The Pros and Cons of Saltwater Pools

New and veteran pool owners alike often wonder if the grass is greener on the other side, but what’s the other side? In this case, it’s saltwater pools versus chlorine pools!


The truth is, all pools use chlorine. Saltwater pools simply generate chlorine through a natural process in comparison to traditional chlorine pools, which rely heavily on manually adding expensive chemicals directly to your pool water.


To help people get a better idea of how saltwater pools and chlorine pools stack up, we’ve put together a quickshot guide comparing the pros and cons of each and why, in the end, we think saltwater pools come out ahead!


Saltwater Pool




Saltwater pools essentially offer a consistent stream of chlorine (at a fraction of the cost over their lifetime), while eliminating the chemical byproducts that people typically hate about pools. With less harsh chemicals added directly to the pool, this process is also less irritating for skin, doesn’t bleach clothes, and offers clean and clear water.


This is achieved through the use of a salt chlorine generator. This means that virtually any swimming pool can be a “saltwater pool”! You simply need to pick a chlorine generator and install it on your pool.




Pros:

  • Spend less on expensive chemicals each year. 

    • Over the lifespan of the system, this can mean 40-50% savings - possibly more!

  • Less maintenance required

    • Once you set up your chlorine generator, you get consistent sanitation so you can count on blue & clear water.

  • Won’t irritate your skin or eyes, no harsh smell

    • Salt pools eliminate “chloramines”, the chemical byproduct responsible for dry red eyes, bleached swimsuits, and that lingering caustic smell.

  • Nicer water quality & swimming experience

    • People describe the water as feeling “soft” & “silky”, much more like being in a pure and natural body of water.


Cons:

  • Initial equipment cost

    • A salt chlorine generator is usually more than you would spend initially for a season’s worth of chlorine. 

  • Buying salt in bulk is inexpensive, but bags are heavy

    • You’ll add several hundred pounds of salt when you first install the salt chlorine generator. The water won’t be salty, and salt does *not* get used up.

  • Occasional salt cell cleaning required

    • Usually a few times a year, you’ll spend 10-15 minutes cleaning your salt chlorine generator’s cell (its plumbing component).

  • Salt cells need to be replaced eventually, often after 3-8 years

    • A salt cell is a consumable part. Exactly how long it lasts depends on the model and how you use it. A replacement is often about half the initial cost of the system (on average).


Chlorine Pool




Conventionally chlorinated pools were the standard for a long time, so people are generally familiar with how they work. Chlorine liquid or tablets, while harsh, are still an effective method for keeping your pool clean. You buy jugs or buckets of chlorine, measure your water chemistry, and you manually add chlorine to the swimming pool on an as-needed basis. Buying the chlorine you need for this year’s swim season is initially a bit cheaper than a brand new, modern salt system.



Pros:

  • Lower upfront cost for a season’s worth of chlorine chemicals

  • Similar levels of pool cleanliness are achievable if consistently monitored and cared for

  • You can become great friends with the people behind the counter selling chlorine.


Cons:

  • Chlorine chemical costs stack up fast and keep adding up over the years.

  • Harsh nature of shock and chlorine tablets in the water

  • You have to be careful handling and storing chemicals

  • Requires diligent & frequent maintenance, can lead to vicious cycles of pool chemistry (e.g. “chlorine lock”)


In both cases, there are a few major considerations that we usually hear from pool owners: cost, ease of maintenance, and overall comfort while swimming. The truth is that chlorine pools and saltwater pools can both do a good job of keeping your water clean, but you have to ask: how much work does it take to achieve that, how much are you going to spend on it over more than just one swim season, and what kind of water do you want to swim in? 


Let’s take a look at each aspect in a bit more detail!



Pool Maintenance

When it comes to maintenance, there are a few different aspects to consider:

  • Maintaining Water Chemistry

  • Equipment Maintenance


Maintaining Water Chemistry


One of the biggest differences you’ll note between saltwater and chlorine pools is the kind of maintenance you need to perform, and how regularly it has to happen to ensure clean water and balanced chemistry levels. 


Because chlorine pools rely on regularly adding chlorine and shock to the pool in order to maintain and replenish chlorine levels, the task is never-ending. Additionally, since the chlorine is not being added with perfect regularity, you have to carefully measure existing levels & add the right amount more of chlorine - often in large doses to compensate for cloudy water.


  • You’ll need to add chlorine regularly to keep up appropriate levels of sanitization

  • Frequent shocking is typically required, so you have wild swings of high and low chlorine levels where it's not safe to swim.

  • Chlorine is a harsh chemical to handle, and it can get expensive fast


Compare that to a saltwater pool - you mostly just need to make seasonal adjustments to the salt chlorine generator’s output setting, and add salt when your salt system alerts you (usually just a few times a year). A salt system reliably produces a pure form  of chlorine at the constant rate that you set. That means the pool water stays consistently clear because the pool gets just the right amount of sanitation without the heavy chemical side effects. So it’s a natural process that provides the  continual maintenance that every pool needs.


  • Salt pools are dramatically easier to manage, almost “hands off” when it comes to maintaining the chlorine level

  • Saltwater pools get rid of the  harshness of chemical smells and irritants

  • The salt the chlorine generator uses to maintain the pool doesn’t get  used up, so it’s not something that you have to continuously add.


Note: It’s worth remembering that no matter what, you’ll still need to keep an eye on any pool's overall water balance. Verifying that you measure proper chlorine levels, pH levels, and other standard levels to ensure that your pool water is safe and clean is necessary for all pools, whether they’re saltwater or chlorine based. With a saltwater pool, you should see a consistent chlorine level without the need to buy or add any chlorine manually - this takes care of the lion’s share of the cost and effort involved in maintaining a healthy water balance.  


Equipment Maintenance


Pool owners sometimes ask if they have to replace all of their pool equipment when they “convert to salt”. You might not realize that a saltwater pool and a chlorine pool use the same basic equipment - the pump and filter. The only difference with a saltwater pool is that it adds one more piece of equipment - the salt chlorine generator.


Generally speaking, that means the pool equipment maintenance required is essentially the same. You’ll still clean out your pump’s leaf basket and maintain its motor in the same way. You’ll still clean out and maintain your filter in the same way. Those items are responsible for circulating the water and removing debris - that isn’t going to change whether it’s a chlorine pool or a saltwater pool. 


In many cases, saltwater systems are even easy to install on your own. The addition of the salt chlorine generator only requires a very minor amount of maintenance. As the chlorine generator sanitizes the pool water, it may build up calcium mineral scaling inside of its salt cell. The chlorine generator typically alerts you when the scaling reaches the point that it needs to be cleaned. This is usually a quick 10-15 minute process of unscrewing the cell from the PVC plumbing unions, soaking it in a cleaning solution, and then reattaching it to the plumbing.




Water Quality

So once your swimming pool is up and running - you’ve taken care of balancing all of the chemicals, organized your water testing kits, cleaned up any debris or algae that might have still been in the water from last year - how does the water actually feel?


Water quality is a major factor in how much people typically enjoy their pool (or what prevents them from enjoying their pool). While it could be a bit subjective, and some swimmers have a higher tolerance or a preference for certain feelings, saltwater pools are largely considered to be a more comfortable environment.


Due to the less frequent maintenance required by saltwater pools, it’s also easier to swim whenever you want, given the relatively low impact of salt in the water compared to a pool that’s just been shocked or chlorinated with tablets.


Chlorine Pools


Most people have gone swimming in a chlorine pool.


It has a distinctly chemical scent, it can leave your skin itchy, your eyes red, and your bathing suits bleached. Your hair can feel dry and brittle.


While chlorine is incredibly effective as a sanitizing agent, when it’s not maintained just right it can also easily affect your body. Conventional pool chlorination can unfortunately lead to chemical byproducts, as well as lead to the unwanted addition  of other chemicals that are incorporated in chlorine tablets. The improper levels of  chlorine in a chlorine-based pool often leads to the production of chloramines, as chlorine binds to things like sweat and other contaminants. Chloramines are the actual component responsible for the irritation effect on swimmers.


Saltwater Pools


Saltwater pools, by contrast, produce a pure form of chlorine, and it does this in a consistent controlled way, so there’s less byproducts floating around in the pool to form those irritating chemical components, and futhermore, the salt chlorinator’s operation actually breaks down any chloramines that might be in the water. This helps ensure that your swimmers experience the feel of water rather than feel of chemicals.


Salt is also not going to cause the kind of irritation and discomfort many associated with the ocean. The water doesn’t taste salty (it's a fraction of the salinity of ocean water), and the low level of salt has a softening effect that improves the feeling of the water on skin. The degree of this can of course be subjective depending on how sensitive some swimmers are compared to others.

Cost

The final consideration, and often one of the most significant, is how much it actually costs to have a saltwater pool compared to sticking with the traditional chlorine process. It’s not incredibly complicated, but investing in your pool and choosing the right option for your budget and lifestyle is a significant choice to make! It’s important to take a look at a few of the main factors that can influence the overall cost of your pool when choosing between saltwater and chlorine.


Initial Cost


One of the main distinctions to be made when considering cost is that for a saltwater pool, you’re purchasing a system designed to replace the need to purchase chlorine and shock. That means there’s an initial cost associated with the salt system, while chlorine is simply the ongoing cost of however much chlorine you need to add to the pool each season.


In the short term, the initial cost of a saltwater system is a bit more expensive than a single year of chlorine. Depending on your pool size, chlorine might run you between $200 to $500 for a season. Comparatively for the same size pool, you might be looking at around $500 to $1000 for a chlorine generator. 


That said, next year you’d be looking at another $200 to $500 worth of chlorine. Same for the next year, and the year after that, assuming you like a clean pool. Stack that on the time you have to spend getting your chlorine measurements right, and the time you spend adding all of that chlorine to your pool, and you’ve got a significant financial and time investment.


With a saltwater system, you have the initial cost of the system, and then you’re good for the next few years+. Your chlorine generator will constantly produce a steady stream of fresh chlorine for the pool, no extra cost and minimal handling required outside of occasional cleanings or seasonal maintenance. 


Here are a few other key factors and numbers to consider when it comes to calculating the cost for a salt system:


  • Installation and maintenance are often factors that people want to know about when it comes to upgrading from chlorine to salt. The truth is that salt systems are incredibly easy to install, some models offer DIY install in as little as 15 minutes! Maintenance is also fairly limited apart from occasional cell cleaning, so it doesn’t add to the cost!

  • Saltwater systems come in a variety of brands, sizes, and styles, but are largely compatible with existing equipment. 

  • The actual salt for the pool is a fairly minor cost. An average pool may only need about $50 - $125 of salt when the chlorine generator first gets installed, and then as little as $10 - $20 a year moving forward.

  • One of our most popular models, the RJ45, costs $1,199 and offers about 1200 pounds of chlorine production over its lifetime. Compared to the cost of chlorine, even in bulk, 1200 pounds will run you about $2,400, basically double the cost of a salt system for the same amount of chlorine production.



Lifetime Cost


With a saltwater pool, after a number of years the salt chlorine generator’s “cell” - the plumbing component that does the work - will need to be replaced. The cell’s lifespan will depend on the model and the way it is used; often this can range from 3-8 years. But when this happens, its easy to swap out a new cell and a replacement cell typically only costs about half of what the whole salt chlorine generator system initially did.


So that means the replacement cell should provide another, say, 3-8 years of use at roughly half the original cost - that’s double the value! So on one hand the savings over the years with a salt pool system keep growing, while on the other hand, the chemical costs of continually buying and adding conventional chlorine just keep stacking up. It’s not hard to compare how much a salt system and a replacement cell cost with how much you would have to spend on chlorine over all those years.


It’s clear that the more years of use with a salt chlorine generator on your pool, the more you save over its lifetime.

Final Verdict

Pool owners have a lot to think about when they invest in a brand new salt pool system. There’s a cost involved in upgrading, but more than anything, it’s important to remember that you’re investing in both the equipment and the value you get out of your pool for years to come.


Salt systems typically provide a more enjoyable swimming experience across the board. You spend less time maintaining the pool and adding chemicals, the water is less harsh and irritating without sacrificing cleanliness, and over time, salt systems provide a better cost value compared to chlorine pools that are used just as frequently.


There’s nothing better than getting to  enjoy your pool and get the most out of your swimming experiences. Both chlorine and saltwater pools can let you do that. If you’re set in your ways, it might just seem like a matter of preference, but when it comes to cost, comfort, and ease? We’re confident that adding a salt chlorine generator is one of the best things you can do for your pool. That’s why it shouldn’t be surprising that  according to Pool & Spa News, 7 out of 10 new pools in the US were saltwater pools as of 2016.


Have more questions about how saltwater systems can benefit your residential or commercial pool? Give us a call, and we’d be happy to answer any questions or discuss product details. Do you have a saltwater pool and love it? Or maybe you’re still on the fence, deciding if an upgrade is right for you. Let us know

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