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Converting to Salt-Based Chlorination

Categories: How To Guides, Chemicals, Q&A Topics, Maintenance & Upkeep, Salt Systems
Saltwater Pool Conversion: Benefits & How To
For generations, chlorine has been the sanitizer of choice for swimming pools. No matter the size, shape, or location of a given pool, unwieldy bags of chlorine have traditionally been as much a part of its upkeep as skimmers or drain covers.
But while chlorine itself is as important as ever for keeping pools clean and sanitary, recent years have seen a significant improvement in how it’s created and managed. Salt chlorination is becoming much more common as an alternative to mixing pure chlorine with the water.
Converting chlorine pools to saltwater allows pool owners to avoid storing chlorine and hauling it out to the pool whenever needed, and the common complaints of skin irritation associated with high levels of chlorine (as well as its smell) are also quickly fading into the past. Today, we’re sharing the primary benefits and how-to for converting a pool to saltwater.
How Does Salt Chlorination Work?
Salt chlorination operates through electrolysis, in which a salt cell attached to the pool's plumbing converts saltwater into hypochlorous acid using an electric charge. This process eliminates the manual addition of chlorine, maintaining both chlorine and salt in the pool. Contrary to popular belief, chlorine remains essential for pool cleanliness. Electrolysis is a reversible process where chlorine converts back to salt, which minimizes but does not remove the need for salt addition.
A critical component of a salt system is the power center, supplying the current for electrolysis. Typically, the salt cell and power center are purchased together, although alternative power sources are available.
The Basics of Chlorine Generators
What are the Advantages & Benefits of Saltwater? 
Like we mentioned, salt systems eliminate the need for buying as well as storing chlorine, a bulky and fairly hazardous chemical with a strong clinical smell, around the house. But there are plenty of other reasons to switch to saltwater.
First, many swimmers prefer the softer feel of saltwater over the often irritating effects of free chlorine, such as red eyes and discolored hair. Many people associate saltwater pools with the experience of swimming in the ocean, but ideal pool salt levels are only roughly 10 percent (3,000-4,000 parts per million) of those in open saltwater, so such comparisons are not realistic.
Another strong motivation for switching to a salt system is that less maintenance is generally required for the pool. Not only is the need to manually add chlorine to the water eliminated, the salt cell (shown attached to a pool's returns below, between the filter and pump) handles a major part of upkeep by measuring the level of salt automatically. The power center's digital readouts alert the owner whenever there’s a problem.
Is Saltwater Pool Conversion Worth It?
Salt chlorine generators like the Pentair Intellichlor or Hayward AquaRite, including professional installation, costs at least $1000, not including the initial cost of salt. Traditional chlorine pools often require supplemental chemicals such as stabilizers and algaecides costing around $500-$600 annually, especially in areas with extended swim seasons.
In comparison, a saltwater pool requires approximately $120 of salt initially and about $30 annually thereafter, with fewer chemicals needed for maintenance. Salt systems are cost-effective investments considering the improved swimming conditions and less maintenance, making them popular among pool owners.
To maximize your initial investment, consider purchasing a comprehensive automation package like the Pentair EasyTouch Intellichlor system. This package controls all pool features, like lights, pumps, heaters, and valves, and includes a standard salt cell. Thus, the EasyTouch system provides the benefits of a regular salt system and more. Learn more about the many benefits of automation
Related: Pool & Spa Automation 101
Converting an In-Ground Pool to Saltwater
Fortunately, converting an in-ground pool to saltwater is a manageable task, with the main challenge being calculating the pool's volume, especially for pools with varying depths. To calculate, multiply the pool's length, width, and average depth, then multiply by 7.5 to convert to gallons. For instance, a 20' by 40' pool with an average depth of five feet equals 30,000 gallons.
Volume = Length x Width x Average depth x 7.5
Once the volume is determined, purchase a salt cell rated higher than needed to prevent excessive wear. For a 30,000-gallon pool, a 40,000-gallon cell is advisable.
Next, you’ll need salt. Typically, 25 pounds of salt per 1,000 gallons of water is needed. For a 30,000-gallon pool, that's 750 pounds of salt. This large quantity is only required during the initial conversion.
Add half the salt initially to prevent oversaturation, distributing it in the deep end, if available, for easier dissolution. Brush the pool bottom to prevent salt from settling. After 24 hours, check salinity and add the remaining salt to achieve 3,000 to 4,000 ppm, then activate the salt cell.
Lastly, regularly monitor your chlorine levels. The cell only measures salinity, so it's crucial to ensure chlorine remains within the optimal range to avoid over-chlorination, despite the less harsh nature of chlorine salt.
Converting an Above-Ground Pool to Saltwater
Converting an above-ground pool to saltwater requires a few modifications to the previously outlined steps. With these pools, volume calculation is more precise due to the absence of a deep end, and less salt is typically needed due to their smaller size.
Select an above ground pool salt chlorinator based on your preferences and budget, choosing between a hanging model (one that sits on the side of the pool) or one integrated with your current pump—the latter being more efficient but pricier. Some experts advise draining the pool prior to conversion, but you must comply with local drainage regulations due to the chemicals in the water. Alternatively, you can convert without draining.
Add half the salt around the pool's edge, moving around by ladder if a full walkway isn't available. Ensure to brush the pool bottom to dissolve the salt and prevent accumulation.
Wait 24 hours to check salinity levels before adding the remaining salt and activating your salt cell. After another 24 hours, recheck the levels to confirm you've added the appropriate amount of salt.
What If I Add Too Much Salt?
The risk of over-salinating your pool is low, with the guideline of 25 pounds of salt per 1,000 gallons of water. However, if salinity levels exceed 5,000-6,000 ppm, dilution is necessary to prevent corrosion of the pump and other metallic components.
To dilute, partially drain, and replace with fresh water, while complying with local regulations for saltwater disposal.
Calculate the volume of water to drain based on your excess salt. For instance, if salinity is 5,000 ppm, you need to reduce it by around 2,000 ppm. Given a 40-lb bag of salt contributes 480 ppm, you'd need to eliminate roughly four bags' worth of salinity. This could mean draining around 40% of your pool. So, for a 20,000-gallon pool, you'd drain about 8,000 gallons.
This significant volume underlines how challenging over-salinization is. If you're using more salt than expected, your salt cell sensor may be faulty.
Minor salinity elevation isn't problematic, so don't fret if your levels are slightly above the norm.
For all of your pool conversion and maintenance needs, Pool Supply Unlimited has you covered with the best prices and selection around. Browse and shop today, or contact our team for more tips on converting your chlorine pool to saltwater.
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