How to Fix Common Saltwater Pool Problems

Updated on July 25, 2019
Barack James profile image

Barack is an expert pool chemistry guy and experienced online-based pool maintenance assistant via in-depth articles that top search results

How to Maintain a Trouble-Free Saltwater Swimming Pool

Having a trouble-free saltwater swimming pool is not a rocket science; it’s all about monitoring (testing) chemicals used in the pool regularly (at least weekly) and maintenance of chlorine.

From my own experience (I've had a saltwater pool for more than five years now), the major problems (and what we'll discuss in this article) are low chlorine levels that cause cloudiness, low salinity, salt chlorinator maintenance, and corrosion issues.

If you have Free Chlorine Level (FCL) problem in you pool, whether it's high or low, save your time by visiting how to correct FCL in a saltwater swimming pool and learn in details how to regulate (reduce or increase FCL) the level of chlorine produced by your Saltwater Chlorine Generator (SWCG).

How to Balance Chemicals in a Saltwater Pool

Freedom with any type of swimming pool begins with chemically-balanced water. To accurately test and adjust important chemicals such as pH, free chlorine, combined chlorine, total chlorine, total alkalinity, cyanuric acid, and bromine, I use LaMotte ColorQ Pro 11 digital pool water test kit that takes a very accurate measurement for all the chemicals at once.

1. Test and Adjust Salt Concentration (Salinity)

  • A saltwater pool system will operate efficiently only when salt is in the right concentration.
  • Different chlorine generators will need different salinity levels, and this is the first thing you need to take in consideration before adding or reducing salt in your pool.
  • Chlorine generators will operate fine with salinity levels between 2500 and 3500 ppm. You must either test the salinity level before adjusting it or use a chlorine generator that monitors and displays the salinity reading.
  • Cooler geographic regions will experience reduced water conductivity, and if you are taking the reading of salinity from the generator, you may get a much lower and inaccurate reading, so you need to be extra careful not to add too much salt.
  • Make sure that you don’t add too much salt into the pool since the only way to reduce salinity is by draining the water and refilling with fresh water.
  • Test for salinity every week. Keep in mind that salt levels will be recycled during the process of chlorine production, and you may not need to add more unless the level falls way below the recommended range.
  • Here is salinity calculator that will guide you on the correct amount of salt to add to your pool to avoid excess salinity.

2. Test and Adjust pH levels

An ideal pH level is necessary to enable chlorine to function effectively and kill harmful bacteria. Ideally, the recommended levels for pH should be between 7.2 and 7.6, with the most ideal or optimal level of 7.4.

  • To reduce pH levels, you can use muriatic acid (liquid hydrochloric acid) or a dry acid such as sodium bisulphate.
  • To increase pH, you can use alkali such as soda ash: Ensure that you add these substances slowly in increments and allow the water to circulate for 4-6 hours before swimming.

3. Assess Free Available Chlorine

Monitor free chlorine levels by testing and adjusting on a regular basis. The recommended free chlorine levels should be between 2-5 ppm all the time, depending on the level of cyanuric acid in the pool as indicated in this chlorine/CYA chart.

Low salinity levels reduce free chlorine. If your free chlorine falls below the recommended levels, you need to measure salinity and increase it if it is below the recommended levels before even thinking of adding chlorine shock in the pool.

Very low salinity levels may bring down your available free chlorine to 0 ppm, which will almost certainly encourage algae to thrive.

Apart from low salinity levels, low free chlorine can be caused by ...

  1. Calcium buildup on the salt cell,
  2. An expired cell,
  3. Excess stabilizer (cyanuric acid), or
  4. Poor circulation.

If the salinity and everything mentioned above is just fine, but free chlorine is too low, this may be the result of heavy pool usage and you may need to add small amount of regular chlorine (or adjust your chlorine generator to produce more chlorine).

4. Monitor Total Alkalinity

Total alkalinity (TA) is as important as any other chemical reading in your water. TA should be kept between 80 and 120 ppm to help keep pH stable, especially during the rainy season.

Very low total alkalinity may lead to:

  1. Corrosion,
  2. Metal staining,
  3. Calcium scaling, or
  4. Algae

On the other hand, high TA will cause cloudy or murky pool water since the pH will also scale high, affecting free chlorine performance.

To raise the total alkalinity, you can use sodium bicarbonate and hydrochloric acid. However, you should be careful when adding these reagents as they also have the same effect on pH. Use muriatic acid to lower it.

In most cases, balancing pH and TA in both saltwater and chlorine-based pool is tricky and the only way is by first reducing both chemicals using muriatic acid and then raising pH through aeration to get the correct balance.

5. Use a Stabilizer (Cyanuric Acid) Only If Necessary

If possible, always avoid stabilizers unless you have an outdoor pool in a hot and humid climate. Stabilizer (mainly cyanuric acid) is mainly used to help keep free chlorine stable by protecting it from exhaustion by sunlight and high water temperatures. The recommended levels of a stabilizer is between 40 and 80 ppm for saltwater pools.

The correct value of cyanuric may also differ with geographic locations, depending on temperature and how much sunlight is available during the day. This explains why a saltwater pool in Canada will need between 40 and 60 ppm and one in the USA may need up to 80 ppm of Cyanuric acid during the summer. Also, the amount of cyanuric acid you need will depend on the amount of free available chlorine. Very high levels of cyanuric acid will reduce the levels of free chlorine; you can use this CYA/Chlorine chart to determine the correct level to add at given level of free chlorine.

6. Determine Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)

This is the most ignored aspect pool water chemistry: The TDS in your pool should not exceed 1500 ppm.

The levels of TDS increases as chemicals are added and as organic matter dissolves in the water. If it drifts to the higher side, TDS significantly affects free chlorine levels and other chemicals and may cause cloudiness in the water.

The only way to reduce excess TDS is to drain and replace the water. Alternatively, you can increase the frequency of backwashing and cleaning your pool filter.

How to Clear a Cloudy Saltwater Pool

Just like a chlorine-based pool, saltwater pools turn cloudy when chemicals are not balanced. You need to ensure that all chemicals are balanced all the time to avoid cloudy water and growth of algae. The major causes of cloudiness are chlorine, pH, Salinity, total alkalinity, cyanuric acid, and calcium hardness.

To get rid of cloudiness, you will have to do a liquid chlorine shock to raise the level of free chlorine (since the chlorine produced by the generator is not enough; a chlorine generator just assists you in maintaining the level of free chlorine). When the levels of chlorine and cyanuric acid are balanced and the water is clear, the chlorine generator will pick up from there and start producing chlorine to maintain the free chlorine levels.

How to Maintain a Saltwater Chlorine Generator (SWCG)

SWCG maintenance is all about cell cleaning and replacement, period: Chlorine production happens in the salt cell, and a defective cell will lead to less or no production of chlorine. You need to closely monitor the cell to ensure that there is no calcium buildup, which causes a low production of chlorine.

Ideally, even if there is no buildup, it is recommended to clean your cell at least every 6 to 12 months.

I use Hayward's AQR15 AquaRite Salt Chlorinator, which has a self-cleaning feature that makes it easy to clean any time. If you need more information, Hayward Chlorinators have a very inclusive guide on how to clean salt chlorinator turbo cell.

However, here is a quick, step-by-step general guide on how to clean a chlorine generator cell:

  1. Turn off all power.
  2. Remove the cell plugs.
  3. Use a screwdriver to remove the cell from the casing.
  4. Add sufficient muriatic acid to a bucket of water: Avoid too much acid, as it may reduce your cell life (about 6 oz of muriatic acid per quarter bucket of water is fine).
  5. Pour the solution into the cell and leave to soak for 5 to 10 minutes.
  6. Dispose of the acid solution and rinse the cell with a garden hose.
  7. Reinstall the cell.

Note: An expired salt cell might be the problem. The average lifespan of a salt cell is 3-5 years in most SWCGs, after which you need to replace the old cell with a new one that will produce sufficient chlorine.

Setting Appropriate Percentage to Run SWCG

Basically, all chlorine generators are have a percentage setting that controls how much chlorine they produce and how much time the pump runs to produce enough chlorine.

In some cases, you will be forced to increase the pump run time to allow for the production of sufficient chlorine when free chlorine is too low.

However, since the setting is a percentage of the pump runtime, you will have to readjust the percentage every time you change the pump runtime to get free chlorine from a low level to recommended levels.

Handling Corrosion/Metal Stains in Saltwater Pools

Saltwater often leads to faded surface and metal stains or corroded steel hardware parts.

Most salt chlorinator users, including myself, use zinc anode as part of the pool system to form stainless metal parts. Also known as a sacrificial zinc anode, it protects metals that come in contact with saltwater. Zinc anode also plays a very important role in preventing

  • plaster discoloration,
  • heater damage, and
  • black stains.

Zinc anode works by corroding or 'sacrificing' itself before any other metal part can be affected, like an underwater electrical system that can develop stains. You need to check on the anode at least once a year to ensure that it has not fully degraded.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

  • How do I get rid of cloudy water in a saltwater pool if all my chemicals are balanced?

    If you are sure that all Chemicals are well balanced including Salinity and Calcium Hardness, you might be having particles and you may use pool flocculant and then vacuum the pool.

  • My saltwater pool is not holding chlorine, what can we do?

    Low free chlorine (FC) levels in a saltwater pool is caused by 4 main issues; the first one is low salinity levels, check again that Salinity level is between 2500 and 3500ppm depending on SWG recommendation all the time.

    The second issue is Calcium buildup on the salt cell, make sure that your salt cell has no calcium building completely because this will impede the functioning of your cell in producing enough chlorine. Also, make sure your salt cell has not expired.

    Thirdly, you might be having excess or less chlorine stabilizer (cyanuric acid) in your water, which is always one of the major reasons free chlorine does not hold longer in any pool, the ideal range for Cyanuric acid in order for your FC to hold in saltwater pool is between 60 and 80 ppm but this also depends on the temperature around where you stay, very low temperatures like in Canada needs Cyanuric acid to be around 60 ppm.

    Finally, check with your filter cartridges if they need backwashing or replacement because poor circulation will cause lots of chloramine in your water.

  • My Saltwater Chlorine Generator indicated low salt. I tested the water for salt content, and sure enough, it was low. Chlorine was still being produced on the other indicator, and the tested free chlorine number was good. I added salt and brought the salt number within the specs. The "low Salt light ' is still blinking. Do you have any thoughts?

    You may need to clean your salt cell if you have not done so in a while. Soon, it may develop low chlorine problem is salt cell is not working efficiently.

  • We have tested the salt cell on our saltwater pool and it is working. As well, all chemical levels are good except chlorine is not staying. What can we do?

    Low free chlorine (FC) levels in a saltwater pool is caused by 4 main issues; the first one is low salinity levels, check again that Salinity level is between 2500 and 3500ppm depending on SWG recommendation all the time.

    The second issue is Calcium buildup on the salt cell, make sure that your salt cell has no calcium building completely because this will impede the functioning of your cell in producing enough chlorine. Also make sure your salt cell has not expired.

    Thirdly, you might be having excess or less chlorine stabilizer (cyanuric acid) in your water, which is always one of the major reasons free chlorine does not hold longer in any pool, the ideal range for Cyanuric acid in order for your FC to hold in saltwater pool is between 60 and 80 ppm but this also depends on the temperature around where you stay, very low temperatures like in Canada needs Cyanuric acid to be around 60 ppm.

    Finally check with your filter cartridges if they need backwashing or replacement because poor circulation will cause lots of chloramine in your water.

Comments

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    • Barack James profile imageAUTHOR

      Barack James 

      4 weeks ago from Green City in the Sun

      Seems you have algae in your pool and you need to shut down your Saltwater Chlorine Generator(SWCG) and shock your pool manually using liquid chlorine.

      After putting off your SWCG, scrub your pool and remove any debris you can spot in your water using large leaf net or hand skimmer.

      Get liquid chlorine (sodium hypochlorite) if you don't have one. You are going to add chlorine to raise your FCL to higher shock level and maintain the shock level until you get rid of all algae.

      Before adding chlorine, get your Cyanuric acid level in water. The ideal range of cya is between 70 to 80ppm, but to avoid using a lot of chlorine, the idea level is 70ppm.

      The ideal chlorine shock level when your Cya is 70ppm will be 28ppm, cya above this level will need higher shock levels and that can damage your pool parts. The harder you hit the algae in your first shock the better.

      With Cya level at 70ppm, add enough liquid chlorine to raise your FC level to 28ppm. You need a test kit that can measure high FC levels like LaMotte ColorQ Pro series or Taylor Technologies test kit 2006 with FAS DPD.

      The process of eliminating algae is not a one day venture, but can take longer depending how frequent you add chlorine. You will need to measure your FC level at least twice a day and add more chlorine to raise FC back to 28ppm when it drops until you see no algae and FCL is stable around 6ppm.

      Raise your pH using any pH plus or 20 Mule Team Borax, and TA using alkalinity increaser. Borax is the best option if you need to raise pH level without affecting TA levels.

      When all chemicals are balanced and FC stable between 4 - 6 ppm, put on your SWCG and reset recommended percentage setting to maintain ideal FCL.

    • profile image

      Bill Jaramillo 

      4 weeks ago

      Hi Barack,

      My above ground Saltwater pool (Kayak Pool) is turning green. When I tested the water my results were:

      Free Chlorine and total alkalinity=0 - low

      pH=6.2 - low

      Appears to have green algae

      What do I have to do to raise my Free Chlorine and total alkalinity levels as well as raisie my pH levels?

    • Barack James profile imageAUTHOR

      Barack James 

      5 weeks ago from Green City in the Sun

      Turning down the nano CG is enough and should work in stabilizing your chlorine without having to shut it. Also make sure your salinity level is within the range because excess may result in high production of FC especially when above 75%.

    • profile image

      Anthony Napoli 

      5 weeks ago

      Hi Barack

      I am a new pool owner with a SWCG. My FCI seems to be running high- around 5 or a little above. My ph is 7.2 and my alkalinity is 80.

      If I turn my nano CG down to 75% will that help reduce the fci or should I turn off the nano altogether until the fci stabilizes?

      Thank you

      Tony

    • Barack James profile imageAUTHOR

      Barack James 

      2 months ago from Green City in the Sun

      Dwight, are you sure the colour is blue and not green? I suspect this could be metal stain probably copper stain from Well water, the mineral cartridge, precipitated copper pool parts, or sources like copper algaecide.

      Test for copper metal using reliable test kit like Lamotte ColorQ Pro 11 and take the steps necessary to prevent any more copper getting in the water by following instructions in this article: https://dengarden.com/swimming-pools/Why-Swimming-...

    • profile image

      Dwight 

      2 months ago

      Salt water pool filter cartridge and plastic parts of skimmers turning blue. What is the fix?

    • Barack James profile imageAUTHOR

      Barack James 

      4 months ago from Green City in the Sun

      Hello Kings, I recommend using a better test kit like Taylor Technologies test kit or Lamotte ColorQ Pro test kit for more accurate readings and best results. Also, foam may be forming because of low calcium levels. Make sure your calcium hardness is between 200 and 400ppm and run your pump and foam should clear up.

      Find more about pool foaming here: https://dengarden.com/swimming-pools/How-to-Clear-...

    • profile image

      Kings 

      4 months ago

      Thanks! This is helpful.The levels were way off when we checked with Clorox strips and we've tried everything to balance them out and nothing is working. What about foam? Now we're seeing foam gather as well. I would love to send some pictures of the pool and the test strip if possible. Taliyajking@gmail.com

    • Barack James profile imageAUTHOR

      Barack James 

      4 months ago from Green City in the Sun

      Cloudiness in any pool be it salt water or chlorine based pool is associated with low chlorine level. But also, stability of chlorine level will depend on readings of other chemicals especially the pH, Cyanuric acid, TA, and calcium hardness. So, the very first thing you need to do is to ensure that all your chemicals are balanced before considering free chlorine.

      After balancing all Chemicals, you can add regular chlorine shock (1 pound per 10,000 gallons) then make sure free chlorine is reading between 3-5ppm and your pool should clear up soon. SWCG is there to maintain free chlorine levels and when free chloride is too low it won't help at all.

      Finally, if you have done all Chemicals balancing and the pool still appears cloudy after 24 hours, your salt water cell may be faulty and not producing sufficient free chlorine to maintain your pool and you may need to clean your salt cell and make sure you adjust salinity level that is recommended for your SWCG so that enough chlorine is produced to keep cloudiness away and avoid algae growth.

    • profile image

      Kings 

      4 months ago

      We opened our pool last week. It was clear when we removes the cover to raise water levels, however after our pool guy came over to officially "open" the pool and add the proper chemicals (along with salt for the 1st time since we got the pool only 6 months ago), its now super cloudy. We have tested the levels and added the recommended shock (clorine and none chlorine) but it still cloudy after 4 days. Please help!!! Could it be the pump or filtration causing the issue? It's driving us crazy!

    • Barack James profile imageAUTHOR

      Barack James 

      4 months ago from Green City in the Sun

      Hollo Larry, vomiting in kids after swimming is majorly caused by swallowing pool water that may cause recreational water illness and chlorine poisoning and all these may lead to digestive distress, such as abdominal cramping, vominting, and diarrhea.

      Vomiting is normal for toddlers in many cases during swimming because they drink a lot of pool water. The only solution is to prevent them from drinking pool water. However, if they vomit lots of food, that may be food poisoning and you need to seek medical help.

      Visit here for more:https://consumer.healthday.com/fitness-information...

    • profile image

      Larry Gross 

      5 months ago

      I'm looking for expert help. My children take swimming lessons at an indoor saltwater pool. Recently, my daughter has gotten ill (vomiting) a few hours after coming home from the pool - her most recent two visits. Another parent told me that her child was similarly ill, recently.

      Coincidence? Possible causes?

      Any thoughts on this?

    • Barack James profile imageAUTHOR

      Barack James 

      5 months ago from Green City in the Sun

      Just like non saltwater pool, water will turn cloudy when free chlorine level is low. Since chlorine produced by the SWCG is low, it's always meant to maintain the level at the recommended levels. As such, you need to add chlorine shock manually to raise the level. Firstly, test for the pH, Alkalinity, and Calcium and note that they are all balanced, then add your chlorine shock, and let your salt chlorine generator maintain the shock level.

    • profile image

      Darlene’s 

      5 months ago

      I just opened my pool and added the recommended salt and it turned cloudy and my sand filter has been running and is still cloudy do I need to check chemical balances or should I shock it sand filter hasn’t been running for 24 hours yet before I start up the salt system

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