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What are the Best Salt Water Pool Systems for 2021?

What are the Best Salt Water Pool Systems for 2021?

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Salt water pools are as popular as we’ve ever seen. It’s not hard to see why.


A salt water pool sanitation system uses less chemicals and is generally much easier on your skin, hair, and eyes than comparable chlorine treatment systems.


A “saltwater pool” still uses chlorine to keep your water free of algae and other unwanted organisms. The key difference is that saltwater pools use salt chlorine generators (or salt chlorinators) to convert pure salt to chlorine.


Pure salt is a crystalline form of the chemical sodium chloride -- NaCl in chemistry-nerd parlance. The sodium part of that chemical equation is more responsible for that salty taste humans love so much. The chloride part of pure salt is the main contributor to the chlorine conversion process in salt chlorinator systems.


Saltwater pools have always been popular for their lower chemical use and enjoyable water experience. However, recent problems at some major chlorine-producing plants have made pool-grade chlorine more expensive and harder to find than it’s been in many years.


Many pool owners have decided they’d rather convert their pools to salt water systems instead of paying crazy-high prices for chlorine treatments, or otherwise risk not being able to properly treat their pools at all.


But whether you’re thinking about installing a new pool and using a salt chlorine generator from the start, or you’re considering converting your current chlorine pool into a saltwater pool, you’re likely to have the same question: “which salt water system is the best choice for my pool?”


You’ve come to the right place! Let’s take a look at 2021’s most popular and best-reviewed salt chlorinators for various types of pools. There are many systems to choose from, but certain systems will simply make more sense for some pools than others. Check out this list to see your best options...


Best for spas (or very small pools): ControlOMatic SmarterSpa


  • Price (range): $429
  • Average customer review: 4.4 stars (get it on Amazon)
  • Treatment capacity: 1,000 gallons
  • Maximum chlorine production: 30 grams per day
  • Treatment cycle: automatic cycle
  • Plumbing / pumps required: No (plug and play)
  • Salt cell lifespan: 7,000 hours
  • Replacement salt cell cost: $219

Sometimes, you just don’t need to treat that much water. ControlOMatic makes several salt chlorinator systems for spas, with a maximum treatment capacity of 1,000 gallons. The SmarterSpa salt chlorine generator is ControlOMatic’s more automated option -- it includes an integrated detector that can activate an automatic chlorinating cycle if the level of chlorine in your spa drops too low.


You could also use SmarterSpa in a small above-ground pool, but it’d have to be pretty small. Our two spa add-ons, the RS08 and SS08, have 800- and 890-gallon capacities, respectively, to give you an idea of how much watery space the SmarterSpa can handle.


Best budget option (above-ground pools): Intex Krystal Klear


  • Price (range): $209 to $499
  • Average customer review: 4.3 stars (get it on Amazon)
  • Treatment capacity: 4,500 to 15,000 gallons
  • Maximum chlorine production: 6 grams to 11 grams per hour
  • Treatment cycle: 6 / 10 / 14 hours
  • Plumbing / pumps required: connects to filter pump
  • Salt cell lifespan: 2 years (warrantied)
  • Replacement salt cell cost: unknown


Intex has a range of Krystal Klear saltwater systems for above-ground pools of various sizes. The least expensive model costs less than most replacement salt cells and can treat up to 4,500 gallons. The high-end Krystal Klear saltwater system features a combination of salt chlorination and ozonation effects for above-ground pools of up to 15,000 gallons.


The base Krystal Klear system connects to your existing pool filter pump, but Intex also produces two Krystal Klear combination systems that include both the pump and the saltwater system in a single integrated package. The smaller combo system works with above-ground pools of up to 8,500 gallons, and the larger one can handle above-ground pools with up to 15,000 gallons. These combo systems range in price from $659 to $775. You could use Intex products for your whole above-ground pool setup, if you wanted, as the company makes plenty of above-ground pool kits and accessories.


Best for larger above-ground pools: Hayward Goldline AquaTrol


  • Price (range): $899 to $1,699
  • Average customer review: 4.5 stars (get it on Amazon)
  • Treatment capacity: 18,000 gallons
  • Maximum chlorine production: 0.75 pounds per day
  • Treatment cycle: 24 hour timer
  • Plumbing / pumps required: connect to existing filter system
  • Salt cell lifespan: 1 year (warrantied)
  • Replacement salt cell cost: $619

Hayward makes a complete line of salt chlorinators for above-ground and inground pools. Its AquaTrol line is designed for above-ground use, and it promotes its ease of installation. It purportedly takes just 30 minutes to attach an AquaTrol unit to your current filter’s return jet fitting, with no need for additional flow switches. You can also use the AquaTrol to shock your pool with the super-chlorinate setting.


Not sure if you want an above-ground or inground pool? Still trying to decide if concrete, vinyl, or fiberglass is the best material for your pool project? Try our Pool Type Selector quiz and get some answers in just a few clicks! Tap the button below to get started:




Best budget option for inground pools: BLUE WORKS


  • Price (range): $679 to $969
  • Average customer review: 4.3 stars (get it on Amazon)
  • Treatment capacity: 15,000 to 40,000 gallons
  • Maximum chlorine production: not reported
  • Treatment cycle: set by user (salinity-based)
  • Plumbing / pumps required: connect to existing filter system
  • Salt cell lifespan: 2 years (warrantied)
  • Replacement salt cell cost: $259 to $419

Great products always attract knockoffs, and BLUE WORKS makes no effort to hide the fact that it’s a functional clone of the Hayward Aqua Rite system, down to the same three volume options (15,000, 25,000, and 40,000 gallons). BLUE WORKS boasts compatibility with other Hayward salt chlorinators, too, and you can even use a BLUE WORKS salt cell in place of a Hayward-branded cell in many Hayward salt chlorine generators.


Hundreds of reviewers have praised BLUE WORKS saltwater systems for providing the same pool sanitization solutions at a significant discount to Hayward models. BLUE WORKS doesn’t provide data on its chlorine output, but if it’s truly a Hayward clone, the BLUE WORKS models are likely to have the same output as identical Hayward systems. Its warranty also lasts twice as long as Hayward’s, which makes BLUE WORKS even more attractive as a budget option.


Best for larger inground pools: Circupool (all models)


  • Price (range): $969 to $1,899
  • Average customer review: 4.6 to 4.9 stars (get it on Amazon)
  • Treatment capacity: 30,000 to 60,000 gallons
  • Maximum chlorine production: 1.25 pounds to 3.1 pounds per day
  • Treatment cycle: set by user
  • Plumbing / pumps required: connect to existing filter system
  • Salt cell lifespan: 4 years to 8 years (warrantied)
  • Replacement salt cell cost: $449 to $799

Circupool isn’t a “budget” saltwater system per se. However, Circupool more than makes up for its slightly higher-than-BLUE-WORKS prices -- which are still quite competitive with most of the top salt chlorinator brands -- with warranties that cover its products for up to eight years.


The smallest and least expensive Circupool system, the Universal25, can handle up to 30,000 gallons, and it’s warrantied for four years, even if you install it yourself. Circupool’s top-of-the-line CORE55 model can treat up to 55,000 gallons of pool water and comes with an eight-year full-system limited warranty. The highest-volume Circupool model, the RJ60, treats up to 60,000 gallons and comes with a seven-year warranty.


Circupool systems are probably best-suited for extra-large custom-built pools, since the smallest currently available model is the 30,000-gallon Universal25. But if you’re going all out with your pool project, you might as well get the salt water system with the most extensive manufacturer protections, too. As far as we can tell, no other salt chlorinator manufacturer comes close to Circupool’s warranty coverage.


As an added upside, many Circupool models are also interchangeable with Hayward salt systems, and can easily install onto existing filter plumbing.


The pro’s choice for salt water pools: Pentair Intellichlor


  • Price (range): $1,399 to $1,799
  • Average customer review: 4.6 stars (Amazon -- power center only)
  • Treatment capacity: 20,000 to 60,000 gallons
  • Maximum chlorine production: not reported
  • Treatment cycle: set by user (salinity-based)
  • Plumbing / pumps required: connect to existing filter system
  • Salt cell lifespan: 8,000 hours
  • Replacement salt cell cost: $699 to $1,399

Many pool builders prefer working with certain systems, and will connect a salt chlorinator as part of the overall installation project -- if you request one up front. Installing a salt chlorine system with your pool allows you to bundle its cost into the total project price, which means you might never have to deal with the retail price of these systems unless they break down on you after the warranty period.


The Intellichlor line is well-supported, easy to install with most pumps and filters, and (generally) widely available. The Intellichlor IC20, which can treat up to 20,000 gallons, is well-suited for most fiberglass pools.


Pentair-brand salt cells can be a bit costly, but there are plenty of knockoff brands -- BLUE WORKS makes less expensive Intellichlor-compatible replacement cells, but they don’t have especially good reviews on Amazon, so you might want to stick with the genuine article.


Is a salt water pool right for you?


Salt water systems are appealing for a whole range of different reasons. Maybe the salt reminds you of the sea. Maybe your body just doesn’t like chlorine and you’d like to spend more time in the pool without hurting your skin or damaging your hair. Many pool owners just like the comparative ease of maintenance versus standard chlorine treatments.


Keep in mind, salt water systems might be lower-maintenance, but they’re not no-maintenance -- an improperly used salt chlorinator can damage your pool, particularly if you’ve got a concrete pool. Running your system too much, or adding way too much salt to your water, can have ill effects on your pool’s surfaces.


Do you own one of these systems? Would you recommend another one for this best-of list? Let us know in the comments!


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