How to Get the Perfect Chemical Balance for Your Saltwater Pool—The Easy Way

So you have a saltwater pool, huh? Congratulations, you made a pretty great call. As common and reliable as chlorine is, it has some pretty serious side effects. You probably already know about that you’ve seen your blond hair turn a strange shade of green! Thankfully, pools that use a saltwater generator keep swimmers comfortable and away from high concentrations of intense sanitizer. And to take those pros across the finish line, saltwater pools are also lower maintenance than traditional pools. Really, I’m not kidding.

But how are saltwater pools lower maintenance? That all lies in the decreased amount of chemicals pool owners need to balance. But regardless of how easy it is to manage, water chemistry in a saltwater pool is just as important as in a traditional pool. I’ll explain why chemical balance is important to get just right, how your saltwater pool works on a chemical level, how chemical balance goes beyond just pool shock, and how to balance chemicals in your saltwater pool perfectly. It’s easy, so let’s dive in. 

Chemical Balance: Safety for You and Your Pool

Alright, let’s briefly visit some basics. A swimming pool—whether it’s saltwater or not—has its own sort of ecosystem, in which each chemical does its part and supports the overall condition of your pool water, your pool equipment, and the pool itself. Don’t be like some pool owners who hear that saltwater pools are easier to maintain and figure they never have to touch another chemical in their life, and then wonder about why algae has turned their swimming pool into a swimming swamp. Yuck. Chemical balance is just as important to nail in a saltwater pool than any other type.

If I were to rank them, the number one reason why chemical balance is important to maintain is swimmer safety. If your pool’s chemical ecosystem is off, the effectiveness of your sanitizer can be seriously disrupted. When that happens, all the microscopic bacteria that cannot simply be circulated out through your pool’s filtration system is able to thrive happily in those same waters you use to cannonball. That means that even if you’re the only human in the pool, you’re not swimming alone. If bacteria is left unchecked, it can lead to algae infestations and can even make you sick. Not all bacteria is the harmless kind, and water-borne illnesses, unfortunately, are definitely a thing.

You chemical balance can also affect the performance of your saltwater generator and other equipment, such as your pump, filter, and heater, if you have one. Chemical imbalances can also wreak havoc on your actual pool. If you’re not seeing dollar signs as you’re thinking about this possibility, you should. Neglecting your chemicals could seriously cost you, and we never want that.

Is your saltwater generator not cutting it? It should be keep your chlorine is operating at the lowest, safest, and most consistent levels possible—without false readings or misfirings. Make a smooth transition with the Salt Ways Eco Friendly Salt Chlorine Generator. It’s ultra-reliable and comes with a lifetime warranty. 

how to get perfect chemical balance for your saltwater pool

The Secret of Saltwater: How It Works

Let’s shatter this myth once and for all: saltwater pools don’t technically sanitize with salt (at least, it doesn’t end up as salt). I know, the name makes it a little more confusing. But actually, saltwater pools use good old chlorine just like traditional pools—except it generates chlorine on-site, and keeps the levels so low that you hardly know it’s there. That means that even though your pool is sanitized, you won’t have your hair turning colors, your skin burning, or your floaties and swimsuits getting slowly eaten away. Believe it or not, exposure to high concentrations of chlorine can make that happen.

It’s not difficult to understand how your saltwater pool works. The salt cell, or generator, draws in the dissolved salt in your water, and then converts it to chlorine using a process called electrolysis. Through this process, it is able to circumvent oxidation, which is what usually produces common chlorine byproducts called chloramines. It’s not technically chlorine that wreaks havoc on swimmers. It’s chloramines, their noxious, uncomfortable spawns. Without those, it’s as if you’re shocking your pool every single day—without the work.

In order for your saltwater pool to stay efficient—and that means cost-effective, as well—you’ll need to make sure you have a powerful, dependable saltwater generator. Otherwise, you’re just waiting for maintenance mishaps to happen.

Balance Goes Beyond Pool Shock

With traditional pools, these chemicals include sanitizer, pH balancers, cyanuric acid, calcium hardness, and more. With saltwater pools, you’re able to deal with less chemicals, but less chemicals doesn’t mean no chemicals. You’ll need to keep tabs on your salt, cyanuric acid, free chlorine, pH, total alkalinity, and calcium hardness levels.

Some saltwater pool owners also assume that they can just throw shock in and call the chemical balance all sorted out and done—but where this idea came from I couldn’t tell you. Saltwater pools actually need to be shocked much less than other traditional pools, because they contain fewer chloramines. Usually only about once a month is recommended, outside of pool opening and pool closing days.

Before You Start, Know Your Size

When it comes to balancing your chemicals—and by the way, choosing pool equipment and deciding how long to run your pump every day—it’s important to know how many gallons your pool contains. Make sure to calculate your pool size as soon as possible, and write it down so that you won’t forget it. This will prevent you from overshooting your chemicals, or putting too much strain on your equipment. Knowing the dimensions of your pool will also help you choose the right winter cover. Okay, PSA over. Basically, calculate your pool’s size and you’ll make your life instantly easier.

Knowing your pool size will save you a lot of money on maintenance costs, but it’ll also help you find the perfect heat pump, like the Energy-Saving ComforTemp Pool Heat Pump 95,000 BTU to heat 18,000 Gallons. According to customer Steve, “Simple install and simple set up. Heated my pool from 66 to 82 degrees in about 2 complete days.”

how to get perfect chemical balance for your saltwater pool

How to Achieve the Perfect Saltwater Chemical Balance 

Although you ultimately want to assess the overall levels of your pool—you don’t have different test strips for each chemical for a reason—the perfect chemical balance lies in checking in with your salt, cyanuric acid, free chlorine, pH, total alkalinity, and calcium hardness. Remember, some of these chemicals influence each other, like pH and total alkalinity. So if you’re seeing a general trend between these two, make sure you’re treating them both in tandem.

Before we get leveling, make sure that you have mined salt that’s at least 95% pure, cyanuric acid, a pH increaser, alkalinity increaser, and a calcium hardness increaser. That’s all you need.

1.     Good Old Salt

 I’m sure you’re not surprised by this one. For saltwater pools, you’ll need a considerable about of, ahem, salt in the water. This is what the salt cell or generator uses to convert into the same compound as chlorine, which then keeps your water sanitized. This is the main actor in your pool that keeps your water clean from nasty bacteria, so it’s not one you’d want to skip.

You might need a separate test strip for saltwater, but trust me: it’s worth it. Some pool owners defer only to the indicator on their saltwater generators, but that’s a risky move. It’s fairly common for a failure in the salt cell to trigger false readings and prompt pool owners to load up on salt when it’s unnecessary—and it’s tougher to decrease salt than simply add it. If you need to lower your salt content, you’ll need to partially drain your pool. Which, by the way, can be an ordeal.

The recommended salt levels are between 2700 and 3400 parts per million (ppm), but if you want to nail the magic number, that’s 3200 ppm. 

2.     Cyanuric Acid: The Chlorine Supporter

Meet the chemical that helps your pool stay sanitized, but is too often overlooked. Cyanuric acid works together with chlorine to protect it from breaking down in the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Yes, even saltwater-generated chlorine needs some protection. And unless you have a pool that never gets any direct sunlight, you’ll need cyanuric acid to keep your chorine effective.

To increase your cyanuric acid, dilute it, add it directly to your skimmer, and run your pump for about eight hours to make sure it’s properly circulated. The only way to lower your cyanuric acid, unfortunately, is also the only way to lower your salt levels. You’re going to give your water a partial drain. Womp womp.

The recommended cyanuric acid levels for outdoor pools between 70 and 80 ppm, and the recommended levels for covered pools is between 20 and 40 ppm.

3.     Check Your Free Chlorine

Yes, your saltwater generator is creating chlorine on the spot, so it’s sort of “free.” But in this case, free chlorine actually refers to the amount of chlorine that hasn’t already been used up, you know, killing tiny things. To lower your free chlorine, you can reduce the output setting on your saltwater generator. If you can’t consistently maintain a high enough free chlorine, you might need to increase how long you run your pump every day. This will keep your saltwater generator generating more chlorine throughout the day, and thus increase your free chlorine. Ta da.

The recommended free chlorine levels are between 1 and 3 ppm. 

4.     pH for a Perfect Swim

I’ll keep the chemistry-class lingo here brief: pH is a measurement of how acidic or basic a substance is. The scale covers 0-14, and anything below 7 is acidic, while anything above 7 is basic.

The ideal level of pH for pool water is almost just in the middle, and will help chlorine work at its full capacity. In order to increase your pH, you’ll want to use a pH increaser such as soda ash or baking soda. To decrease your pH, you can use a pH decreaser such as muriatic acid. With both of these types of chemicals, you’ll want to dilute them first and then pour the solution slowly around the perimeter of your pool, and then run your pump for eight hours. Don’t forget to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

The recommended pH level of your water is between 7.4 and 7.6. Keep in mind that human eyes and mucus membranes have a pH of 7.4. So not only does your pH keep your pool water clean, but it also keeps it as comfortable as possible, too. And there’s nothing basic about that. 

5.     Total Alkalinity is Key

This is where the idea of balance really starts to set in. As I mentioned before, total alkalinity and pH work in tandem. Basically, pH depends on this nifty chemical: alkaline. To keep pH from being too influenced by external factors, alkaline steps in to take the heat.

If your total alkalinity isn’t right on the mark, you might corrode the metal parts of your pool, stain your pool, create cloudy water in your pool, reduce how well your chlorine works, and experience burning and itchy eyes. Basically, this is one chemical you want to get just right.

Unfortunately, an alkaline decreaser doesn’t exist—in fact, it doesn’t have to. When you use a pH decreaser, your alkalinity levels will also drop. Expecting a vicious cycle ahead? Don’t worry—a pH increaser won’t increase alkalinity in the same way. Just make sure you adjust alkalinity first, and then pH. This line of command will make sure alkalinity is ready to protect pH from the get go.

The ideal alkalinity level is anywhere between 60 ppm and 80 ppm safely.

6.     Go Hard for Calcium Hardness

You probably know about hard water, especially if you’re used to dealing with white spots on your glass dishes. Calcium hardness is the measurement of how hard or soft your water is, which depends on where you live and where your water comes from.

If the calcium is too low, you’ll want to add a calcium hardness increaser to prevent scaling and corrosion of your pool walls, pump, pool filter, and other equipment. If it’s too high, which can happen when your pH is too high, you can end up with some seriously cloudy water.

The ideal level of calcium hardness depends on your pool type. For most pools, it’s between 200 and 400 ppm. For vinyl pools, it’s between 50 and 300 ppm—essentially, no need to add it ever. For fiberglass pools, it’s between 220 and 320 ppm. And for plaster pools, it’s between 350 and 450 ppm.

Always looking to cut operating costs—especially if you get even better perfomance as a result? Try the 1.5 HP Variable Speed Blue Torrent Thunder In-Ground Swimming Pool Pump—it pays itself off in under a year, is eligible for rebates, and also comes with a warranty. As customer Eric D says, “Day one, I fired this pump up and it ran clean and fast.”  

how to get perfect chemical balance for your saltwater pool

Now That’s Balanced!

Alright, so saltwater pools aren’t exactly maintenance-free. But nobody can deny that balancing these few chemicals is easy. Now you just want to check your levels every week—especially for your free chlorine. But, hey! You’ve learned how to rebalance your water chemistry, and you’re coasting from here on out. You have a pool that creates its own sanitizer, feels great to swim in, and needs a little less work than traditional models. I’d say that’s something to muse on while you float on your back in that afternoon sun. Enjoy.

Above ground poolAbove ground poolsIn-ground poolsPoolPool accessoriesPool equipmentPool maintenance