Everything You Need To Know About Salt Water Pools

Have you heard people talking about salt water pools and wondered what all the hype was about?

I’m not here to convince you one way or the other.

The decision on whether to have a salt water pool or not is usually just a matter of preference.

All I'm here to do is give you the low-down on what they are so you can decide for yourself.

What is a salt water pool?

salt-water-pools

Most people think of the ocean when they think of salt water, but a salt water swimming pool is not the same thing.

In other words, when you get a mouth full of ocean water, you can taste the salt.

But in the world of swimming pools, a salt water pool is one that uses a salt chlorine generator instead of traditional chlorine for sanitizing. This means that the pool is still chlorinated, just with a different type of chlorine.

The way the salt generator works is by creating its own chlorine with an electrical reaction between the salt in the salt cell and the electrode in the generator. 

So, instead of pouring chlorine into your pool or adding tablets, the generator is constantly creating it.

And if it's working right, it will also monitor the levels you set it to in order to keep your sanitizer levels balanced

Salt water vs chlorine pools

Obviously there are people in favor of each type of pool for various reasons. But there is no right or wrong, just factors to consider for both.

Salt water advantages

  • Salt water is gentler on skin, hair and eyes.
  • Salt water doesn’t have the same bleaching effect on clothing and pool toys.
  • Salt water feels softer.
  • You don’t have to handle harsh chemicals.
  • Salt water pools require less maintenance.
  • Salt water is usually much safer.
  • No smelly chloramines.

Chlorine advantages

  • Salt water generators are more expensive initially.
  • Salt water might dictate which types of pool equipment and heater you can use.
  • Salt water pools are more prone to calcium buildup because the pH levels tend to get too high.
  • Salt water tends to corrode metal pool equipment.
  • Chlorine is cheaper to purchase than salt cells.
  • Salt generators are more expensive to repair.

Maintaining your salt water pool

Salt water pools are pretty low maintenance once you’ve found the sweet spot on the generator settings. 

But that doesn’t mean you can neglect them entirely.

There are a few things you should do to keep them functioning properly and as clean as possible.

1. Test pool chemistry weekly

You'll need to check the free chlorine and pH levels weekly with test strips or a liquid pool test kit.

But the salt, alkalinity, cyanuric acid and calcium levels can usually be checked once a month unless you are having problems with scaling or algae.

2. Check the salt cell every three months

Most salt generators have automatic alerts that flash when the cells need to be changed, but even if they don’t, you need to inspect them consistently.

You'll be looking for buildup or debris that might have gotten past your filter.

If there's anything in it, flush it thoroughly with a high-pressure hose.

You may even need to chip calcium buildup away with a plastic tool.

3. Keep the filtration system clean

Your salt cell generator will only work properly if the water flow is not obstructed.

So clean out the filter, pump and skimmer regularly.

Converting your pool to salt water

If you do decide to convert your pool to a salt water system, there are some basic things that will help you out. 

For example, choose your salt water generator based on cost and pool size. These babies can get expensive, so don’t go overboard with the biggest one when a smaller model will serve your purposes.

Make the decision upfront as to whether you'll be installing the system yourself or hiring a professional.

Read up on exactly how it’s done and decide whether or not you have the time, patience and willingness to learn to get the job done right.

If you think you need a professional, get estimates and include that in your financial decision.

Know that you'll sometimes still have to use regular chlorine.

While salt chlorinators do usually have a “super chlorinate” function that will give it a boost, it’s not a substitute for pool shock.

Usually, your pool will still need to be shocked at least once a month to keep algae at bay.

How do salt test strips work?

Test strips are the easiest way to test pools and they work the same for both chlorine and salt water pools. 

They're made with pads on the end of the strips that are specially treated with a chemical that reacts with pool chemicals

You just hold the strip under water for a few seconds and then let it set out for a few minutes.

You'll then read the color on the strip and compare it to the chart in your manufacturer’s instructions.

Easy peasy! 

FAQ

Q: How much salt do I need for a salt water pool?

The amount of salt you need will vary for each salt generator and will also be dependent on your pool size in gallons.

But in general, adding 8 lbs of pool salt raises the level by 1,000 ppm per 10,000 gallons of water.

So, if you have a 20,000 gallon pool, you would probably need about 12 40 lb bags of salt to get it to the recommended 3,000 ppm level.

Of course, that assumes you are starting from zero, which most new pools will be at.

Q: How much does a salt water pool cost?

Most salt water systems cost anywhere from $1,400 to $2,000 upfront.

And then, you have to factor in the cost to replace the cell every 3-6 years, which is about $800.

However, you also need to take into account the cost to maintain it.

Most of the time, you can operate a salt water system for less than $100 a year, as opposed to about $300-600 a year for chemicals for a traditional chlorine pool. 

Q: Can you put chlorine in a salt water pool?

A: Yes, it's completely safe to use chlorine in a salt water pool, and sometimes completely necessary.

Now, you shouldn’t be having to use chlorine in it all the time or that would defeat the purpose.

However, you probably still need to be using chlorine shock to treat your pool occasionally just like with a regular pool.

And if you notice a problem with algae or are having trouble keeping your pH levels balanced, you'll need to use it more often.

Q: What chemicals do I need for a salt water pool?

Some pool owners overlook cyanuric acid for their salt water pools, but this stabilizer is still important to maintain the right sanitizer levels. 

Remember, your salt water pool is still a chlorinated pool. It’s just generated differently.

You may also need muriatic acid to lower pH levels when they get too high and soda ash to raise them.

You'll also need sodium bisulphate to lower alkalinity, sodium bicarbonate to raise alkalinity, and of course pool salt to keep your levels in check. 

Bottom line

So, what’s the verdict?

Should you choose a salt water pool over a traditional chlorine pool?

That is entirely up to you! There truly is no right or wrong answer.

But if you need a little help deciding, weigh the pros and cons and ask people in your area who have experience with either or both.

The main thing is to choose one and stick with it because changing the system out will mean added cost, labor and time.

All of which are better spent swimming in your pool rather than working on it!

Pool Care Guy
 

Hi guys! My name is Mike, aka Pool Care Guy. I'm here to help you make sure your pool is clean, healthy, and pristine. Most of all, I'm here to guide you along so you spend more time swimming in your pool than you do cleaning it!