How to Convert Your Pool to Salt Water – The Easy Guide

Salt water pools have been around for several years; however, they have grown in popularity in the last few years. Salt water pools have become very popular largely because they are quite inexpensive to maintain and they are much easier on your eyes, hair and skin.

Also, salt water is a much healthier option.

Converting your pool into a salt water pool is an effective way to maintain the chlorine levels and ensure that your pool is safe for use all year round. However, you may think that changing your pool to a salt water system is a hassle.

But you will be quite surprised to know that the conversion process is quite simple. And, if you’re considering converting your pool to a salt water one by yourself, then read on to know everything about the process.

salt water pool conversion

What Is a Salt Water Pool?

When you speak about a salt water pool, the biggest misconception is that a salt water pool does not make use of chlorine to sanitize the water; however, that’s not true and chlorine is still used to keep the water clean.

The main difference is that in a salt water pool, there is a salt cell that works with the salt to produce its own chlorine.

This means that your pool has lower chlorine levels compared to a traditional pool and also, you will not need to add chlorine manually to sanitize your pool because the pool creates chlorine naturally.

And, although the salt water pool contains chlorine, it does not have the same reactions to the eyes, hair and skin and it does not produce unpleasant chloramines.

Reasons for a Salt Water Pool Conversion

Here are some of the key reasons why to convert a chlorine pool to a salt water one:

Chloramines

Often, we associate the typical “pool smell” of the swimming pool to lots of chlorine; however, this is not true. This is because of chloramines, which are chemicals that are created when the chlorine in the pool comes in contact with your sweat and urine.

Over time, the chloramines build up and reduce the effectiveness of chlorine in disinfecting the water and minimizes its germ fighting effects.

Also, the chloramines cause irritation of the skin, eyes and lungs. The chloramines can build up in the air that surrounds the pool, especially in the case of indoor pools and can cause coughing and even an asthma attack.

Sensitivity Issues

Exposure to chlorine frequently can cause you to develop sensitivity or an allergy to it. And, if you’re sensitive to chlorine, swimming in a chlorine pool can cause skin dryness, itchy skin, hives and rashes.

And, if you suffer from respiratory issues like allergic rhinitis, breathing problems or asthma, then swimming in a chlorinated pool frequently can worsen your symptoms.

So, if your chlorine pool is causing discomfort, then converting the pool into a saltwater one is the best solution for you.

Green Hair Problems

Prolonged exposure to chlorine can turn your hair green, which is not very fashionable.

And, this occurs because the copper present in the pool water turns your hair green and the high levels of chlorine in the water can make the color worse.

Copper bonds with chlorine readily, coating your hair green. A salt water pool reduces the likelihood of green-colored hair.

Reduced Maintenance Costs

By converting your swimming pool to a salt water one, there is no need to add chlorine to your pool anymore. A salt water pool is much cheaper to maintain compared to a chlorine pool.

The cost of the saltwater pool maintenance depends on many factors such as the size of the pool, location and quality of equipment.

The main cost is the chlorinator and replacing the chlorinator cell i.e. the part which converts the salt to chlorine, constitutes the long-term cost.

You must replace the cell one in 5 years. Also, you need to keep your water balanced and in the case of a salt water pool, you need fewer chemicals to maintain the water balance, which helps to reduce the cost compared to a chlorine pool.

Softer Water

Salt water is softer on the skin compared to a chlorinated pool. And, if you maintain the pool properly, you can prevent itchy skin and also, salt water pools don’t cause problems such as red eyes.

In fact, salt water pools contain much less salt as compared to seawater, which makes the water much softer and also, you won’t notice the salt and it does not taste salty like beach water.

Reasons to Stay with a Chlorine Pool

As discussed above, we can see that there are several advantages of having a salt water pool; however, there are some limitations too.

Calcium Build Up

While even traditional chlorine pools have calcium build up; however, in salt water pools, there is a rise in the pH levels quite often and if this is not balanced, then you will end up with calcium build up and scaling that causes ugly deposits and clogged filters.

Salt Cell Cost

Salt cells cost between $200 to $700, depending on the type of model; however, fortunately, the salt cells need to be replaced only once every few years.

Equipment Damage

Typically, salt water corrodes all the pool equipment made of metal and also causes the fading of the pool surfaces. And, replacing the pool equipment can be quite expensive; however, you can prevent salt water corrosion by installing a zinc anode.

Choosing a Saltwater System for Your Pool

If you’ve decided to convert your traditional chlorine pool to a salt water one, then here are a few factors to consider before selecting the system:

Cost

Depending on the type of unit, the cost of a salt water system can range between $200 and $2,500. The price essentially depends on the pool size and the extra features of the system.

However, the cost is not restricted to the salt water system alone. You need to also check the cost of the replacement cells, which need to be replaced once every 3 to 5 years. So, you must ensure that these are also within your budget.

Size of the Pool

The salt water system will operate depending on the size of the pool and the amount of water in it. So, you must pick a system that will be able to run your pool efficiently.

Choosing a unit that is larger than the requirements of your swimming pool is still fine; however, picking a smaller one means that it may not work efficiently and you will probably replace it within a year.

Installing a Saltwater System

If you have finally decided to convert your traditional pool to a salt water pool, next you must decide whether you want to hire an expert to do it or do it yourself as a DIY project. Doing the job yourself can help you to save a lot of money.

However, you must keep in mind that the job involves some basic electrical and pool plumbing work, using hand tools and cutting PVC pipes and gluing them. So, if you’re not sure about doing these things, then it is better to call in the experts.

If you’re planning to do the job on your own, then here are the things you must do:

Checking the Existing Systems

First, you must check all the existing systems and components including the pipes, pumps, interior pool materials and all the other systems, which are very close to the water or touch it because it is important to determine if the salt will affect the systems.

The smaller parts can be replaced earlier; however, if the material of the interior pool is not salt water compatible, then you may have to wait a while to switch it and replace it with some other material. Once all the parts are appropriate for conversion, then you can start.

Checking the Existing Pool Water

You need not change the water or drain the pool cleaners before converting the pool because most of them are suitable for use with chlorine.

However, some antibacterial products such as polyhexamethylene biguanide do not work along with chlorine cleaners. In case you’re using this, you can either burn it out with extra chlorine or switch out the pool water before converting it.

Balancing the Pool Chemistry

Once you determine that the salt water conversion will be able to work with the existing chemicals, then you must balance the chemicals to get the pool chemistry to normal. Normally, the levels of your pool water must be:

  • pH Level: 7.4 to 7.6
  • Calcium Hardness: 200 to 400
  • Total Alkalinity: 80 to 140 ppm
  • Free Chlorine: 1 to 3 ppm

While the phosphate levels do not have to be balanced; however, in the case of saltwater pools, it is a good idea to do so because the phosphates act like a glue for the contaminants, which can cause the build up of scale inside the salt cell.

The phosphate level in the pool of less than 200 is usually recommended and if required, you can buy a phosphate reducer.

If any of the levels in your pool water are off, then you must ensure to take steps to correct them and it may take many days to balance the pool because the pool water must circulate properly and the water must be well balanced before the conversion.

Also, the different areas of the pool must be rested, not just the part where you have put in the chemicals.

Selecting a Salt Chlorinator

The best salt chlorinator system should be sufficiently large that will work along with the pool and be reliable enough so that it does not need to be replaced soon and at the same time, it must be affordable.

There are several different types of chlorinators and any system will allow you to modify the amount of chlorine it produces, which will make it quite easy for you to adjust the pool.

However, advanced systems offer features like freeze protection, automatic cleaning, digital readouts, flow control, etc.

Installing the Salt Chlorinator

When you have selected a salt chlorinator, you can get a professional company to install it or you can do it by yourself.

However, you must do it quickly because, over time, the pool chemicals will become unbalanced and so, you must quickly do it before having to readjust the pool, which can cause the cost to increase significantly.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the chlorinator installation.

Adding Salt

Before installing the chlorinator, add the salt by pouring it in. However, if you’re not sure of how much salt is required, you can use an online calculator to determine the amount of salt required.

While the purest form of salt is mined salt, mechanically evaporated salt or solar salt is also fine.

Typically, it takes around 24 hours for all the salt to dissolve; however, smaller crystals of salt will take less time. However, you must purchase the salt and follow the instructions as per the chlorinator.

Always pour the salt in the pool’s shallow end, away from the skimmer. Pour the salt against the water flow in case you want to pour the salt in different areas of the pool. This will help to create a uniform distribution.

Testing the Pool Water

Test the pool water and note the results. After a week, test the pool again and see if the results are different. After running for a week, your pool should stabilize and if the numbers are not consistent, then there is a problem with the system.

If the concentration of salt is very high, then you may have to replace some of the pool water and if it’s too low, then you must add more salt. You can use a pool calculator to get the right salt concentration.

Once the chlorine level becomes normal, then the salt system will continue doing its job.

Keeping the Chlorinator Clean

You must ensure to clean the chlorinator once in 3 months at least according to the instructions in the manual. You may have to make use of hydrochloric acid to clean the chlorinator; however, it is best to avoid it except if the salt cells of the chlorinator require it.

Maintaining the Salt System

Once you find the proper setting, the chlorine generator will continue to maintain the balanced chlorine level; however, you must check the chemistry of the pool occasionally to ensure that everything is in balance.

Usually, salt water pools tend to have high pH levels and to prevent cloudy water and scaling, you can add muriatic acid to reduce the pH levels.

Also, keep the pool clean. Brush and vacuum it and keep it free of dirt and debris. You must also maintain the pump to ensure that the water is flowing to maximize the effectiveness of the salt cell and ensure that it is long lasting.

Ensuring More Use of the Salt Cell

Typically, the salt cell lasts around 3 to 7 years and is quite expensive to replace and so, you may want to take a few steps to ensure that you get the most of it.

As long as the pH level is balanced, it will help to keep the salt cells healthy.

Unbalanced pH levels can cause build up and deposits on the generator and cause it to wear more quickly.

Ensure that the salt cell’s blades are cleaned and hose off any visible scaling. You can use a mild acid solution to dissolve any stubborn build ups.

Is Salt Water Pool Concersion Right for You?

Converting your traditional chlorine pool to a salt water one may be something that you want to consider because of all the benefits it offers.

While a salt water pool will help to save money on chlorine, you must ensure that the pool must be maintained so that you have crystal clear water.

However, if you’re concerned about the drawbacks of a chlorine pool, then salt water conversion may be the ideal solution for you.

michael keenan author

Author - Michael Keenan

I'm Michael Keenan the owner and creator of the Outdoor Care Guide. I'm a trained horticulturist with over 30 years experience in pool care, plant care and landscape care! Seemed like a good idea to share - I think I can make your life easier and save you some time and money!