We get to discuss the pros and cons of saltwater pools vs. chlorine pools on a regular basis with our customers because we test pool water nearly every day in our showroom. Although we may not be chemical experts, we have been around the pool industry long enough to have seen some of the pros and cons of both systems of sanitizing pool water, and will discuss some of the things that we have noticed. We will also include some of the research that we have found from talking to experts in the pool industry as well as share the information that we have found on the internet.
First, a little background
A salt generator does not eliminate the need for chlorine. The salt cell ionizes the salt to produce chlorine. This is accomplished by maintaining the appropriate salt levels and by running the pool filter for the necessary amount of time based on the gallons of water in your pool. Second, the cell must be maintained and cleaned regularly, as recommended by the manufacturer to ensure optimum performance of the system. Third, the salt system does not eliminate the need for other chemicals and you still need to keep your other levels balanced.
What a salt generator is doing is eliminating the big chlorine tablets and shock that you need to put into your pool, if done properly. Instead of adding 3-inch chlorine tablets into a chlorine feeder you add bags of salt to your pool and have that level tested. Most salt systems check the level of salt for you, but you can buy testing strips for this too, or go to your pool professional to have it done. Either way, you still need to keep control of the rest of your pool water.
Chlorine Pros & Cons
Chlorine is relatively easy to buy, an inline feeder is inexpensive, or you can use floaters to put your chlorine in and they are not expensive. Shocking the pool is easy with liquid chlorine making application fairly simple. Our recommendation when using chlorine tablets is to use liquid chlorine to shock the pool or when the chlorine level needs to be increased. The reason is that tablets and dichlor shock both have stabilizer added. Read more of the benefits as well as the downside of stabilizer here.
Chlorine pools can clean up bacteria quicker than a salt pool, roughly 24-48 hours vs. 72-120 hours for a salt pool. This is because in a chlorine pool if you have a ‘messy diaper’ problem, or something similar, you can just go throw in some liquid chlorine to “shock” the pool. This will get the level of chlorine up very quickly and take care of the problem faster. A salt pool will take longer to generate that amount of chlorine. However, liquid or granular chlorine can be added to a salt pool.
A problem with chlorine that you don’t notice as much with a salt generated chlorine pool is that the pH tends to be lower because the chlorine tablets are lower in pH. You need to be careful about your pH levels because if the levels drop too low you can ruin your heat exchanger (if you have a heater) if the pH stays low for too long. Ruining a heat exchanger is what typically puts copper in pool water turning blonde hair green. Salt pools tend to stay on the higher side of pH, but regardless of which system you use it is wise to check your pH regularly.
Another problem with chlorine tablets is that cheaper tablets (usually found at Big Box stores) dissolve rapidly and end up putting too much other chemicals, like fillers and stabilizer, into your pool water, giving you other problems. Read the Cyanuric Acid post for more information about the problems associated with too much stabilizer. In the end, cheap quick dissolving chlorine will cost you more money. The tablets dissolve too fast (costing you more…so that cheaper price really isn’t so cheap) and they lead to having to reverse osmosis or drain your pool water, which costs you much more in the long run.
Saltwater System Pros & Cons
Saltwater System pools are easy to use, usually a push of a button to set the level of chlorine generated, and the water feels much softer. With St. George’s hard water, the soft water feel of a saltwater pool is a really nice feature. You also don’t need to deal with a big bucket of chlorine tablets, that are really harsh chemicals to have laying around in case you have kids that could get into them. I accidentally inhaled while opening the bucket once and it nearly knocked me out, so getting rid of chlorine tablets can be a good thing. Additionally, like mentioned above, you are not adding extra chemicals to the water every time you add chlorine tablets, so the water is less like a chemical soup with a saltwater system.
The saltwater system also shocks or super-chlorinates the pool for you, so you can shock the pool as often as you want after a big bather load or a really hot or rainy day that depleted your chlorine levels. It is really easy to use, and if you happen to have the remote control device you can do it from inside your house without ever having to go outside to your pool equipment. Easy and more natural are words that come to mind when I think of a saltwater system.
There are a few cons though, or at least some things you should know beforehand. First, they are more expensive, (it depends on the gallons in your pool) but you are paying for the ease and getting rid of the chlorine tablets and shock. What many consumers fail to realize is that the salt cell, the part that is generating the chlorine, will need to be replaced eventually. This is because the metal on the cell eventually erodes away, but proper maintenance will make it last longer. Another issue is the control board which could need to be replaced, but not necessarily the whole salt cell, it depends on the brand.
PH tends to run higher in a salt pool, so generally, you will be adding more acid, but not always, just keep checking your pH levels as recommended. Your salt cell will perform better if you keep your calcium levels in check. Because of hard water/calcium in St. George and the surrounding desert areas, this is important. For more information about the problem with mineral build-up and what you can do to prevent it read the article about Mineral Magnet.
They are both great systems that can keep you happy and swimming and that is the point! You want to enjoy your pool to the fullest, so before you make a decision ask yourself a few questions to help you decide which system is best for you and your situation.
1. Is budget a real concern? If so, chlorine tablets might be for you because you won’t have the initial investment of approximately $1800, plus the extra investment several years later when the salt cell needs to be replaced. A big bucket or two of chlorine tablets can last the whole summer depending on the size of the pool. At Tropical Fiberglass Pools & Spas we only carry high-quality tablets with no fillers. But keep in mind that some chlorine pools end up costing more than saltwater systems because of extra maintenance as a result of extra chemicals needed to keep water in balance.
2. Do you like to pay up front and have less weekly out-of-pocket costs? Then a salt pool might be for you. Once the initial investment of the saltwater system is in place you don’t have to buy tablets, or weekly shock (which can be spendy sometimes with a high bather load or high temperatures). Just adjust the system and it does the chlorinating for you, with good maintenance, for up to 3-7 years.
3. Are you sensitive to chemicals? If so, go with a saltwater system, it is worth the extra investment because you will have less overall chemicals in your water. It feels nicer and is softer.
4. Are you looking for the easiest system? Saltwater is generally easier. You set controls based on the chlorine you need generated (a factor of temperature and use) and that is it. It comes on automatically when your pump and filter come on. With both systems, you still need to analyze your water and check other levels, but you don’t have to worry about your chlorine feeder running out of tablets because it is always working.
5. Finally, one more thing to consider with chlorine tablets is that when the stabilizer from the tablets build up the only way to get rid of it is to drain your pool. That can be anywhere from a year or two to several years. A salt pool rarely, if ever needs to be drained.
Most pools that we have installed in the past several years have gone with the saltwater system because it requires less maintenance and the water feels better. Most people are concerned about too many chemicals in the water and the fact that saltwater systems offer the chance to add fewer chemicals are appealing. As an added bonus, if at any time your saltwater pool seems to be having problems you can add chlorine shock or tablets in a floater until you get the problem resolved, so there really should be no downtime if you have a problem with a saltwater system.