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How and When to Test the Water of Your Saltwater Pool
If you’re already a salt pool owner, make sure that you’re familiar with the basics of how to maintain your saltwater pool. One regular part of any pool’s maintenance is to check the chemistry levels of your pool to make sure your pool is ready and safe for swimming.
Even though your saltwater pool system makes the pool easy to maintain overall, you still want to learn how to test your water properly. That way you can catch imbalances before they become a big issue, and you can know what steps you’ll need to take to return your pool to a usable and safe state.
Why Test Your Pool Water
Water testing is just part of good pool upkeep and should be part of any maintenance routine, and it's advised to do it at least once per week just to make sure that there isn’t anything going on that’s wrong. This is how you get feedback about what your pool needs!
Your pool’s water chemistry is what determines whether or not the water is safe to swim in. Just because the water is clear, that doesn’t mean everything is balanced. If you don’t regularly test your water, what can happen is that minor water chemistry issues can begin to compound and become bigger problems - required more work to fix, or potentially damaging pool surfaces or equipment over time.
What You Are Testing For
Water isn’t just blue, clear, green, or cloudy. There are specific water chemistry levels that you need to measure and maintain. The most important ones to test frequently are: Free Chlorine, pH, Total Alkalinity, Salinity, and Stabilizer. There are more levels to test in a pool, and since they all work together they are all important in that sense, but as in introduction these have a large impact and can are often the most likely to fluctuate.
Free Chlorine: This level specifically determines whether or not the water is sanitary and safe to swim in. All of your other levels are meant to support this one. In a saltwater pool, a level of 1-3 parts per million (ppm) is typically sufficient.
pH: This level determines how acidic or alkaline the water is. When it’s not balanced, the Free Chlorine in the water can’t do its job well, and it can affect swimmer comfort and contribute to scaling or erosion in the pool. 7.5 is typically optimal, and its important to keep it within 7.2-7.8
Total Alkalinity: A proper level helps to ensure your pH doesn’t change quickly.
Salinity: This level allows your salt chlorine generator to operate correctly in order to maintain your Free Chlorine level. The range depends on model, but the ideal level usually falls somewhere within 3000-4000 ppm. This is really the only water chemistry level that is “unique” to a saltwater pool.
Stabilizer: This level essentially “coats” your Free Chlorine to help prevent it from dissipating due to the effects of sunlight. Too high of a level, and it may make your Free Chlorine ineffective however. Generally, a range of 30-50 ppm is effective in most circumstances.
While its important to test regularly to make sure each of these levels stay in balance, the good news is that for most salt pool owners, the typical adjustments that they need to make on any kind of regular basis looks something like this - turning your salt chlorine generator’s setting up/down with seasonal changes and pool use to keep the Free Chlorine level in range, adding a little bit of salt to the pool after rain dilutes the water, and typically adding acid to keep the pH level in check. Luckily, adjustments are simple and can be done quickly in most cases, which is just another reason why salt pools come with so many benefits. Adjustments to other water chemistry levels are typically seasonal, although every pool is unique - which is why it’s important to test regularly and catch water chemistry level changes that might otherwise sneak up on you.
How to Test Your Saltwater Pool’s Water
As mentioned, part of any regular pool maintenance is checking the chemistry levels, so when that time comes ,it is a simple thing to do. Simply purchase some inexpensive pool water test strips, or you can opt for using a digital water tester as well.
Another option you have is you can take a sample to a pool store to have it analyzed. If you want the most detailed and precise numbers of your pool's chemistry levels, this is going to be your best option.
Testing with pool water test strips is the least expensive option when deciding to test your pool's salinity and other chemistry levels such as pH, alkalinity and chlorine. The instructions on test strips typically looks something like this:
Dip a strip into the water, but don’t just let it soak, dip it and pull it out.
Wait for a few seconds for it to “read the levels”
Match what color it turns to whatever the packaging or instructions show.
By checking the color, you’ll be able to find out what your levels are and adjust accordingly.
This can be fast, but it's up to you judge the subtle color changes and match it to the color reference on the product label. That means there is some generalization and guesswork to this method.
Water chemistry test kits typically come with reagents and vials. This is a more complex “chemistry set” type of testing, and it can take you a fair bit of time, but it is much more precise than test strips. The exact testing method can vary by the level you are measuring, but you typically need to count the number of drops of reagent you add, watch for a reaction or color change.
Digital Water Testers
These electronic water chemistry testers are a great balance of precision and convenience. Completely digital testers like the Solaxx SafeDip will quickly provide readings of 6 important pool chemistry levels. Other electronic testers like the Lamotte ColorQ, while still requiring reagents, are extremely precise and still easy to use.
Taking a sample to the pool store
Pool stores often provide testing services and can give a digital result of a wide range of pool chemistry levels. You’ll want to check whether the service is paid or free. Customers sometimes report differing results from different stores, so it can also be a good idea to check how recently the equipment has been calibrated.
When Should You Test?
It’s a good idea to try to test your saltwater pool’s water every week to ensure the chemistry levels of your pool water, such as your Free Chlorine, pH, and alkalinity are balanced so you can make sure your pool is sanitized properly.
However, if you have a big event and there are lots of people or dogs in the pool, you’ll want to test it ahead of time, as well as afterwards. The same can be said for when it’s just rained and rain water has gotten into the pool or a big storm or high wind has blown leaves and other debris into your water.
Also, test your water again after adding any sort of chemical to your pool to make sure you achieved your expected results. If you want to double check, taking a water sample to your local pool store occasionally is a great way to have peace of mind.
Keep in mind that you’ll need to double check your specific pool equipment manuals, as well as any specific instructions a pool builder may have give due to specialty items/materials, to make sure you are hitting those chemistry level numbers that are correct for your pool’s needs.