Salt water pools draw a lot of attention to potential pool owners because they are perceived as easier to maintain. But what does “easier” mean exactly? We’re here to dispel the rumors that salt water pools don’t need as much maintenance as chlorine-treated pools. Because as much as we’d like to sugar coat the truth, owning a salt water pool requires enough attention to keep your water sparkling clean – just in a different way.
Salt Water Pools Explained
Salt pools often have stable chemistry due to the buffering effect of the salt, and the continuous removal of combined chlorine (chloramines) within the salt cell. In addition, chlorine level peaks and valleys are less likely to occur, resulting in fewer water quality issues or algae blooms.
That doesn’t mean salt water pool are not maintenance free. When owning a salt water pool, you have a salt system that consists of a controller, sensors and a salt cell — all of them requiring maintenance in order to keep the chlorine flowing freely. And in order to keep your salt system from prematurely failing, there are three very important things to monitor: water chemistry, water temperature, and water flow rates.
To reduce the workload on your salt cell, maintain a pH level of 7.3 to 7.5. A higher pH level causes the chlorine to work as efficiently as it should. Most salt water pool owners experience a pH level that tends to rise slowly over time, requiring periodic additions of pH Decreaser, or dry acid to lower the pH level.
Total Alkalinity Level
For salt water pools, Alkalinity should level to around 110 to 120 ppm in order to help buffer the pH level, which helps prevent pH from increasing rapidly. This is very important during the summer months. We recommend adding Alkalinity Increaser as needed to maintain the level.
Remember that every salt system varies when it comes to the manufacturer recommended “salinity level.” Which is why it is recommended that you test and adjust your salt level to operate in the middle of the range provided. In addition, testing your salt level monthly is always recommended even if your salt system features an “Add Salt” light or notification.
Cyanuric Acid Level
Just like a chlorine-tablet pool, long sunny summer days demand the use of stabilizer (aka cyanuric acid), to prevent degradation of the chlorine by sunlight. A level of 30-50 ppm of cyanuric acid stabilizer is sufficient to keep the salt cell from overworking.
But I have a salt water pool?! Despite owning a salt water pool, it is still vital to check the chlorine levels. One thing to remember is that your salt system won’t display the chlorine reading, only the output level of the salt cell. This is why you should test the chlorine levels regularly to maintain the right amount of chlorine (1.0 to 2.0 ppm).
Because salt water chlorinators do not function in cold water, most salt systems will shut down in water temperatures of 60 degree Fahrenheit or below. When water temperatures go up in the summer (above 80 degrees Fahrenheit), chlorine consumption increases. Warm water requires salt cells to run longer, or operate at a higher output percentage to maintain chlorine levels.
For this very reason, many salt water pool owners will use tablets or granular chlorine to chlorinate the pool when the water temperature is below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Monitoring the water temperature inside your saltwater pool is imperative to keep water levels flowing and maintained properly.
As many salt water pool owners know, pool salt chlorinators come equipped with a temperature sensor and a salt sensor. These chlorinators also have a water flowmeter to let you know that a minimum amount of water flow is passing through the salt cell. When the “Low Flow” indicator light comes on in your chlorinator, then this is your first step to begin troubleshooting.
Inspecting the salt cell, such as looking for scale deposits or debris, that may have passed through the filter, should be done every few months. Cleaning the hoses for debris in a 25% muriatic acid solution to remove visible scale is another great way to keep your salt cell in tip top shape. If your salt system has a self-cleaning feature, then no need to do what was recommended above. However, every salt cell should be removed and visually inspected regularly and cleaned if scale or debris is found on cell surfaces.
So the next time you hear someone saying that salt water pools are so much easier to maintain, take it with a grain of salt! (Get it? Get it?) Salt water pool maintenance requires just about the same as chlorine-treated pools. You still need to pay close attention to the water balance, circulation, and filtration. Owning a pool requires some work, but we think it’s absolutely worth it. Don’t you?
Thank you to our contributing writer Rob for help with this article!