How Do Salt Water Pools Work?

how do salt water pools work explained to homeowner in backyard

One of the most common features chosen in swimming pools is not something you see when looking at the pool.  It’s not a design feature or a patio fixture.  It’s part of the disinfection system and it’s called a salt chlorine generator. These systems are often sold as a way to make a salt water pool, eliminating the chlorine aspect of the name. For as well-known as the benefits are, how do salt water pools work?

How Do Salt Water Pools Work?

Salt chlorine generators are chlorination systems for your pool. This is the main difference when comparing a salt water pool vs. chlorine. What they require to function is a brine, which is the pool water itself.  The pool water is kept somewhere in the neighborhood of 3500 PPM of salt, depending on the system requirements.  The dissolved salt makes the pool softer on the skin for swimming. It also makes it easier on the eyes when you open them underwater. But don’t be fooled, these systems are not natural salt water systems, they are chlorine generators.

There is an electrode at your pool equipment which is in-line with the plumbing. This means the water moves over the electrode as the pool water circulates. As the brine (pool water) moves over the electrode, there are two distinct products produced. One is chlorine and this is what the system produces to disinfect the pool. The other product produced is sodium hydroxide, or caustic soda. The sodium hydroxide has a very high PH, and unless you have automated systems in place to offset the high PH, you will have a constant PH nightmare on your hands.

One of the systems used for PH control is a chemical feeder. Pentair makes a system called IntelliPH, which has an acid crock which can store 4 gallons of muriatic acid. A small peristaltic pump dispenses the acid on demand. There is a control panel which is connected to the peristaltic pump and to the PH sensor which senses the PH of the water.  If you have a salt chlorine generator on your pool, a system like this is imperative to protect your swimming pool water quality.

how do salt water pools work answered in backyard with pool and spa

How Do Salt Water Pools Work For Routine Maintenance?

When you have a salt water pool, you will need to keep ahead of the salt level. Make sure you maintain the PPM required for the system to operate.  The system will use up salt and require addition of salt throughout the swim season.  You will also need to add Cyanuric acid to the pool to prevent the chlorine from being broken down by the light of the sun.

Salt Water Pool Challenges

Keep in mind salt can cause issues with your patio and any metals on your pool.  If you have an automatic cover system, you should try and hose it off weekly to keep the salt corrosion to a minimum.  If you have a stone patio and you are putting in a salt chlorine generator, you might want to consider sealing the stone.  

The best sealer out there to protect against salt damaging the stone around a salt pool is Drytreat Stain-Proof. This is an impregnating sealer. That means it plugs the tiny holes in the stone preventing water from sinking in under the surface.   Without a sealer to protect the stone the water sinks in under the surface of the stone, then the water evaporates leaving behind the salt.

These salt crystals build up over time and can cause the surface of the stone to spall and crack.  Depending on the stone you will have more or less of an issue with salt.  But whatever stone you use I would recommend sealing the stone to protect against salt.


Now, salt water pools do require some extra maintenance consideration. Make sure you protect your masonry products from the salt buildup. Additionally, keep your PH balanced and you will find the salt water pool to be one of the most enjoyable swimming experiences there is.  In conclusion, though salt pools do have some extra maintenance concerns due to the salt, there have been many clients of mine which still choose to install them because salt water pools are refreshing and smooth on the skin.