How to Convert your pool into a Salt Water Pool

Written By Timothy Te

21st October 2020

One of the questions that we get a lot from our blog readers here at Mr Pool Man is how to convert their existing traditionally chlorinated pool to a salt water pool. Is it as simple as attaching a saltwater chlorinator to the system or does it entail something more? Well, we’re here to answer those questions and more with our guide to converting your traditional pool into a salt water pool!

Before we dive in, here's our resident pool guru, Tom, with an overview of our favorite saltwater chlorinator, the Water TechniX Atomic Salt Water Chlorinator. It’s also the chlorinator that we’ll use as the basis for our conversion guide.

Things you’ll need to convert your pool

Now before we talk about how to convert your pool, let’s first go over all of the things you’ll need in order to convert it.

A Salt Water Chlorinator

The first (and most important!) thing you’ll need is a great salt water chlorinator! As we mentioned earlier, we’ll be basing this guide on the Water TechniX Atomic Salt Water Chlorinator, but this guide is suitable for almost any brand out there.

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The reason why we picked the Water TechniX Atomic is simple, it’s robust, designed and assembled right here in Australia, and it has the longest warranty period (3 years!) of all the salt water systems out there. It also has the best price-to-performance ratio that we know of, making it one of the best, if not THE best, salt water chlorination system out there.

The Atomic features analog timers and an analog control panel. Now you might be asking why analog when we’re already living in the digital age. The answer is simple: salt water (or any water) doesn’t play well with electronic components. There was a point in time where salt systems used high end LCD screens to show every sort of conceivable data about the functioning of the chlorinator, but in the long run, it only served as another point of failure which could lead to hundreds of dollars in repair costs. And to be honest, we don’t really spend a lot of time sitting down and staring at the control panel of the chlorinator.

An analog timer also means that the Water TechniX Atomic will continue to track time even if the power goes down and it has a backup battery to store all of your settings for such an eventuality. LCD screens and digital timers on the other hand consume a lot of power and you’re at risk of losing timing settings and saved settings in the event of an extended power break. It’s basically set and forget, set the timer once, and you’ll never have to worry about resetting it due power failures (especially those that occur when everyone is asleep and no one notices that the power has gone out, leaving you with a chlorinator timer that needs resetting).

What Sized Chlorinator do I need?

The Water TechniX Atomic Salt Water Chlorinator comes in three sizes: the WTA25, WTA35, and the WTA45.

  • WTA25 (25 grams of chlorine per hour, suitable for 20,000L - 50,000L)
  • WTA35 (35 grams of chlorine per hour, suitable for 50,000L - 70,000L)
  • WTA45 (45 grams of chlorine per hour, suitable for 70,000L - 90,000L)

 

While it would be tempting to pick a salt water chlorinator that’s “just right” for your pool, here at Mr Pool Man we recommend sizing up! The size and capacity recommendations are there for “normal” pool operation, but really, let’s admit it, there’s really nothing normal about the heat waves we get here in Australia. The hotter it is, the more chlorine is needed to keep your pool sanitised and chlorinated.

Not to mention that the hotter it is, the more people want to jump into the pool, which causes a greater need for chlorine and chlorination. You can always turn your salt water chlorinator down for normal or cooler days, but there’s no way to cause a chlorinator to go above its rated maximum for those high-demand days.

Pool Salt

The next thing that’s needed for a salt water pool is, well, you guessed it, salt! The amount of salt needed for your pool depends on two things: The size of your pool and the recommended salt levels for your chlorinator to function properly.

Now with the Water TechniX Atomic Salt Water chlorinator, the recommended salt PPM is 2,500 to 3,3,500 PPM. So to convert your pool, we would aim for a nice round number in the middle like 3,000 PPM.

Now the basic computation for how much salt is needed would be based on the fact that you would need 10KG of salt to raise 10,000L of water by 1,000 PPM.

For an average-sized Australian pool of 40,000L this would mean that we would need 40KG of salt to raise the salinity by 1,000 PPM. We multiply that by 3, (since we’re aiming for 3,000 PPM) so we would need to add about 120KG of salt to bring a 40,000L from zero up to the required level of 3,000 PPM.

Bonus: Magnesium Minerals

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If you were paying attention to Tom earlier in his video (but if not, that's fine) then you might be curious about using a salt water chlorinator to convert your existing pool into a mineral pool. Is it as simple as using magnesium minerals in place of salt? Well, if you're starting from scratch, then yes!

Instead of using salt, you can use magnesium minerals instead! A few notes though, while you can use cartridge filters and regular sand filter media for salt water pools, in a magnesium mineral pool, you MUST use a sand filter WITH glass filter media. But aside from that, the process is virtually the same, no need to buy those ultra-expensive hydroxinators.

For more information about mineral pools and their benefits, check out our blog post entitled: MagnaPool Mineral Pool System: Hype or Hope? 

Note: We currently don't have magnesium testing strips online, but by the time you'll need to "refill" your pool with magnesium minerals in a year, we'll probably have them online by then. If not, then the rule of thumb when it comes to mineral pools is to replenish a pool by 1,000 PPM on an annual basis. So for example, if you have a 40,000 L mineral pool, then 4x10kg bags of Magnesium Minerals is the safe amount to top up your pool with even without testing.

Salt Water Testing Strips

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To check your salt water PPM levels, you’ll need specialized salt water testing strips. Not that salt water testing isn’t included in your regular 7-in-1 testing strips so if you’re thinking of converting to a salt water pool, get a bottle of these salt water testing strips when you get your salt water chlorinator. Testing for salt water PPM is also different than testing for chemical levels in your pool.

Regular chemical testing with 7-in-1 test strips require you to swish your strip in the pool water and see how the colors change. To test for salinity, fill the included container up to the required level (p.s. Get water a at least a hand depth below the surface to get proper readings) and then put in the strip and leave for five minutes. The color on the strip should start to fade, and the highest faded point should be your PPM reading. The way this works is that the strip has different “resistances” for salt concentration, the faded parts of the strip have had their requirements fulfilled and have done their job, while the unfaded sections means that there isn’t enough salt in the water to cause them to fade, giving you an approximate reading of the salt level in the water.

P.S. Do not submerge the entire strip into the water! Only submerge the indicated section of the strip to get the proper readings!

Now that we have everything that we need to convert our pool into a salt water pool, it’s time to install our salt water chlorinator!

Preparing your pool for conversion

We only need to balance our pool water in order to convert it for use with a salt water chlorinator! Contrary to urban legends, there’s no need to drain and completely change out our pool water if we want to convert it. The first thing we need to do is to balance our pool water to the following levels:

  • Free Chlorine: 1-3 PPM
  • pH: 7.2-7.8
  • Alkalinity: 80-120 PPM
  • Calcium Hardness: 200-400 PPM
  • Cyanuric Acid: 30-60 PPM
  • And finally, Salt: 3,000 PPM (Add salt according to the instructions earlier, broadcast around pool and give the surfaces a good scrubbing to help it dissolve)

Installing your Salt Water chlorinator

Installing a Water TechniX Atomic Salt Water Chlorinator is extremely DIY-Friendly. So if you’re confident with your plumbing skills or if you're confident around tools then there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from doing it yourself and saving a couple of hundred bucks in plumbers fees in the process.

  • Step one: Turn off the power to your pool system (or at the very least your pump).
  • Step two: Locate a suitable area on where to install your salt water chlorinator. Remember that it has to be the LAST piece of equipment in your setup, right before the return jets. For a complete explanation of where your pool equipment goes, check out our guide on How your pool works.
  • Step three: Using the included measuring template, mark the areas that need to be cut for your cell attachment (Always measure twice! Three times if possible to make sure that there's enough space! ) and cut with a hand saw. Some water might flow out, don’t worry, that’s normal.
  • Step four: Sand the cut edges with some fine sandpaper and test fit the mounting nuts. If it fits fine, you can proceed with applying some PVC glue and allow it to cure.
  • Step four: Install the control box somewhere convenient and mount with the included mounting accessories.
  • Step five: Install the salt water cell by inserting it into your mounting nuts and hand tighten. Once that’s installed, connect the leads from the control box to your chlorinator cell.
  • Step six: Do not power on the cell yet! Turn on your pump and allow your water to circulate first and check for leaks. If you have just added salt, allow your pump to run for a few hours (or overnight) for the salt to be fully dissolved and circulated around your pool. (If using Magnesium minerals, allow your pump to run for at least 24 hours to ensure that everything is properly dissolved and circulated)
  • Step seven: Test your water’s salt levels. If you’ve followed all of the instructions, your water should read at somewhere in between the 2500-3500 range. And if it does, it’s now time to turn on your new salt water chlorinator!
  • Step eight: Set your chlorinator timers and that’s it! Enjoy your new salt water pool!

Important Things to Remember about your salt water pool

  • Routinely check and balance your water, especially the pH levels. Having a salt water chlorinator means there’s less chemicals involved (especially chlorine) but you’ll still need to balance the other levels.
  • While Water TechniX Atomic Salt Water Chlorinators are self-cleaning/easy-cleaning, be sure to clean out your salt water cells every season.
  • There’s no need to keep checking your salt levels, once every few months is fine or when the low salt lights on your chlorinator is lighted up.

Conclusion

There you have it. Converting from a regular chlorine pool to a salt water pool (or mineral pool!) is simple and straightforward! With the right basic tools, some know-how, and you can be done in under an hour! For more information about salt water chlorinators and salt water pools, we invite you to check out our post about The Myths and Truths about Salt Water Pools.

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Do you have any questions about this topic or the featured products? No worries, we're here to help! Drop us a question down below and we'll get back to you ASAP.

Happy swimming :)

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Written By

Timothy Te

Pool Guru at Mr Pool Man

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