Pros and Cons of Saltwater Pools ~ Saltwater pools, or saline pools as others call it, are a well-known gentler alternative to the chlorinated pool water.
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They are much easier on the skin and eyes as opposed to chlorinated pools and have other advantages as well.
But what are the pros and cons of salt water pools?
What Are Saltwater Pools?
Contrary to what most may think, a salt water pool does NOT contain ocean water at all, nor are they chlorine-free. What they are is actually more complicated than that.
Salt water pools require a process called electrolysis. Basically, you pour salt onto the pool water to convert them into chlorine.
You can simply use a dissolved, standard sodium chloride solution then let electrolysis do the rest. No need to manually add any other chemicals.
That said, salt water pools also contain chlorine but at a much smaller scale than chlorinated pools themselves. While chlorine pools have about 2.0 ppm (parts per million), salt water pools contain only a quarter of that—about 0.5 ppm.
You may be asking, “So does that mean salt water pools taste like beach water?”
The good news (maybe bad for some) is that salt water pools have about 1/10 the salinity level of the ocean. You know how ocean water tastes incredibly salty it makes your mouth dry? Dial the saltiness down by a couple of notches.
Simply speaking, they have about the same level of salinity with tears or a lens solution.
How Do Saltwater Pools Work?
The key to saltwater chlorination is your salt cell or your salt chlorine generator. This machine will be the one responsible for converting salt into chlorine. Without it, you won’t be able to make a saltwater pool.
Salt chlorine generators come with a hefty price. They generally cost about $800 – $1,000 depending on the brand.
Once the salt dissolves into the water, it passes through titanium charged plates. This activity is what forms chlorine gas (Cl2) as well as hydrogen gas (h2) and sodium hydroxide (NaOH).
But enough with the science. These gasses will then be converted into sanitizing agents in order to keep unwanted bacteria at bay.
All the while sanitizing, this process also eliminates the presence of chloramines, a byproduct usually found in traditional chlorine pools.
If you’ve grown accustomed to the notorious ‘pool smell’, note that the chloramines are responsible for that. They are the reason why traditionally chlorinated pools are irritating to the eyes and skin.
Salt Water Pool Pros
Many hoteliers and even households are making the switch from chlorinated pools to salt water pools. Perhaps the most known factor for their switch is the gentler formula that salt water pools have.
However, there is more to salt water pools than just their friendly formula.
One main difference between chlorinated pools and salt water pools is their upkeep. Chlorine pools require constant vigilance in order to achieve appropriate chlorine content.
With a little tinkering, salt water pools aren’t that much needy. Your salt chlorine generator is pretty much automated since chlorine is released periodically. This setup won’t throw off the pool’s pH balance and alkalinity levels as much.
However, you still have to routinely check on the following:
- Calcium levels – monthly
- Alkalinity – monthly
- Cyanuric acid – monthly
- pH levels – weekly
- Free chlorine – weekly
- Salt cell – every 3 months
You can use a test strip or a liquid pool test kit to check the above-mentioned chemical levels of your pool. If you find yourself encountering algae or scaling more than usual, then you can check more than once a month.
Fewer Expenses In The Long Term
Salt water pools cost more upfront. If you’re converting from the traditional chlorinated pool to a salt water one, prepare to spend at least $800 – $2000. Installing from scratch, on the other hand, will require at least $25,000 – $80,000 for the budget.
But if you look at the bigger picture, your long-term costs will even out if you compare it with the long-term costs for chlorinated pools.
The reason? Saltwater pools do not require as much maintenance as chlorinated pools.
Feels Nicer To The Skin
It’s no doubt that salt water pools are much, much gentler than chlorine pools.
But have you ever noticed the difference between chlorine pools and salt water pools when submerged?
Salt water pools almost have this silk-like texture to them, making swimming a heavenly experience. The water doesn’t give you a sticky feeling at all. It even leaves your skin feeling soft and refreshed, a stark contrast to what chlorine pools give you.
This feature alone usually sets the deal for a lot of people choosing between the traditional chlorine pools and salt water pools.
While too much exposure to chlorine makes the skin dry and flaky, the opposite can be said for salt water pools.
Have you ever tried opening your eyes underwater in a chlorinated pool? It stings, doesn’t it? That’s due to too much exposure to chlorine.
Try the same submerged in a salt water pool. You’ll be surprised how it doesn’t give you the same effect.
Beyond that, you wouldn’t have to worry about itchy skin and dry hair once you get out of the pool.
This makes it perfect for those having troubles with asthma or any allergies.
Salt Water Pool Cons
Let’s be transparent here. The salt water system will never be perfect. Whether because of comfort or preference, there’s also a reason why a lot of homeowners and public pool establishments still prefer the old-school chlorine system.
Prone To Corrosion
Any metal your salt water touches will corrode—lights, patio, pool deck, ladder, you name it. It takes full dedication if you’re committing to a salt water system. Hence, some adjusting is normal.
Buy pool accessories and equipment tailor-fit for salt water. This way, you wouldn’t have to worry about corrosion anymore.
Bigger Expenditure Upfront
The most essential equipment to buy for a salt water system costs at least $800 – $2000. Be prepared to shell out that amount of money.
Additionally, you’d have to pay about $150 for installation if you want to have it done professionally.
However, you do save up on the long run theoretically. Potential savings depend on countless factors. It’s possible that you may or may not recoup the money you initially spend on salt water equipment.
Making The Switch From Chlorine-Based To Salt Water
Let’s say you’re all set on making that switch. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it successfully.
Check Your Pool Chemistry
The chemicals in the water must be balanced. There are normal levels you need to follow for your pool. Here they are below:
- pH levels: 7.4 – 7.6
- Total alkalinity: 80 – 140 ppm
- Calcium hardness: 200 – 400
- Free chlorine: 1 – 3 ppm
If you need to adjust your pool chemistry levels, do so in this order: chlorine, alkalinity, pH, stabilizer, calcium hardness, then metals.
The logic behind this order is to allow for easier adjustments. Tweaking them in a different order may affect measurements and will just add confusion.
You can test your levels using a test kit and a test strip.
Finding The Right Chlorinator
There are two main parts within a chlorinator: the cell and the control board.
Electrolysis happens in the cell. On the other hand, the control board is where you can tweak the settings for generating chlorine.
Consider the three main components when shopping for a chlorinator:
It’s important you choose a size that will compliment your pool capacity. To do that, you should determine how many gallons your pool holds.
Beyond that, you should also look into the price and quality of the chlorinator as well. Be prepared to make an investment and be smart about your purchase. Expensive does not always mean better, while cheaper does not always mean bad, either. The important thing is to never forget checking on the quality.
Installing The Chlorinator
Once you’ve found the perfect chlorinator, free up your whole day for installing the cell and control board.
Before starting, make sure you’ve turned off the power with the circuit breaker.
Since you’re working with electricity and water, it pays to be extra vigilant.
Salt chlorine generators are built differently. Therefore, you should carefully note the instructions that come with your generator. If you find yourself having trouble, take a look at this video for guidance:
You can also hire a pro to do it if you’re not confident with your technician skills.
Adding the Salt
Check your pool’s salt levels. If it’s 0, proceed with adding salt. If not, fine-tune the levels until it balances out to 0.
Your installation manual should provide you the amount of salt you need to pour according to your pool’s gallon capacity. This is why it’s important to know the capacity of your pool beforehand.
Turn on your pool pump and pour the salt into the pool. Don’t forget to also turn off your salt cell off before doing this. Spread the salt evenly to all the areas of the pool.
Leave it for 24 hours with the pool pump on in order to let the salt dissolve evenly. Afterward, test the salt levels again with a test strip.
Utilizing The Salt Generator
Before cranking up the machine, do a rundown on your pool’s chemical levels. Your salt levels must be around 3,000 – 3,500 ppm.
It is recommended you shock your pool before proceeding with the process. There are different reasons why you should shock your pool. Some of them are to:
- Remove algae
- Get rid of chloramines
- Remove contaminants
Once your chlorine levels ease back up around 1.0 – 3.0 ppm, it’s time for you to turn on the generator.
Tweak your chlorine production settings according to how you see fit. A good starting point is 50% if you’ve just shocked the pool and have normal pool levels.
As soon as 24 hours pass, do a retest on chlorine levels.
It must be around the 1.0 – 3.0 ppm mark. Until the levels stabilize, continue adjusting your chlorine production from the control board.
Once it has stabilized, you’re pretty much all set.
Not so hard now, is it?
Choosing Your Salt Type
Don’t just throw random salt on your pool. You’ll be needing a designated pool salt in order to successfully switch from your old chlorine-based system.
There are three types of pool salts:
- Solar salt
- Mechanically evaporated salt
- Mined salt
All these are salts, no doubt. What they do differ in, however, are their prices and how they are manufactured.
Out of all the three, mined salt is the purest type of salt, ranging from 95% to 99% sodium chloride. This is actually the recommended percentage for your pool salt.
A Few Notes
Salt water pools are actually versatile. Apart from swimming pools, you can incorporate a salt chlorine system in your hot tub as well.
Interestingly, the salt water system works best on fiberglass pools. It has no problems getting along with vinyl and concrete pools.
However, always take extra precaution if your pools incorporate some sort of metal, even if they are hiding behind the liner. Leaks can happen and the water can reach where the metal is hiding. This will result in corrosion and will damage the interiors of your pool.
It can be very difficult to replace what’s behind the liners so be careful with this one.
As for its longevity, expect to replace your salt generator after 3-7 years. You don’t necessarily have to replace all the parts, but a new salt cell will cost you about $700 – $1,000.
Yearly costs for salt water pool maintenance usually range from $50 – $100 per year as opposed to chlorine-based pools which require $250 – $300 for maintenance yearly.
This significant price difference is what evens out the expenses for a chlorine-based pool and a salt water one.
Should You Make The Switch?
It actually just all depends on your needs and limitations. Are you health-centric? Do you commit yourself to the budget?
Both pool systems have their pros and cons. Salt water is expensive upfront and corrodes metals. Chlorinated pools leave bad air that can eventually trigger an asthma attack.
Whichever party you lean towards, always arm yourself with knowledge when dealing with the disadvantages both systems present. Be it corrosion from salt water or skin irritation from chlorinated pools, at the very least, you’ll be prepared.