After a little bit of work, you can have a lot of summer fun
Homeowners love saltwater pools because they’re gentler on the skin and eyes than traditional chlorine pools. They also happen to be gentler on maintenance—as in, you won’t spend your summer constantly tinkering with chlorine levels. That said, low maintenance doesn't mean no maintenance. This guide explains the ins and outs of saltwater pool maintenance, so you can relax rather than worry.
Why Do I Have to Maintain My Saltwater Pool?
Ever see a stagnant pond covered in green algae? An unmaintained pool isn’t all that different. Nature always finds a way—and that includes algae and the potentially harmful microorganisms that feed on it. In some cases, a pool can start turning green overnight.
This is why saltwater pool maintenance is extremely important, but it’s about more than just the perfect balance of chemicals. It’s also about filtration and circulation. A lack of maintenance can throw off the pH and salinity or plug up your system. This can invite harmful organisms to play as too much salt breaks down equipment, leading to costly repairs.
How Much Does It Cost to Maintain a Saltwater Pool?
Maintaining a saltwater pool costs less than maintaining a chlorine pool, largely because you don't need to purchase and store chlorine. Expect to spend around $100 per year on salt and chemicals (as opposed to the $300 to $800 for chlorine pool chemicals).
Signs Your Saltwater Pool Needs Maintenance
The best course of action isn’t to wait until you notice a red flag (or in this case, some very green water). Instead, be proactive. Stick to a regular pool maintenance schedule. Some warning signs include:
Visible debris and residue
A scaly layer on the water’s surface
A lower water level
Abnormally cold water
Blocked pipes or broken hardware
Broken swimming pool lights
How to Maintain a Saltwater Pool
Saltwater pool chemistry is a careful balance, but you can use a liquid pool testing kit or testing strips to help. Liquid kits are typically more accurate, but testing strips are easier. You’ll need to check some saltwater pool chemicals weekly and others monthly. Here’s a step-by-step guide.
1. Give Your Pool a Daily Clean
As long as your pool is open, you should perform a few daily cleaning duties. This is a light load of work that ensures your filters, pump, and skimmer don’t get clogged or malfunction. Each morning:
Skim the surface of the pool with a net to remove visible debris, like leaves
Clear the pool skimmer
Empty the pool pump's basket
Clean the pool filter
2. Vacuum Regularly
Vacuum your pool with a pool vacuum at least once a week. This takes about an hour by hand, but you can save time by using an automatic pool vacuum.
3. Hose Down the Pool Deck
Since saltwater is corrosive, it can wear down your patio or pool deck. Rinse off the pool area once a week with a garden hose—and don’t forget to hose down the pump, the filter, and skimmer.
4. Test pH Level Weekly
A well-balanced pool will have a pH level between 7.2 and 7.6. If the pH level falls outside of this range, then use:
Baking soda to raise the pool’s pH level
Sodium carbonate or muriatic acid to lower the pool’s pH level
5. Test Free Chlorine Levels Weekly
Saltwater pools actually contain chlorine. It’s just generated through electrolysis rather than added directly. Check your free chlorine levels every week. The ideal reading is between 1.0 ppm and 3.0 parts per million (ppm). If your current level isn't within this range, adjust the output of your chlorine generator accordingly.
6. Test Salt Levels Monthly
Typically, your salinity level should fall between 2,700 to 3,400 ppm, but this number can vary based on the type of salt cell generator you have. Check your generator's instructions to verify the appropriate salinity level, and use a pool salt calculator to figure out how much salt you need. If levels are too low, you’ll need to add more salt. If levels are too high, you’ll need to drain some of your pool and refill it with fresh water.
7. Test Alkalinity Levels Monthly
A normal alkalinity level is between 80 to 120 ppm. Use a sodium bisulfate product or muriatic acid to lower alkalinity and sodium bicarbonate to raise it, depending on your needs.
8. Check Cyanuric Acid (CYA) Levels Monthly
Ideally, your pool's CYA level will be between 70 to 80. You can raise CYA levels by simply adding more CYA. To lower it, you'll need to dilute your pool water by draining a bit of it and adding fresh water.
9. Test the Calcium Hardness Monthly
Calcium hardness should fall between 200 and 400 ppm. You can raise the calcium hardness level by adding calcium chloride. To lower it, you need to drain some of your pool water and add fresh water to dilute it a bit.
10. Inspect and Clean Your Salt Cell
Every three or four months, inspect your salt cell generator for any buildup. This will help ensure it performs well throughout the year. If you notice any buildup, then scrub it off with a brush and spray it down with a high-pressure hose. If you don't notice any buildup, then just rinse it off and put it back in the basket.
11. Shock Your Pool as Needed
If you notice green water, cloudy water, surface stains, or very low chlorine levels, you may want to shock your pool. Some saltwater pools have a shock button on the salt cell, but it’s easier on the system to use calcium hypochlorite shock powder. Before adding the powder, test and balance the following:
Chlorine reacts slowly in water with a high pH level, but the shock could cause crystalline deposits to form if your calcium hardness is high. After that, add the powder based on the manufacturer’s instructions.
Tips for Salt Water Pool Maintenance
Saltwater pools are subject to the elements—which includes everything from rain and high temperatures to body sweat. This can all affect the delicate balance of chemicals, but these pool maintenance tips can help you manage:
Create a maintenance schedule so you don’t miss important tasks
Since rainwater dilutes pool chemicals, always test after a rainstorm.
Saltwater generators work harder in warm climates, so certain homeowners may need to clean or replace their salt cell more often.
Shock your pool after heavy use—like following a pool party.
Since saltwater is corrosive, don’t forget to clean pool ladders and railings regularly.
Your pump, filter, and skimmer come with maintenance directions to make things easy.
If you’re short on time, use a pool chemical or pH test strip rather than a liquid testing kit.
DIY vs. Hire a Pro
Most homeowners can maintain their pool on their own for the cost of chemicals—but it’s a big commitment. To skip some of the headache, many homeowners choose to hire a local pool cleaning company. Pros are particularly helpful if you’re opening for the season or need to winterize your pool, since those instances require a few extra, specialized maintenance tasks.
That being said, there are certain times when a pro is less of want and more of a need. Call a pool service near you if you notice habitual water discoloration, an unusually low pool level, or issues with equipment.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are three aspects of saltwater pool maintenance: the water, the equipment, and the pool area. For the water, you’ll need to balance pH, calcium hardness, and other pool chemicals. For the equipment, you’ll need to make sure your pump, filter, skimmer, and salt cell are clean and in working order. Finally, you’ll need to keep the pool area clean and free from debris.
You should service your saltwater pool every six months. If you use your pool frequently or you live in a warm climate, you may need to service your pool more often. Salt cells need regular inspection and cleaning (at least every three months) and you’ll need to replace them every three to seven years.
Salt doesn’t evaporate from a pool like chlorine. Instead, it can only be diluted. As such, you’ll typically only need to add salt following a heavy rain or if you fill your pool.