Saltwater pools might make you think of swimming in the ocean and put a smile of joy on face, but the fact is that they have very little in common with the actual ocean or sea swimming experience.
In our saltwater pools guide we’ll try to note down some similarities and differences as well as advantages and disadvantages as regards saltwater vs traditional chlorine pools, with more focus on saltwater pool facts.
To start with, all pools need treatment to sanitize the water. Health hazards of untreated pool water include bacteria, viruses, and other contaminants that thrive and grow if you neglect your pool.
Some swimmers who have experienced the side effects of traditional chlorination systems are overwhelmed by the benefits of saltwater pools. The fact, however, remains that the methods used to sanitize them are not selling points for all users.
If you don’t know much about saltwater systems, some facts may surprise you. For one, they aren’t anywhere close to being as salty as oceans or seas. They have only about one-tenth of the salinity. Imagine that…oh, and they definitely don’t use your salt shaker, while they do use common table salt.
In addition, they aren’t completely chlorine-free. However, chlorine is not added for water sanitization. The saltwater system uses a process called electrolysis to create chlorine, which then disinfects the water.
Why get a saltwater pool?
There are many reasons. We’ll list some pros and cons and give you some food for thought on this matter.
- Because they have lower chlorine levels, saltwater pools tend to be much gentler on swimmers’ eyes and skin.
- Regular exposure to heavily chlorinated swimming pools could pose long-term health risks.
- Saltwater pools also produce softer-feeling water, which many find desirable.
- Various studies have showed that saltwater systems may be generally safer than chlorine pools as regards handling unsafe chemicals.
- Because the salt produces enough chlorine for sanitization purposes, the saltwater pools require far less maintenance compared to chlorinated swimming pools.
- Because the system itself is more complex, saltwater pools often require experienced professionals even for minor problems.
- Since salt can cause damage to certain materials, you may have to avoid using specific types of heaters, liners, fixtures, underwater lighting and even some specific types of masonry.
If you can afford the extra cost, a saltwater pool does offer significant benefits you don’t get from traditional chlorinated pools. When it comes to making a choice about the investment you should also consider how often you will actually use your pool, especially if you live in a region that has fewer hot and sunny days in the summer.
What does salt actually do in saltwater pools?
The role of salt in saltwater pools is not to disinfect water on its own, nor to make you more buoyant. As we said, salt levels in these pools are far below the salt concentration in ocean waters. The salt acts as a continuous source of convertible chlorine.
Saltwater pool disinfection systems also rely on chlorine to kill bacteria and germs, and neutralize other contaminants in the water, much like in traditional chlorine-based systems.
The unit containing two slightly charged titanium plates allows the salt (or NaCl) to pass through them. In this process called electrolysis, the salt breaks down and reforms again in water to form the hypochlorous acid responsible for disinfection in traditional chlorine-based systems.
Because the salt is dissolved in the pool water, there is a continuous and steady supply of chlorine flowing into the pool accounting for quite self-sustainable disinfection system.
So, chlorine plays much the same roll in saltwater pools as in standard chlorine pools. It kills bacteria through a relatively simple chemical reaction. Let’s now compare the corresponding process in traditional pools.
The chlorine you add to the pool water breaks down into many different chemicals, including hypochlorous acid (HOCl) and hypochlorite ion (OCl-). Both kill microorganisms and bacteria by attacking the lipids in their cell walls and destroying the enzymes and structures inside the cell, making them oxidized and harmless.
In the process of to killing bacteria using chlorine tablets, sticks or granules in pools, there are health concerns such as gasses that are inhaled while handling chlorine and the damage it does to skin, hair and eyes. Most users are concerned about overexposure to high levels of chlorine absorbed through the skin.
Which is better saltwater or chlorine?
So what’s the difference between regular chlorination and salt chlorinators?
One of the great reasons people choose a saltwater pool system is that the salt generated chlorine is so much milder and the process is continuous and efficient.
When swimming in the saltwater pool, you can hardly detect salt in the water and you cannot detect any chlorine in the water by taste or smell. Your skin feels softer after swimming in the saltwater pool.
After a swim in a regular chlorine pool, you come out smelling of chlorine, might get burning red eyes and skin irritation and most people feel the need to shower just to get the smell off. Others don’t mind the smell itself as it is inherent to chlorinated pools.
Suggested post: Environmental Benefits of Salt Water Pools
Typical misconceptions about saltwater pools
Well, you still need to add acid to keep the pH balanced. Just because you think it’s like the ocean – it’s not.
While you may also think that since salt is natural it must be environmentally friendly, that’s not the case. The salt breaks down into various components including hydrochloric acid or chlorine gas.
Traditional pools don’t have that much chlorine. If you drain it into your yard, that’s not that big of a deal. With saltwater, you need to arrange a truck to suck the water out.
Dumping it in your yard would greatly affect the ecosystem so it’s something you should not do. Ever!
As for your pool and materials, salt water can also cause rust on stainless steel parts or cause corrosion in others that can cause you thousands to replace. We’re not stating that saltwater pools are bad or too much hassle. We just need to inform you that you should know ALL the facts about them as well as how to properly maintain them.
What both types of pools have in common is that if you don’t look after your pool for 2-3 weeks, it will turn green and not just algae-green; it can contain E. coli and other bacteria.
However, saltwater pools avoid the buildup of chloramines because the chlorine levels replenish themselves constantly and do not depend on you to add more chlorine to the water if needed.
In traditional pools, when chlorine levels fall due to lack of strict maintenance and testing, the level of unhealthy by-products or chloramines from the disinfection process remains intact. Adequate levels of free chlorine further break down the chloramines. This usually causes red itchy eyes, lung irritation and the smell often associated with chlorinated pools.
Whether saltwater pools are better than chlorine comes into play only if you consider individual preferences, as well as the advantages and the disadvantages from different perspective.
The main benefit of saltwater pools is the lack of side effects often associated with traditionally chlorinated pools.
Even though saltwater pools might make people feel better about swimming in general, they are not chemical-free systems. The people claiming otherwise are simply misinformed about how saltwater pools depend on the steady and continuous flow of chlorine into the water so that you can actually feel the benefits saltwater pools have.
Types of pool and different manufacturers also need to be considered when comparing the conventional pool and saltwater ones. Here’s a specific question as an example.
How much salt for Intex saltwater system?
Click image for price: Intex Above Ground Saltwater System
The amount of salt according to Intex’s recommendations is 25 pounds per 1,000 gallons. The manufacturer agrees with the fact that this level is one-tenth of the level of salt in the ocean as well as that the mild perception of salt is to be expected on the part of the swimmers.
Another fact from Intex, while pool water evaporates and has to be added to your pool, salt does not evaporate. This means that unless you spill water out of your pool in large quantity, once you have the right level of salt in your pool, you never have to add any more salt. Just add water to maintain the normal level and the salt level will remain the same.
Click image for price: Intex Kit Pool Saltwater System
Different manufacturers may have similar or different data so you need to do a fair bit of research into what each brand offers or claims. Or, you can simply read our reviews on a regular basis as we strive to help you make those hard choices.
How to keep a perfect chemical balance in a saltwater pool?
Before putting your new chlorine generator into operation, you need to add salt and your pool’s water chemistry must be properly balanced. Well-balanced pool water is not only necessary for chlorine generation but also to protect your pool equipment as well as swimmers.
For an ideal balance of saltwater pool, we advise following the next steps in the exact order and using reliable pool chemical test kits.
STEP 1: Calculate Pool Volume
Calculate the total number of gallons of water in your pool using the formulas below.
How to calculate the volume of a pool?
The length of your pool, times the width, times the depth, times 7.5 equals the volume. In simple mathematical terms, it looks like this: Length x Width x Depth x 7.5 = volume
This calculation will be used often when adjusting pool chemical levels so be careful when measuring. (For non-standard shaped pools, it may be easier to break the pool up into sections to make the calculations. When finishing this, add up all the sections to determine the total volume of your pool.)
STEP 2: Adjust Salt Level
Before adding salt, test your pool water for the current level of salt.
RECOMMENDED LEVEL is 2700 – 3400 ppm (3200 ppm ideal)
After testing salt, refer to Table 1 to determine how much salt you need to add to achieve a level of 3200 parts per million (ppm). Salt should be added directly to the pool with the pool pump on. You can brush the salt around to speed up the dissolving process. Do not allow the salt to pile up on the bottom of the pool.
For new plaster pools, wait 10-14 days before adding salt to allow the plaster to cure. Run the filter pump for 24 hours with the suction coming from the main drain (use pool vac if there is no main drain). This will allow the salt to evenly disperse throughout the pool.
Use common food quality salt usually available in 40-80 lb. bags labeled “Pool Salt” or “Coarse Solar Salt”. Do not use rock salt, salt with yellow prussiate of soda, salt with anti-caking additives, or iodized salt.
STEP 3: Adjust Cyanuric Acid
Cyanuric Acid (the stabilizer) or CYA is very important for the performance of your chlorine generation system. It’s a mild acid that helps prevent the breakdown of chlorine due to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Too much CYA is a bad, bad thing. Too little means your salt pump will never be able to keep up with the need for chlorine to sanitize your water.
60 – 80 ppm outdoor pools
20 – 40 ppm covered pools
0 ppm indoor pools
Test your pool’s Cyanuric Acid level using a reliable pool test kit and adjust Cyanuric Acid to the desired level.
STEP 4: Adjust Total Alkalinity
Total Alkalinity (TA) is a measure of the total alkaline substances found in the pool water. The harmful effect of improper TA levels ranges from corrosion of metal pool parts, staining of the pool, burning eyes, cloudy water, and reduced chlorine efficiency.
IDEAL LEVEL: 80 – 120 ppm
Test your pool’s TA and increase the pool’s TA using the proper agent (Sodium Bicarbonate) or decrease the pool’s TA using Muriatic Acid (Hydrochloric Acid 31.45%).
STEP 5: Adjust Total Hardness
Total Hardness is the measurement of the total amount of minerals that are found in your pool water. Too much calcium hardness will cause scaling in your pool and too little will cause the pool water to become corrosive.
IDEAL LEVEL: 200 – 400 ppm
Test your pool’s Total Hardness. If low, add Calcium Chloride (77%) If Total Hardness is high, dilute or replace the pool water.
STEP 6: Adjust pH
pH is the measure of how acid/alkaline the pool water is. If the pH is too low, the water can be corrosive to pool equipment. If the pH is too high, then the chlorine becomes much less effective for sanitization.
IDEAL LEVEL: 7.2 – 7.8
Test your pool’s pH using a quality test kit. To increase the pool’s pH, add Soda Ash. To decrease pool pH, add Muriatic Acid.
How much is a saltwater pool?
We’ve finally come to the inevitable question of the costs. So, if you are building a new saltwater pool, the average costs will be about $50,000 for a concrete or gunite pool. If you are converting a standard chlorinated pool, it will cost between $1,500 and $2,500 for the purchase of a saltwater chlorination system, depending on the size of the pool.
The costs will vary greatly depending on which materials, equipment, and extras you will go for so, do the math carefully, compare the pros and the cons with your needs and preferences in mind because, in the end, the choice is all up to you!
You may also choose to buy an above-ground saltwater pool, which ships to your door. Those are considerably cheaper than in-ground. You can check the prices by clicking on the picture of the above-ground setup in this article.