What Is the Deal with Salt Water Pools? Breaking Down the Real Differences Between Chlorine vs. Salt Water Pools

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Whether you are new here or if you’ve been following along, we are so glad to have to you ๐Ÿ™‚ You may know that we recently finished and by finished I mean DIYed our dream pool. As the demand AND cost of pool installation has gone up, there has been a massive and growing interest in the DIY pool route. The topic we’d like to cover today is one of the earlier decisions we made in the process of designing and budgeting for a pool. So let’s dive in, ha!

Since day 1 of pool discussions, Nick and I both figured we wanted a saltwater pool but couldn’t actually answer the question “why”? Salt water pools, once a luxury enjoyed by the fortunate few, are rapidly gaining popularity among homeowners. Turns out selecting a sanitization system a big decision to consider in the pool building process. Here we are going to break how and why salt water pools have become the “it thing” so you can take all the info and decide whether you think they’re worth the hype.

While it feels like salt water pools are a somewhat new thing, they’ve actually been around for for the last 40ish years in the United States. However, due to the corrosive nature of salt, traditional chlorine pools have long been the standard in pool sanitization. When the pandemic hit, the demand for pools and pool supplies were off the charts as people settled into life in quarantine. Then in 2020 (when there were already significant supply chain constraints), there was a tragic explosion and complete destruction of a key chlorine manufacturer’s plant. This ongoing chlorine shortage has driven up the prices of chlorine two-fold in the last three years. This all lead to homeowners seeking chlorine alternatives and the rising popularity of saltwater pools.

So what is a saltwater pool and how does it work?

If you’re wondering whether a salt water pool is actually sanitary (this was definitely a thought that crossed my mind ๐Ÿ™‹โ€โ™€๏ธ), a saltwater pool actually sanitizes the water with chlorine just like traditional chlorine pools. While the name might suggest a pool filled with seawater, saltwater pools just use a regulated process called saltwater chlorination. The difference between salt vs. chlorine pools is in how the chlorine is added to the pool.

Instead of manually adding chlorine to the pool, saltwater pools utilize a chlorine generator, also known as a salt cell or salt chlorinator. So hold on….I’m going to get technical for those interested for just a minute… This device is connected to the pool’s filtration system and uses a process called electrolysis to convert salt into sodium ions and chlorine gas. The chlorine gas then reacts with water to form hypochlorous acid–a sanitizing agent that eliminates bacteria and algae in the pool. When these salt chlorine generators are connected to automated systems, you are able to generate more chlorine on demand as the levels shift. While saltwater pools have lower chlorine levels compared to traditional pools, they still require monitoring and adjustment of all the different levels (bromine, alkalinity, pH etc.). While you do still need to add chlorine from time to time, you will need to make much fewer trips to the pool supply store to collect jugs of chlorine AND no chlorine tablets required. Just know that proper water chemistry is essential for maintaining a comfortable and safe swimming environment regardless of the pool sanitization system chosen.

The difference in maintenance between salt water and chlorine pools is definitely a thing

Chlorine pools simple do not self-regulate as well as salt-water pools, thus requiring more regular maintenance. The lower maintenance on salt water pools was a big selling point for Nick. However, because chlorine pools are so widely used and have been for some time, it is much easier to locate technicians for minor or major repairs. There is some cost savings for both supplies and maintenance there for homeowners with salt water pools.


How does the experience compare?

While there are many practical considerations in determining the best sanitization systems, the overall experience is also a biggie. Back in the day, I was a swimmer and water polo player in high school and after spending a couple hours in the school pool a day, my skin and hair was completely destroyed from the chlorine. I was totally intrigued by the overall experience of a salt water pool versus a chlorine pool. Is the salt water going to leave my skin itchy, my eyes irritated and my hair crunchy, like it does swimming in the ocean?

Not at all. I don’t know how to explain swimming in the salt water pool other than the experience is “softer”. There is virtually no chlorine odor, and the water is similar to the salinity of the human tear duct. I had heard that the salt water can actually have a softening effect on the skin and it’s absolutely true. The experience of swimming in a salt water pool is just overall more pleasant.

If you can’t tell we are thrilled that we went with a salt water sanitization system. Though both options are perfectly safe, saltwater was the best choice for us in every category.ย  We ran the numbers and it is not only less expensive than chlorine in the long run, it has fewer chemicals for an optimal swimming experience, and easier to maintain. Here in Austin, a pool person for regular cleaning and maintenance runs about $300 a month. We have found the maintenance and cleaning to be total manageable though and handle this on our own. Turns out diving for leaves is one of my kids’ favorite pool games and we are all for it, ha!

If you are planning to install your dream pool, I hope this gave you a good feel for differences between chlorine vs. salt sanitization systems. From team saltwater pool over here–no regrets!

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  1. The initial installation cost of a saltwater pool is higher, but the long-term savings are estimated at up to 40-50% because the operational costs are much lower. Thanks for sharing your experience! I like this post.