The Pros and Cons of Saltwater Pools

Should you consider converting your chlorinated pool to a saltwater one?

Man in saltwater pool
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Swimming pools are fun, but chlorine isn't always. While you cannot get away from the need to keep swimming pool water clean, clear, and hygienic, you can get away from the chlorine additives. Chlorine is a very effective sanitizing agent, but it can also leave your eyes red and hair brittle.

Saltwater pools can be just as sanitary, plus the water feels smoother and fresher. Many owners of swimming pools have chosen to switch from chlorine to saltwater for these reasons, and because saltwater can mean lower maintenance costs and easier upkeep.

What Is a Saltwater Pool?

A saltwater pool is a swimming pool that uses a saltwater chlorine generator to convert bulk salt into chlorine. The converted chlorine performs the same functions as conventional pool chlorine: killing bacteria and algae, as well as oxidizing dirt and chloramines.  

How a Saltwater Pool Works

While salt alone does have minor capabilities as a disinfectant, creating a saltwater pool isn't as simple as dissolving salt in a swimming pool and leaving it at that. Instead, a salt chlorine generator machine converts sodium chloride, or ordinary salt, into chlorine.

So, a saltwater pool does have chlorine. In contrast to a traditional chlorinated pool, though, saltwater pools produce a pure form of chlorine that's delivered in a controlled way to prevent irritating byproducts called chloramines.

Salt is added directly to the swimming pool water. The pool water is drawn into the generator, where it passes through the salt cell. In the cell, metal blades coated in ruthenium or iridium are charged by electricity

After electrolysis, the water that leaves the machine is now chlorinated water.

Pros
  • Low or no chlorine smell

  • Pool water feels smoother and softer

  • Lower cost for chemicals

  • No harshness or burning on the skin

  • Safer to store and work with salt than chlorine

  • Salt is usually freely available and easy to find

Cons
  • Regular replacement of salt-chlorinator electrode cell

  • High upfront cost of saltwater chlorine generator

  • Bulk salt for chlorinator is heavy, hard to store

  • Regular cleaning of salt cell

  • Electrically powered

  • Corrodes metal in the pool

Saltwater Pool Benefits

Users of saltwater pools love the feel of the water, as it's smooth, silky, and soft. The sensation is much like swimming in clean, fresh lake water or even like swimming in ocean water, minus the briny smell and the sand.

The comfortable feeling continues after the swim, too. Users of chlorinated pools know that harsh after-swim feeling well: dried-out skin; burning eyes; hair stripped of oils. After swimming in a saltwater pool, a user's skin may feel supple and moisturized, not dry.

Without caustic chlorine, swimsuits and towels last longer and keep their colors.

Swimming pools that use chlorine additives can be converted into saltwater pools by adding a chlorine generator.

Once the chlorine generator has been set up and the pool water brought up to its required quality, ongoing costs are fairly low. Bags of 40-pound pool salt cost $5 to $20. Compared to 40 pounds of chlorinating tablets costing $250 to $350 per year, this is a significant cost saving.

After setup, it's fairly simple to keep the pool water clean. Unlike chlorine, salt is easy to find and affordable. Many newer chlorine generators are controlled by touch-pad control panels or by apps from your phone.

Tip

In traditional chlorinated pools, keeping chlorine levels low can help minimize the less-than-ideal after-effects of swimming in chlorine.

Do Saltwater Pools Taste Salty?

Saltwater pools do not generally taste salty. To compare, the salt in seawater is concentrated to about 35,000 parts PPM (parts per million). Saltwater pools' salinity is about 3,000 PPM. So, the salt—and the taste of salt—in saltwater pools is about 10 times less than that of seawater.

The Downsides of Saltwater Pools

While upkeep is inexpensive, startup costs can be rather pricey. Saltwater pools have an initial cost of $800 to $1,000 for the chlorine generator alone. Salt cells need to be replaced every 3 to 8 years and each cell costs $300 to $600.

Starting up a saltwater pool requires many hundreds of pounds of salt to get the water to its correct levels. Bulk salt, too, requires a lot of storage space, so you'll need a shed and a cart to move it around.

Salt cells must be cleaned frequently (around every 500 hours), using either a cell cleaning stand or a bucket. Cells are cleaned in muriatic acid, a hazardous chemical.

Saltwater does not work with all types of pools or pool equipment. Salt will corrode vinyl pools that have metal wall panels. It will also corrode some handrails and ladder bolts.

In cold climates, the chlorine generator may not be able to produce enough chlorine to winterize the pool. So, you may still need to resort to traditional chlorine additives during the winter.

Saltwater Pool Care Tips

  • Inspect the salt cells often for build-up.
  • Keep your pool's regular pump and filter maintained, as the pool still needs to circulate water.
  • Buy salt intended only for pools.
  • Test pool water during busy season with salt strips.
  • Regularly check rubber O-rings and pump seals for signs of corrosion.