Salt Water Pool vs Chlorine, Are They The Same?

salt water pool vs chlorine traditional pools

You may have heard about salt water pools. They are often billed as chlorine-free alternatives to the traditional swimming pool. No more green hair and burning eyes can sound enticing. Lots of people also praise salt water pools for your skin not being red and itchy. There are numerous ways these systems are sold by pool builders and manufacturers around the world. However, they are usually sold as a salt water pool vs chlorine being different, and better. Yet, that isn’t quite being fully honest.

How Do Salt Water Pools Work?

First things first, salt water pools technically are chlorine pools. Using a process called electrolysis, salt water pools actually generate chlorine using their Salt Chlorine Generator (SCG). In the process of generating chlorine, they also produce a byproduct called sodium hydroxide, which has a very high PH. Another name for sodium hydroxide is caustic soda or lye.

This is why most well built salt pools will have an acid feeder system or CO2 feed system to keep the PH in check. Without an automatic acid feed system, you will need to add gallons of acid to your pool manually every month your pool is open. The amount of acid you’ll need to add depends on the total gallonage of your pool and the chlorine production rate of your SCG.

Salt Water Pool vs Chlorine, What’s Better?

In my opinion, salt waters pools are resoundily better than traditional chlorine. Salt water pools are truly an absolute delightful to swim in. Shockingly, when you open your eyes underwater, it’s nicer than being in a freshwater stream. The salt in the water actually makes it more comfortable to open our eyes. Also, the softness of the water does make your skin feel softer upon exiting the pool. All of this is assuming the pool is kept within balance. There are some potential drawbacks with salt water pools which can affect the swimmer enjoyment.

Salt Water Pool Disadvantages

Salt water pools offer swimmers a much more enjoyable experience. However, they do come with plenty of downside, too. Read through these disadvantages of salt water pools and see if you’re still interested.

More Maintenance + Design Awareness

Salt pools can create chlorine at a rate much higher than needed for water disinfection. This can lead to a constant high level of chlorine. Therefore, you need massive amounts of muriatic acid to keep the system in balance. Additionally, salt by itself is highly corrosive. If you have handrails or grab rails on the pool, you must use 316 stainless steel as 304 stainless steel will rust over time.

Depreciation Of Pool Features

If your pool has an automatic cover system, you will see premature failure of the motor and mechanism. None of this failure will be covered under warranty because you have a salt system. Salt can also buildup in the coping stones at the high traffic areas. A common place this happens is at the entry steps to the pool. This causes a white buildup of salt crystals. That later causes disintegration of the stones themselves over time.

Bad For The Environment

The last consideration is applicable if you have a filter which needs backwashing like a DE filter or sand filter. You need to be sure you are backwashing into an area where you won’t accidentally kill any plants. Also, in certain communities it is actually illegal to backwash a salt pool due to the damage it can do to the environment.

a salt water pool vs chlorine pool requires different stainless steel options

How Do Chlorine Pools Work?

Traditional chlorine pools use no supplemental disinfection systems. Instead, they rely on chlorine for all the disinfection needs in the pool. In some cities, they use the same methods for disinfecting their drinking water. In those places that use older drinking water systems, the water tastes like chlorine, smells like chlorine, and ultimately makes a lot of business for companies like Brita and the bottled water companies.

For cities with advanced drinking water systems, like Boston MA, they use UV disinfection chambers combined with Ozone generators to disinfect the water. Then they add a small amount of chlorine. This means the water in Boston MA doesn’t taste like chlorine and you can’t even tell the chlorine was used.

Salt Water Pool vs Chlorine Price Differences

Salt systems will add about $5,000-$7,000 to the price of a new swimming pool. This involves installation of the proper chemical controls systems, acid tank, peristaltic pump, and the SCG itself. When compared with a UV system and Ozone system, which will add around $2,500 to $4,000 to the price of a traditional chlorine pool, it seems like a no brainer to go UV and Ozone. However, the choice is yours. It’s your pool after all and there are some clear pros and cons to both options.

How To Avoid The Downside Of Chlorine Pools

Properly designed chlorine pools have similar systems, combining UV disinfection chambers with Ozone generators greatly reduce the need for chlorine. These systems in concert actually do a better job than chlorine. You still need chlorine however. These systems do not create any residual disinfection in the pool itself. Ozone dissipates in 20 minutes or so, and UV chambers are only effective on the water as they pass under the UV light at the pool equipment area. Therefore, to create a swimming environment that is safe, a small amount of chlorine is required.

By adding these supplemental systems to your chlorine pool, you will find you have a far lower chance of having combined chlorine or chloramines in your water. These are the compounds that turn blonde hair green (copper chloramines), and burn your eyes.

In a traditional chlorine pool, you need to shock the pool to eliminate the chloramines. That means you are raising the chlorine levels to 10 PPM or higher. This is an unsafe swimming environment, and upon shocking the pool it becomes unusable. Having UV and Ozone systems will not eliminate the need for shocking, but will greatly reduce the regularity in which you need to shock.

Salt Water Pool vs Chlorine Summary

In my opinion, a salt water pool might be better than a traditional chlorine pool. However, a chlorine pool with supplemental systems, including a UV disinfection chamber and an ozone generator, is better than both of those options. This pool type will create a much easier pool to take care of, and a longer lasting structure. The damages which can result from a salt water pool vs chlorine are just not worth the soft water swimming experience. However, some of my clients still want salt pools and I leave the choice up to them.