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How to Convert a Chlorine Pool into a Saltwater Pool

How to Convert a Chlorine Pool into a Saltwater Pool

Whether you just completed new pool construction or have had your pool for years, you may be intrigued by the notion of saltwater pool conversion. Transitioning from chlorine to a saltwater pool does have various benefits. They include avoiding the skin itchiness, eye redness, and toxic fumes that accompany chlorine. With the new pool, you will drastically cut the number of chemicals you need to buy and introduce to the pool.

9 Steps to Converting Your Pool to a Saltwater Pool

If you currently have chlorine, you may want to know how you would go about transitioning the pool from a chlorine to a saltwater system. Here are the basic steps:

1. Choose your saltwater system.

There are essentially two considerations when you think about which saltwater pool system makes sense for you:

  1. Cost — Make sure that you understand not only the initial cost of the system but also the cost of replacement cells (which typically need to be replaced every 3-5 years).
  2. Size of your pool — Saltwater pool conversion can become a nightmare if you fail to get a saltwater system fit for a pool of your volume. If the system is intended for smaller pools than yours, you cannot expect effective operation.

2. Decide if you will drain the pool.

You currently have water in your pool. You want to think about what to do with that water before you set up the chlorinator.

Should you drain your pool? It is actually unnecessary unless you are currently using polyhexamethylene biguanide — in which case it is optional. 

Polyhexamethylene biguanide is the active ingredient in an antibacterial pool sanitizer that is incompatible with chlorine. Your chemicals could be thrown out of balance – in which case your chlorine may not be able to maintain cleanliness – if you leave this chemical in the water.

Again, it is optional to drain the pool. That is one strategy when you need to flush out the antibacterial agent. The other is to use a large amount of chlorine to “burn” the polyhexamethylene biguanide. If you use the burning method, your water will become white. You can start converting your chlorine pool to saltwater as soon as you see the whiteness appear.

3. Embrace balance.

Salt is central to saltwater pool conversion, but you want to know other levels too. Typically chemical testing looks at calcium hardness, free chlorine, pH, and alkalinity. Healthy ranges for your pool water are as follows:

  • Calcium hardness — 200-400
  • Free chlorine — 1-3 ppm
  • pH — 7.4-7.6
  • Total alkalinity — 80-140 ppm.

One additional test worth conducting is for phosphates; these kits are affordable even though they do not come with average pool test kits. You want your phosphate reading to be under 200. 

Inside a salt cell, phosphates (which come from sources including chemicals, rainwater, and human contaminants) can form a residue that acts almost like glue. For that reason, these compounds are important to target within saltwater pools.

If your phosphate levels are problematic, you can buy a phosphate reducer to correct them. The same is true with anything else that is out of balance: testing reveals actions to take.

Last but not least, check your water with a salt test strip. Expect the salt level to initially be at zero, but you could find out it is a bit higher. If the level is above zero, reduce the amount of salt you add (see below) accordingly.

4. Install the chlorinator. 

Basic tasks involved in this key saltwater pool conversion step follow (always deferring to your manual). Warning: You should be extremely careful since you are working with electricity and water.

  • Pick a spot close to your pool equipment pad and mount the chlorinator controller. 
  • Connect the chlorinator controller to the power supply. You should see bonding wire and grounding wire with the controller, allowing you to operate safely. You may be able to plug straight into a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) circuit.  You can also wire to the pool pump or to a time clock. 
  • Now you need to introduce the chlorinator cell, which should be the last component on the pipe prior to water flowing back into the pool.
  • Connect the chlorinator controller to the chlorinator cell.

5. Add a sacrificial anode.

Converting a chlorine pool to saltwater will, of course, mean that the salt concentration in the pool will rise. High amounts of salt lead to galvanic corrosion, as noted in Swimming Pool Steve. To prevent this form of damage, install what is called a sacrificial anode to your plumbing. Make sure the salt chlorinator cell comes after it; other than that, install it anywhere within the plumbing. Then integrate it with your pool’s bonding grid.

6. Add salt.

  • Contacting Experts Assuming your test is successful, it is time to start the cell. Why? It helps prevent the threat of overcurrent to your saltwater system. 

The scenario that can cause damage is water that is beyond the limits of a salt system’s electronics — that has extremely low electrical resistance because it has a high concentration of salt — flows through the salt cell. Some systems experience damage when the current spikes due to this low resistance.

If a saltwater swimming pool is built from scratch, it takes some time to accrue what is called a free chlorine residual. Because salt chlorine production is not particularly fast, a great advantage of conversion is you can use your existing free chlorine residual. Either way, with a salt system, you need to make up for the lack of chlorine and create a reserve — to get the water up to 1-3 parts per million. To do so, you can add chlorine, crank your system up to 100% production, or set it to super-chlorinate.

Contacting Experts

When it comes to converting your pool to a saltwater system, we always recommend speaking with experts. Contact a reputable pool company who can help walk you through the process or come on over and convert it for you – which is the safest and most reliable method. 

You want to get the level of salt up to approximately 3000-3500 ppm, as will be specified in your system’s manual. According to the size of your saltwater swimming pool, look at the handbook to determine how much salt you need to add. 

You will need to add pool salt to the water once installation is complete. Switch off the salt cell system, turn on the pool pump, and check for leaks before pouring the salt into the pool. 

You want to get the level of salt up to approximately 3000-3500 ppm, as will be specified in your system’s manual. According to the size of your saltwater swimming pool, look at the handbook to determine how much salt you need to add. 

In a pinch, another way to approach it is to use the rough formula that you can increase the salt level of every 1000 gallons of pool water by 100 ppm using 1 pound of salt. Example: To get a 10,000-gallon saltwater pool up to 3000 ppm, you add 250-300 pounds of salt. 

While you do NOT want to introduce salt directly to the skimmer, you do want it to be evenly distributed throughout the pool. Continue dissolving the salt and circulating the water, keeping the pump active. 

7. Brush down the pool floor and walls.

Once you have allowed the pool pump to circulate the salt for 24 hours, you want to be certain that all the salt you added is 100% dissolved. That is accomplished by brushing the entire surface of the pool structure.  

8. Retest.

Use another pool salt test strip to check the level. If your salt is out of the normal range, reduce or increase salt production using the saltwater generator’s dial. Retest again 24 hours later to ensure you are now within the correct range.

9. Switch on the salt chlorinator cell. 

Assuming your test is successful, it is time to start the cell. Why? It helps prevent the threat of overcurrent to your saltwater system. 

The scenario that can cause damage is water that is beyond the limits of a salt system’s electronics — that has extremely low electrical resistance because it has a high concentration of salt — flows through the salt cell. Some systems experience damage when the current spikes due to this low resistance.

If a saltwater swimming pool is built from scratch, it takes some time to accrue what is called a free chlorine residual. Because salt chlorine production is not particularly fast, a great advantage of conversion is you can use your existing free chlorine residual. Either way, with a salt system, you need to make up for the lack of chlorine and create a reserve — to get the water up to 1-3 parts per million. To do so, you can add chlorine, crank your system up to 100% production, or set it to super-chlorinate.

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