Maintaining a Saltwater Pool: All You Need to Know

Maintaining a saltwater pool may seem like a daunting task, especially to those who are new to this type of pool. Just the thought of keeping a pool sanitized without the use of chlorine may seem difficult and even impossible. Fortunately, maintaining a saltwater pool is much simpler than it may appear. If you’re unsure how to maintain your saltwater pool, you have come to the right place. Today, we’ll explain in detail everything you need to know about maintaining a saltwater pool and how saltwater pools function.

How to Maintain a Saltwater Pool

Regular pool maintenance is the key to keeping saltwater pools running smoothly and efficiently. Because saltwater pools operate quite differently than chlorine pools, it’s important to understand how saltwater pools work and, most importantly, how to properly maintain them.

In general, maintaining a saltwater pool is a somewhat easy process. In fact, caring for a saltwater pool is considered much simpler than caring for a chlorine pool. Because saltwater pools don’t require frequent chemical adjustments, minimal maintenance is necessary to keep pool water clean.

To keep your saltwater pool running strong, however, it’s important to routinely check the equipment of the pool. Additionally, pool owners should examine the water quality to ensure proper pool chemistry and filtration.

If you’re unsure how to maintain a saltwater pool, have no worries! Today, we’ll break down the steps to maintaining a saltwater pool and common questions asked by pool owners.

Maintaining Proper Pool Water Circulation

The first step to saltwater pool maintenance is proper water circulation. As you likely already know, pool water circulation is the key to keeping pool water clean. Without circulation, pool water will become stagnant and develop a cloudy appearance in a short period of time.

With saltwater pools, another common issue can arise when water isn’t properly circulating. This issue is when saltwater concentration becomes too high in certain areas due to the low circulation. To fix, as well as prevent this issue you will need to ensure there is proper pool circulation.

Maintaining proper water circulation is a fairly easy process in saltwater pools. Simply examine the pace water is rotating through your pool’s filters. If your pool’s water has an improper turnover rate, you may need to adjust the angles on your jets.

To determine your pool’s circulation, you may need to use a certain device for saltwater pools. One such device that many pool owners use is a salt concentration detector. By using a salt concentration detector in various sections of the pool, you can determine if your water needs more circulation.

Maintaining Salt Water Pool Equipment

Almost every saltwater pool is equipped with a chlorine generator, also known as salt cells. These chlorine generators work by electrolysis, meaning the saltwater is electrically charged. As a result, the salt molecules are split, and the salt cells generate chlorine.

As with any other pool, proper maintenance of equipment is essential to keep saltwater pools running. When water pH levels become high, scaling and calcium buildup may occur on pool equipment, consequently clogging the filter. This not only creates cloudy water in pools, but it can ultimately damage your pool equipment.

To maintain saltwater pool equipment, you’ll need to inspect the salt cells regularly and clean the generator as needed. Below, we’ll explain this process in further detail.

How to Inspect Salt Cells

To inspect salt cells, first, turn off the power of the salt cell generator. Most salt generators will have a button or switch for turning it off. After shutting it off, unplug the salt cell generator to ensure it is safe to work with. You may also need to turn off the pool’s pump and other devices.

Once you’ve turned off the salt cell generator, the next step is inspecting the salt cells. To do this, unscrew the salt cells on both ends of the generator, and carefully remove them. Visually inspect the metal plates inside the salt cells for white, flaky mineral deposits.

If your pool’s salt cells are free of mineral deposits, there is no need for physical or chemical cleaning. Simply reassemble the system and inspect it again in two months or sooner. Generally, salt cells should be examined at least every two months. In addition, most need cleaning at least every six months, though some need cleaning more often.

How to Physically Clean Salt Cells

If you notice mineral buildup on your salt cells, it’s important to clean the salt cells immediately to prevent the filters from clogging. To clean salt cells, you may use a cleaning tool to remove large debris. You may also use your hand to clean the salt cells, as long as you never force your hand into the cell.

Once you’ve removed the debris, rinse the cell with a hose for additional cleaning. In most cases, this will remove the mineral buildup. If, however, there are still mineral deposits, you may need to chemically clean the salt cells.

How to Chemically Clean Salt Cells

To chemically clean salt cells, you’ll need to make a solution of five parts clean water to one part muriatic acid. Pour the muriatic acid directly into the water; never pour water onto the acid. Be sure to wear goggles and latex gloves for the entire cleaning process.

Once the solution is made, cap the cell and pour the solution directly into the salt cell. Place the salt cell in a bucket or cell stand and allow the cell to soak for 10 to 15 minutes. Once it stops foaming, pour the solution back into a bucket, hose down the cell, and, finally, reassemble the system.

Never pour the solution down your pipes or on the ground. Instead, you may get rid of it at your local hazardous waste collection center. Keep in mind that this form of cleaning may damage the cell over time, so limit how often you chemically clean it.

Maintaining Proper Pool Water Chemistry

Maintaining proper pool chemistry is probably the most challenging part of maintaining a saltwater pool. Without proper pool chemistry, your pool water may become cloudy, and pool equipment may become damaged. Fortunately, with the right tools and knowledge, maintaining proper water chemistry can be an easy task.

Maintain a Proper Salt Level

The first step to maintaining proper pool water chemistry is checking the salt levels. Most saltwater pools have a salt level of 3200 ppm (parts per million), though this level may vary by manufacturer. Ideally, in order for salt chlorine generators to work, your salt level must be at least 3000 ppm. If it is any lower than this, you’ll need to add pool salt until it reaches the required level.

Salt levels should be checked about every month, or whenever you check your pool’s chemistry. If your salt levels are too high, you may need to adjust your pool’s filtration system to ensure the water is turning over at least every eight hours. For pools with a salt level too low, add the correct amount of salt into the deep end of your pool, and turn your pool pump on.

Maintain the Stabilizer

The second step to maintaining water chemistry is managing the stabilizer of your saltwater pool. The stabilizer, as you may already know, is what keeps chlorine from evaporating out of the pool. In most saltwater pools, cyanuric acid is recommended, as it bonds well with chlorine. Once your stabilizer is at the proper level, your saltwater pool’s chlorine levels will remain steady.

Shocking Your Saltwater Pool

Similar to chlorine pools, saltwater pools need shock from time to time. In general, saltwater pools need a shock once a week to maintain clean, healthy water. The ideal choice for shocking saltwater pools is granular chlorine, as it burns up organic material when chlorine levels are off. As always, refer to the manufacturer’s instructions before shocking your saltwater pool.

Maintain Proper pH Levels

When saltwater pools have unusually high pH levels, the pool’s equipment is at risk of becoming clogged. Thus, it is important to manage proper pH levels and test your pool’s pH regularly.

Generally, saltwater pools should have a pH between 7.2 and 7.8. Keep in mind that this number may increase over time, so be prepared to lower the pH level occasionally. Because it is essential to keep pH levels balanced, it is recommended to check your pool’s pH levels at least once a week.

Is It Difficult to Maintain a Saltwater Pool?

If you’ve ever owned a chlorinated pool, you understand how much maintenance they require. In addition to the frequent testing of pH levels, traditional chlorine pools need a chlorine value of 1 to 1.5 ppm added at least twice a week. Because saltwater pools do not require chlorine, you may wonder whether or not saltwater pools are easier to maintain.

Though saltwater pools do require maintenance, most pool owners agree they are much easier to maintain than chlorine pools. This is primarily because saltwater pools do not require the frequent adding of chlorine. Furthermore, saltwater pools remain more stable than chlorine pools, meaning fewer chemicals are needed to keep saltwater pools balanced.

Maintaining a saltwater pool mainly requires the cleaning of salt cells every six months, and the weekly checking of pH levels. Additionally, you’ll want to inspect the pool’s circulation and the pool water chemistry.

What Chemicals are Needed for a Saltwater Pool?

Although saltwater pools require fewer chemicals than chlorine pools, they still need certain elements to keep the pool water both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Essential chemicals to add include algaecides, water clarifiers, and of course, salt.

Ideally, a saltwater pool should have a salt level of 3,200 ppm (parts per million). However, the salt level can range from 2,700 ppm to 3,400 ppm. Regularly check your pool’s salt level to determine when salt needs adding.

Though it isn’t necessary, some pool owners add chlorine tabs or granular chlorine to their saltwater pools. This is most commonly added in the event of pump or filter issues. In addition, you may add pool shock to keep pool water balanced and clean.

As always, routinely check your pool’s pH levels to ensure the water is balanced. If the pH level is high, you may need a pH reducer. Additionally, monitor the levels of alkalinity, calcium, and cyanuric acid.

How Much Does it Cost to Maintain a Saltwater Pool?

Because saltwater pools require fewer chemicals, they are essentially less expensive to maintain. In fact, saltwater pools typically cost $50 to $100 to annually maintain, whereas chlorine pools may cost $250 to $800 to maintain each year.

When properly cared for, saltwater pool equipment may last up to seven years before needing replacing, such as a new salt cell generator. Thus, if you want to extend your pool’s lifespan, it’s important to inspect and maintain pool equipment regularly.

How Often Should I Clean a Salt Water Pool?

Regular cleaning is essential for keeping saltwater pools running properly. Cleaning your saltwater pool keeps the filter running strong, ensuring the water is always crystal clear and safe to swim in.

In general, a saltwater pool should be cleaned twice a week. This process should include vacuuming the pool, removing debris, checking the water chemistry, and cleaning the filtration system. Additionally, every month, you should check the salt levels and stabilizer levels.

Every two months, the pool’s salt cells should be disassembled and carefully examined. Most salt cells need cleaning every six months. The cleaning process may involve hosing down the inside of the cell, as well as removing any debris by hand. If mineral buildup is an issue, you may use a chemical solution to thoroughly clean the salt cells. 

In summary, maintaining a saltwater pool is a fairly easy process. Although regular maintenance is required, saltwater pools are considered much easier to maintain than chlorine pools. By installing a saltwater pool, you can save a significant amount of money spent on chlorine and other chemicals. What’s more, if you have skin sensitivities, you won’t need to worry about chlorine bothering your skin. 

Jed Arnold

Jed spent every year from the ages of 15 - 22 as a Lifeguard (Red Cross) and ages of 17 - 22 as a Certified Pool Operator (CPO). Between working for over a dozen facilities and owning a pool, he carries over a decade of pool experience.

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