Salt Water Pools

Recently there has been an increase in interest in salt-water pools or, in other words, pools that have their water treated using a salt/chlorine generator. I’ve heard many customers state that they didn’t want to use the old standby chlorine in their pool because they heard it is unsafe, has a strong smell, bleaches out bathing suits, turns hair green, causes cancer, burns your eyes, and many other inaccurate fears.

Instead, they say they want a salt generator pool so they can have a salt-water pool without using any chlorine. The truth of the matter is that a salt/chlorine generator does just that; it produces chlorine. If you ever had chemistry, you may remember the makeup of salt. Just as a refresher, it is NaCl, which is Sodium (Na) and Chlorine (Cl). Years ago, a chemist figured out that if you pumped water past dissimilar metals and had the metals charged with electric current, the result would be that the chlorine separates from the salt. You still have a chlorine pool and you can still use your old chlorine test kit to determine if your salt/chlorine generator is working or not.

The basic difference is that instead of going to a store to buy chlorine, you would go to the store a buy enough salt to bring the salt concentration in your pool to about 3,000 ppm (parts per million). In other words, you would add about 1 teaspoon of salt for every gallon of water in your pool.  For an average 16’x32’ pool, you would add and dissolve about 450 pounds of salt in the pool water.

Advantages of using a salt/chlorine generator is that you don’t have to buy chlorine, but you still have to check the salinity level of the water and add salt occasionally to top it off.

Disadvantages of using a salt/chlorine generator:

1)      It costs about $1500 for the basic unit.

2)      It uses about $9 a month of electricity to run it.

3)      The internal metal strips must be cleaned and replaced when needed (more than $300 for the replacement strips).

4)      The salinity in the pool water can be corrosive to pool heaters, pool lights, and other metal fixtures like ladders and handrails.

5)      The saltwater left on a concrete patio can cause concrete spalling (deterioration) which ruins the surface of the deck.

6)      When you drain water out of your pool for any reason, the wastewater can find its way to local streams and ponds and change the salinity of those bodies of water.  That can lead to the destruction of wild life in those areas, and that is why salt/chlorine generators are banned in southern California already.

I have had people tell me that they were in a neighbor’s or a friend’s saltwater pool and the water felt very soft.  I haven’t met a person yet that can feel the difference in a gallon of water that has a teaspoon of water mixed in it vs. a gallon of water with no salt.  Although I will admit you can taste the difference between the two gallons.

To address some fallacies mentioned in the first paragraph above:

Chlorine levels maintained in a pool at about 1-1.5 ppm will not bleach bathing suits, burn your eyes, turn your hair green, or have a strong chorine smell.

Burning eyes is caused by the pH of the pool water being out of the proper range, or high level of chloramines in the water.

A strong chlorine smell is usually caused by a high level of chloramines, and the condition is rectified by bringing up the chorine level to about 3 ppm.  It seems odd to people that the most common cause of a strong chorine smell is caused by not having enough chorine in the pool, but it’s true.

When someone’s hair turns green when they go swimming, it is almost always caused by metals in the water- usually excessive copper levels.