Salt Water Pool Conversion Guide

Written by Michael Dean
September 17, 2023

converting a pool to salt water

Salt water pools are all the rage nowadays, and for good reason – they have tons of attractive benefits. So, I don’t blame you if you are considering converting your standard pool to a salt system! If you want to take advantage of the many benefits of saltwater swimming pools, you have come to the right place. Here’s what you should know about switching over and my step-by-step process for successfully converting from a traditional chlorine pool to a saltwater pool.

Main Takeaways

  • Some reasons why you may want to convert to a saltwater pool include: lower maintenance needs, softer water, and low startup costs.
  • To convert your chlorine pool to a saltwater pool, you need to install a salt chlorinator.
  • Changing over to a saltwater pool costs generally less than $1,000, but costs can range from $425 to $2,480.

Why You Would Want to Convert Your Pool to Salt Water

Wondering why you should bother converting your traditional chlorine pool in the first place? Here are the main reasons to convert a traditional chlorine pool to a saltwater pool. For a more in-depth look at the two pool types, read my article comparing salt water and traditional chlorine pools.

Lower Maintenance Needs

The main reason pool owners switch to saltwater pools is that they don’t require as much maintenance as traditional chlorine pools. This doesn’t mean you are off the hook regarding maintenance, but your job will be a bit easier. While traditional pools require you to manually add chlorine on a regular basis, salt water pools produce their own chlorine. The pool still loses some salt and chlorine sources over time, but this happens much slower than in a chlorine pool.

Bags of salt are also safer than handling the purer chlorine often used for pools.

However, salt is fundamentally corrosive, so you’ll need to ensure your pool liner or interior material can withstand saltwater. If not, you may be better off sticking with a traditional chlorinated pool.

Softer Water

When I tell pool owners about saltwater pools, most imagine something similar to the ocean, where all the water tastes incredibly salty. However, that’s not how swimming pools actually taste or feel.

According to the United States Geological Survey, ocean water has a salt content of about 35,000 parts per million (ppm), which gives it that distinctive smell. Most saltwater pools only have a salt concentration of about 3,500 ppm, a mere 10% of the ocean’s concentration. This makes for a significantly more pleasant swimming experience than the name suggests.

Low Startup Costs

Actual costs vary because of factors like the size of your pool and the type of salt chlorine generator you want to buy, but most household and commercial pools only cost a few hundred dollars to convert to a saltwater system. This is well within the typical costs for owning a pool, and it may even help pay itself off, thanks to the lower chemical costs.

The most significant expense is the salt chlorine generator itself, which converts salt in the water into hypochlorous acid (as a pool sanitizer). Chlorine generators are installed in-line and may require digging things out, replacing stones, or other standard parts of installing new pool equipment.

The salt itself is the other cost of switching to a saltwater pool. However, pool salt is not expensive because salt is easy to buy and process in bulk. It’s far more affordable than traditional pool chemicals, and since almost all of the salt stays within the water, you won’t need to buy more very often.

For context, most pools take about 200 pounds of pool salt per 10,000 gallons of water to reach the suggested concentration. The salt usually comes in 40-lb bags for convenience, typically costing less than $8 each.

Step-By-Step Saltwater Pool Conversion

Here are the steps to follow if you want to convert to a saltwater pool.

Step 1: Check Your Existing Systems

The first step is to examine all of your existing equipment and systems. This includes the pipes, interior pool material, pumps, and all other systems that either touch or are close to your water. I recommend this for one reason: You need to know if salt will hurt those systems before you convert.

It’s possible to replace smaller parts early, but if your interior pool material is a bad choice for saltwater, you may need to wait until you replace it to switch over. At that time, you can change to a material that works better with salt.

If your components are suitable for the conversion, you’re ready to proceed.

Step 2: Drain Your Pool Water (Biguanide Pools Only)

Nine times out of ten, you won’t need to change your pool water when converting to a saltwater system. But, in some cases, if you have a polyhexamethylene biguanide (Baquacil) pool, you may need to drain your pool completely and refill it with new water. This is because the chlorine produced by your saltwater system and the biguanide are incompatible chemicals and cannot be mixed. Alternatively, you can allow the biguanide to naturally dissipate, which may take a few days.

Step 3: Balance Your Pool Water

Once you know that the saltwater conversion will work with your existing chemicals, it’s time to adjust your pool water and get it as close to normal as possible. Balance things in this exact order: chlorine, alkalinity, pH, stabilizer, calcium hardness, and other metals. Test your water again, and continue balancing as needed.

It may take several days to fully adjust your pool, especially if it wasn’t balanced earlier. This is because it takes time for pool water to circulate, and the entire pool should be as well-balanced as possible before you continue. Remember to rest different parts of your pool, not just the area closest to where you put the chemicals in.

Step 4: Pick a Salt Chlorinator

There are many ways to pick a saltwater chlorination system. The best system is large enough to work with your pool, reliable enough not to need replacing for a long time, and reasonably affordable on your budget.

If you’re hiring people to install your saltwater chlorination system, as most people do, they may be able to recommend specific manufacturers or systems to you. I am not going to do that myself because I have no stake in which system you buy. Instead, I strongly encourage you to evaluate your options and needs, read reviews, and make your own decision.

You should know that chlorinators vary in their features. Almost any system will let you change how much chlorine they produce, which makes it easy to adjust your pool, but advanced systems can also offer automatic cleaning, freeze protection, flow control, digital readouts, and other helpful information.

Step 5: Install the Chlorinator

Once you’ve picked a salt chlorinator, install it yourself or contact a pool service company to do it for you. Do this as soon as possible; your pool chemicals will get out of balance over time, so your goal is to get this done before you have to readjust your pool. That could significantly increase the cost of doing this.

Your chlorinator should explain how to install it. If the instructions differ from those described here, prioritize the chlorinator’s instructions. You can also read my complete guide on how to install a salt chlorinator.

Step 6: Add Salt

You may need to do this before installing your chlorinator. Adding salt is as simple as opening the bags and pouring salt in to achieve the right concentration. If you aren’t sure how much you need, an online calculator can help you estimate how many pounds of salt you’ll need. Mined salt is the purest, but you can also use solar salt or mechanically evaporated salt if you want to.

Most pools take about 24 hours to dissolve all the salt you pour in. If you’re using small salt crystals, expect it to take less time. That said, your chlorinator may suggest using salt crystals of specific sizes. If so, follow those instructions and purchase salt in that size.

When adding salt, pour it either in the shallow end or as far away from your skimmer as possible. The area where you add salt will temporarily have a much higher concentration than is safe for some pool products, so letting it disperse before it reaches them is essential to avoiding damage.

If you want to pour salt in different places, move against the flow of water as you pour. This will create a more even distribution than moving with the flow of water.

Step 7: Test Your Pool

After installing your chlorine generator, test your pool water immediately and write down the results. Test the pool again after one week to see if the numbers differ. Your pool should stabilize after running for this long, and seeing any numbers out of place can tell you if something is wrong with your system.

If the salt concentration is too high, you may need to replace some (but not all) of your pool water. If the concentration of salt is too low, add more salt. This should be rare if you added the right amount of salt earlier. Use our pool salt calculator to help you get to the correct concentration.

Step 8: Keep It Clean

In addition to cleaning your other equipment at least weekly, make sure to clean your chlorinator as described in its manual at least every three months. If necessary, use hydrochloric acid, but try to avoid this except when your chlorinator salt cells genuinely need it.

Cost of Converting Your Pool to Saltwater

I discussed this earlier, but changing to a saltwater system is relatively affordable. Installation costs vary from about $425 (on the low end for a 10,000-gallon pool) to $2,480 (on the high end for a 50,000-gallon pool). Most pools can convert for less than $1,000.

This cost includes parts, labor, and salt. It does not include any additional local taxes or fees that may apply, although these are usually less than 10% of the total cost when present. It does not include the price of draining and refilling your pool, which you may have to do.

Enjoy Your Saltwater Pool

And that’s all there is to it! Converting your pool to a saltwater pool is really not as difficult or complicated as it may sound. In fact, you can easily DIY the whole process in no time! And soon, you’ll be enjoying an entirely different pool with lower maintenance needs and softer water. What’s not to like?

Do you have more questions about this conversion process? Let me know. I’m always happy to help!

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