Saltwater swimming pools are increasingly popular, but how safe are they?
Salt or chlorine-which does a better job at keeping your pool clean?
Chlorination has been the traditional method of pool sanitation for decades-almost by default, since there were no alternatives for this crucial aspect of owning a swimming pool. However, for many pool owners, chlorination is an old and outdated pool sanitation method they’ve discarded in favor of maintaining a saltwater pool.
So what’s the problem with chlorine, anyway? It does exactly what it needs to-kills algae and bacteria, keeping the pool attractive and more importantly, a safe and sanitary place to swim. A pool that doesn’t get regular chlorine treatments will quickly become clogged with thick green algae. Depending on where you live, and especially in warmer months, an untreated pool can become a green, sludgy nightmare inside of a week—the chlorine is definitely important.
If you maintain a chlorinated pool, however, it’s not enough to dump chlorine in periodically and let the pool fend for itself. There are other chemicals to add too, as well as regular testing to keep an eye on water quality. For example, you must make sure there is enough free available chlorine (meaning chlorine that is active) in the water to keep up with sanitizing the water. This is usually done with the use of weekly chlorine tablets.
Another important aspect of this maintenance is pH levels-the acidity or alkalinity of the water. If the pH gets too high, the chlorine in the pool isn’t able to work as efficiently. However, if the pH drops too low, the water quickly becomes too acidic to swim in comfortably. Keeping the pH at the right level is somewhat difficult, because the range at which it’s ˜just right” is very narrow and many factors, including rain, affect this.
Chlorine is important for sanitation, but for many people it is also a source of irritation. The harsh chemicals that are added to pre-packaged pool chlorine irritate the skin and eyes, making swimming a highly unpleasant experience. It is important to note that it’s not the chlorine that is the problem- in most cases it’s the chemicals which are added to the pre-packaged mix.
The main advantage of a saltwater pool isn’t that it doesn’t use chlorine. In fact, a saltwater pool does use chlorine to keep the water clean. The advantage is that the pool owner doesn’t add chlorine to the pool—that means no pre-packaged chlorine and less irritation for people who are sensitive to the added chemicals. Saltwater tends to be much softer than chlorinated water, so it’s much more pleasurable to swim in, and is much less harsh on your skin. In addition, a saltwater pool usually has a much lower concentration of chlorine than a chlorinated pool.
Another important benefit of saltwater pools is more of a long-term one. In the short term, converting from chlorine to a saltwater pool will involve some cash outlay, since there are a few system components you’ll need to by. It will run approximately $1400-$1800 to convert a traditional chlorine system to a saltwater system. Over two or three years, however, the money you spend is recouped due to not having to buy extra chlorine for the pool; your expenses will be limited to bags of salt, which is much less expensive.
Just to be clear, saltwater pools do in fact use chlorine to sanitize and the water. So if you are not adding chlorine tablets or shock, how does that work?
It works because of the chemical composition of salt, which is made up of chlorine and sodium. Within the saltwater system is a unit called a salt-chlorine generator, which uses electrolysis to generate chlorine by separating the sodium and chlorine molecules in the salt you add to the pool. As the generator unit separates out the chlorine, it’s returned to the pool, where it keeps the water clean and sanitary.
A well-maintained saltwater pool is an absolute delight to swim in, with softer, more comfortable water that doesn’t irritate. It doesn’t taste salty, either, as you might think, because it has such a low concentration of salt that it’s considered to be fresh water! In the ocean, the salt concentration is between 20,000 to 35,000 parts per million, whereas in a salt water pool, it is just 2,600 to 3,200.
Finally, don’t be fooled into thinking that a saltwater pool maintains itself. It doesn’t. You still need to check pH levels and carry out other maintenance tasks. However, you’ll benefit from lower maintenance costs and a more enjoyable swimming experience, which definitely makes it worthwhile.