In recent years, above ground pool owners have been looking for alternatives to traditional chlorine pools. Some are motivated by health concerns since traditional chlorine can cause eye and skin irritation for sensitive folks. Others seek a more natural or cost effective system for their swimming pools. Salt water pool systems have quickly become one of the most popular alternatives to chlorine. If you're considering starting your new pool off with salt or even just switching your pool to a saltwater sanitation system, there are several factors you'll want to be aware of to save you both time and money.
Unfortunately, many homeowners fail to realize that not all types of pools can accommodate saltwater systems. Certain above ground pools, in particular, may not be able to make the switch without serious side effects which we'll be covering further below.
The Basics of Saltwater Pool Systems
A saltwater pool system has two main components: a special appliance known as a salt chlorine generator, and the salt itself. The salt chlorine generator keeps your pool clean and disinfected. It does this by converting salt into a form of chlorine known as hypochlorous acid. This reaction is aided by the electrode cell located inside of the salt chlorine generator.
Benefits of Saltwater Pools
- Gentler on skin and eyes
- No smell of chlorine
- Smooth, almost silky, pool water
- Promotes excellent clarity
Saltwater pool systems are less expensive than chlorine systems in terms of upkeep. After all, pool-specific salt tends to cost significantly less than the equivalent amount of chlorine.
Drawbacks of Saltwater Pools
Although salt systems cost less per year, they involve higher up-front costs as salt chlorine generators can be somewhat expensive. And while a salt chlorine generator may last up to 7 years, you will need to replace it eventually. As long as you budget this into your long-term pool costs, however, a saltwater pool makes perfect sense economically.
Saltwater pool systems can also prove problematic for those who don't perform regular maintenance. In particular, you must be proactive about testing the chlorine levels, otherwise, they may reach problematic levels.
Ideally, the chlorine level should stay between 1.0 and 3.0. Also, the pool's pH should remain between 7.4 and 7.6. Your pool and its components will be at risk of corrosion otherwise.
Saltwater Compatible Above Ground Pools
Not all above ground pools are compatible with saltwater systems. Whether you are converting an existing above ground pool to saltwater, or buying a new pool, you must be aware of the materials your pool is made from.
Above ground pools are commonly constructed from one of three types of materials: steel, aluminum, and resin. Simply put, steel and aluminum above ground pools are not compatible with saltwater systems. Even when such pools have protective coatings, they remain far too vulnerable to corrosion and oxidation.
The only type of above ground pools compatible with saltwater sanitation systems are those made from resin. Be aware that even resin pools still contain many components made of steel — for instance, nuts and bolts. This is an industry standard, and should not pose any long-term stability problem when using a salt system. Keep in mind that these items are susceptible to rust but can be easily replaced as needed. Keep reading to learn more about rust prevention.
IMPORTANT: Due to the rise in demand caused by the 2020 pandemic, above ground pools in general are experiencing delays in manufacturing and shipping. Saltwater pool in particular may have longer wait times in some sizes and models. It's important to shop early if you are in a hurry to start splashing about. While pools traditionally purchased in the Spring or even late Summer can usually have many weeks of use that same year, the entire industry is currently delayed by several weeks and in cases several months. The best plan you can have is to purchase your pool 3-6 months before you want to start building. More on purchasing a pool during or even post-pandemic can be found here.
Choosing the Right Saltwater System
Now you know the material of your pool needs to be primarily resign. The next step to making your pool saltwater friendly is selecting an appropriately sized salt chlorine generator. The number one factor in this decision is the size of the pool. Different saltwater systems have different capacities in terms of pool size.
The size of a salt chlorine generator effects the amount of chlorine it can generate in a 24 hour period. A generator too small for your pool will not be able to make enough chlorine to keep the pol properly sterilized.
Another key consideration when it comes to selecting and installing a saltwater system is the type of plumbing your pool has. Ideally, a saltwater system will install on your pool without the need for excessive plumbing modifications or adaptations. But one little piece you will want to add is a sacrificial anode.
Since all metal is at risk of salt damage, over time the salt in your swimming pool attacks the metal components of your pool. A sacrificial anode "sacrifices" itself to bear the brunt of any corrosion. Essentially the salt water will eat the anode first instead of your pool's other metal components.
The anode is added to your plumbing (or can even be added as a skimmer insert). The corrosion is then redirected to an inexpensive zinc anode, which can be easily replaced every few years. Helping keep your swimming pool rust free.
You have a resin pool, the perfect size salt generator, and an awesome sacrificial anode; can your pool still rust? Absolutely! The final step in successfully owning a saltwater swimming pool is proper maintenance.
Maintaining Your Saltwater Pool
As noted above, saltwater pools are fairly easy to maintain, provided you regularly check the chlorine and pH levels. For best results, you should test these levels about once a week. Test strips and drop test kits both provide accurate, inexpensive results. If the chlorine levels are too high, you have several ways to bring them down, including all of the following:
- Lowering the output on the chlorine generator
- Add chlorine neutralizing chemicals like sodium sulfite
- Siphon off a portion of pool water and replace with fresh water
To lower excessive pH levels, you can add muriatic acid. To raise low pH levels, by contrast, you can add either soda ash or sodium carbonate. However, you shouldn’t expect to have to raise the pH, since the continuous production of chlorine typically raises the pH as a side effect.
Incorrect chlorine and pH levels can increase the risk of damage to all pool types, including above ground resin pools. So you can do all of the above... or if you like to make things easy, you can just use Pepper instead.
Pepper is a special blend of multi-action products designed to work specifically with the unique demands of salt water pools. Regular use of Pepper will
- increase the life and performance of the salt generator
- improve sanitizer effectiveness
- greatly enhance water clarity
- limit troublesome pH fluctuations caused from generating chlorine
- inhibit calcium scale formation inside the salt generator, on the pool equipment, and surfaces
- helps maintain low phosphate levels
Read more about salt's favorite companion, Pepper, here.
Another critical aspect of saltwater pool maintenance involves visually inspecting your chlorine generator. Responsible pool owners should perform this task roughly every three months, or as recommended by your generator's manufacturer. Many generators even have built-in warning lights to remind you when you should do this.
Over time, scale builds up on the inside of the generator cell. This can impact the cell's ability to produce the chlorine needed to keep your pool clean.
If you don't see any deposits, you can simply reinstall the generator. To remove any visible scale, use a pressurized garden hose and/or plastic scrubbing brush. Mild acids can also help to remove more stubborn scale.
Learn More About Above Ground Saltwater Pools
You have a lot of options available if you are wanting an above ground saltwater pool. While there's a lot that goes into planning for a successful saltwater swimming pools, when done right and correctly cared for the benefits are worth the efforts.
Visit our above ground pool page and filter for saltwater pools to see your model options.
Here are some additional pool maintenance resources to help keep your pool crystal clear!
- Finally! An Easy Solution to Pool Maintenance
- The perfect solution for your saltwater pool: Pepper!
- Chlorine vs. Saltwater vs. Mineral System Pools: Pros and Cons
- How to clear a murky green pool fast with Revive
- How to Maintain a Saltwater Swimming Pool
- How to Convert a Chlorine Pool to a Saltwater Pool
- How To Troubleshoot Problems with Your Salt Cell
- Type of Salt to Use with a Swimming Pool Salt System
- How To Clean the Salt Cell on Your Saltwater Swimming Pool
- What is the Benefit of Switching to Salt Water?