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The Benefits of Switching to a Salt Water Pool and How to Do It Yourself

You might have heard about Salt Water Pools gaining popularity in the last few years. That’s because salt water can help your skin stay soft and smooth, your eyes stay clear, and can even lower the cost of chemicals.

So can you just pour some kitchen salt in your pool and call it a day? Ah, if only. But once you’ve put in the effort to convert your pool to a saltwater pool, you’ll find the maintenance is actually lighter on your pool and wallet.

So let’s bust the biggest myth about salt water pools.

Salt water pools do in fact contain chlorine. The salt works in combination with chlorine to sanitize the water. Salt water pools use what’s called a Salt Chlorine Generator or Salt Water Chlorinator. These generators use the dissolved salt in the pool to create chlorine that cleans the pool.

Wait just a second… a salt water pool makes the chlorine that cleans the pool?

Yep. Salt water chlorinators make hypochlorous acid (HCIO), chlorine gas (CI2), hydrogen gas (h2), and sodium hydroxide (NaOH) using dissolved salt and electrolysis. The salt gets converted into hypochlorous acid and sodium hypochlorite, which act as the sanitizing agents that clean your pool. It’s actually creating the same kind of chlorine used in a chlorine pool.

Chlorine isn’t the problem

That overwhelming “chlorine” smell your pool gets sometimes isn’t the pool chemical you’re smelling. The smell comes from the biproduct of chlorine when it does its job, called chloramine. Chloramine is created when the chlorine in your pool comes into contact with contaminants like sweat or urine (but there’s none of that in your pool, right?). Proper sanitization levels inhibit chloramine formation, so you’ll still need to test and balance your pool to keep chlorine levels stable.

What are the benefits of salt water pools?

Salt water pools have softer water than chlorine pools

Salt water pools contain somewhere around 3,000 parts per million (ppm) (3,200 is ideal). To give you a concept of what that’s like, the ocean’s salt level is 35,000 ppm. Don’t let the name fool you, It’s so little you won’t even taste it. While it might not seem like a lot compared to the ocean, it’s got a lot more salt than chlorine pools. Even this amount of salt can act as a natural moisturizer and exfoliator, increasing your skin’s ability to retain moisture.

The salinity of the water is much closer to the salinity of your tear ducts, which is why it won’t hurt to open your eyes underwater. In addition, your skin and hair won’t feel as dry after swimming in a salt water pool as in a chlorine pool.

Pro tip: if you have a dog, they won’t be tasting the salt in the water either, so make sure they don’t make a habit of drinking from the pool. It won’t hurt them once or twice.

Salt water pools save you time and money

Instead of manually adding chlorine to your pool once a week, the chlorinator will create its own chlorine naturally. You’ll still need to balance your water to keep chloramines at bay, but you’ll require less chemicals to do so. Choose salt water test strips or digital testers.

Some drawbacks to consider when switching to salt water pool

Salt water pools tend to have pH levels that drift up on you. But not to worry, you’ll just have to keep a close eye on balancing your pH levels. If you don’t properly maintain pH levels, you will have to deal with scaling causing clogged filters and white calcium deposits.

Wear and tear on your equipment. While salt water is easier on swimmers, it’s tougher on your metal pool equipment and pool surfaces. You can install a zinc anode to help your parts last longer.

You will have to bear the upfront cost of a chlorinator, which can range from a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars. The chlorinator cell, the part of the generator that converts salt to chlorine, will have to be replaced about every 5 seasons.

If you’re convinced to make the change, here’s how to switch your pool over to a salt water pool

You only need to balance your pool and install a chlorinator. This will take about a day and you’ll be working with electrical wires, hand tools, and cutting & gluing PVC pipes. If that’s within your comfort zone, you are ready to do it yourself.

Step 1: Balance your pool

Normal levels for your pool should be:

  • Free Chlorine: 1 – 3 ppm

  • Total Alkalinity: 80 – 140 ppm

  • pH: 7.4-7.6

  • Calcium Hardness: 200 – 400

It’s also a good idea to balance your phosphate levels because they cause contaminants to build up in the chlorinator’s salt cell. Phosphate levels should be below 100 ppb

Watch out

If you use an antibacterial agent with polyhexamethylene biguanide, then you might want to consider draining your pool. This is not compatible with chlorine so you’ll need to remove this agent completely by either draining your pool or “burning” the antibacterial agent out of the water with a high dose of chlorine. The “burn” option will turn your pool white for a few days but will save you from draining and refilling.

Step 2: Balance your pool water and add salt

Using the requirements on the chlorinator manual, balance your pool water accordingly, but generally, the above measurements are standard.

Next, add pool salt. You’ll want to be using mined salt. If you’re purchasing from a pool store, this is what you’ll be getting.

How much salt do I need for my pool? The ideal salt level is between 2700-3400 ppm (parts per million) with 3200 ppm being optimal, but always consult your chlorinator manual to be sure.

See below for how many bags you will need for your pool.

Salt water pool calculator table

Step 3: Install the Chlorinator

Turn off your power with the circuit breaker and keep it off until you’ve completed installing the cell and control board.

From here you’ll want to review the specific instructions according to your chlorinator manual, but these are the general steps:

  1. Mount the chlorinator controller near your equipment pad.

  2. Connect the chlorinator to the power according to the manual. Some might come with a power cord while others will need to be wired to an existing time clock or pool pump. The controller should come with a grounding wire and bonding wire.

  3. Connect the chlorinator cell to the pool plumbing (the chlorinator cell should be the last piece of the cycle before the water returns to the pool.

  4. Connect the chlorinator cell to the chlorinator controller.

  5. Turn on the pump and check for leaks. Run the pump to a few hours help the salt dissolve. It may take 24 hours for the salt to fully dissolve.

  6. Turn on the salt chlorinator.

There you have it. You’re ready to enjoy soft pool water and lower maintenance. Make sure to always test your water regularly and balance as needed.

We we’re going to end on a sodium joke, but… Na.

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