Salt Water Pool Conversion Guide

If you’re a pool or hot tub owner and are interested in the growing trend of salt water pool conversion keep reading to learn more about the process!

Salt Water Pool Quick Answers:

  1. What to Know About Salt Water Systems for Pools
  2. What Are the Benefits of a Salt Water Pool?
  3. Test & Balance Before You Convert
  4. Saltwater Chlorine Generator
  5. How to Convert Your Pool to Saltwater
  6. How Much Does It Cost to Convert to a Salt Water Pool?
  7. Making Salt Water Pool Maintenance Simple

Salt water pools have become more popular among homeowners in recent years, and for good reason. A salt water pool is just as clean as a chlorinated pool, but with many other benefits – no chlorine smell, healthier water, and fewer chemicals, to name a few[1]. If you’re a pool owner and are interested in salt water pool conversion, you’ve come to the right place. 

And here’s the good news – converting a chlorinated pool into a salt water pool is probably easier than you think, whether you’re working with an above-ground swimming pool, an inground pool, or even a hot tub.

Let’s explore everything you need to know about going salty, including the advantages of salt water pools, the type of pool systems you’ll need, how to convert a pool to saltwater, the cost, and pool maintenance requirements, and how to test and treat the water.

an inground salt water pool with a fence surrounded by trees on a sunny day
A beautiful inground pool that converted to a salt water pool! 

What to Know About Salt Water Systems for Pools

One of the main assumptions about salt water pools is that they’re extremely salty. In fact, the salinity of a salt water pool is much lower than the ocean. This means it’s much gentler on your eyes, hair, and skin than a swim at the beach[3].

Another common misunderstanding is the belief that salt water pools are entirely chlorine-free[2]. They aren’t! With a salt water swimming pool, you’ll still need some chlorine to clean and balance the water[2]. Even so, you’ll need far less chlorine than you would with a regular pool.

Chlorine is present in all tap water – and with a salt water pool, chlorine levels won’t be much higher than in water from your tap[4]. That being said, it’s still important to make sure your pets don’t drink the pool water, as the salt and other stabilizers can be toxic if too much is ingested. If you, your pet, or any other swimmers swallow a bit of water by accident, you probably don’t need to worry. But as with all types of pool water, it’s something you should avoid.

What Are the Benefits of a Salt Water Pool?

Are salt water pools better than traditional chlorine pools? The answer certainly depends on who you ask. But in many respects, salt water pools are undeniably superior to their heavily-chlorinated counterparts.

As we mentioned, many people convert to saltwater because it calls for fewer chemicals and less chlorine, which eliminates the chlorine smell of normal pools and makes the water gentler on your body. Also, with reduced chlorine levels, swimmers don’t have to worry about green-tinted hair and irritated skin. 

But that’s not all – many people notice clearer skin after swimming in a salt water pool[3], as you might after swimming in the ocean. On top of that, you’ll have easier pool upkeep and lower maintenance costs.

Test & Balance Before You Convert

Before beginning the conversion process, you’ll need to test and balance your pool water. We recommend using standard test strips, which will provide you with an accurate read on your current water chemistry. This will let you gauge your pool’s pH, total alkalinity, free chlorine levels, cyanuric acid stability, calcium hardness, and salt.

The simplest and most seamless way to track and test your pool’s water chemistry is with Pool Calculator – a handy app for desktop, Android, and iOS. Just enter the results of your test and we’ll show you exactly how to balance your water before converting to a salt water pool. Adding chemicals and stabilizers to balance your water is a crucial first step before you proceed with the salt water conversion process.

In most instances, a pool won’t need to be drained in order to convert to salt water. However, if you’re currently using a water sanitizer that contains polyhexamethylene biguanide, you may need to drain your pool and fill it with fresh water because it will impact your chlorine balance[5].

Saltwater Chlorine Generator

a black Hayward saltwater chlorine generator for a swimming pool
Hayward is a pool equipment brand that we always trust. They have great quality products and offer a good warranty.

To convert your pool, you’ll need a salt chlorine generator, which is also called a chlorinator[1]. To achieve salt water chlorination, the chlorinator uses electrolysis to create chlorine in the water, so your pool stays clean, sanitized, and free of chloramines[2]. Also, a saltwater chlorinator will ensure that the salinity (salt level) isn’t too high.

Salt chlorinators vary in terms of price and features, but generally speaking, all modern configurations are roughly the same. You’ll have a chlorinator controller, which will most likely involve a panel with a power switch, output level adjustments, a shock button, and a turbo option. Higher-end salt water pool systems might allow you to set your salt water chlorination to a timed schedule. Also, some have self-cleaning features and automatically adjust for temperature changes.

Another key component is the salt-chlorinator cell, which is sometimes referred to as a salt cell or a chlorinator cell. The saltwater in your pool will pass through this cell, which initiates electrolysis to begin generating just the right amount of chlorine.

How to Convert Your Pool to Saltwater

“That’s all fine,” you’re probably thinking, “but how do I convert my pool to saltwater?” The good news is that salt water pool conversion is a fairly simple process – and likely more affordable than you think. 

After you’ve tested your water, balanced its chemistry, installed your saltwater chlorinator, and connected it to your pool pump, you can begin adding salt. You should look for granulated, non-iodized salt with 99.8% NaCl (sodium-chloride ratio) or higher[6].

When you enter your current water chemistry into Pool Calculator, you’ll know how much salt to add. In most cases, you’ll be starting with zero salinity, but if your water contains a little bit of salt, our app will tell you exactly how much more you need. Check the user manual on your salt chlorinator for specific directions on how to add salt. Since the salinity of salt water pools is relatively low, you only need to add salt a few times per year.

After adding salt, power on your saltwater chlorinator and let it run for 12 to 24 hours until it dissolves completely. Test your pool water again to ensure your salt and chlorine levels are balanced. If the chemistry looks good, you can go ahead and jump in!

How Much Does It Cost to Convert to a Salt Water Pool?

When it comes to converting a pool to saltwater, the biggest expense is the cost of a chlorine salt generator. Most saltwater chlorinators run between $800 to $1,200. You’ll also need to replace the cell every three to seven years, which can cost anywhere from $600 to $900.

The right model for your pool will depend on your pool size and the various features you want. Aside from that, your main costs will be salt and chlorine – but as we mentioned, you won’t need nearly as much chlorine as you did before. You can get extra-large salt bags for $10 to $20 apiece. The price of chlorine depends on whether you get liquid chlorine or chlorine tablets, but you probably won’t need to spend more than a few hundred dollars each year.

Making Salt Water Pool Maintenance Simple

Even though keeping the water clean in a salt water swimming pool is easier than a traditional pool, maintenance is still critical! You’ll need to test your water regularly to make sure it’s balanced and adjust the chemistry as needed. 

We recommend testing your pool water about once a week to check the chlorine and pH levels. Every month or so, test the salt level. Some salt systems have displays that indicate the salinity, but a test strip will give you the most accurate reading.

Additionally, keep your filter, pump, and other pool equipment clean, just like you would with a chlorinated pool. Lastly, the chlorinator cell should be cleaned several times a year to prevent salt buildup and corrosion. A zinc anode can also help to minimize corrosion in a salt water pool.

You don’t have to be a chemist to own a salt water pool! Pool Calculator will do the math for you. Just track your water test results, and we’ll tell you exactly how much of each pool chemical additive you need. Keeping your water clear, balanced, and healthy has never been easier. Download our friendly mobile app for desktop, Android, or iOS mobile device to get started now.

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