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Pool Chemicals: Your Guide to the Salt Water Pool

Posted by Mike Belk on Apr 24, 2023

Pool Chemicals: Your Guide to the Salt Water Pool

Did you know that there are more than 10 million residential pools in the United States? Many residential swimming pools use chlorine to keep the water clean. But salt water pool options are starting to become much more popular.

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What's so special about salt water pool systems? Are they any different from chlorine systems? Are they better than traditional chemical systems, or are they harder to maintain?

Keep reading and learn more about salt water pools, their unique benefits, and how to take care of them.

What You Need to Know About Salt Water Pools

Creating a salt water pool isn't as simple as you think. You can't buy a bunch of bags of salt, toss them into your pool, and call it a day. The process is a bit more complicated than that.

Many people think that pool salt water doesn't use any chlorine, but this isn't true. It instead uses a unique form of chlorine called a salt chlorine generator. This is sometimes called a salt cell.

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This salt cell takes salt (sodium chloride) and turns it into chlorine. You might then be wondering if there is any difference between a salt water pool and a regular chlorine pool. There are several important differences between them.

The first is that the chlorine that salt cells produce is pure. This prevents this type of chlorine from producing chloramines. In a regular chlorine pool, chloramines are a common byproduct.

They are not desired by most people since they can cause skin and eye irritation. Without these byproducts, your pool's water will be much gentler. This is important if you or your family members have sensitive skin.

The Importance of Chlorine for Pool Hygiene

It's necessary to have some type of chlorine in your pool if you want it to stay clean. This is because chlorine is a powerful chemical that kills bacteria and other harmful microbes that might flourish in a swimming pool.

Salt itself is also a mild antibacterial substance that can further keep your pool clean.

But how does a salt chlorine generator turn sodium chloride into chlorine? You first have to install the generator into the pool and then add salt to the water. The salty water will then flow into the generator.

The generator contains blades that are coated in unique metals, usually ruthenium or iridium. These blades have electricity running through them. When these charged blades interact with the salt in the water, a process called electrolysis occurs.

This changes the chemical composition of the sodium chloride in the water. It then changes it into chlorine. Once the water leaves the salt cell, it is no longer regular salt water but instead chlorinated water.

This will keep your pool nice and clean. But there are a few more differences that you should be aware of before you decide to get a salt water pool.

The Pros of a Salt Water Pool

Saltwater pools have quite a few benefits compared to regular chlorine pools. The first is that the smell of the pool is significantly improved. Regular chlorine pools have a very strong chemical smell.

This smell can give people a headache or make people feel sick. Regular chlorine is also very irritating to the nose, eyes, and skin. Because salt water pools use pure chlorine, there is little to no odor.

This allows your pool to be a much more pleasant environment. You will also notice a difference in the water's texture. Regular chlorine water can feel hard and harsh.

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But a salt water pool will feel much softer and smoother. This is again because of the use of pure chlorine derived from salt. There are no other chemical additives that could make the water feel harsher.

This is especially important if regular pools often burn or sting your skin. This is more common among those who have dry or sensitive skin. Swimming in a salt water pool will feel very similar to swimming in the ocean.

Another bonus is that the water won't have the same briny or fishy smell as the ocean. Once you get out of the pool, you may notice how the water feels different on your skin as well. It will have a smooth feeling rather than a hard or sticky feeling.

Your hair won't be dry and frizzy and neither will your skin. Your skin will feel moisturized rather than cracked and irritated. Some argue that swimming in salt water is very beneficial for the skin since it can help leach out imperfections.

Other Benefits of Salt Water Pools

Your swimsuits will benefit from this type of pool as well. Traditional chlorine pools will bleach your swimsuit and destroy the fabric within a short period. The fabric may start to break at the seams and become more translucent.

Because salt water pools are not as harsh, your swimsuits will last much longer. This is also true of your towels. Perhaps the biggest benefit of having a salt water pool is that it is more accessible and easy to maintain.

Chlorine tablets can be hard to find, especially in large quantities. They are also very expensive. But salt is one of the most affordable and accessible minerals there is.

You can buy as much salt as you want, whenever you want, and at a low price. This allows you to keep your pool clean without having to break the bank. It's easy to add salt to the pool, too.

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You need to make sure you have the salt cell set up first. You can then toss in as much salt as necessary, and the salt chlorine generator will handle the rest. This ensures you don't need to waste too much time maintaining the pool.

You can instead sit back and relax by the poolside. Storing salt is easy, too. So, when you're not using it, you can put it in your closet or in another location where it will be ready until you need it.

But owning a salt water pool isn't all fun and games. There are also a few downsides you should be aware of.

The Cons of a Salt Water Pool

A salt water pool can be both expensive and affordable. This is because this type of pool is cheap to upkeep. But the upfront costs of getting the pool set up are costly.

The biggest initial cost is the salt chlorine generator. It may cost as much as $1,000 or as little as $800. The good news is that the generator should last a while.

The bad news is that the cells inside the generator won't last as long. The salt cells may last around three to eight years before they need to be replaced. This is because the electrically charged blades inside will eventually get worn out.

Each cell costs around $300 to $800. If you have several cells inside the generator, this could be a lot of money to deal with. You also need to consider the cost of buying a bunch of salt for transforming your regular pool into a salt water pool.

While salt doesn't cost that much, the price will add up once you have to buy hundreds of pounds worth of the mineral. It is impossible to do without this much salt because if you don't put in enough, your pool won't function as it's supposed to.

This would leave your pool susceptible to bacterial growth and other unpleasant problems. You also have to think about where you can store all that salt. Having a few bags left over shouldn't be a problem.

But if you have several pounds of salt lying around, you may not know where to put it. It will also be a pain to move since it's so heavy.

Other Disadvantages of Salt Water Pools

Another downside is the process of cleaning the salt chlorine generator.

You don't need to clean it very often, usually once every 500 hours of use. The problem is that you need to use harsh chemicals to clean the generator. Muriatic acid is the most common cleaner for salt cells.

It is a very harsh chemical and you have to be careful when handling it. Another downside is that not all pools can have salt water. Some may get damaged if they are exposed to salt.

This is especially true of vinyl pools and any pools that have metal panels. The salt will slowly eat away at these materials until the pool is an unsafe place to swim. It's better to have tile for your pool.

You can consider a variety of salt water pool tile ideas to make your pool look good. You also have to be careful with metal ladders to help you get in and out of the pool.

The salt is powerful enough to eat away at the bolts and the ladder's metal exterior. You could also have problems with your pool during the winter. The chlorine from the salt cells may not be powerful enough to winterize the pool.

You may instead need to buy traditional chlorine and add it to your pool. This would cost extra time and money. But this may not be necessary if you don't live in a very cold climate.

What Else Should You Know About Salt Water Pools?

It's important to not dwell too much on the downsides of having a salt water pool. The upsides are just as important. But you must balance the pros and cons to determine whether having this kind of pool sounds right for you.

If so, you'll have to learn a few more things about having and maintaining this pool. Maintenance is very important if you want your salt water pool system to last a while. You don't need to maintain it much, but the occasional checkup is important.

Check the salt cells every so often to make sure that any excess salt doesn't build up on the cells. This could inhibit the way they function and they may not be able to transform salt into chlorine anymore.

Keeping an Eye on Your Pool

You should also keep track of the pump and filter.

This is true of any pool. If the pump and filter stop working, your pool will no longer have proper water flow. This could cause the water to stagnate.

It would also prevent the chlorine generator from working. You also have to be careful to buy the right kind of salt for your pool. Some people think that simple table salt will do the trick, but it won't.

You need to find salt that is specifically designed for pools. This ensures that the pool gets the right amount of salt and that the salt does what it's supposed to do. Don't forget to test the pool water at regular intervals as well.

This is especially important if the pool is being used more often. More use can cause the pool's water to become unbalanced. Use a testing strip to see the state of your pool's water.

If the water's chemistry seems off, adjust the salt levels until the pool is back on track. You should also check parts of the pool for corrosion every so often. Rubber O-rings and pump seals are especially vulnerable to corrosion, so don't forget to check them.

If you want your salt water pool to last a long time, consider porcelain or glass tiles.

All About Having a Salt Water Pool

Having a salt water pool comes with a variety of benefits.

The water will be softer on your skin, buying the salt is less expensive than chlorine, and so on. But you also have to consider the downsides, such as maintenance and possible corrosion.

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Are you thinking about getting a salt water pool? Make sure you have the right pool tiles for the job. Check out our tiles and see if they're right for you. 

Mike Belk Author BELK Tile

By Mike Belk

Founder & CEO

A graduate of Ohio State University with an MBA in Business, Mike Belk has been in the tile and stone industry for over 20 years. Mike is the owner and founder of Belk Tile. He has become one of premier tile experts in the nation. Not only does Mike love every aspect of his job, he strives ensure your experience is the very best. He runs a successful blog and, when not immersed in the world of tile, is an avid golfer and wine maker. Mike enjoys interacting with customers and wants to hear from you today.