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Salt Water Pool vs. Chlorine Pool – Which Is Better and Why?

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O wning a pool means a lot of fun, but a lot of responsibilities as well. It is your job to make sure the water stays clean and bacteria-free for your children and that algae and debris are cleaned on time. If you use the right tools, these operations can become pretty basic, and you will get done them done in no time. However, one job requires your utmost attention and should be performed with care as it implies the use of strong substances. Yes, we are talking about chlorination.

Pools need to be treated with chlorine or other disinfectant substances to resist microorganisms like E-coli, which can get your family sick. What you need to know is that there are two ways of doing this, each bringing its own advantages and disadvantages. So, let’s take a good look at salt water and chlorine systems and see how much they differ and how to use each of them to your advantage.

No matter what chlorination system you choose, maintaining the water crystal clear is essential. Find a first-rate pressure side pool cleaner among our top and start performing efficient maintenance the easy way.

A pool filled with clean, blue water at night Image

What Is the Difference between a Chlorine and a Salt Water System?

Chlorine models are the conventional type and will be found in most patios or back yards. They can be either in-ground or above-ground and include a pump and a filtering system that helps to keep the water clean. However, this isn’t enough, and regular chlorination is mandatory. If you own a pool of this type, you know that you need to test the water, determine the level of free and total chlorine, calculate combined chlorine, and then determine how much chlorine you need to add to maintain the water balanced.

Salt water models are the more convenient alternative to this. These systems include a saltwater generator and require for salt to be poured into the water. The generator has the purpose of dividing the chlorine from sodium and using it to kill bacteria and algae. Thus, it is no longer required for you to manually handle chlorination. Pool shocks, however, are still required for good pool hygiene.

Before performing a pool shock it is important to determine free and combined chlorine levels. Check out our high-accuracy digital pool water test kits and get reliable measurements. It is the only way to make sure that your skin doesn’t get burned by too much chlorine or you don’t get sick from bacteria, in case the chlorine level is too low.

Three chlorine tablets on the side of a pool Image

Chlorine Pool – Pros & Cons

What We Like

  • It is cheaper to install – Although if you are building an in-ground pool, and it’s impossible to get it cheap, you can save some money when it comes to installing it. Thus, a simple filtering system will cost you a few thousand dollars less than a saltwater generator.
  • Repairs are cheaper and can be performed by the owner – The mechanism is simple and at hand, so every time a malfunction occurs, it can be easily identified and fixed, usually without the help of a professional.
  • It is highly efficient against germs and algae – If you are applying the treatments on time and use the right quantities of Cl or sanitizer, this system can guarantee a crystal-clear water.
  • It is cost-effective – The only thing that is running is the pump, which has the purpose of circulating the water and filter it. Salt water models have this function too, but they include a generator as well, which can increase the costs considerably.
  • It is less corrosive – It is known that salt can have a corrosive action upon concrete, stone, and other materials. This is why many states have renounced using it against the snow. As it isn’t present in a conventional system, you can rest assured that your pipes, wooden surfaces around the pool, or even pool appliances will last longer.

What We Dislike

Maintenance takes longer – You will need to test the water periodically and balance the pH, alkalinity, Cl, and mineral levels. Sometimes, this can be difficult to achieve, and you may lose time with repeated tests and volume calculus.

You need a special space to store the chemicals – Chlorine cannot be deposited in any space. It releases VOCs and is highly toxic, so you will need to keep it away from children and pet access. Moreover, if you don’t store it properly, it can lose some of its power and you may end up with an unsafe pool.

Cl attacks the skin and eyes – These types of pools usually imply the use of larger quantities of chlorine, which can cause the skin to dry and hair to become thinner. Plus, the strong smell can be too much for some users.

It makes pool gear fade – Cl has a strong whitening action which will in time make your swimsuits and accessories look like they have been used for years.

Besides sanitation, water temperature is another highly important aspect that needs to be considered. Take a look at our best pool thermometers and make sure your family feels comfortable in a pool that is neither too warm nor too cold.

Man pouring salt from a bag into a pool Image

Salt Water Pool – Pros & Cons

What We Like

  • It automatically adjusts the chlorine level – This system includes a testing mechanism which is the one establishing how much chlorine should be produced and distributed. In the case of a conventional system, this would have been the owner’s job.
  • It is gentle on the skin – As it produces exactly the right amount of Cl, the water is safer and itchy and dry skin is avoided. Plus, the chlorine smell is very week and in many cases unnoticeable.
  • It keeps pool gear looking like new for longer – Lower Cl levels mean less bleaching action upon your accessories. This is an important aspect if you are using expensive equipment.
  • It doesn’t require you storing chemicals – This is one of the reasons people love salt water pools. No more chlorine bags or sanitizer bottles that need to be sealed and stored away from kids and pets. No more monthly trips to the pool store or worries that the chlorine may have become inefficient.
  • It may be healthier for kids – Inhaling or swallowing chlorine water can in time affect children and cause a condition known as swimmer’s asthma. Saltwater pools have been proven to be less harmful than conventional pools. Nevertheless, the risk is still present.

What We Dislike

The initial investment is more expensive – You will need to spend somewhere between $1,000 and $2,500 for the generator and the installation. Although in time, you may save on maintenance costs, it will take a while until you recover your investment.

Energy costs are higher – The generator can cost you up to $48 per month, assuming that you would run it for 6 to 8 hours per day as it is recommended. If you do the math, the annual cost can be pretty high. But as you won’t need to spend money on chlorine anymore, things kind of compensate in time.

It is still based on chlorine – Chlorine is still the one acting upon algae and bacteria, so if you are allergic to this substance, you will still need to avoid the water. Plus, sometimes the built-in tester may be inaccurate and make the generator deliver too much or too little Cl. In both cases, your health would be at risk.

Repairs are expensive – In most cases, you won’t be able to handle malfunctions on yourself and you will need to call for a specialist who can repair the generator. The repair expenses are higher than in the case of a chlorine system. Just think that every 5 years you will need to replace the salt cell and this will cost you around $650, labor not included.

Check out our best salt water pool systems and enjoy smoother and gentler swims. Some of them offer automatic cleaning of the cell, so maintenance can easily become one of the easiest chores in your house.

A boy jumping into a blue-water pool Image

How to Determine Which System Is the Best for You

When it comes to these systems, the opinions are divided. While some users praise the convenience and comfort of a saltwater system, others see it as an expensive means of chlorination that isn’t always as effective as it promises to be. It can be said that it is more a matter of personal taste. Nevertheless, if you need to make a realistic assessment, here’s what you need to consider:

Costs

Per ensemble, both systems will get you to the same yearly sum. The generator will consume more energy, so it will equate the lack of chlorine expenses. If you pick a conventional system, the need to buy chlorine will make up for the cheap installation. And so on. If there’s a difference, it is almost unnoticeable. So, this decision will depend mostly on the money you are willing to spend at the beginning. If you can spare around $2,000, then go for a saltwater system. If not, the chlorine system is just as practical.

Maintenance

If we divide it into weekly and periodical maintenance, saltwater systems win at first category. You will only need to add salt once every 3 months and shock the pool once in a while. Conventional systems, on the other hand, require twice a week testing and chlorine adjustments. Nevertheless, they are easier to clean and inexpensive while saltwater pools need to be handled by a specialist. Not to mention that the salt cell needs to be soaked in vinegar for 8 hours and replaced every 5 years.

Chlorine Tolerance

If you have sensitive skin or planning to build the pool especially for your kids, a saltwater system is more recommended. It will prevent skin irritations and sickness caused by chlorine odor. However, it is still dangerous for people who are allergic to Cl, so if this is your case, you may want to search for some chlorine-free alternatives.

On the other hand, if you have good tolerance to Cl, you can rely on a conventional system to provide better protection against bacteria and algae.

The Bottom Line

Once you’ve decided on a system, you should know that other aspects need to be taken care of. You will need to decide how to heat the pool or how to save money on heating. At the same time, if you pick a conventional model, you will need to select the right chlorine or sanitizer, while if you pick a saltwater model, you will need to decide for a salt brand. However, if you inform wisely, these steps can be easily walked through, and it won’t take long until you will be able to enjoy the refreshment of your pool. So, don’t wait. Pick a model, install it, and invite your family in. You can even go for an above-ground kit and get things done faster and with considerably less money.

Trystan Jensen
Trystan Jensen
Trystan is a trusted reviewer who has extensive experience in customer satisfaction gained while he worked as a market research analyst. He is well aware of what consumers want, as well as what they expect the most from the acquisitions they make. It is his personal interest in technologies that help improve life quality combined with his attentiveness to detail and customer experience that make Trystan an unending source of qualitative content.