Pool owners today have more options than ever in design, construction and even the systems used to keep their pools clean. Saltwater and chlorine systems each have advantages, so if you’re weighing your options (or considering installing a saltwater purification system), here’s how they compare.
Saltwater systems do cost more upfront, but tend to save money over the long-term because you don’t need to buy as many chemicals. On the flip side, a saltwater generator does need to run for several hours a day (as much as 12 hours a day in summer), so there are extra electricity costs to factor in. If you are planning to keep your pool for many years, a saltwater system may be a good investment, as it can pay for itself over time. Chlorine pools are less expensive to install, but do require regular purchase of chemicals for as long as you own the pool.
Both systems actually do use chlorine. A saltwater system creates chlorine through electrolysis, pulling the chloride from sodium chloride (simple table salt) to sanitize the pool. In a saltwater pool, you have to monitor the salt-to-water balance to ensure adequate sanitization. To make sure a chlorine pool is properly sanitized, you will need to measure pH, alkaline and calcium levels regularly and add chemicals as needed to keep those levels in balance. How often you need to add chemicals will depend on how often you use your pool and the installer’s maintenance recommendations. Chlorine pools do clear bacteria faster—usually in 1-2 days versus 3-5 days for saltwater.
Saltwater pools need one major annual maintenance routine, which involves draining the pool to clean it, check the saltwater generator and look for any corrosion from the saltwater. This can be a big, labor-intensive job. Chlorine pools require continuous, but less intense maintenance. Owners of chlorine pools do need to monitor more chemical levels, but can accomplish most of what needs to be done by adding chlorine tablets to their system, often through automatic means like a pump.
Saltwater pools tend to have a lower level of chlorine, making them easier on skin and eyes. (Saltwater pools are also only about 10% as salty as ocean water.) Chlorine pools require owners to keep and handle serious chemicals and that can be a safety concern. However, chlorine pools have been the standard for more 60 years (about twice as long as saltwater systems), making many owners confident in how they work and how to maintain them.
While both systems have pros and cons, they do both win on one point. No matter which system you choose, when you install a pool you can have a cool dip anytime you want right in your own backyard.