Salt vs. Chlorine for Swimming Pools


Authored by Douglas Mefford in Home Improvement 
Published on 12-05-2009

The luxury of a swimming pool in your home is only counterbalanced by the need to keep the water safe and clean. Bacteria and algae can make the water in a pool both discolored and unhealthy to be in. Of the three major types of pool cleaning systems, salt and chlorine are by far the most popular as ultraviolet light systems are still new and in the improvement stage. There are both good points and bad about each of these systems and it is up to the individual to decide which one will work best for them.

Initial costs of a salt water system are higher that those of a chlorine system. The balance would come over time as the upkeep on a salt system is less than that of a chlorine system. With chlorine you have to keep monitoring the chemical balance regularly and keep caustic and toxic chemicals around to use to keep the water safe. Salt water systems are mostly self-monitoring and self-balancing. The salt used to maintain the pool is safe to be around. Instead of testing the water on a daily basis, salt systems only need to be double-checked weekly, or even less often, to keep them regulated.

With either system you will still have chlorine in your pool’s water. With chemical chlorine you add it directly along with other balancing chemicals and catalysts to keep it safe for humans. The salt water system uses an electrolysis unit to break down the salt to release chlorine. There is less chlorine in a well-balanced salt water system and thus the incidence of a strong chlorine smell is diminished.

In chlorine treated water you have the standard problems of burning, itchy eyes, irritated skin, and the slow destruction of swimsuit materials. Salt water is much easier on the skin. Salt water will actually condition the skin and hair and make them feel better without damage. Salt water does not deteriorate swimsuit fabrics. They both keep algae buildup from forming. A salt water system is safer when you have children around as there are no toxic chemicals around for them to get into.

Both systems do require a circulation pump to keep the anti-algae products well stirred into the water. Since salt systems work on a lower parts-per-million chlorine level, they do require longer runs on the circulation pump than a chlorine system. This will add somewhat to your electrical usage for maintaining the pool. Again, though, salt is less expensive than chlorine and its required accompanying chemicals so the overall price of upkeep again balances.

The biggest disadvantage to a salt system only occurs if the pool is not maintained. It is remotely possible that the equipment will get out of balance with its self-regulator and cause a “runaway chlorine” environment. If this happens there is a chance of dissolving the heat exchanger in a matter of days. This is, however, a very rare occurrence and only if the pool is left unchecked at intervals. Replacement parts for both systems run about the same although pool technicians may charge more to work on a salt system, as they are not yet as common as chlorine systems.

In all, it is up to the individual to decide. Chlorine systems take more time to keep check on. Salt systems may cost a bit more due to the longer time needed to run the circulation pump. Both systems give the same basic results and, over the long run, about the same expense.


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