It has become very common for people to use salt water pool systems struggle with traditional chlorine-based maintenance. Once people switch to salt, people get enthusiastic about how easy & cost-effective it is, as well as how much nicer the water is (its softer and gentler on the body).
So, when people that use salt pool systems tell their friends how much they love it, one interesting side effect is that it can create some misconceptions. One of the most notable examples is that it can create the impression that maintenance is not simply minimized, but not needed at all.
As a result, other pool owners can get the wrong idea when they finally make the switch. It sounded like their friends didn't have to do anything to care for the pool! Well, sometimes it really seems like that, but that definitely is not literally true. Taking that notion at face value can keep your pool system from working at its best. As a result, you might find yourself with a dirty pool. Worse, the chemical imbalance might go off the deep end and become a serious pain to fix.
Here at CircuPool, we want our customers to enjoy their new (or newly converted) pool. The only way you can do that is by taking good care of it. In light of this, we have compiled a starter guide to help new salt pool owners out. Read on for the essential maintenance guide for saltwater swimming pools. Once you get the whole idea, you'll see how easy things can really be, once things are running right!
The Need for Proper Maintenance
Getting introduced to new technology always creates confusion at first, so misconceptions are understandable. But the thing to remember is that left on its own for long enough, a pool will want to revert to its natural state - a big green pond. So, an easy way to think about what a swimming pool needs is to consider four main things - the four pillars of backyard pool care. Using a salt chlorination system addresses one of the largest aspects when it comes to pool maintenance (sanitation), but everything is interconnected. Here are those four main aspects:
- Sanitation - Killing micro-organisms. Ensuring your salt chlorination system operates correctly.
- Circulation & Filtration - Removing sediment, debris, and other impurities. Ensuring your pump & filter operate correctly.
- Monitoring Water Balance - Enabling effective pool sanitation, minimizing chemical intervention, plus protecting pool surfaces, equipment, and swimmers.
- Practical Maintenance - taking care of the details to keep every corner of the pool clean.
Pillar #1 - Pool Sanitation
A swimming pool without sanitation will have water that is green, opaque, and smelly. It's also potentially dangerous: micro-organisms can thrive and multiply uninhibited, and it can harbor disease-spreading pests.
For any pool, sanitation requires an "oxidizer" - traditionally liquid, granular, or tablet chlorine (or a combination of any). Instead of buying and lugging large quantities of buckets or jugs of conventional chlorine, salt pools naturally generate free chlorine at a constant rate.
Your role is to ensure sufficient sanitation. Using a salt chlorine generator, that essentially just means choosing the setting on its controller that meets your pool's needs. Once set, you may only need seasonal adjustments or to activate its temporary boost mode after rains, heavy pool use, etc... However, a salt chlorine generator can provide 100% of the sanitation your pool needs ONLY IF the other pillars of pool maintenance provide the needed support.
Pillar #2 - Pool Circulation & Filtration
Like any body of water, where there is greater water movement (circulation), it is harder for impurities to accumulate (think, a fast-moving stream versus a stagnant swamp). Similarly, where there are more opportunities for impurities to be captured (filtration), water quality is greatly improved (think, water collecting in a limestone aquifer versus ordinary water run-off pooling on the ground). Your pool pump & filter provide these two functions.
Ideally, your pool pump should be set to run long enough to circulate 1-2 times the amount of water in your pool through the pool filter each day. (If you don't have an estimate of your water's flow rate, you can consider the relatively easy addition of a flow meter.) Alternatively, as starting place, you can consider running your pump 1 hour for every 10 degrees (F) of outdoor temperature. With that rule of thumb, you can over the subsequent weeks monitor the pool for water clarity and the accumulation of sediment that may indicate you need to run the pump more (or if seeing none, potentially less).
Sufficient water circulation allows enough time for your filter to capture the debris & sediment that would otherwise float freely in your pool or cover the pool's bottom. By filtering your pool water, all of those impurities will be collected inside of your filter, and will eventually need to be cleaned out and removed. As a good rule of thumb, your pool filter typically only needs to be cleaned out when its pressure gauge rises 8-10 PSI over its normal baseline. Not sure what your unique baseline is? You may want to take this opportunity to go ahead and thoroughly clean your filter, and then record the resulting PSI reading when you turn your pump back on. Does your pool seem to need frequent filter cleanings? You may want to consider adding a prefilter!
Even if you have the right amount of circulation, filtration, and sanitation, IT'S NOT ENOUGH unless you keep the right chemical balance in the water!
Pillar #3 - Monitor & Correct Water Balance
The balance of your pool's water chemistry lays the foundation for every other pillar of pool maintenance. Balanced water chemistry means it's easy to have clean & clear pool water with minimal intervention. In contrast, imbalanced water chemistry makes everything harder: it can take dramatically higher amounts of sanitation to maintain proper chlorine levels and keep algae at bay(if you even can!); it can require longer pump run times and more filtration; it can cause hard-to-clean mineral scaling; it can cause dangerous water conditions for your swimmers, pool equipment, and/or pool surfaces!
Our intro pool chemistry guide can provide more information on the range of different pool chemistry levels and their importance. For our purposes here, we're going to highlight a few critical aspects that you can make a habit to monitor in order to have a BIG IMPACT on how easy your pool is to maintain.
Monitor your Free Chlorine Level Weekly
This is the main thing to check. Set your salt chlorine generator so that it maintains 1-3ppm free chlorine at all times. This residual level is your "shield" so that your water stays blue and micro-organisms can't get a foothold in your pool. When first setting up your salt system, you may want to check every couple days so that you can quickly make adjustments as needed. Once the right setting is found, its recommended to check weekly to be safe, but many people find that actual chlorine output adjustments are fairly seasonal. If you get heavy rains, have a pool party, or encounter other similar situations that may temporarily require more sanitation, try using your salt system's temporary "boost mode" to compensate.
Monitor your pH Level Weekly
Your pool's pH (how acidic or alkaline the water is) needs to be balanced, otherwise it can make your chlorine ineffective, can cause pool swimmer discomfort, and can greatly impact scaling and/or corrosion. When many people measure and maintain their pH balance, this comes down to regularly adding muriatic acid to lower the pH. If you want consistent pH balance, there's nothing more convenient than a pH balance system.
Minimize your Chlorine Demand
You wouldn't be ok with trying to have your home's HVAC unit try to compensate for windows and doors that were left open all the time, right? It's the same with your pool's sanitation. It is crucial to eliminate issues that can multiply the amount of chlorine it takes to keep clean water (i.e. ensuring low chlorine demand). The most high-impact levels to monitor are phosphates (keep well under 100ppb), nitrates (keep well under 5ppm), and stabilizer (not too low OR too high). When any of these three are at issue, it's possible for a pool to require many times higher amounts of chlorine in order to maintain the extra 1-3ppm residual level of unused free chlorine that you need.
Monitor your Salinity
Salinity is a key factor for your salt chlorine generator. It simply needs to be in range so that your salt system can perform its sanitation work. The range for most systems should be between 3000ppm and 4500ppm, though different systems may have different ranges. For most people, it simply means checking your salinity after rains or draining of water. On average, usually only a few bags of salt are needed a year (unless you fully drain your pool).
Pillar #4 - Practical Maintenance
Any swimming pool needs a little regular attendance, especially if it is outdoors.
Check your pump and skimmer strainer baskets regularly. Leaves, bugs, and other debris will collect there and may plug up your system.
Depending on your environment, you may want to use a net to help collect floating debris and/or sweep to help collect sediment on the pool bottom - especially if you're just trying to spruce up before guests come over. Even better consider a mechanical pool cleaner. Robotic pool cleaners can vacuum & scrub pool walls, floors, corners, and even the waterline; they are virtually plug-and-play; smart models can learn the pool's shape to ensure every inch is covered!
Inspect and clean your salt cell when needed. Depending on your water balance, you may need to clean it a few times a year. Follow the instructions in the user manual to clean your cell.
Follow the pump & filter instruction manuals to ensure proper mechanical maintenance and or replace components. This may be beneficial to check at least seasonally.