Salt pool systems first hit the New Zealand pool market in 1972 and became popular in the United States in the early 1980s.
Saltwater pools had a slow start because of skepticism of the new technology; however, after steady growth, saltwater pools have become popular with many pool builders, service providers and pool owners because of the perceived low maintenance and better water quality.
Considering the popularity of salt pool systems, I’ve delved into the myths, pros and cons of treating your pool with salt. First, let’s take a look at the largest misconception of saltwater pools.
Salt water pools are not chlorine free. Saltwater systems, also known as saltwater chlorinators or salt chlorine generators, produce low levels of chlorine from sodium chloride (NaCl), commonly known as table salt.
In the salt cell a low voltage current is applied to the aqueous salt solution which causes the positively charged sodium cation (Na+) to split from the negatively charged chloride anion (Cl-). When these ions react with water, they form sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and hydrochloric acid (HCl) respectively. NaOH and HCl then act as the sanitizers in the pool environment. Salt systems in pools are convenient because they constantly deliver a pure chlorine-based sanitizer.
Since chlorine is still present in the pool (just at a lower level), there are still the negative side effects associated with chlorinated pools. These include but aren’t limited to the chlorine smell, irritation to the swimmers eyes and lungs, and bleaching of swimsuits and pool covers. Prolonged exposure to chlorine, especially to children, can lead to “swimmers lung” and asthma. Since the levels of chlorine are lower than that of a traditionally chlorinated pool, these side effects are minimized.
Salt water pools still require the user to balance the chlorine levels. Furthermore, the salinity needs to be maintained in a range of 2500-4500 ppm; otherwise serious damage to the saltwater generator and other equipment can ensue.
Moreover, saltwater pools are known to corrode ladders and pool decking if the pool isn’t properly balanced or bonded. This is such a problem that many builders require liability releases to install salt water chlorinators.
WFAA News in Dallas quoted a salt manufacturer in a story saying, “Stone naturally deteriorates, and it can be affected by a range of factors including climate, temperature, maintenance, and traffic. [The salt manufacturer also said] use of salt water can also be one of those factors.”
Owners must also maintain the saltwater system. Overtime, minerals that are commonly present in the municipal water supply like calcium build up on the salt cell’s plates. This requires an acid wash to remove. If this is not done on a regular basis, the effectiveness of the saltwater pool is compromised. Furthermore, if too strong of an acid is used to clean the cell, the cell will need to be replaced.
Scaling (otherwise known as mineral deposition) of the pool liner can also occur. This requires brushing and/or acid to remove. If the generator runs out of salt for extended periods of time, the pool can strip the coating off the cell which can require an expensive replacement.
The Clear Comfort hydroxyl-based, advanced oxidation system can be a great alternative to a saltwater pool, since it can eliminate chlorine entirely or reduce it to levels comparable with tap water in residential pools and lower chlorine use by 30 to 70 percent in commercial pools. In addition, Clear Comfort eliminates chloramines and the associated side effects. While Clear Comfort can be used in conjunction with salt water generators to help the pool use the chlorine it produces more efficiently, the Clear Comfort system on its own is effective and does not have the downside of corrosion, chlorine and extensive system maintenance.