  • Raise Stabilizer levels by adding cyanuric acid and following the manufacturers instructions. 

6.  Calcium  Hardness 200 - 400 ppm

If calcium levels get too low the water will become corrosive and can leach calcium from plaster, stone and concrete surfaces in contact with the pool water.  High levels of calcium can result in scale formation or a clogged filter and pipes resulting in poor filtration and circulation that can lead to cloudy water and irritation to swimmers.

We recommend contacting a pool professional if your levels are above 400 ppm because this could lead to build up and stains that are very difficult to remove.  If you want more information on how to clean stains from pool tile be sure to read our pool tile cleaner page.

  • Lower Calcium levels is very difficult and is remedied by draining water from your pool and replacing it with fresh clean water. 
  • Raise Calcium levels easily by adding calcium chloride to your pool slowly and retesting every few hours to allow it to dissolve completely. 

7.  Total Dissolved Solids  3000 - 6000 ppm 

The total dissolved solids for a salt water pool will be higher than a regular pool because salt registers as a dissolved solid.  This means that your TDS should be exactly the same as your salinity in a pool that has no dissolved solids.  If your TDS reading is 1500 ppm or higher than your salinity you may need to clean your filters or backwash more often. 

A TDS of over 1500 ppm (excluding salt) can reduce the effectiveness of the chlorine and other added chemicals and could result in cloudy water.  These levels are influenced by chemicals that have been added and organic compounds from anyone that uses your pool.  In pools with extremely high TDS readings you will have to drain some pool water and replace with fresh water.  

8.  Copper, Iron and Manganese

It's also an important part of your overall salt water pool maintenance checklist to test for Metals such as copper, iron and manganese to ensure they aren't present.

A great way to check the overall chemistry in your salt water pool is to calculate the saturation index.  This formula uses the alkalinity, calcium hardness, cyanuric acid, water temperature and pH of your water to help ensure that your pool isn't susceptible to scaling or corrosion. 

Yearly Salt Water Pool Maintenance

If you have kept on top of your weekly and monthly salt water pool maintenance you should only need to do a few checks at the end or start of the pool season.  

9.  Clean Salt Cell

Most cells should only need to be cleaned once a year to avoid calcium buildup which can cause decreased chlorine production across the plates.  The average life span of a cell is roughly 4 - 6 years with average use and proper chemistry maintenance.  If you want to clean it yourself be sure to read our salt water pool cell page with helpful tips for cleaning your cell in as little as 10 minutes.  

The salt cell should be inspected every 2-3 months during the pool season.  If you see white calcium deposits or other debris built up you should clean the cell to ensure it is working at it's peak efficiency.

10.  Zinc Anode

A lot of salt water pool owners decide to use a zinc anode as part of their pool system to assure the health of stainless steel hardware and components.  A sacrificial anode is arguably the most important device you can purchase for added protection against possible corrosion and fading of some pool surfaces.  It's a good idea to check it once a year to ensure it hasn't degraded fully. 

At the end of the season a thorough pool closing is an essential step in your overall salt water pool maintenance.  A good pool closing kit will keep everything running smoothly in the springtime especially f you experience temperatures below freezing in the US or Canada. 

11.  Adding Salt 

Adding salt is necessary when you first convert your pool from a regular chlorine pool and on rare occasions you may need to add small amounts of salt to your salt water pool if there is significant splash out.

Most chlorine generators have sensors built in that will monitor and display the salinity reading based on the conductivity of the pool water.  Cooler water temperatures often found in Canada will decrease conductivity and the generator could show a low salt reading.  It's important to take this into consideration before adding salt so you don't add too much.

If you want to learn more about salt specifications and how to determine the appropriate amount to add to your pool our pool salt page will guide you through the appropriate steps that includes a salt table calculator. 

We hope this guide to salt water pool maintenance helps you spend more time enjoying your pool and less time looking after it!

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