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How to Maintain a Saltwater Pool: The Complete Guide

Saltwater pools use special cells to split the pool salt into useable chlorine. They have to be maintained with high salinity.

However, they’re quite similar to traditional chlorine pools due to their chemistry requirements. Much like a chlorine pool, a saltwater swimming pool can’t clean the water without the proper chemical ranges.

To maintain a saltwater pool, follow these instructions:

  • Manage the salinity
  • Test the pH and alkalinity
  • Monitor the TDS
  • Run the pump daily
  • Clean the salt cell
  • Contain the calcium hardness
  • Add cyanuric acid
  • Brush and vacuum the pool
  • Shock the water weekly

In this post, I’ll explain everything you need to know about maintaining a saltwater pool. I’ll also discuss the unique challenges you might face that typically aren’t present in chlorinated pools.

Test and Adjust the Salinity

Pool salt is the most important part of owning a saltwater swimming pool. Without enough salt, your pool won’t produce chlorine.

You’ll likely have to add salt to the pool monthly, depending on evaporation, algae blooms, phosphates, and cyanuric acid. You can test your pool’s salt levels with a digital meter or test strips.

Pool salt test strips are the cheapest and most readily available way to check your pool’s salinity.

My favorite strips are the AquaChek Saltwater Test Strips, which come in a two-pack of ten strips. Each strip tests the chlorine between 400ppm to 7,000ppm. These strips include a free mobile app that helps you track chlorine, salinity, and many other factors.

Digital salinity meters are an excellent alternative for those who prefer instant, accurate results. My preferred meter is the eSeason Gear Salt Meter, which tests the salinity level and temperature of the water.

Dip it in your pool for immediate results. This meter ranges between 0ppm to 5,000ppm and tests the temperature in Fahrenheit or Celsius.

Once you know your pool’s salinity, you can adjust the salt levels with this process:

  1. If the salt is above 3400ppm, drain a foot of the pool and dilute it with fresh water.
  2. Add the recommended amount of salt as suggested by the manufacturer of the salt bags.
  3. Circulate the pump for 24 hours after adding the salt.
  4. Brush the salt around the bottom of the pool to keep it moving through the skimmer basket.

Manage the High pH and Alkalinity

Saltwater pools are notorious for having rising pH and alkalinity.

The salt increases both factors, which means you’ll likely have to use muriatic acid or dry acid to lower the pH level in the pool.

Lowering your pool’s pH will also lower the alkalinity, so working in small increments is important. The last thing you want is to lower the pH too much and make the pool acidic.

Here’s how you can adjust the pH and alkalinity:

  • Use EcoClean Solutions pH Down to lower the pool’s pH whenever it’s above 7.8. It also lowers the alkalinity, which should be maintained between 80 to 120. It comes in 25-pound and 50-pound buckets. One pound of this dry acid lowers the pH of a 10,000-gallon pool by 0.5 to 1.
  • If the pH gets too low (which is highly unlikely with a saltwater pool), you’ll have to add soda ash to increase it or baking soda to increase the alkalinity. Your pool’s pH shouldn’t go under 7.2. Once it gets out of the recommended range, the salt cell will struggle to produce the much-needed chlorine.

While saltwater pools often have a high pH, a fiberglass liner will pull it down. You might have to add soda ash and dry acid throughout the month. These pH adjusters are regular steps of owning any swimming pool.

Combining a saltwater system with a fiberglass liner is an excellent way to passively maintain the pH, alkalinity, and calcium hardness.

Monitor the Total Dissolved Solids

Most chlorinated pools should have TDS (total dissolved solids) below 2,000ppm. However, saltwater pools have tons of salt in them, which immediately increases their TDS.

Your saltwater pool shouldn’t have a TDS level above 6,000ppm. If there are too many dissolved solids in the water, none of the chemicals will dissolve in the pool.

Unfortunately, the only way to get rid of total dissolved solids is to drain some of the water.

I usually recommend draining one foot of water and refilling it with fresh water to dilute it. You can calculate the estimated TDS in the water after draining and refilling it with this formula:

  1. Find out how deep the deepest part of the pool is.
  2. Subtract one foot from the total, then find out what percentage of the water is missing. (For example, taking one foot out of a five-foot swimming pool reduces the gallon total by 20%.)
  3. In this instance, you would take 20% off of the total of the previous TDS levels to find out if you’ll have to drain it again.

If you have a five-foot deep pool with a 7,000ppm TDS reading and you drain one foot (20%) out of it, you’ll end up with 5,600ppm.

Circulate the Pump Daily

Saltwater pools need frequent circulation to keep the salt moving through the cell.

Every saltwater pool has a salt cell mounted on the plumbing. The salt goes through the cell, splits in half, and produces chlorine.

If the pump doesn’t run, some of the salt will drop to the bottom of the pool and won’t produce enough chlorine.

Keep these tips in mind when circulating the pool with a saltwater system:

  • Run the pump for one hour per ten degrees Fahrenheit outside.
  • The pump needs to circulate daily, even during the winter.
  • If salt leaks from the cell or outlets, turn off the pump and look for leaks and corrosion.
  • Test and add salt (if needed) every time you backwash, clean, or replace the filter media.
  • Always test and replace the salt if you dilute the TDS since some of the salt will inevitably be lost.

Clean Your Pool’s Salt Cell

Failure to clean the salt cell will prevent it from producing chlorine. Some of the salt and calcium buildup will cycle into the pump and make it grind, hiss, and overheat. The good news is that it’s quite easy to clean a salt cell.

Here’s the step-by-step process:

  1. Disconnect the salt cell from the plumbing.
  2. Place the salt cell in a five-gallon bucket.
  3. Dilute ¼ of a gallon of muriatic acid with ¾ of a gallon of water.
  4. Dump the solution into the salt cell.
  5. Let the mixture sit in the salt cell for 15 minutes.
  6. Pour the solution into the bucket and rinse the salt cell with fresh water.
  7. Install the salt cell into the plumbing.

Some salt cells come with cleaning stands and caps, so you might not have to use the previously mentioned five-gallon bucket.

However, muriatic acid can corrode anything it splashes on, so it’s important to wear protective goggles, safety gloves, and long-sleeve clothing. It’s best to clean the salt cell once every six months.

I suggest reviewing this helpful video guide to deep-clean your pool’s salt cell:

Contain the Calcium Hardness

Saltwater pools often have to battle high calcium levels. The calcium grows in the salt cell, leading the clogs and limited functionality.

If you don’t contain and lower the calcium hardness in a saltwater pool, it won’t be able to produce chlorine. You’ll end up with algae blooms and all sorts of other problems.

The calcium should range from 150ppm to 400ppm. It’s important to have a little bit of calcium in the water, especially if you have a plaster pool.

The calcium enriches the liner, preventing it from corroding. It also helps the pH and alkalinity stay within their recommended ranges.

Much like the pool’s TDS and salinity, the only way to get rid of the calcium in the water is to drain and refill the pool.

However, you can use a descaling solution to remove the calcium buildup from the walls and inside of the cell.

This treatment prevents you from draining the pool too often, though natural evaporation and refilling will help you dilute the calcium.

EasyCare Scaletec Stain Remover is a top-notch treatment that removes stains, calcium buildup, and scaling on the pool’s walls. One bottle removes the scaling and buildup in the water within a month. It’s an integral part of owning a saltwater pool.

Add Cyanuric Acid to the Water

Cyanuric acid, also known as pool stabilizer or pool conditioner, protects your pool’s chlorine from the sun. Unprotected chlorine and salt will burn out of the water when they get too hot.

Your pool should have a CYA level between 40ppm to 90ppm. I recommend keeping your saltwater pool’s CYA closer to 80ppm since the chlorine burns off quicker.

Unfortunately, having too much cyanuric acid in your pool will limit chlorine’s effectiveness.

Extremely high CYA levels will encourage algae growth, cloudiness, and other water problems.

It’s essential that you lower the cyanuric acid in the pool if it gets above 100ppm. Too little or too much of it makes your salt system much less useful.

Add CYA to the pool with these instructions:

  1. Pour Pool Mate Chlorine Stabilizer into the water. The company recommends using four ounces per 1,000 gallons in the pool.
  2. Circulate the pump for 24 hours. It’s important to run the pump after using any pool stabilizer to prevent cloudiness and dissolve the chemicals into the water.
  3. Test the cyanuric acid levels. If they’re too low, add a bit more per the manufacturer’s instructions. If they’re too high, drain a foot of the water with the aforementioned steps.

Brush and Vacuum the Swimming Pool

Pool vacuums remove debris, calcium build, and leftover salt from the pool. They’re excellent for all swimming pools since they keep them clean and clear.

It’s important to run the pool vacuum one to two times per week. After running a pool cleaner, always clean the filter, pump basket, and skimmer basket.

Brushing the pool pump will make a massive difference, too. I suggest brushing your swimming pool twice per week. Salt, microscopic algae, and other debris grow, even if you can’t see them.

Using a brush is the quickest way to push the debris into the pump and filter. You can backwash the filter after brushing the pool and circulating the pump.

So, why is it so important to brush a saltwater pool?

  • Calcium can grow on plaster, fiberglass, and pebble swimming pools. It needs to be removed to prevent corrosion and other side effects.
  • Some of the salt stays on the walls and floors of the pool after dumping it into the water. Brushing the sides will circulate the leftover salt into the salt cell.
  • Saltwater pools always have a higher TDS than regular pools. Brushing the walls will help other chemicals dissolve much easier by circulating the water.

Shock the Pool Weekly

Since saltwater pools maintain chlorine the same as chlorine tablets and liquid chlorine, you’ll have to shock the pool frequently.

You should shock a swimming pool weekly during the summer and bi-weekly during the winter. However, you might not have to shock the pool more than once per month if it’s below freezing.

Powder pool shock has the highest chlorine concentration of all chlorine forms. Pool Mate Granulated Chlorine has 55.5% available chlorine.

Three ounces of this powder chlorine increases the chlorine levels in a 10,000-gallon pool by 2ppm to 4ppm. Shocking the swimming pool will keep the water within the recommended range when paired with pool salt.

Some saltwater pools are stronger than others. The salt cell’s quality directly impacts how much chlorine it produces.

Cyanuric acid and a high-end salt system are sometimes enough to prevent weekly shock treatments during the winter. However, summertime pool maintenance almost always calls for powder shock a couple of times per month.

Never let the chlorine levels get above 5ppm or below 2ppm. A lack of chlorine causes algae growth, while too much chlorine causes corrosion, itchiness, and irritation.