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Best Salt Water System for Above Ground Pools

By Matt Giovanisci | Updated: September 7, 2022

Salt water above ground pools are usually easier to maintain and use fewer chemicals than traditional chlorine pools. Whether you want to convert your existing pool or add a salt water system to a new pool, there are a few things to keep in mind:

With that in mind, we recommend the Hayward Goldline AquaTrol Salt System. Hayward is a well-known, reliable pool company that’s known for manufacturing consistently dependable pool equipment.

Hayward Above Ground Pool Salt Chlorination System

This easy-to-install salt water system will chlorinate pools up to 18,000 gallons. Its digital salt display, diagnostic indicators, and super-chlorinate feature make pool maintenance easy.

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If you have a smaller pool or a tighter budget, check out the Intex Krystal Clear Salt Water System. This is best for smaller pools and will work with brands beyond Intex.

Keep reading for our complete guide on how to buy the right salt water system and a breakdown of each recommendation.

Best Overall: Hayward Goldline AquaTrol

Hayward Above Ground Pool Salt Chlorination System

This easy-to-install salt water system will chlorinate pools up to 18,000 gallons. Its digital salt display, diagnostic indicators, and super-chlorinate feature make pool maintenance easy.

Buy Now on Amazon
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

The Hayward Goldline AquaTrol System is an ideal choice for pools of up to 18,000 gallons. It offers a quick and easy installation that can be done in 30 minutes. Abd there’s a digital salt display to show the salt levels in the water at any given time. Finally, the unit also has seven diagnostic indicators and features a super chlorinate function for when you need to shock the pool.

Best Budget Option: Intex Krystal Clear Salt Water System

Intex Krystal Clear Salt Water System

This salt water system is built for above ground pools of up to 15,000 gallons. It's easy to install and hook up to existing Intex pump and filter systems, but it's also compatible with other smaller, above ground pools (adapters may be required).

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The Intex Krystal Clear Salt Water System is available in a variety of sizes, with options for pools as small as 2,200 gallons and or as large as 15,000 gallons. It features a 24-hour automatic timer for fully automatic operation, so pool owners don’t have to worry about running the system too much. Adapters are included so the system can work with both Intex and non-Intex pool pumps and filters, including sand filter pumps. However, it requires a pool pump with a flow rate between 700 and 3,000 gallons per hour (GPH). So make sure your pool is equipped accordingly.

By the way, if you need more help understanding your pool equipment and pool chemistry, check out our Pool Care Video Course.

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The Pool Care Handbook

What to Look for in a Salt Water Pool System

Here’s what to consider when buying a salt water system for your above ground pool.

1. Pool Size vs. Salt Water Generator Capacity

You will need a salt chlorinator with 1.5x to 2x your pool’s maximum capacity. It’s much better to get a larger system than your pool to ensure you have adequate sanitization power. For example, if you have a 20,000-gallon pool and use a system that has a maximum output of 20,000 gallons, you risk overworking your system and burning it out.

2. Chlorine Output

Your salt water system’s chlorine output is measured in pounds per day. And opting for a system with the capacity for a higher chlorine output allows you to keep your water adequately sanitized. It also should let you turn down the system when you need to reduce the sanitization, putting less stress on your system. And if you need a higher output, like after a storm or party, you can crank it up higher as needed. If you’re constantly having to run the system on the maximum output, that’s a sign you might not have enough capacity.

3. Frequency of Pool Use

If you frequently have a lot of people in the water, you’ll need a stronger system. More people means more contaminants, which means you’ll need a powerful system to sanitize your water. Being able to turn up or down your chlorine output helps here.

4. Climate and Environment

If you live in a hot climate, you’ll need a stronger system (especially if your pool gets heavy use in the summer). That’s because heat and sunlight can affect your water chemistry. And if you have lots of plants around your pool, you’ll have more dirt, debris, and bacteria in the water that needs to be cleaned. That means a bigger system. Finally, if you live in a place where heavy rain is frequent, you’ll need more sanitation power. You’ll also want to check the salinity level more often, as rainwater will dilute your salt concentration.

5. Pool Frame and Equipment Compatibility

If your pool has a steel or aluminum frame, do not use a salt chlorine generator system since it will cause corrosion. Other materials, such as vinyl and resin aren’t as susceptible to damage from corrosion. You may be able to replace components with more salt-tolerant pool equipment. Also, check to make sure that your pool filter and heater are compatible with a salt water system.

How to Convert to a Salt Water Pool

Have an above ground pool that you want to convert from a traditional chlorine pool to a salt water system? It’s actually easier than you may think and it doesn’t require any draining.

1. Check for Compatibility

Check to make sure that your pool filter, heater and pump are compatible with your system. While you do not need a special kind of pool pump for a salt water system, it needs to have enough capacity to support your new generator. And remember, a steel or aluminum pool frame will corrode with a salt chlorine generator system.

2. Balance Your Pool Water Chemistry

The good news? You don’t need to completely drain your pool to convert it to salt water. Check your generator installation manual before adjusting your chemicals. But in general, here’s the recommended water chemistry:

3. Install the Chlorinator

You’ll first need to mount the chlorinator controller to the wall near your pool’s equipment pad. Then, wire the controller for power. From there, you’ll connect the generator cell to the plumbing, then connect the cell to the controller. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installing your generator so you don’t void your warranty.

4. Add Pool-Grade Salt to the Water

Your generator won’t start working until you add enough salt to your water. The amount of salt you’ll need to add is based on the water volume. Your generator’s instruction manual should provide a table to help you determine how much salt to add to the pool. But if you need more help, check out our guide on How Much Salt to Add to Your Pool. In general, you’ll need about six or seven 40-pound bags for a 10,000-gallon pool that has no salt in it. Be sure to purchase pool-grade salt.

Our Top Pick
Pool Salt for Salt Water Pools

Professional Pool Salt crystallizes early to match the fastest dissolve rates on the market - no more waiting for hours for chlorine tablets to dissolve and produce beautiful clean water.

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Broadcast the salt around your pool’s edges, allowing up to 24 hours for it to completely dissolve. Turn on your pool’s pump and filter to allow the salt to circulate through the water. After the salt is dissolved, turn on the salt chlorinator.

Frequently Asked Questions About Above Ground Salt Water Systems

Need more help finding the best salt water pool generator? Here are some common questions and answers.

How is a salt water pool different from a traditional chlorine pool?

A common misconception is that salt water pools don’t use chlorine. But a salt water pool is actually still a chlorine pool. The difference is that a salt water pool uses a salt water chlorine generator to convert pool salt into chlorine through electrolysis. The result is a consistent chlorine level with no need to constantly add chlorine to your pool. The resulting salt in the water is similar to the amount of salt in human tears. That’s about 3,500 parts per million (ppm).

Can you use a salt water system in an above ground pool?

Yes! All that matters is your pool is made out of material that can withstand the salt and that you have a salt water generator designed for an above ground swimming pool. There are systems available specifically for inground pools, which are not used interchangably.

How do I convert my above ground pool to salt water?

After you choose the salt water chlorinator system that is best for your needs, simply adjust your chemicals, install your system, add pool-grade salt and turn on your generator. For a complete step-by-step walkthrough, check out our guide on How to Convert Your Pool to Salt Water.

What equipment is needed for an above ground salt water pool?

All you need is a salt water chlorine system (which contains a control box and a salt cell). In terms of other pool supplies, you’ll need pool-grade salt to add to the water.

How much does a salt water pool system cost?

For an above ground swimming pool, a salt water pool system can be as little as $300 or as high as $2,000. Installation costs vary, depending on location and the size of the pool.

Need More Pool Maintenance Help?

Matt Giovanisci is the founder of Swim University® and has been in the pool and spa industry since 1995. Since then, his mission is to make pool and hot tub care easy for everyone. And each year, he continues to help more people with water chemistry, cleaning, and troubleshooting.
Download Our FREE Salt Water Pool Care Cheat Sheet
This free printable cheat sheet helps keep your salt water inground or above ground pool clean and clear without messing with confusing water chemistry.
Get The FREE Cheat Sheet