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Salt Systems for Swimming Pools Saltwater vs. Chlorine The Benefits of a Saltwater Pool Changing a Chlorine Pool to Saltwater The Best Salt Water Pool System Recommended Brands

Salt Systems for Swimming Pools

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In the early days of modern swimming pools, adding chlorine to pool water was the only way to keep it clean and free of bacteria. Today, though, pool owners have another choice – one that many have decided is the better option: saltwater. And the popularity of salt water pools continues to climb as owners learn about the benefits – from low maintenance costs to few chemicals to healthy skin.

Saltwater vs. Chlorine Swimming Pools

While there are plenty of differences, the main similarity is that both chlorinated and saltwater pools have chlorine. This comes as a surprise to many pool owners, but it’s true. In a chlorine pool, the chemical is added to the water manually on a regular basis to maintain healthy levels. In a saltwater pool, a regenerative process creates the chlorine.

Here’s how it works. Pool salt is dissolved in the water, creating a mild saline solution of standard sodium chloride – just what’s in your salt shaker. Then it passes through a saltwater generator (also known as a chlorine generator, salt chlorine generator, salt chlorinator, or salt water chlorinator system) in the pool’s filtration system to circulate the water, dissolving the salt and producing a chlorine gas. As it is subjected to simple electrolysis, the chloride portion of the sodium chloride is transformed into an effective sanitizer that oxidizes bacteria, viruses, algae, and other radicals that thrive in plain water.

The initial costs of a saltwater pool will be higher than a chlorine pool. You have to invest in a saltwater generator to process the salt, which isn’t part of a traditional pool system. In addition, you’ll likely see slightly higher energy costs because the system is constantly running to produce the chlorine and infuse it into the water over time. And because the system relies on salt, you’ll usually need to replace the cells in the generator about every five years because of the corrosive nature of the salt.

salt swimming pool

The Benefits of a Saltwater Pool

When do I add salt to my Pool?

You'll need to add salt to your chlorinator whenever your salinity levels are too low. The best way to verify this is to include a salinity measurement as part of your weekly scheduled routine maintenance and add salt as needed. In addition, you'll want to do extra checks for the following reasons:

  • After heavy rain that dilutes salinity levels
  • In particularly hot times the sun evaporates the chlorine
  • When adding fresh water after a heavy backwashing cycle

Despite these costs, however, most owners find that saltwater pools are cheaper to own in the long run than chlorine pools. They don't require you to buy, store, or handle a lot of chemicals and water treatments.

Consider your additives: Chlorine pools require checking your levels and adding chlorine on a regular basis. It’s not unreasonable to expect to spend close to $1,000 per year on maintenance chemicals.

In contrast, a handful of dollars each year will keep a saltwater pool healthy and clean. The saltwater generator only requires just few pounds of salt initially and will keep functioning effectively for a couple years once the system is up and running.

The great thing is that the saltwater system is a perpetual cycle. It does not consume the salt, but instead reuses it to produce chlorine. When that chlorine breaks down, it turns into salt – and so on. As long as you keep the cells in the saltwater generator clean and free of calcification and corrosion, the system will continue to produce chlorine.

inground salt water swimming pool

Of course, this means an added maintenance necessity for a saltwater pool. You’ll need to check the saltwater generator cells regularly, removing, inspecting, and cleaning them at least once a season. But otherwise, routine maintenance is much easier for a saltwater pool. For one, the saltwater system is basically self-cleaning. For another, the salt water doesn’t require constant vigilance in checking sanitation levels. Chlorine pools require stabilizer, a chemical added to offset the harshness of chlorine, which promotes algae growth. But saltwater pools don't require a stabilizer to fend off such growth.

Speaking of harsh chemicals, salt water has the clear advantage over traditional chlorine. Salt is softer on your skin than chlorine. Saltwater pools do not produce chloramines found in traditional chlorine pools – which cause the offensive "chlorine smell" and eye irritation – because they are burned off during the chlorine-generating process. Not only that, but the salt content is roughly the same as in human tears, so you can comfortably open your eyes underwater. Because salt water doesn’t need the additives of a traditional pool, asthma and allergy sufferers don’t face the potential complications they risk in a traditional chlorine environment.

Saltwater Hot Tubs and Spas

Keep in mind that a saltwater system for an above ground pool is similar to a hot tub saltwater system. And the benefits of salt water in hot tubs are just as plentiful.

Consider these advantages:

  • Irritant-free salt water. Salt water hot tubs keep the water clean and free of harmful microrganisms, without the exposure to chloramines.
  • Soft, buoyant soaking. Salt water feels soft and gentle on the skin and increases buoyancy for greater relaxation.
  • Easy maintenance. Saltwater generators produce clean, pure water for months of continuous hot tub use.
  • Longer-lasting water. Salt water sanitation systems can keep the water clean for up to a year before needing to be drained and refilled, compared with the typical 3 to 4 month window of traditional hot tubs.

Changing a Chlorine Pool to Saltwater

If you currently have a traditional chlorine pool, have no fear. You can easily convert it into a saltwater system. This retrofit is not a very expensive process – and even with the extra expense, your will recoup your costs in just about two years.

One aspect to keep in mind is that salt water impacts all the elements of your pool – not just the pump and filtration system, but the liner, lighting, and masonry as well. The original pool features were not specifically designed to cope with the corrosive properties of salt. The many metal pieces of your pool system will undergo more corrosion than in a traditional chlorine pool, meaning you may need to replace more parts, more frequently. If the pool is concrete, you might also need to resurface it sooner after you convert to salt water.

But if you’ve determined that the advantages outweigh these negatives, your first – and most critical – step is to select your salt system. Your local pool retailer can help guide you through a series of considerations to help you determine the best solution for your setup. The great thing is that pool components are pretty universally compatible, meaning you don’t have to stick with the same brand as your existing pump or filter. Salt chlorinators will work with whatever brand of equipment you already have, leaving you free to select the best option for your situation.

Once you’ve chosen your system, the installation consists of plumbing and electrical work. Your local pool company can install the new saltwater system in just a few hours. After that, it’s a matter of adding granular salt (no pellets or rock salt) and at least 99.8% NaCl. Depending on the model of your generator and the size of your pool, your system will usually require 400 to 1,000 pounds of salt. Salt should be distributed evenly and mixed thoroughly throughout the entire pool, never added directly to the skimmer or main drains at the bottom of the pool because this can damage the equipment.

Then it’s time to start up the saltwater generator. When first kicking on your salt system, set it to 50% chlorine production and let it run for 24 hours, then check it again with a test strip to measure and adjust your production until it hits the right chlorine levels.

salt water swimming pool

The Best Salt Water Pool System

The main component to any saltwater swimming pool system is the saltwater generator. It’s a big investment – something you’ll want to consider carefully. But once your salt system is dialed in, you can essentially sit back and enjoy your pool. When shopping around, you’ll find countless makes and models that all tout their own features. Don’t let the options overwhelm you! As you’re doing your research, keep these points in mind.

  • Budget: You don’t need to outspend your neighbors to get the pool of your dreams. Be realistic in what you can – and should – afford. Remember that you’ll end up saving money over a traditional chlorine pool in the long run. Over its lifetime, a saltwater pool can save you 40% or more over the amount of chlorine you would be buying.
  • Pool size: Carefully assess the real measure of capacity and the chlorine output statistics of each model. Opt for a high-volume system to maximize its efficiency and lifespan. If possible, select a system that can handle larger volume, rather than a system that will handle just the minimum. A larger unit will allow more time between replacing your salt cells.
  • Usage: If you expect to have a lot of people swimming in your pool, you’ll need a heavier-duty salt chlorinator system that can treat more water. If you live in a year-round pool climate, you’ll need a larger model to compensate for more chlorine demand.
  • Maintenance and replacements: Salt water systems require a fraction of the maintenance of traditional chlorine systems, but you will need occasional upkeep. Find a system with an economical replacement cell cost because, remember, you’ll be replacing your saltwater generator cells roughly every 5 years.
  • Features: The bells and whistles offered vary widely, from salt readout and digital readout to self-cleaning and self-diagnostics. Some models are even automated, giving you the ability to remotely control equipment. One feature to consider is an acid feed pump. This is a great tool to monitor pH levels and add muriatic acid to reduce the pH, which tends to run higher and lead to calcium build-up more quickly in salt water.

Recommended Brands

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