Comparing Salt Water and Chlorine Pools

R. L. Rhodes
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Salt pools are growing increasingly popular with homeowners, leaving some people wondering how salt pools stack up to the traditional chlorine pool. The first thing to note is that both kinds of pool are disinfected, and both by the same chemical: chlorine. What distinguishes a salt pool from a traditional chlorine pool is the system that chlorinates the pool, using electricity to convert salt into pure chlorine at the water source.

For the purposes of comparison, when we say “chlorine pools,” we’ll mean pools that are disinfected using a chemical chlorine regimen, such as chlorine tablets. We’ll use the term “salt pools” to refer to pools that are chlorinated by converting salt.

What are the advantages of a chlorine pool?

Start with what we’ve known for some time now, that chlorine is fast and effective at killing bacteria. The English physician John Snow used chlorination to purify the London water supply in 1850. In the U.S., the practice began with the Jersey City waterworks in 1908, and a national program of purification was picked up ten years later at the urging of the Department of Treasury. We’ve been treating swimming pool water with chlorine since the 1920s, effectively preventing the spread of disease for nearly a century.

Chlorine’s potency as a disinfectant means that a chlorinated pool can spring back more quickly from occasional neglect. If you let the pool go, the turn around time is quicker on a chlorine pool. Correcting a salt pool can take several days longer.

Another advantage is the flexibility of chlorine pools. Put simply, there are more ways to chlorinate your pool than there are to treat a salt pool, whether by dispensing chlorine from a skimmer or putting it in a floater.

If you already have a pool, the cost of converting it to salt may also be a factor worth considering. To convert your chlorine pool to salt may cost anywhere from $1000 to $5000 depending on your pool size.

What are the advantages of salt pools?

The conversion system in a salt pool produces purer chlorine than the chemical additives found in chlorine pools. The chlorine levels are much lower which is better for your skin and won’t burn your eyes like the chemical treatments in chlorine pools.

Salt does not dissolve out of the pool, where as chlorine will dissipate in higher temperatures. Salt only needs to be added when water is lost due to rain, backwashing or water splashed out. Because salt does not dissolve, water pH is more consistent. That means fewer treatments and less build-up of the byproducts that cause itchiness.

While there is a significant cost with converting your pool from chlorine to salt, the salt system can pay for itself over time. Depending on the size of your pool, the salt needed to maintain the system over the course of the average summer may cost between $20 and $30. A summer’s worth of chlorine will run you $150-$180, on average.

You will still need to shock salt pools, and tools for adjusting the alkalinity and pH are still part of standard maintenance, but they’ll likely be less critical to the health of your pool. And while chlorine pools are well known for having a characteristic smell, the salinity of salt pools is actually quite low, leaving no salt taste.

For supplies and accessories, check out the full range of Hot Tubs, Saunas & Pool products at the Home Depot.

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