Getting Started with Converting Your Pool to Salt Water

The number of pool owners who have made the shift to salt water has increased drastically over the last decade and continues to rise. More than just a trend, salt water pools offer a variety of benefits compared to traditional chlorine water pools. Those who make the shift discover a safer, easier, and more efficient system to maintain. However, converting to a salt water pool is a decision that should be made thoughtfully and carefully, or you could end up overpaying on the project.

If you have a chlorine pool and are considering salt water, there are steps you can take to ensure the transition is smooth and successful. We’ll break them down in this guide, as well as offer tips to help you save money in the process. 

Why Go with A Salt Water Pool?

You may be wondering, is a salt water pool right for my family? As with traditional chlorine, there are pros and cons to salt water pools. Besides being easier to maintain, salt water pools can provide a luxury feel without the luxury price. The other benefits of converting to a salt water pool include:

  • Salt water is gentler to the body. Although salt water pools contain chlorine, the presence of salt reduces the eye and skin irritation you might experience while swimming in a chlorine pool.
  • Salt water costs less to maintain. Salt water pool maintenance costs a lot less than maintaining a chlorine pool, although it depends on factors like pool size, location, current maintenance state, and quality of the equipment.
  • Salt water pools have softer water. Salt water pools are often described as soft, silky, and pure, with a feel much more like a natural body of water.

Materials Needed to Convert

Once you decide to convert your chlorine pool to a salt water pool, it is essential to ensure you have all the necessary materials for the process. Below are all things you need to convert it:

  • A salt water chlorinator (It’s important to note here that you need to determine your pool water volume before purchasing a chlorinator.)
  • Pool salt
  • Salt water testing strips
  • Sacrificial anode

Steps to Converting to a Salt Water System

Once you have everything you need to convert your pool into a salt water pool, the next step is to begin the conversion process. Here are the steps to follow when converting to a salt water system:

Choose the Salt Water System

When choosing salt water systems, heaters, or pumps, you should consider the size of your pool. A salt water system is the most critical component of your pool, featuring a salt cell that transforms the salt into chlorine and a control board that regulates the amount of chlorine generated. Choosing too large of a system may result in excessive energy For example, if your pool accommodates about 30,000 gallons of water, you’ll want to choose a slightly larger system to prevent it from running at full capacity. This helps lower operating costs while running an efficient salt water pool.

Decide If You’ll Drain the Pool

Once you’ve found the right salt water system for your pool, you’ll have to decide if you’ll drain your pool entirely or complete the project with the water still in the pool. Although draining your pool will require you to refill the pool with fresh water before moving on to the next step, it is typically the better option. That’s because polyhexamethylene biguanide, the active ingredient in many pool sanitizers, is incompatible with salt water systems. This creates an imbalance between the salt and the chemicals, making it hard to keep the water safe for swimming. However, you can shock the pool with a high dose of chlorine to remove these sanitizers, but you’ll have to wait a few days for the chemicals to dissipate before moving on with the conversion. 

Draining a pool can be tedious, but it is doable, and it’s important to do it right. Although rare, it is possible for an inground pool to pop out of place during the draining process, which can turn this simple task into a costly nightmare. To prevent this, be sure to pump downhill from the pool, keep the hydrostatic pressure relief plugs open, and avoid draining the pool while it’s raining.

Since we’ve only skimmed the surface here, be sure to subscribe to our weekly newsletter to learn more about pool draining and other pool care tips.

The Sacrificial Anode

Salt water can accelerate metal corrosion, resulting in numerous issues in your pool, such as discolored water and associated health risks. When converting to a salt water pool, ensure you incorporate a sacrificial zinc anode to help protect metals against corrosion. Anything that is metal – heater, steps, ladder, etc. – produces an electrical voltage. This type of electrical current won’t electrocute you, but it will corrode the metal hardware in your pool. The zinc anode involves a device that safeguards metal components against corrosion in a salt water pool.

The sacrificial anode conducts a very low level electrical current through the water during chlorine production, preventing oxidation on the metal surface. It is available in distinct sizes and shapes based on your installation. Installing a sacrificial anode within your chlorine generating system is the first line of defense against rust, although you will need to plumb within the entire plumbing system.

Add the Salt

Before the chlorinator is activated, you’ll want to have already dissolved the salt in your pool. Generally, it takes about 24 hours for the salt to dissolve in the water, and this requires the pump to remain on and circulate water. Then, install and activate the chlorinator as soon as possible immediately following that 24 hour period.

You need to make sure you choose the right salt to add to your pool water. Not just any salt will do; it has to be pool salt. The analysis on the bag will help you determine purity levels. As a rule, you should add about 30 lbs of pool salt for every 1,000 gallons of water, but always check the manual for details. For new pools, it’s best practice to wait at least 30 days before adding salt or activating the chlorinator to allow the plaster pool to seal and cure, or at least ten days for vinyl liners to avert corrosion. In the meantime, it’ll be critical to sanitize the pool with chlorine to avoid any bacterial or fungal growth during this waiting period.

Install The Chlorinator

Also referred to as an automatic chlorine feeder, a chlorinator is a device that automatically dispenses chlorine into your pool water by converting the salt to chlorine. This alleviates having to manually add chlorine to the pool skimmer or floating dispenser, and the presence of the salt in the system allows for proper sanitation with less harsh chlorine levels. While installing a chlorinator is something you can do yourself, it can be a pretty involved technical process, so you might opt to hire a professional for this step. 

Modern pool chlorinators plug directly into the pump and filter system, sanitizing the water before re-entering the pool. There are two types of automatic chlorinators – an inline chlorinator and an offline chlorinator. An inline chlorinator installs directly into the piping that’s connected to your pump and filter system. An offline chlorinator hooks to the side of the system and through a tube.  They cost virtually the same and serve the same purpose; which type you choose for your pool is based on personal preference.

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Clean the Sides of the Pool

Converting from a chlorine pool to a salt water pool does not mean that the salt in the water will omit regular cleaning. You must maintain a normal cleaning routine. Cleaning the sides of the pool helps eliminate contaminants that may affect your water quality.

Keeping your pool clean and water clear is critical for extending the life of your chlorinator cell. Therefore, use your brush head attached to your telescopic pool pole to help eliminate any debris, buildup, or substances on the pool walls and floor that could contaminate your salt water pool. It’s best practice to scrub the sides and vacuum once a month, use a pool rake to pick up any debris in between vacuuming, and skim the surface daily. This will not only keep your pool safe and increase its longevity, but save you on pool maintenance costs as well.

Test Your Chemicals

Although you will want to test and balance your chemicals following activation of the chlorinator, you should also do this before you add the salt to make sure your water is properly balanced prior to this process. In addition, there should be instructions that come with the chlorinator which will determine what balanced water chemistry looks like in preparation for the installation of a chlorinator device.

For a salt water pool, you need to test the following:

  1. Total alkalinity: Determining the total alkalinity in your salt water pool helps ensure the pH doesn’t shift too fast. The recommended level for swimming pool water is 80 to 120 ppm.
  2. Water pH: This determines how alkaline or acidic the water is. Maintaining a pH between 7.2 and 7.8 is ideal for helping achieve a balance, preventing chlorine ineffectiveness, and reducing scaling or erosion in the pool.
  3. Free chlorine: This determines if your pool water is safe and sanitary and usually lies between 1 to 3 parts per million.
  4. Stabilizer: Understanding this level helps prevent stabilized free chlorine from dissipating due to the sun’s effect. In most cases, a range of between 30 to 50 ppm is ideal.
  5. Salinity: This measurement helps ensure your salt chlorine generator operates optimally to maintain your free chlorine level. Although the levels depend on the model, it usually lies between 3000 to 4000 ppm.

Note: Free chlorine should really only be tested and adjusted if pH is in good shape, since chlorine is incredibly ineffective if the pH is wrong. But, adjusting pH properly is nearly impossible if the alkalinity is off, so it’s important to follow this order of operations for testing your chemicals. 

Testing and balancing chemicals is an important part of pool care. For more information on how to get it right the first time, subscribe to ProTuff’s newsletter for weekly pool care tips.

Salt Water Pools Need High-Quality Tools Too

Converting from a chlorine pool to a salt water pool can be a great option for your family. However, it is essential to maintain your regular pool upkeep schedule to help reduce your overall pool operating costs and operate an energy-efficient pool. This means that your salt water pool needs specialized and high-quality tools to achieve this.

At ProTuff Products, we offer high-quality pool tools, including the latest salt water tools, with a lifetime replacement warranty. Make sure you’re prepared with the right tools for your salt water conversion and never waste another dime or your time on shopping for pool tools again. For more information, contact us to learn more today!

Disclaimer: Pool ownership and maintenance is very complicated, and we know every situation is unique. While we’ve done our best to cover the best practices here, we encourage you to reach out to ProTuff directly at [email protected] with any specific questions you may have.

How to Convert a Pool to Salt Water: Getting Started
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