Salt Water Pool Systems: Facts From A Swimming Pool Expert

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Steve Bister works at Crystal Waters Pool & Spa. He is a fan of salt water systems in swimming pools.

After reading an article I wrote about salt water pool systems vs chlorine pool systems, Steve sent us some more info about salt water pools. He has graciously given us permission to share that info with everyone here at The Fun Times Guide.

If you have any questions about salt water pool systems, chances are they’re answered below…


From Steve:

I build and service pools in the Kansas City metro area. I have installed a lot of salt systems and repaired them as well.

Here are some things to know about salt water systems:

1. The chlorine produced by a salt water system has very positive ph. That reduces eye and skin irritation. The downside is that chlorine loses its ability to sanitize at ph levels over 7.8ppm.

2. Yes, it is expensive to replace the cell in a chlorine generator. However, it is a lot like a light bulb. The less the generator has to run, the longer it lasts.

3. As mentioned in other postings, chlorine smell is typically from chloramines. Let me explain. The human body produces ammonia and other organic wastes. When molecules of ammonia and other organic wastes bond with chlorine molecules, it turns into a compound called chloramines. These chloramines are chlorine in an unusable form. When you test your water you will test for free chlorine, and total chlorine. If the total chlorine level is higher than the free, the difference between the two is chloramines. The appropriate way to deal with these is “breakpoint chlorination.” The rule of thumb is super-chlorination to 5x chloramines.

The example is if free chlorine is 2.0 and total chlorine is 4.0, the difference is 2.0. 2×5=10. Raise the chlorine level by 10ppm to breakup the chloramines. This needs to be accomplished with chlorine shock. I prefer to use Calcium Hypochlorite with an active ingredient level of 68% or higher. Simply setting the chlorine generator higher will not necessarily work.

4. Chlorine levels should typically be between 1 ppm and 3ppm. This provides adequate sanitation. However, you could still get algae if other things are not taken care of. If you do get algae, your chlorine level will go down because it is being used up in trying to kill the algae. That leads you to turn up the generator in an attempt to maintain the chlorine level. Turning up the generator causes it to run longer, which makes the cell go bad sooner. In our business, we have had great success using a product made specifically for salt water pools which removes phosphates (perfect algae food), adds levels of salt to the pool, contains enzymes which break down suntan lotions and body oils, and helps to keep the ph down to manageable levels. All of these things make it possible for the generator to operate less which increases cell life.

5. Corrosion can be a problem to metal surfaces in contact with the pool water. No, it is not necessarily caused by low ph. It can be caused by improper grounding in the pool (don’t worry, this is not a safety hazard in any way) and related equipment through the process of electrolysis. There are new products on the market which will help combat this issue, although the issue is a bit too technical for this posting. However, there are also products available for new construction which are less prone to corrosion.

6. Salt water pools are not maintenance free. The key parameters of water balance (chlorine, ph, alkalinity) are still important and need to be tested for and adjusted on a regular basis. It is also important to remember that the chlorine produced by a chlorine generator is not stabilized. It is important to maintain an adequate level of cynuric acid (also known as “stabilizer or conditioner” when you buy it at the pool store) or the sunlight will leach it out of the pool as fast as it can be made.

7. I personally am a fan of salt water pools. The feel of the water is much nicer to your skin, I think they save some money for the consumer, and I think in the end it is actually a “greener” alternative to pool sanitization.

I’ve not mentioned specific brands or products as I don’t know if that is permitted. However, you are free to contact me at Crystal Waters Pool and Spa for specific product info.

More from Steve:

I just like to educate consumers about their pools. It’s a big investment and there is a lot of misinformation out there about salt water systems, even among service professionals. I’ve been fortunate to be able to work with multiple resources and get information backed up by my own experience in the field.”

Thanks so much, Steve! A lot of people had questions about salt water pool systems in my earlier article, and you’ve answered a lot of those questions here.

By the way, to address Steve’s concern… specific products are always A-ok to talk about on here at The Fun Times Guide. So if anyone wants to mention your favorite swimming pool products in the Comments below… by all means, feel free!

20 thoughts on “Salt Water Pool Systems: Facts From A Swimming Pool Expert”

  1. what is the “algea food” that is mentioned above in the article-I have a salt system and we now have algea and i have no idea what I am doing as this is all new to me. I can’t seem to get things balanced again- it was running fine and clear for a month and a half now it is cloudy and has algea. Help

    • algae food is biological matter in the water caused by any number of things including swimmers, environment (rain, wind). When free chlorine levels fall or reach 0 they stop breaking down the “food” and algae start to grow. Hope this helps.

  2. my salt water pool is awesome but i am getting a slimey film on the sides and bottom of the pool. what do i need to do?

  3. Thanks Lynnette for what you do, and Steve for info on Salt pools.
     I went through 2 cells in 5 years and i   know that its b/c of my southern climate, use of 11 months a year, and water conditions.
     What I would like to know is “what actually fails on a salt cell?  Very technical, but it seems too simple a process to fail without the manufacturing company adding a failing device so we buy more cells.  Has anyone ever seen the insides of a salt cell or fixed a salt cell themselves? 

  4. Lynette, I have a salt system. Since I opened it May 7. I shocked it 3 times(2gal/21000). I understand having to shock it initially, however, my water had a slight green tint to it 2 times,. assuming it was algae. It it normal to have to shock once a week to keep water clear with salt system. My pool chemical supplier tells me all my chemical levels are fine. Any suggestions?

  5. We have a above ground 24×52 pool and last year we purchased a saltwater system. We have had no problems with all the levels but the pump quit last week and I had to return it to the manufacturer. What can I do or what can I put in the pool to help from having to pump water out and start over when I receive the new pump. SOMEONE PLEASE HELP!!!

  6. We have an inground saltwater pool and we are having trouble getting it clear. It was dark green so we took it to the area pool place and purchased a bunch of chemicals. 2 days later it was milky white. 3 days later it is now blowing milky white out the jets and the pool is getting dark green again. Help!

    • I would suggest changing the sand in your filter this is our third year with salt water pool the only thing I have to do is check weekly with testing strips and once a week shock water we had to change sand the second year because I didn’t relive that when it rains a lot and I have to drain water I was doing it on backwash and that was washing my sand out if you have to drain water out you need your filter on waste other than that we haven’t had any problems

  7. This is my first yr of doing a salt water system and i have to say i liked it until we left for 4 days, the filter and pump are on timer but when we came back my water was green, i got it tested and all my levels were good but stabilizer, i added some last night my levels today say my free chlorine is to HIGH, it looks clear til i stir water water up then it is light green. Please Help how can i get my clear water back

  8. I have had all kinds of trouble with a Hayward system – it is great when it works but they are no help when it doesn’t – does anyone have suggestions about how to fix a Hayward system or could recommend another manufacturer?

  9. I have had my above ground pool for three years. Last year we had a problem with frogs, I hate to put it blank, mating in out pool. This caused us to empty and clean the pool many times. We have tried just about everything, from rubber snakes to moth balls to snake repellent, to keep them away. Would changing to a salt water system eliminate this problem? Someone please help! My kids love the pool but I can’t take another summer of the madness!

  10. Thanks for the article. It is good that we educate people properly about salt water pool systems. They are definitely not maintenance, or trouble free, the way they can be marketed to many people. Ph issues, corrosion, electrical consumption, cell cleaning and replacement all are factors to contend with. There is a salt chlorination system that can do away with many of the problems of salt in the pool systems. That system in The Chlorine Genie. It has some of the best features of salt water pools and gets around many of the problems. It is a new patented system of salt water chlorination worth having a look at. Look up salt water pool problems on YouTube or just Google Chlorine Genie to have a look.

  11. I think I messed up, I put salt in my sand filter instead of the pool its self. I am a newbie with an above ground and misunderstood, please tell me I didn’t ruin my pump and filter.

  12. I need help! After a bad storm, dirty water ran down hill into my salt water pool. It was crystal clear now a dirty brown even in the shallow end. I know I will have to vacuum but how do I get the water to settle to vacuum? Can I add shock 4 in 1 to do that or what?


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