Converting your pool to a salt system is an effective way of managing chlorine levels and keeping your pool safe to use throughout the year. Here’s what you should know about switching over.
Why You Would Want To Convert Your Pool to Salt Water
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
Saltwater pools don’t require as much maintenance as traditional chlorine pools. The main reason for this is that all the chlorine the pool needs comes from the salt in the pool, which reforms naturally in the water after splitting apart. The pool still loses some of its 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 make sure your pool liner or interior material can withstand saltwater. If not, you may be better off sticking with a traditional chlorinated pool.
When I tell pool owners about saltwater pools, most of them imagine something similar to the ocean, where all of 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 other cost of switching over to a saltwater pool is the salt itself. 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, and bags typically cost 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 parts 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, then 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 all of your components are suitable for the conversion, then you’re ready to proceed.
Step 2: Check Your Existing Pool Water
Most pool cleaners are compatible with chlorine, so you won’t need to drain them or change your water before you convert.
However, some common antibacterial products are not compatible with chlorine. In particular, polyhexamethylene biguanide does not work with chlorine cleaners. If you’re currently using this, your only options before converting are switching your pool water or burning it out with excess chlorine. The second option is more affordable, but it takes several 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 own options and needs, read reviews, and make your own decision there.
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’re 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 are different from those described here, prioritize the chlorinator’s instructions.
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
Test your pool water immediately after installing your chlorine generator and write down the results. Test the pool again after one week to see if the numbers are different. Your pool should stabilize after running for this long, and seeing any numbers out of place can tell you if there is something 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 right 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 truly need it.
Cost of Converting Your Pool To Saltwater
I discussed this earlier, but it’s relatively affordable to change over to a saltwater system. 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 $1000.
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.