Save Time & Money With Our Salt Water Pool 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.

How to Start a Salt Water Pool Easily in 8 Steps

Matt Giovanisci, Founder and CEO of Swim University By Matt Giovanisci | June 10, 2024

So it’s time to start up your salt water pool. But before you add anything to the water, you’ll need to adjust and add the right chemicals in the right order. If you don’t, your salt water generator won’t work properly. So here’s a quick guide on starting up a salt water pool. Let’s dive in.

If you want more help taking care of your salt water pool, be sure to grab our FREE Salt Water Pool Cheat Sheet. It’s totally free and will help you keep your salt water pool clean and clear throughout the year.

Do You Need to Drain The Pool If You’ve Got a New Salt Water System Installed?

If you’ve just installed a salt water generator in an existing chlorine pool, the good news is the water doesn’t need to be drained. That’s because a salt water generator will be creating chlorine, so any chlorine in the water is fine.

However, you will want to test and balance the water before turning on the salt water generator. If you have a larger issue, like algae, you’ll want to take care of that first before starting up your system for the first time.

But whether you’re starting a brand new salt system or an existing saltwater pool, the process is the same. Be sure your surfaces are clean and add your chemicals in the right order to ensure they’re working properly.

How to Start Up a Salt Water Pool (Complete Instructions

You’ll need to know how many gallons of water your pool holds. And you’ll want to have the following chemicals on hand:

Wait at least 20 minutes between adding chemicals to your pool, and retest your water between dosing. You’ll also want your pump and filter running to help the chemicals circulate.


1. Test and Balance Your Pool Water

Regardless of whether it’s a new or existing salt system, you’ll want to test and adjust your levels first. That’s because once your salt water generator starts running, you want it to be maintaining an already balanced pool.

Using test strips or a liquid test kit, you’ll want to check the following levels:

Some test strips and test kits measure salt, but most don’t. You can buy salt testing strips or a salinity meter to check these levels.

If you know you have metals in your water, it’ll be important to test and remove those as well. You’ll need a special test kit to test for things like copper and iron. Or you can bring in a water sample to a local pool store. You’ll need to use a metal sequestrant before adding any other chemicals.

2. Adjust Your Total Alkalinity Level

This helps keep your pH from fluctuating, so it’s important to adjust it first. Your alkalinity should be between 80 and 120 PPM. It can be helpful to keep it in the lower range to help your pH stay low as well. Use Alkalinity Increaser (or Baking Soda) to raise it or pH Decreaser or Muriatic Acid to lower it.

3. Adjust Your pH Level

Stable pH levels help keep your water neutral so that other chemicals, like chlorine, can work properly. Your pH should be between 7.4 and 7.6. But salt water pools tend to have chronically high pH. That’s because when the salt water generator runs, the pH naturally rises. To bring your pH down, add pH decreaser or Muriatic Acid. To raise it, use pH increaser. And be sure to check out our other video on common salt water pool problems, like high pH, if you need more help.

4. Adjust Your Chlorine Level

Your salt water generator will produce chlorine later. But in the meantime, your chlorine levels should be in range to kill any contaminants in the water. Your free chlorine should be between 1 and 3 PPM, with 3 PPM being ideal. You can raise your chlorine by adding liquid chlorine to the water or dichlor shock. Just avoid cal-hypo shock, since that can cause calcium to build up in your salt cell.

5. Add Chlorine Stabilizer or Cyanuric Acid

Chlorine stabilizer, a.k.a. Cyanuric Acid or CYA, helps protect your chlorine from breaking down in direct sunlight. Your CYA should be between 30 and 50 PPM, but some salt water pool owners find it helpful to keep the levels a bit higher, around 60 to 80 PPM.

That’s because higher CYA helps prevent your salt water generator from working so hard. Your generator ends up working more to maintain your chlorine levels during periods of high sunlight exposure. It can also help extend the life of your salt cell, since it doesn’t need to make up for that loss of chlorine.

Just be sure to add stabilizer slowly to the water. If the CYA gets too high, the only way to lower it is by draining some water from the pool and refilling with fresh water. And if you’ve added Dichlor shock earlier, that already contains CYA.

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6. Adjust Your Calcium Hardness Level

The right calcium levels help protect your pool equipment and surfaces over the long run. Your calcium levels should be between 175 and 225 PPM for a vinyl liner or fiberglass pool, and between 200 and 275 PPM for concrete or plaster pools.

Add a calcium hardness increaser to bring these levels up into range. But if you have high calcium levels, you’ll need to partially refill your pool with fresh, filtered water. That’s because high calcium can cause build up inside your salt cell.

7. Add Pool-Grade Salt

Once your other levels are balanced, you can start adding salt directly to your pool water. Check your salt water chlorinator for their suggested salinity levels. But it’s usually 2700 to 3500 PPM.

Be sure to only add pool-grade salt to the water. These usually come in 40 pound bags. If you’re starting with no salt in the water and you have a 10,000-gallon pool, you’ll need to add about six to seven 40-pound bags of salt. Be sure to check out our other video about calculating the right amount of salt to add if you need help.

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The good news is that salt tends to stay in the water, and it gets recycled by the salt water generator, so you shouldn’t have to add it to your pool that often.

You may want to brush the salt around the pool if it’s collected anywhere on the bottom. You’ll want to run your pump and filter for several hours or overnight to help the salt completely circulate and dissolve.

Adding Pool-Grade Salt Directly To The Pool Water
Adding Pool-Grade Salt Directly To The Pool Water

8. Turn On Your Salt System

Once the levels are balanced and the right amount of salt is added, you can turn on your saltwater generator. If there’s enough salt in the water, it will start producing chlorine normally.

Swimming Pool Salt System Differences
There are two types of pool salt water systems. The complete system has a salt cell generator and a separate control panel (left). The in-line system is all-in-one. It’s both the salt cell and the control panel (right).
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What About Regular Salt Water Pool Maintenance?

For a complete walkthrough on routine saltwater pool care, like cleaning your saltwater cell, be sure to check out our other full-length tutorial.

And if you need more help with pool care, grab the FREE Salt Water Pool Cheat Sheet. And if you found this video helpful, be sure to subscribe and check out our channel for more tutorials. That’s it, thanks again, and happy swimming.

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Matt Giovanisci, Founder and CEO of Swim University
Matt Giovanisci is the founder of Swim University® and has been in the pool and spa industry since 1993. 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.
Save Time & Money With Our Salt Water Pool 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.

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