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What Is a Saltwater Pool? A Complete Explanation

Saltwater pools are quite popular for their softness, ease of use, and low chemical usage. Contrary to popular belief, saltwater pools don’t smell or taste like seawater. Saltwater pools use chlorine, just like pools with liquid chlorine and chlorine tablets. However, you don’t need to use either method to sanitize the water.

A saltwater pool is a swimming pool that uses a salt cell to split NaCl (salt) into Na and Cl (the Cl being chlorine). The pump circulates salt into the salt cell, creates chlorine, and sanitizes the pool. Once the chlorine is used, it goes back into the plumbing and repeats the process.

In this article, I’ll break down how saltwater pools work, whether or not they’re better than chlorine pools, and if they’re harder to maintain. I’ll also explain a few pros and cons of saltwater pools.

How Do Saltwater Pools Work?

Saltwater pools work by converting salt into chlorine and sodium. The chlorine sanitizes the pool, combines with the sodium to create sodium chloride, and passes through the cell to split again. Every time the chemical compound splits, it sanitizes the pool with chlorine.

Saltwater pools still need weekly shock treatments. It’s important to know how much shock you need to open your pool if you want to prevent algae blooms. However, the salt replaces the need for chlorine tablets and liquid chlorine.

While they might sound complex, saltwater pools are quite simple. There’s a cell, a generator, and a few bags of salt that sanitize the pool instead of liquid and tablets. Set the generator to the desired amount of chlorine and relax as your pool cleans itself.

What Are the Benefits of a Saltwater Pool?

The benefits of a saltwater pool include softer water, lower chlorine concentration, a reduced need for soda ash, fewer harsh chemicals, and reduced sanitizer costs. Saltwater pools are easy to maintain if you know how much salt they need. Furthermore, most salt bags are cheaper than chlorine.

Let’s dive into each of the benefits below.

  • Saltwater pools offer softer water than chlorinated pools. It’s much more comfortable to swim in a saltwater pool because it doesn’t have the harsh, gritty feeling of some chlorine pools. It’s very similar to swimming in a calm lake or the ocean. Those with sensitive skin will notice a big difference.
  • There’s a reduced chance of encountering chlorine pockets and strong chloramine odors. Saltwater pools don’t need chlorine tablets or liquid chlorine, which means you won’t swim through a cloud of chemicals. You don’t have to wait several hours to swim (unless you add weekly granular chlorine).
  • You don’t need to use a lot of soda ash or alkalinity increasers when you have a saltwater pool. The salt in saltwater pools naturally increases the pH. While you won’t have to raise the pH or alkalinity, you might have to use acid. However, fiberglass liners can balance the chemistry.
  • You won’t have to worry about storing as many harsh chemicals, including buckets of chlorine tabs and liquid chlorine. Liquid chlorine and chlorine tablets are unnecessary because the salt sanitizes the pool. You can store granular chlorine in a room temperature, dry space for reduced off-gassing.
  • Salt is much cheaper than chlorine tablets and liquid chlorine in the long run. You’ll spend a fraction of the investigation on salt bags than you would on chlorine tablets. Many saltwater pool owners quickly recognize that they spend about ⅓ to ¼ of the money annually compared to chlorine pools.

As you can see, saltwater pools have several benefits. However, many people wonder if they’re better than traditional chlorine pools. After all, they need cells, generators, and other components not found in any other type of swimming pool. I’ll explain which one is better for you in the following section.

Is It Better to Have a Saltwater Pool or Chlorine?

It’s better to have a saltwater pool if you want to use fewer sanitizing chemicals, but chlorine pools are better for those who don’t have the budget for the initial startup costs. Saltwater pools require costly salt cells and generators that need to be tied into the plumbing and electrical setup for the swimming pool.

Consider these questions to know if you should get a chlorine or saltwater pool:

  • How much space do you have in the plumbing and on the nearby fence or wall? Saltwater pools need adequate space for a salt cell. The PVC needs to have a straight pipe section of at least one foot. Furthermore, there should be at least a 14 x 14-inch section on the wall for a generator.
  • Would you rather spend a lot to save in the long run or spend it over the next few years? Saltwater pools are about four to five times more expensive than chlorine pools up front, but you’ll save hundreds of dollars in the long run. Those with solar covers often save thousands of dollars due to reduced chemical loss.
  • Is there a lot of salt in the swimming pool? Liquid chlorine adds salt to the water. If there’s already a lot of salt in the pool, you won’t have to add as many salt bags when you convert to a saltwater pool. Chlorine pools need to be drained if the salt gets too high, but saltwater pools are good to go for about four times as much salt concentration.
  • Does your pool deal with a lot of evaporation? If the water evaporates more than four to five inches weekly, you’ll have to add salt regularly. Every time water evaporates or leaks from the pool, it’s diluted by hose water. Since there’s no salt in garden hoses, you need to add more to the pool.
  • Do you have a swimming pool service? Some pool services don’t handle saltwater pools because they have a unique maintenance schedule. Make sure your preferred service manages saltwater pools before making the switch. I’ll cover a quick routine you can follow later in the article if you don’t want to use a pool service.

Saltwater pools are more than worth the initial investment for most pool owners. They’re easy to maintain and don’t cost a lot after getting the cell and generator. Many beginner pool owners prefer chlorine pools because they’re familiar and chlorine tablets are readily available. Salt systems aren’t as common, which could steer potential pool owners away.

What Are the Downsides of a Saltwater Pool?

The downsides of a saltwater pool include the expensive startup costs, the need to drain the pool randomly, and finding the sweet spot in the generator’s settings. Furthermore, saltwater pools can off-gas and cause nearby metal surfaces to rust and corrode. They also only generate chlorine when the pump is running.

Here’s a detailed explanation of each of the five disadvantages:

  1. Expensive startup costs: When you get a saltwater pool, you have to pay for the generator, salt cell, and salt bags. These items typically cost more than $1,000 total, whereas none of them are necessary for a chlorine pool. You also have to use liquid acid for quarterly salt cell cleanings.
  2. Random partial drains: Saltwater pools need to be drained if the cyanuric acid, salt, total dissolved solids, or calcium hardness gets too high. I typically suggest draining one foot, refilling the pool, and testing the water again. Never drain more than ⅓ of the pool at a time, or you’ll risk damaging the liner.
  3. Salt generator setting issues: Salt generators are stubborn and need to be regulated at the perfect level. Most of them have % indicators that show how much chlorine is dispensed. They often go in 10% increments. You’ll have to play with the generator until you find the perfect setting, which can take weeks.
  4. Rust and corrosion: Saltwater pools can rust any metal surface around the swimming pool. Salt is highly corrosive, which means ladders, grills, telescoping poles, and other outdoor items need to be treated or covered. Putting a solar cover on the pool drastically reduces these common concerns, though.
  5. A lack of chlorination when the pump is off: The salt passes through the cell, splits the molecules, and chlorinates the water. If the pump isn’t on, the salt can’t go through the cell. You can’t sanitize the swimming pool unless the pump is circulating the water, which means you’ll have to add a couple of hours of circulation daily.

Are Saltwater Pools Healthier for Swimming?

Saltwater pools are healthier for swimming because they don’t use as many harsh chemicals as chlorinated pools. The saltwater is much softer than pools sanitized by high concentrations of chlorine tablets and liquid chlorine. They also cause less skin and eye irritation, creating a much more comfortable swimming environment.

So, are saltwater pools noticeably healthier, or should you stick with a chlorine pool?

Saltwater Pools Comfortable

Comfort is a significant factor in healthy swimming, which is why so many people choose saltwater pools. Many commercial properties are making the upgrade because they want their customers to feel comfortable when diving in the pool. Everything from the water’s softness to the silky smooth texture is much more enjoyable in a saltwater pool.

Saltwater Pools Are Less Harsh

Swimming pools are often known for their harsh sanitizers that keep the water clean and clear. However, saltwater pools can clean the water without requiring tons of dangerous, uncomfortable additives. This process also means you don’t have to store harsh chemicals like you would if you owned a chlorine pool.

Nobody wants to leave their swimming pool smelling like chlorine, rubbing their burning eyes, or scratching their dry skin. Heavy concentrations of chlorine can cause all of these problems, but saltwater pools cause none of the above. They’re softer, healthier, and offer a much cleaner feeling than any other sanitizer.

Are Saltwater Pools Hard to Maintain?

Saltwater pools are hard to maintain if you don’t know when to drain, sanitize, reduce the pH, and brush the pool. They require specialized routines that can quickly get out of hand. However, following the necessary maintenance schedule is straightforward, and it’ll keep your pool in good condition for many years to come.

Follow this five-step process to maintain your saltwater pool:

  1. Keep the salt around 3,500ppm (or as recommended by the manufacturer). While saltwater pools can handle much higher salinity than chlorine pools, they can get saturated. Too much salt in the water makes it nearly impossible for other chemicals to dissolve, which means your pool will develop algae blooms.
  2. Maintain a cyanuric acid level of around 90ppm. The CYA in saltwater pools has to be about 10ppm higher than in chlorinated pools. The salt is much gentler, so it can evaporate quicker. However, you shouldn’t let the cyanuric acid get above 100ppm to 110ppm, or it’ll need to be drained.
  3. Lower the pH with dry acid or muriatic acid if it exceeds 7.8. Saltwater pools slowly increase the pH. You can combat this effect with a fiberglass liner since fiberglass lowers the pH; otherwise, you’ll need to use some form of pool acid.
  4. Clean the salt cell three times per year to remove the buildup. Turn off the pump, place the cell in a bucket with three parts of water to one part of muriatic acid, then leave it for a few minutes. Wash the cell with hose water and install it into the plumbing when you’re done.
  5. Brush the pool and circulate the pump until the salt dissolves every time you add it. The salt can mound on the bottom of the pool. Brush and circulate the pool to encourage the salt to go into the cell. Once it circulates through the cell, it won’t fall back into the granular form (unless you never run the pump).

Adding too much salt, cyanuric acid, or calcium hardness can require a partial drain. Saltwater pools need to be maintained within the required chemical ranges, or the consequences can be severe. Once you get a reliable routine, it’s as easy (if not easier) to maintain as chlorine pools.

Author

  • Jonah Ryan

    Jonah has worked for several years in the swimming pool industry installing and repairing equipment, treating pools with chemicals, and fixing damaged liners. He also has plumbing and electrical experience with air conditioning, ceiling fans, boilers, and more. When he's not writing for Temperature Master, he's usually writing for his own websites, LawnCareLessons.com and DIYByHand.com.

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