What is a Salt Water Pool?
A salt water pool is a pool that is chlorinated using a special piece of equipment and ordinary salt. This works because ordinary salt is chemically made up of two elements–sodium and chlorine. The special salt cell turns the salt into hypochlorous acid, which is the same substance used in many traditional pools.
The difference between those traditional pools and a salt water pool is that in the latter, hypochlorous acid is constantly recombining with the sodium in the water and turning back into salt. Salt does not evaporate, so there is no need to add chlorine to the system on a regular basis. These systems typically do not experience chloramine buildup the same way traditional pools do, either.
Pros and Cons of Salt Water Systems
Salt water pools are typically softer-feeling on the skin and easier to maintain. However, they do have some downsides.
- Lower annual recurring cost
- Gentle on the skin
- Easier to maintain
- No smell of chlorine
The two major downsides are:
- Initial expense of the build and replacement parts
It is definitely expensive to start up a salt water pool. In addition to the initial build cost, salt chlorine generators start at about $400 and go up to about $2,000 to install. However, operating costs in the long run are usually low, with the exception of replacing the salt cell, which typically lasts anywhere from 3 to 7 years. It can be difficult to compare traditional pool and salt water pool costs because many people do not know what a reasonable estimate for the cost of pool chemicals is. We’re here to help though. Check out our swimming pool maintenance cost guide for more info.
Corrosion is the other major downside. To avoid corrosion, we recommend that you use special equipment like hand rails and light covers that are made specifically for salt water pools. The pool plaster lifecycle for an inground pool filled with salt water versus a traditional chlorine pool is only a few months shorter, but with the proper care, easily outlasts most inground pools that may be neglected by their owners. The salt water makes no difference to a fiberglass pool.
The problem of salt water outside of the pool is actually a greater issue in many cases. Decking that is not resistant may take a beating from pool water that is splashed out or dripped from swimmers. Some types of decking are more vulnerable than others. Our team can recommend, design, and build a backyard environment that accounts for these conditions and minimizes any corrosion effects.
For a more in-depth comparison, read our salt water vs. chlorine pools guide.
Are Salt Water Pools Safe?
Yes. Because the system generates chlorine that reaches the same levels as are found in a traditional pool, there is no difference in the sanitizing power. The only exception to this rule is when stabilizer levels are not kept high enough. Hypochlorous acid is not very stable and breaks down easily in the sun. Because of this, salt water pools need to maintain an adequate stabilizer level in order to keep chlorine levels stable.
Some people prefer salt water pools because they believe that the chlorination process is safer this way. It is true that salt water pools do not produce chloramines, which are common chemicals resulting from the reaction of organic material such as skin cells and oils with the chlorine in a traditional pool. They are responsible for many of the adverse effects that people usually attribute to chlorine, such as red eyes and itchy skin. There may or may not be fewer other chemicals used in the maintenance of a salt water pool.
Are Salt Water Pools More Expensive or More Difficult to Own?
Salt water pools are definitely more expensive to start. However, over time the cost may even out. The main expenses involved in starting a salt water pool include the purchase of the salt cell and pump, and the pool salt itself. The salt cell needs to be replaced in 3-7 years, and it can cost $300-$800. However, the life of the salt cell is dependent on how much it is used. Read my full saltwater pool cost breakdown for a more in-depth look.
In general, salt water pools are easier to own and maintain. They do require the same testing as traditional pools, but the system is more self-contained. Usually, if the chlorine levels in the pool are not adequate, all that is required is to adjust the settings on the control box. Other chemicals that are used in traditional pools may also need to be used in salt water pools.
What Kind of Maintenance Does a Salt Water Pool Require?
The main maintenance tasks for salt water pool owners are testing and washing the salt cell. Water testing is still required because chlorine is only one of the parameters that needs to be controlled in order to maintain a healthy pool. If the pH or other parameter is not where it should be, the addition of certain chemicals may be necessary to balance the system.
Cleaning the salt cell is only required if scale is found on it during the regular maintenance check. These are usually done every three months. It is easy to remove the scale, either with a plastic or wooden tool or a quick rinse in dilute acid.
You also need to keep an eye on your salt levels. Use our salt calculator to figure out how much salt to add or water to replace to get into the ideal range.
What Kind of Filters Do Salt Water Pools Use?
The salt cell in a saltwater pool is not responsible for the filtration. This job belongs to an ordinary pool filter which is connected to the salt generator system. Most types of pool filters can be used with saltwater systems, including sand filters, cartridge filters and diatomaceous earth filters. Each has advantages and disadvantages. One important thing to remember is that the filter will need to run a lot because the pool is only generating chlorine when the filter is on.
How Do You Winterize a Salt Water Pool?
Saltwater pools have a few unique issues when it comes to winterizing. One of them is that the sensors on the salt system can become inaccurate when the water gets too cold. Besides possibly giving faulty readings about salinity, the other issue is that most systems are calibrated to shut down at around 50-59 degrees F when the system gets too inaccurate.
This means that pools that will be used during the winter but not kept to a consistently higher temperature than 50 degrees will need a different source of chlorination. For most people, this isn’t a problem because either the pool is not in use or the water temperature is being maintained at a higher level than this.
In terms of winterizing a saltwater pool that will not be in use, it is relatively similar to winterizing any swimming pool. The water should be carefully balanced and the filter and salt system disconnected, drained, and stored for the winter. Sometimes part of the salt system can remain in place while other components are removed.
Is a Salt Water Pool Right For You? Factors to Consider
All types of pool sanitation have their pros and cons. Saltwater is no different. For some people, the costs will outweigh the benefits, and for other people, the benefits will outweigh the costs. You may also make a different decision depending on whether you are considering a new pool or having to change over your current pool.
Why You Might Want a Saltwater Pool
- Saltwater systems may be safer. While there is more controversy over whether the pool water itself is safer when a saltwater system is used, there is no doubt that handling salt is safer than handling chlorine.
- Salt water may be easier on the skin and eyes. Some people are extremely sensitive to this while others don’t really notice.
- People may perceive less chlorine smell because of the lower levels of chlorine in circulation in a saltwater pool.
Why You Might *Not* Want a Saltwater Pool
- Saltwater is incompatible with certain types of equipment and fixtures. This means that the expense of retrofitting an existing pool for a saltwater system is a major consideration and may not even be possible.
- The saltwater system itself is expensive and does not replace the cost of many other pool chemicals, such as those used for balancing pH and alkalinity.
- Salt generators do not completely replace the use of chlorine because cold weather makes them inefficient. This means that winter pool maintenance usually has to be done using an alternative source of chlorine.
Is Saltwater the Right Choice for You?
The major disadvantage of a saltwater system is cost, therefore many people suggest that if you can afford a saltwater system, you use one. However, there is also personal preference to be taken into account. If you have been maintaining a traditional chlorine pool for years and you are comfortable with it, you may not want to switch. If you or your family have a lot of trouble with chlorine, it may be the perfect choice.
If you have any questions about salt water pools, don’t hesitate to ask us!