How to Clean a Salt Water Pool – A Maintenance Guide

How to Clean a Salt Water Pool

Often I hear saltwater pools get recommended to pool owners who struggle to keep up with traditional chlorine pool maintenance as a low maintenance alternative.

Then once they switch to a saltwater pool, they basically do little to no maintenance and are surprised when their pool water ends up green and full of algae.

The reality is that salt water pools require comparable amounts of maintenance as a chlorine pool. This misconception that it is low maintenance has tricked many people into spending thousands converting their chlorine pool to a saltwater system in the hopes that they can be mostly hands off, but little do they know.

That is why in this article, I will be going over how to clean a saltwater pool. Learn the step-by-step instructions for what maintenance work should be done for your saltwater pool on a daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal basis.

When should you clean your saltwater pool?

Every day

Every day, yes, every single day, you should at least briefly inspect your pool to see that everything is in working order. You should also do some light cleaning by skimming off any visible debris, checking that the skimmer is clear, and emptying the pump basket.

Once a week

Once a week, you need to do a more thorough cleaning beyond just netting the pool’s surface. If you leave your pool uncovered and/or you live in a heavily forested area, you need to do the following:

Vacuum the pool. If you have an automatic pool cleaner, then you don’t even have to worry about this.

Check that the pump and filter are operating properly. Rinse off the pump, filter, and skimmer with a garden hose while you’re at it.

Test the water chemistry with a water test strip and balance accordingly. Especially keep an eye out for the pH and chlorine levels.

If the salt chlorine generator is working properly, the chlorine concentration should be between 1-3 ppm. As for the pH, you may need to add soda ash or baking soda to normalize alkalinity and pH levels.

Once a month

Some additional checks should be performed every month.

Check if the salt levels are within the manufacturer’s recommended range. To do this, I recommend using a saltwater test kit. Do not rely on the salt chlorinator’s automatic reading. And if the readings are low, this can be increased by adding more salt until it is within the ideal range of 3000-3500 ppm.

Ensure the stabilizers levels are 70-80 ppm for an outdoor pool, and 0-30 ppm for an indoor pool. If the readings are too high, add freshwater to dilute it down. If they are too low, add cyanuric acid.

Check that the calcium reading is around 200-400 ppm. Too high, and the pool will have lots of scaling. Too low, and the pool could become cloudy and cause etching.

After a storm or heavy use

If you’ve just had rainfall or hosted a pool party, do the following:

To get rid of the contaminants that were likely introduced, shock the pool. Use calcium hypochlorite shock powder. Pool shock can clear up a cloudy or green pool and turn it back into a clear pool again.

Add the pool shock early in the morning, and make sure nobody enters the pool as it is disinfecting the water. Wait anywhere from 12-24 hours, or until the chlorine level has dropped below 5 ppm.

Remember to also clean the pool walls and any pool toys that were in the pool.

Every three months

The salt cell should be thoroughly cleaned every three months, and most chlorinators have an alert for when it’s time to do so. Here’s how to clean it.

Remove the salt cell and inspect it for debris or scale buildup.

If you see any, flush the cell with a garden hose using a high-pressure setting. If that doesn’t work, use a piece of plastic or wood and try to scrape it off, taking care not to damage the cell.

If that doesn’t work, the last resort is to use muriatic acid (mix it in a 4:1 ratio of water to muriatic acid, making sure to add water first for safety reasons) and soak the cell in this solution. After soaking for a few minutes, rinse the cell with a hose.

After cleaning the cell, reinstall it and make sure the salt chlorine generator is running fine.

At the end of the swim season

To properly close and winterize your pool when swim season is over, do the following:

Test the water in the pool and balance the water chemistry for the last time this season. This helps create the ideal environment for winterizing your pool.

Use a pool closing kit to keep your pool water in good condition throughout the off-season. These kits typically consist of shock, algaecide, and metal remover.

Remove the salt cell and flow switch, clean them, and store them in a weather controlled location.

Drain the water from the pool’s plumbing system, not the pool itself. If you can’t fully drain it, fill the skimmer with antifreeze.

Clean and brush the pool’s surfaces.

Drain the water level low enough for a winter cover to be placed over it. Remove any pool accessories prior to covering.

Make sure the pool cover is clean before deploying it.

Lastly, shut off the breaker for the pump at the main control panel.

At the start of the swim season

When the weather starts getting warmer and the pool beckons, you need to open it properly to ensure everything is still in working order and the water is safe to swim in once again. Here’s how:

First, top up the pool with freshwater until the water level is back to its normal range again. Turn on the breaker to power up the pool equipment. Check that the system is in working order before taking the pool cover and freeze protection for the pool devices off.

Before taking the pool cover off, clean any debris and water off from its surface. You don’t want them to spill into the pool as you’re removing the cover.

Scrub the surface of the pool thoroughly; it’s bound to be dirty after being neglected for so long.

Test the water chemistry with a water test kit and balance as needed. You probably need to add pool salt. You should also run the pump for at least 12 hours without turning the chlorine generator on to evenly spread the chemicals.  Once you’re happy with the chemistry levels, turn the chlorine generator on.

Check your zinc anode if you have one. Its condition can clue you into how much damage may have been caused to the pool and anything nearby.

Inspect the handrails and ladders for corrosion damage. If you have a diving board, check that as well as the stand. Make sure everything is still structurally sound and take care of any rust spots before they become too serious.

As you’ve probably noticed, there are a lot of steps involved with cleaning and maintaining a saltwater pool, and many of them are similar to what you’d do for a chlorine pool. So do not buy into the myth that a saltwater pool is somehow low maintenance; both saltwater and chlorine pools require a lot of upkeep!

Photo Credit: Michael Yon (CC BY-NC 2.0)