The Truth About Salt Water Swimming Pools

There's been a debate lately.  Well, maybe not lately, but it has been going on for years and years.  Which one is better?  Is a salt water swimming pool or a chlorine pool better?  Well, both pools have their pros and cons, but saltwater pools have become more popular over the past few years.  Most salt pool owners swear by them while chlorine pools have seemingly set the standard for comfort and reliability. 

What Is A Salt Water Swimming Pool?

A a salt water pool is similar to a chlorine pool, but with a twist.  You add pool salt to your pool instead of chlorine.  The salt water passes through a chlorine generator which produces, you guessed, it, chlorine.  The salt level must be high enough in order for the chlorine cell to produce enough chlorine to maintain the right chlorine level of 2 - 4 ppm.  The salt level in your pool is only between 2500 ppm - 3500 ppm, which is about 1/10 of the salt level of the ocean.      

The Truth About Salt Water Swimming Pools

What Is A Chlorine Generator? 

Chlorine generators go by many different names such chlorine cell, salt water chlorine generator, and sometimes simply SWG.  They all mean the same thing.  Salt is added to the water and the electrolyzer (chlorine generator) is connected to the pool’s filtration plumbing on the return side.  The salt water passes through the chlorine generator which turns it into active hypochlorous acid, or pool chlorine.  Also, a good saltwater chlorinator can give you a choice when it comes to chlorinating your pool.  You can have a maintenance dose of chlorine, or turn it up to shock your pool.  

What Type Of Salt Should I Use In My Salt Pool?

I've written a great page about this very subject that you can find here.  The gist of it is this:  You'll want to use salt specifically designed for pools, which is called mined salt.  This type of salt is 99% pure.  The higher the purity, the less problems you'll have down the road with your chlorine cell.  It's recommended that calcium hypochlorite not be used if you need to shock your pool.  This kind of chlorine can dramatically increase the pool's calcium hardness and that's something you don't want with a salt water pool.         

Does A Salt Water Pool Taste Salty? 

The short answer is no.  The salinity of a salt water swimming pool is nowhere near that of the ocean.  The salt levels are only a fraction of what you'd find in the ocean, which is about 35,000 ppm.  At a salinity level of 2500 ppm - 3500 ppm, it's barely detectable and well below the threshold of human taste.  If you do taste salt in your pool, it may mean there's a chemical imbalance or too much salt was added to the water.   

Is A Salt Pool Better For You? 

That answer depends on your definition of "better".  Does a salt water pool feel better on your skin?  Absolutely?  Does it feel more refreshing?  Yes, it does.  Some people have reported the chlorine smell has decreased or gone away all together.  I'm not aware of any studies that have been done comparing the health differences between a salt water swimming pool and a chlorine pool, but if the aforementioned benefits interest you , then a salt water pool might be better for you. 

Do Salt Water Pools Require The Same Maintenance?

Salt pools do require weekly maintenance similar to chlorine pools.  To maintain a salt water pool, we still need to take the chemical readings on a weekly basis, empty the skimmer and pump pot baskets, scoop debris out of the pool, and vacuum when needed.  The chlorine cell should be inspected and/or cleaned every 3 months.  This is especially true for places that have hard fill water.  The test kit for most salt pool owners is the Taylor K-2006.    

A huge benefit to many salt pool owners is not needing to add chlorine.  The chlorine generator takes care of that for you.  Some people find handling large jugs of chlorine to be a bit cumbersome and awkward.

Easy pool maintenance

How Much Salt Do I Need? 

To reach the correct salt level recommended by most salt pool manufacturers, normally 2500 ppm - 3500 ppm, you will need to add 200 lbs. of pool grade salt per 10,000 gallons of water.  Of course this is just a guide.  Add your salt per the manufacturer's instructions, circulate the water to mix up all the salt, then test your salinity to see where you are.  Adjust your salinity from there.

A great thing about salt pools is the salt stays in the water and you will only need to add salt to replace any lost salinity due to backwashing, splash out, or topping off of the pool with new water.

Is A Salt Water Pool Worth It?

I get this question asked often after my pool inspections.  When the inspection report doesn't come back very good, the home buyer will ask me if it's worth it to switch over to a salt water pool.  What they're really asking is what are the pros and cons of owning a salt water pool.  That's good for you, because I have the answers.

Benefits Of Salt Water Swimming Pools

  • A safe level of the salinity of a pool is between 2500 ppm -3500 ppm.  At this level the salt in the pool can't really be noticed.   
  • Once the swimming pool salt is added, the saltwater chlorinator takes over to produce as much or as little pool chlorine as you require.  It has also been reported that the pool water actually feels softer and the swimmers are more refreshed after swimming.  Salt water swimming pools have this big advantage.  
  • Some people will say the comfort level of saltwater pools is better than regular chlorine pools.  The water feels better on your skin
  • A pool salt system means you won't need to store any chlorine, although you will need to handle other chemicals.  Pool acid for the pH and pool alkalinity, and calcium chloride for the water hardness, if applicable.  
  • Some people believe that salt water pool maintenance can be lower as compared to a normal chlorine pool.  

Disadvantages Of Salt Water Swimming Pools

While many who own a salt water pool system swear by it, there are some issues to consider:

  • A salt water chlorinator still produces pool chlorine and chemicals (Hypochlorous Acid).
  • Possibility of damaged equipment and pool filters.
  • Possibility of plumbing corrosion.
  • Possibility of using just as many other chemicals (pool acid, pool shock, calcium chloride) as a chlorine pool.
  • Possible damage to winter and solar pool covers.
  • Run the risk of swimming in a pool in which the pool operator does not have the proper knowledge or training on balancing the chemicals and proper pool maintenance.
  • When salt chlorine generators breaks down, they may cost up to or over $1000 for a new unit.  This may keep the average pool owner up to his eyes in chlorine for years.
  • If you have or are planning to have decorative rock (Flagstone) you may want to reconsider salt water pools.  Swimming pool salt can be slightly corrosive.  
Fix cloudy pool water

Salt Pool Decision Making Time

Depending on your viewpoint and if you can afford the extra upfront cost, salt water pools can be superior to traditional chlorine pools in several ways.  When it comes to making a choice, however, you should take into consideration your lifestyle and how often you and your family will use your pool.  That should be the deciding factor.   

What Other Visitors Have Said

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