Salt Water Pool Systems

Salt Water Pool SystemsThe first thing to understand about salt water pool systems is that they still use chlorine to sanitize the swimming pool. With that said, I still think there is a great deal of misinformation and underestimation of the benefits of a salt water pool system. Much of this has to do with a lack of experience with proper pool chemistry. I am no expert, myself, but I have learned from others who have helped me through my many hardships and experiences maintaining a properly chlorinated pool over the past 8 years. Since I inherited a swimming pool with the house we bought 8 years ago, I have learned that a salt water chlorination system is the only way to conveniently chlorinate my swimming pool. There are other automatic chlorination systems that use traditional chlorine pucks such as the one that came with my own pool, but as I will soon explain, they are greatly flawed and may actually cause damage and harm to you or your pool; or both.  Convenience the old-fashioned way comes at a price. So, the question is, can you have both convenience and a successfully maintained pool? Before I get into the review on the salt water pool systems I just purchased, I would like to give a brief and unscientific explanation of how a salt chlorinator works and outline the most compelling reasons for owning one over manual chlorination or automatic chlorination with tri-chlor pucks.

How Salt Water Pool Systems Work

A salt water pool essentially uses salt to generate its own chlorine and dispenses it automatically into your pool. There is a salt water cell that is installed into the pool plumbing which transforms salt water into usable, free chlorine. The chlorinator usually comes with a display box where the outflow of the chlorine can be adjusted. The display box also provides you with information such as the level of salt that is in your swimming pool and display codes which indicate other issues or potential problems with your system. A salt water pool, of course, needs one other thing: Salt. My 11,000 gallon pool required about 6 x 40lb bags of salt. The recommended level of salt is 3,500PPM. My pool already had a certain level of salt before the chlorinator was installed, due to the fact that I have used regular, unscented chlorine bleach to chlorinate my pool the past few years. Chlorine bleach contains sodium hypochloride which deposits small levels of salt into the pool. If you do not have a salt water chlorinator, there are some excellent reasons for using regular, unscented liquid bleach to chlorinate your pool which I will explain shortly. Unfortunately, jugs and jugs of bleach, day after day is a messy system and is not a very convenient way to chlorinate your pool. You will soon see that this was my main impetus for going with a saltwater system for my pool.
This was my unscientific explanation on how a salt water chlorinator works. For the scientific explanation, click here: How a Salt Water Chlorinator Works.

Why use a Salt Water Pool System?

Comfortable and better for Your Skin

Just about any pool company or pool guy/girl can tell you that the levels of salt used to chlorinate your pool are better for your skin. It feels sort of like you are swimming in a saline solution rather than a harshly chlorinated pool. I can attest to this fact, first hand. My skin used to get so dry after I was out of the pool for a while. Even with chlorine and other chemical levels the same, the salt water pool feels better and softer on the skin. This is a fact. It is also important to note, that since you are not putting large amounts of chlorine into the pool at one time, that the chlorine is more evenly and consistently dispersed throughout the day as your pool pump is running. This means you are not going to ever be exposed to higher levels of chlorine at different times of the day. This, of course is better for your skin, hair and your body.

It is Better For the Health of you and your Swimming Pool

One huge thing that gets overlooked even by some of the pool gurus is the chemical relationship between Stabilizer (CYA) and Free Chlorine. Even many pool professions do not realize that the higher more stabilizer in the pool means higher chlorine levels are needed to properly sanitize it. An ideal level of stabilizer is between 30 and 50PPM. So, here is why I used regular, non-scented chlorine bleach to chlorinate my pool all these years: It doesn’t raise my stabilizer!
A traditional, tri-chlor, puck chlorinator can raise the CYA level of your pool by up to 25PPM per month. That number, according to one website I read, is for a very large pool; 35,000 gallons. You see, Chlorine pucks (trichlor) are made up of 50% stablizer (CYA). Since higher levels of stabilizer require higher levels of free chlorine to properly sanitize a swimming pool, many of our traditional chlorination methods which use stabilizer are creating a huge problem for us: As we chlorinate our pools, we need higher and higher levels of chlorine to keep them properly sanitized. After a month or two of tri-chlor pucks, for example, we can expect our CYA level to be up to 100PPM or higher. Some chemists recommend that a properly sanitized pool, should have a free chlorine level which is 8-10% of our CYA. For a pool with a CYA reading of 100PPM, we would need to keep our free chlorine around 10PPM to keep the swimming pool properly sanitized. Anything less could not only result in green water and algae, but expose us to potential health risks. And as more and more stabilizer gets added, the situation only gets worse. I experienced this first hand with my own swimming pool. I had a tremendous algae outbreak before I realized how high my stabilizer was and also had trouble keeping stains and other chemistry in balance. I also had to make a very expensive replacement of my pool heat exchanger which I suspect was corroded-out and rusted from the excessively high levels of chlorine. I got on a couple of website forums and discovered the Three Bs of Pool Chemistry and Maintenance: Bleach, Baking Soda and Borax. These are the only three chemicals you will ever need to maintain a healthy pool manually. Unfortunately, the manual way is expensive and inconvenient. And, you have to worry about recycling all of the 2-3, large plastic, empty bleach jugs each weak. Knowing what I know about pool chemistry today and my past problems, however, this wouldn’t stop me from continuing to do it this way if I had to. Fortunately, there is a better way. Salt water pool systems offer benefits in three ways: 

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Solar Blanket

solar blanket

Review: Pool Solar Covers

Why get a pool solar blanket? Because you owe it to yourself to enjoy your swimming pool this spring, summer and fall without having to feel guilty about the energy your pool heater is using in order to keep your water a comfortable temperature. Solar Pool Covers have been around a long time. They come in different shapes, sizes and thicknesses (mil). Depending on your pool-size,needs and budget, expect to pay around $90-$200 for a decent Pool Solar Blanket. So, what is the best you can buy?

Which Type of Solar Blanket Works Best?

If you are searching for the perfect Solar Pool Cover, I’ve got news for you: such a thing probably does not exist. Based on the many sizes, thicknesses and styles I’ve researched, they all have their strengths and weaknesses. For example, a really thick Solar Cover (16-mil) does do a superior job of keeping in the heat when your pool is covered at night, but many people have reported that it does not heat the pool up as quickly during the daylight hours. Also, some pool owners complain that the extra thick solar blankets are heavy, harder to work with, and put a strain on their reel. Opinions seem to vary among swimming pool owners as to whether or not durability and thickness of a heavier solar covers is worth the extra cost. One problem that all the blankets seem to have in common regardless of their size and weight: The little plastic heating bubbles begin to break apart after the 2nd year and leave a mess of plastic disks in your pool and on your deck. According to many experienced swimming pool owners, having a cover for your solar swimming pool blanket will increase its lifespan another 1-2 years before the bubbles start breaking apart. Personally, I don’t see how much good a cover can do. My last one was kept inside a storage room all winter long and it still only gave me about 18 months of use before it completely lost all of its bubbles. Those plastic solar bubbles are going to be most vulnerable when exposed to the sun. Obviously, the blanket does you no good if you’re covering it while it’s supposed to be heating up your pool. During the few hours per day that you are swimming, the blanket is rolled up and most of it is protected from the sun. Of course at night, when you’ve covered the pool, the cover is completely safe from the sun’s damage. So, yeah, if you aren’t going to fold it up and store it in a shed during the winter, you should definitely keep it covered. Otherwise, you may get even less than the 18-months of use I got from my last solar blanket. My last one, by the way, was an 8-mil blue cover. My next solar blanket will be the 12-mil blue.

Back to the Question:

Which Solar Cover is Best?

So, we’ve determined that the large 16-mil are expensive, heavy, cumbersome and just as prone to having their heating bubbles burst after 1-2 years. From my own experience, the 8-mil solar blankets are not only prone to having their bubbles burst, but shred like paper after a year-and-a-half. Many people have complained that the clear solar blankets do not do as good a job at heating the pool. Few, if any swimming pool owners have said that they preferred the clear plastic solar covers over the clear-blue blankets. By and large, pool owners seem to be most satisfied with the 12-mil, clear-blue solar blankets. I will be purchasing a clear-blue, 12-mil solar pool blanket this spring for my 14 by 30 foot in-ground pool. I know exactly where to find one!

Best Pool Testing Kit

New Pool Testing Kits

Make sure to bookmark, Pool Testing Kits. This website is not only a quick and easy way to locate pool test kits at really great prices, but there’s some useful information about testing your pool as well.

Testing Your Swimming Pool is Fun

Well, okay maybe not fun for everyone, but it is interesting.

What is the best way to test your Pool Chemistry?
What is the best way to test your Pool Chemistry?

Having nearly completed my first year of experience caring for my own pool, I’ve learned a lot about what to look for in pool testing kits. In just one season, I have used the entire gamut, from the old fashioned liquid tests kits, to the handier and easier test strips, and in 4 different brands. So, which is better? The answer is that both types have their purpose, but as I will explain later, some kits do offer a greater degree of accuracy and number of tests.

What are the Different Types of Test Kits?

My own swimming pool this summer provided me with some unexpected challenges and problems which go beyond the scope of this review. However, in meeting these challenges, I spent well more than my share of money on pool testing products. This is partly due to my inexperience but also the desire to learn how to do the best job possible in insuring sparkling clear water. My goal in this review is give a brief explanation of the different types of test kits, explain what each of them does and how they work, as well as to give you my own advice on which particular product brand works best and easiest for me. This review assumes that, like me, you have a chemically chlorinated pool. There are different products out there for different types of pool such as those that use salt and chlorine generators to manufacture their own chlorine. I will not cover these products, and stick to those which address the needs of the traditional, chlorinated pools. I will discuss and compare 4 different products that I’ve used this year: Aquachek Select and Aquachem 6-way Test Strips. The HTH 6-Way from Walmart, and Taylor Liquid Test Kits. While using these products, I’ve come to expect 5 criteria from a pool testing kit: Convenience and speed, ease of use, accuracy, price and tests.

How are Pool Test Kits on Convenience and Speed?

Convenience and speed go together when it comes to pool testing. Test strips are by far the fastest, most convenient way to test your pool water. They work by simply dipping a strip in your pool water, waiting 15 seconds, then visually comparing the colors with a chart. The matching color shades on the chart will tell you in Parts Per Million (PPM), the chemical amounts in your pool. Both the Aquacheck and Aquachem test kits reviewed, here, offer 6 tests: Total Hardness, Total Chlorine, Free Chlorine, pH, Total Alkanility, Cyanuric Acid (Stabilizer). There are other less expensive test kits which only do 4 tests (leaving out Total Hardness and Total Chlorine), but I recommend sticking with the products that do 6 tests because they are only a couple of dollars more, you will learn to want those additional tests as you take an interest in water testing. Both the Aquachem and Aquachek products are convenient and fast. In 15 seconds, you will be comparing your results with the included color chart and be able to record your answers in less than a minute. The liquid tests kits are not nearly so convenient, and definitely not as fast. They basically work by adding pool water to a sample test tube, adding a few drops of a color indicator and in some cases, adding another chemical called a titrant, which makes the sample change colors after several drops. I will explain the details on this later, but suffice it to say that the liquid test kits are not nearly as convenient since you are dealing with a number of different testing agents, titrants and test tubes, rather than dipping one single strip into a sample of water. Furthermore, you will need fresh water supply nearby to rinse your testing tubes or comparators after each test, so you can start with clean pool water on your next tests. That means a minimum of 6 tests for the product. The Taylor K-2006 offers an even greater number of tests, but for the sake of comparison, it will take a good 15 minutes with either of the liquid test kits to do the same number of tests that you did in less than a minute on either of the test strip products. The Taylor kit has it’s testing instructions very conveniently printed on the inside of the box lid, whereas the product forces you to use a little folded instruction manual which is likely to get wet and/or lost. For convenience between the two test strip products, I give the Aquachek product the edge over Aquachem due to it’s handy, transparent plastic-sealed color chart which attaches to the bottle, and prevents any fading from water as your holding the strips up to the chart for testing. The Taylor K-2006 is faster and more convenient than the HTH due to its handy box with printed instructions. But for overall speed and convenience, nothing matches either of the 15-second test strips. Something that is convenient is also easier to use, right? Not so fast. The answer to that is not as cut and dry as you might first believe.

Which Pool Test Kits are Easiest to Use?

What is fast and easy seems convenient. That is, until you worry about determining the actual test results. I’ve found it to be very difficult to match the colors of the strips results with the actual color charts and numbers. Making it doubly difficult, is the fact that the longer you wait, the more the colors fade and change colors in the sun as you look at them. Between the two, test strip products, I give the Aquachek product a slight edge over the Aquachem, due to its plastic encased color-comparator chart. With the aquachek test strips, it is a little bit easier for me to determine the color shades, but I must admit that could be due simply to user preference. Determining an accurate result is guess work at best with either product. .To prove this, I’ve used additional family members to compare results, proving that our answers can vary as much as 1 to 2PPM. While the liquid test kits still require some subjective comparing of colors and shades, I’ve found it to be much easier to determine an accurate measurement looking at a liquid and comparing it to the corresponding colors. Furthermore, unlike the test strips, the liquids do not change shades or fade overtime. You can take your time looking at the color of the liquid and matching it with the corresponding number. The flip side of this, is that the liquid test kits do require you to accurately measure your water sample and count numbers of drops in order to perform the tests. The Taylor K-2006, due to it’s handy, inside of the box instructions is slightly easier to use than the HTH Liquid 6-Way Kit.
When it comes to ease of use between the 4 products, the test strip kits have an edge because it requires fewer steps, however some of the advantage is negated by the difficulty in determining the color and corresponding number measurements. The Aquachek and Taylor K-2006 products are slightly better in this category. Both have better instructions, and the Taylor K-2006 even includes a waterproof Pool Spa Water Chemistry Guide. What could be more handy than that?

Which Pool Test Kit is the Most Accurate?

Neither of the two test strip products are as accurate as the HTH or Taylor K2006 Liquid Test kits due to the difficulty in determining the colors as described above. By far, the leader in accuracy is the Taylor K-2006 The K-2006 has the edge in accuracy for a couple of reasons: The FAS-DPD Chlorine test included in the K-2006 is unique in that it allows you to determine free and combined chlorine levels in increments of .2PPM all the way up to 20PPM. The results of this test are flawlessly accurate. Unlike other tests that force you to match colors with a comparative color chart, the FAS Chlorine test uses an entirely different method which is extremely accurate and explained in more detail below. The Test Strips and the liquid kit are limited to levels of .5, 1, 3, 5 and 10.
I believe the liquid kits offer more accurate results. In using family members to compare results, we were in much closer agreement than we were with the test strips; within 1PPM, usually less. I should also mention that the Taylor does come with a very complete guide for determining what your results mean and helping you to reach the most accurate conclusion on what all of these chemistry numbers mean for your pool water.
The Taylor is the most accurate test kit that I’ve tried.

Is The Best Pool Testing Kit the Most Expensive?

The HTH Liquid kit can be had at discount retailers such as Walmart for around $15.00. You get about 3 months worth of tests assuming you test your pool once a week. The exception is with your CYA or (stabilizer) test which will give you only three tests maximum. The Aquachek and Aquachem will cost you about $13 – $15 for a 50-test bottle of strips. Unlike the HTH product, you will get exactly 50 tests for every available test there is. The K-2006 will set you back $49 – $69 based on various online retailers and pool stores. The kit comes with enough tests to last you three months, provided you only test once or twice a week. This is a professional product for getting the most accurate and complete results for maintaining your pool. There is a reason for the extra cost, as you will soon discover in the next part of the review.

What Tests Are Available In Each of the Pool Testing Kits?

Both the Aquacheck and Aquachem test-strip products have 6 tests: Total Hardness, Total Chlorine, Free Chlorine, pH, Total Alkanility and CYA (Stabilizer) Different shades of colors are used for each test, along with indicators letting you know how your water rates in terms of LOW, OK, IDEAL Both test strip products include instructions for what chemicals and amounts to be used to bring your water to its desired levels. Unlike the liquid test kits, one dip results in all 6 tests. Since pool chemistry goes beyond the intentions of my review, I will try to relate the importance of what these tests do without getting into too much unnecessary details.

Liquid Test Kids

The Liquid test kits require that you perform a separate procedure for each test. The HTH Liquid Test kit includes 6 tests: Total Chlorine, Bromine, pH, Total Alkanility, Total Hardness and CYA (Stabilizer). This kit is missing a free chlorine test, which in my opinion is the most important of them all for chlorine pool users. If there is a problem with your pool such as algae or ammonia, you will need to know what your free chlorine levels are, as usually the solution involves adding very large quantities of chlorine or ‘shocking’ your pool to kill the contaminants. Total Chlorine is the sum of Free Chlorine and combined chlorine. The Combined Chlorine is basically used up chlorine, so the total chlorine test in the HTH 6-way kit is insufficient for indicating the health of your Pool’s useable chlorine levels. You will want to know what your free chlorine levels are and adjust them regularly or as needed. For Total Chlorine, HTH uses what is known as an OTO test. First, add your water sample to the color comparator test gauge, then add 5 drops of the OTO agent to your water sample and compare the color range of yellow and match the corresponding number from .2 to 5. The bromine test is completely worthless for a chlorine pool. When it comes to tests, nothing comes close to the Taylor K-2006

Nothing Beats the FAS-DPD Chlorine Test

This is in large part due to the FAS-DPD Chlorine test which makes it virtually a cinch to determine both Free Chlorine and Combined Chlorine. Also, the K-2006 measures Chlorine all the way up to 20PPM. The FAS-DPD Chlorine test works like this: You put in a couple of scoops of the included R-0870 powder which turns your water sample pink if there is any free chlorine present. Next simply add from the R-0871 bottle while counting drop by drop, and swirling after each one until your water sample turns completely clear. Multiply your result by .2 to get your Free Chlorine results in Parts Per Million (PPM). For example, if your Water Sample turned clear after you added your 20th drop, your free chlorine equals 4 PPM (20 * .2) Furthermore, the FAS-DPD Chlorine test gives you the flexibility for choosing a smaller water sample at less accurate measurements of .5 PPM. This is handy when you know your have very high chemical levels and want to conserve on testing agents. In order to determine your Combined Chlorine, you use your same water sample, using another agent to turn the color pink again, then going back and repeat your steps, drop by drop, counting them as you go, until the water turns clear once again.. Just as is the case with the HTH 6-Way Liquid kit, testing your pH with the K-2006, requires you to add 5 drops of an agent into your pool water sample colorator tube which turns your color a shade between yellow, orangish-pink and red. You will then compare the color to the chart on the comparator which ranges from 7 to 8 on the K-2006. The HTH has a slightly larger range on it’s colorameter of 6.8 to 7.2. Score one slight advantage for the HTH.

Testing Total Alkalinity

Total Alkalinity is one of the more difficult tests for me with either of the liquid test products. You begin with a sample of water, and then add 5 drops of one agent which makes the color red. Next, you will use the included bottle of titrant and add drop by drop until the color turns from Red to Blue. In my case, this required over 20 drops because my TA is so high! My difficulty was that my sample was turning more of a purplish color than blue, making it hard to distinguish from the original pink hue and not knowing when to stop adding drops. I had this same problem using the Calcium Hardness test, but thanks to the very informative manual included with the Taylor K-2006, I learned this is because I have metals in my water. By adding a few of the titrant drops to the sample, beforehand this problem is resolved.

Testing Water Balance

The K2006 takes things one step further for getting a reading on the balance of your pool water. Included with the kit is what’s known as the Taylor Watergram Calculator. This is basically a circular dial, allowing you to line up measurements of pH, Hardness, Water Temp and Total Alkalinity, and indicating a number known as a Saturation Index. The Saturation indicates whether or not your pool water is in balance (usually a number between -.5 and +.5.) Water that is not in balance can be corrosive to your pool and/or components, or cause scaling and cloudy water. Additionally, you can do an acid-base-demand test, following your pH results. This is achieved by adding the included acid-base-demand reagent until the pH color matches the colorameter of your desired results. You then refer to the watergram for instructions on how much of what chemical to add to achieve your desired pH Balance.

Testing CYA or Stabilizer

The CYA or Stabilizer test is pretty much identical between the HTH and Taylor. This is known as a turbidity test, and basically works by adding drops to a test tube, making the sample cloudy until you can no longer view a black dot at the bottom of the test tube. You then, simply match the corresponding number on the test tube which represents your CYA level. That basically, concludes the extent of testing on the various kits. The K2006 has some additions and variations which the other kit do not have, but it is the FAS-DPD chlorine test that really sets it apart.

Best Pool Testing Kit Conclusions

The Taylor K2006 is the most complete, accurate and thorough set of tests among the group. However, the test strips definitely have their place in everyday pool testing, due to their convenience, speed and cost. I recommend purchasing and using both the Aquachek 6-way test kit, as well as the Taylor K2006. Nothing is more important than checking your Chlorine and pH levels daily, in my opinion, even if it is just for a rough, quick account of how your pool is doing. With the K2006, you will be able to know beyond the shadow of a doubt what your precise levels are, but do you really want to sit down and take 15 minutes every day to do it, and pay for costly agents and titrants three or four times a summer? After some comparative practice with the two, you will be able to use the test strips on a daily basis for getting a pretty accurate estimation of the 6 included tests. I am actually able to consistently come within .5 to 1PPM difference with the test strips, which is close enough for getting a daily estimation of FC. The K2006 can be used on a weekly basis, when serious pool problems occur, or when you have the time to be more thorough about your testing. The HTH 6-Way test is okay as a cheap solution, or for Bromine pools, but once I compared it to the K2006 by Taylor, I would have been glad to pay the difference to have the better product in the first place. Just to be fair, HTH makes a variety of other variations of their liquid test kits. The one used in this review is commonly found in Walmart and other discount stores for about $15.00. There are also other a couple of other branded versions of the Taylor K2006: The TF-100 and Leslie. I believe both of these are rebadged products of the K2006, but with different volumes, and possibly some other changes or additions. Feel free to compare them online. At any rate, I would not be without one of the three. If you want to be serious about testing your pool, the FAS-DPD chlorine test is an absolute must.

Pool Test Kit Ratings


Convenience and Speed

  • 6-Way Select by Aquacheck 95
  • 6-Way Test by Aquachem 95
  • 6-Way Liquid Test by HTH 70
  • Taylor K-2006 78


  • 6-Way Select by Aquacheck 85
  • 6-Way Test by Aquachem 85
  • 6-Way Liquid Test by HTH 90
  • Taylor K-2006 75

Ease of Use

  • 6-Way Select by Aquacheck 78
  • 6-Way Test by Aquachem 75
  • 6-Way Liquid Test by HTH 70
  • Taylor K-2006 85


  • 6-Way Select by Aquacheck 78
  • 6-Way Test by Aquachem 75
  • 6-Way Liquid Test by HTH 70
  • Taylor K-2006 95


  • 6-Way Select by Aquacheck 75
  • 6-Way Test by Aquachem 75
  • 6-Way Liquid Test by HTH 70
  • Taylor K-2006 95

Best Pool Testing Kit Ratings

    • 6-Way Select by Aquacheck 82
    • 6-Way Test by Aquachem 81
    • 6-Way Liquid Test by HTH 74
    • Taylor K-2006 86