Today you're going to learn everything you ever wanted to know about converting your pool to salt water.
When you're done reading, you'll know:
- What a salt water pool is
- Reasons why you'd watch to switch to a new salt water pool (and why you might not want to)
- How to select and install your salt chlorinator system
- How to maintain a salt water pool
- And how to get more use out of your salt cell
It's a pretty easy conversion process, so let's dive right in!
What's a salt water pool?
A salt pool has a salt cell that creates its own chlorine by causing an electrical reaction between the salt and the electrode.
So, instead of manually adding chlorine to your pool once a week, your pool is creating its own naturally. The difference is, though, that it is higher quality than the chlorine you can buy and it doesn’t cause the same reactions to the skin and eyes.
It also doesn’t produce those nasty chloramines people tend to have trouble with.
And you will never taste it because it doesn’t even contain as much salt as human tears.
5 reasons to switch to salt water
There are actually a couple of reasons some people decide to switch from a chlorine to a salt pool:
When you catch a whiff of that “pool smell,” you probably attribute it to too much chlorine, when in fact, the opposite is true.
Chloramines build up over time, minimizing the germ-fighting effects. These chloramines can be harmful to people, irritating the skin, eyes and even lungs.
2. Sensitivity issues
Some people are already sensitive to the chemical, but frequent exposure can cause even those who aren’t to develop an allergy or become more sensitive to it.
Also, if you or anyone in your family has respiratory issues, chloramine can make trigger asthma attacks or breathing problems.
3. Green hair
Extended chlorine exposure can give you the all-too-dreaded green hair look, which isn’t even fashionable for mermaids.
This happens, believe it or not, because of the oxidation that happens to the copper that is built up in your hair.
A patina is nice on a planter, but not on your head!
4. No more adding chlorine
You don’t have to manually add chlorine to your pool anymore. You simply dial in the amount you need on your salt cell.
Saves money and time!
5. Softer water
Salt water feels a lot softer on the skin than traditional chlorinated pool water, and if maintained properly, can help you avoid itchy skin and doesn't have as many negative effects such as red eyes.
3 reasons to stick with chlorine
While there are certainly some great pros of owning a salt water pool, there are some cons to it you’ll want to consider as well:
1. Calcium build-up
You do have to worry about calcium some in traditional chlorine pools too, but in salt water pools, the pH level tends to rise pretty often.
If you don’t keep that balanced, you’ll end up with scaling, causing clogged filters and unsightly deposits.
2. Cost of the salt-cell
The upfront costs of salt cells are anywhere from $200-$700, depending on the model.
The good news is, you only have to replace it every few years.
3. Equipment damage
Salt water does have a tendency to corrode metal pool equipment and cause pool surfaces to fade.
This can get expensive if you have to replace parts.
Installing a zinc anode can help prevent this.
How to select your salt system
If you have made the decision to go ahead and convert your pool to salt water, there are several things you need to consider when selecting your system:
A salt water system costs on average anywhere from $200-$2500, depending on the unit.
The price difference is usually the size of the pool it will work for and the extra features.
But the cost of the system is not the only thing to consider.
If you’re on a budget, you will want to check on the cost of the replacement cells.
You'll be replacing those every 3-5 years, so make sure it’s within your budget.
Each salt water system is designed to operate based on the amount of water in the pool, so it's important for you as a pool owner to choose a system that will run a pool the size of yours or smaller.
If you choose a larger unit than your pool needs, it will still work efficiently. But if you choose a smaller one, you’ll probably be replacing it within the year.
Installing your salt system
So you’ve made the decision to convert your pool to salt water and now it’s time to decide whether to hire an expert or DIY it.
If you decide to do it yourself, I say go for it!
You can do it in a weekend and it will save you at least a few hundred bucks, so why not?
Keep in mind that the task does involve some basic pool plumbing and electrical work, cutting and gluing PVC pipes, and using hand tools, though. So, if you are not comfortable with that, there’s no shame in calling a pro.
If you’re ready to get started on your own, here’s what you need to do:
1. Balance your pool chemistry
Normal levels for your pool water should be:
You don’t necessarily have to balance your phosphate levels, but with salt water pools, it’s a good idea because they act almost like a “glue for contaminants that can cause scale build-up inside your salt cell.”
They enter your pool from human contaminants, chemicals, rainwater and other various sources.
Most average pool testing kits don’t come with phosphate testers, but they're pretty cheap to buy.
A phosphate level below 200 is recommended. You can then purchase a phosphate reducer if needed.
If any of these levels are off, take the appropriate measures to correct them.
2. Install your salt water generator
Each salt chlorine generator is different and will come with its own set of installation instructions, but if you’re still having trouble, you can usually find videos or instructions for your particular unit by searching the web.
I swear, you can learn anything on YouTube!
3. Add the salt
Once your unit is installed, you'll need to add pool salt to your pool water.
First, you will need to test your pool’s salt level with a pool salt test strip. Most likely it will be at zero, but if it’s slightly higher, adjust the amount you add.
Check the handbook to find out how much salt you'll need to add based on your pool size and to bring the level up to about 3500 ppm.
Turn the salt cell system off and the pool pump on. Then pour the salt into the pool. It’s best to sprinkle the salt all around the pool as evenly as possible, but don’t add it straight to the skimmer.
Allow the pool pump to run for 24 hours to circulate the salt thoroughly, then test the level again with a salt test strip.
4. Crank up the salt water generator
Check your pool’s chemistry again. The ideal levels for your salt water pool are:
Before starting the generator, it’s a good idea to go ahead and shock your pool with another type of pool shock, like cal-hypo, and then wait for your chlorine to return to its ideal level.
This is especially a good idea if you can’t get your pool chemistry to balance, and should help stabilize all the levels.
Once the chlorine has returned to around 1.0 – 3.0 ppm, you can turn on your salt chlorinator system.
You can choose the amount of chlorine production you want for your pool, but if you’ve just shocked it and all the levels are in normal range, 50% production is a good starting point.
Wait 24 hours and retest the chlorine.
If it's not within normal range, adjust the dial on your salt water generator to either lower or raise production. Repeat testing every 24 hours until the chlorine is within normal range.
When the chlorine level is normalized, the salt system will pretty much continue to do its job on its own.
But some generators come equipped with a super-chlorinate feature to shock your pool when it needs it.
There are a couple of other mitigating factors you'll want to keep in mind when converting over to salt water:
What about the pool liner?
If you have an inground pool with a galvanized wall behind the liner, and your liner springs a leak, the wall could potentially corrode due to the salt in the water.
Salt can also cause an issue for above ground pools, which tend to have metal parts make up the top of the pool. These metal parts, when exposed to salt, can rust over time
Should you drain your pool?
The short answer (and good news) is no, you do not have to drain your pool.
Maintaining your salt system
Even though these generators are great about maintaining a balanced chlorine level once you’ve found the right setting, you'll still want to occasionally check the chemistry just to make sure everything is in balance.
You’ll also want to keep it as clean as possible. Just like a chlorine pool, your salt water pool needs to be brushed and vacuumed and kept free of visible debris.
Your pump also needs to be maintained to keep water flowing which will maximize your salt cell’s effectiveness and make it last longer.
Getting more use out of your salt cell
A salt cell will usually last about 3-7 years. Some of them are rather costly to replace, so you will probably want to take steps to make sure you get the most use out of them.
Keeping the pH level balanced will go a long way towards keeping your salt cell healthy. The scaling caused by unbalanced pH levels can lead to deposits and build-up on your generator, causing it to wear out more quickly.
But even when the pH levels are normal, you can still get calcium build-up.
Keep the blades of your salt cell cleaned off brushing and hosing off any visible scaling.
Stubborn build-up can usually be dissolved in a mild acid solution.
While converting a chlorine pool to a salt water pool may not be the right choice for everybody, it’s certainly something to consider.
Just be sure to prepare your pool water well before activating your salt cell generator and take the proper steps to maintain your system.
You might find it’s the best decision you made all summer!