The Truth About Salt Water Pools: Are They Worth the Hype?

The Truth About Salt Water Pools

Have you heard people raving about how much better saltwater pools are compared to chlorine pools? When something is hyped up like that, it should make you skeptical.

Considering you found your way to this article, you are doing your due diligence and questioning if the praise is true.

While it’s true that saltwater pools can be easier on your eyes and skin, they also come with their own set of problems that are often glossed over. For instance, saltwater pools tend to cause corrosion damage to the pool and pool equipment, they require just as much maintenance as a chlorine pool, and any problems require an experienced technician to fix.

In this article, I will be going over many of the downsides of saltwater pools that, for some reason, are ignored or downplayed by people with a pro-saltwater pool agenda.

Saltwater pool problems at a glance

There are many other problems associated with a saltwater pool, such as:

  • The initial cost of converting your pool to a saltwater system with a salt-chlorine generator is expensive.
  • A point that is often downplayed is that you don’t need to add as many chemicals to maintain a saltwater pool. The reality is, you still need to use a bunch of chemicals on your saltwater pool to maintain its pH. You also need to closely monitor this pH level, requiring you to put in comparable amounts of time and effort towards pool maintenance as before.
  • It’s harder to find a pool company that can handle repairs on a salt-chlorine generator, whereas traditional chlorine systems are much easier to fix. Even a minor issue requires an experienced technician and is unlikely to be something you can fix alone.
  • The salt-chlorine generator’s salt cells must be occasionally cleaned with muriatic acid, otherwise the salt cell can degrade and repairs are costly.
  • Saltwater can damage nearby surroundings (grass, deck, other pool equipment, etc).
  • If the salt levels in the pool get too low, then the equipment may shut down.

Let’s talk about each of these points in-depth.

Saltwater pools are not chlorine-free

To be fair, I don’t think many pool experts are actually saying that saltwater pools are free of chlorine. The problem is the terminology itself gives laypeople the wrong impression – that saltwater pools are sanitized with salt, when in reality it also relies on chlorine to disinfect the water.

Let me repeat that, a saltwater pool is also a chlorine pool . The difference is in how the chlorine is administered and in what quantities.

Rather than dumping a bucket of chlorine into your pool, in a saltwater pool, something called a salt-chlorine generator converts saltwater into chlorine.

It is often touted that the concentration of chlorine in a saltwater pool is less, therefore you will also experience fewer chlorine side effects. There is some truth to that. However, what is also true is that it doesn’t have as much sanitizing power.

Salt causes corrosion damage

Salt and corrosion go hand in hand. Have you ever seen the condition of anything metal in coastal towns? So many things are rusted and corroded beyond repair, and it makes you wonder if nearby buildings and bridges are about to collapse soon.

Unsurprisingly, corrosion is a major concern in saltwater pools too. As mentioned, a salt-chlorine generator converts salt into chlorine. Not only can salt itself corrode, but there is also a concern of over-chlorination when the sodium hypochlorite levels get too high.

Pay attention to your pool and pool equipment and look out for any rust spots. Even things near the pool like lighting fixtures, the pool heater, and cement can eventually get corroded or worn down.

Saltwater pools require just as much maintenance

A common point I hear in favor of saltwater pools is that you don’t have to worry about adding chlorine anymore because the salt-chlorine generator automates that process for you. Therefore the amount of chemicals added is less.

That said, saltwater pools need a lot of cyanuric acid to ensure the salt-chlorine generator reaches the required stabilizing levels. You also need to use muriatic acid to clean the salt water generator’s salt cells.

These acids can harm children, pets, the environment, swimmers with respiratory problems, and the pool itself. You will also need to add other chemicals like algaecide, stain clarifier, and scale control applications.

Very importantly, you also need to make sure the saltwater pool’s pH and alkalinity are at the right levels, and add baking soda or soda ash accordingly.

If you think about it, these are all chemicals that you would use in a traditional chlorine system. The major difference is that you aren’t adding chlorine, but in terms of maintenance effort, you’re putting in basically the same amount of work.

Repairs can be costly

Another point I often hear is that saltwater pools are cheaper than traditional pools in the long run because of savings to be had from not needing to buy chlorine for maintenance.

However, what is often glossed over is that the cell in a saltwater generator needs to be replaced every two to three years, costing around $500-$800 to replace.

What often happens is that saltwater pool owners neglect cleaning their saltwater generator every 90 days like they are supposed to, allowing calcium to build up.

By skipping cleanings (or doing a poor job of it), the cell life greatly diminishes and you will need to replace it faster.

Furthermore, repairs on a salt-chlorine generator require an experienced technician. Even a task like monitoring and cleaning the sensor that calculates how much salt is needed in the water often needs professional assistance, and hiring a pro costs money.

Saltwater pools have their own health concerns

Saltwater pools use less chlorine than chlorine pools, which also means that they are not as effective at disinfecting the water. This can put you at risk of infection and disease if the pool is used by many other people.

Another concern is that salt exposure has its own side effects comparable to the side effects chlorine can cause.

That said, compared to the saltwater in the ocean, saltwater pools have about ten times less salt. Therefore, you will still find it less damaging on your hair, eyes, and skin than both a chlorinated pool and swimming in the ocean.

It’s hard to drain a saltwater pool

Depending on where you live, there may be rules in place that prohibit the drainage of saltwater pools into the sewer system, whereas chlorine pools have no such restriction.

The proper procedure may be to pump the saltwater into your home’s sanitary drainage system instead.

The regulations on this issue are constantly changing, so even if it is currently legal to drain saltwater into your sewer grates where you live, that may change in the future.

Are saltwater pools bad?

The point of this article is not to dissuade you from converting your chlorine pool into a saltwater pool. Rather, it is to shine a light on some of the downsides of saltwater pools that aren’t talked about enough.

Saltwaters pools do have their upsides – some people love how smooth the water feels on their skin and they find saltwater to have fewer side effects on their body than chlorine. If those benefits sound really appealing to you, then by all means, convert away!

If they don’t, then I don’t want people to get misled and tricked into getting a saltwater pool when they were probably better off sticking to their chlorine pool.

Do your due diligence, weigh the pros and cons, and make the best choice to suit your needs. Sometimes that choice may be to stick with a chlorine pool, but for some, converting to a saltwater pool may be the optimal solution.

Photo Credit: Bethany (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)