Let’s have a real talk about swimming pools. It’s unfortunate that something that feels so good to dive into can be so irritating to your skin, hair, eyes, throat, and swimsuit. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably experienced the post-swim chlorine feeling. Your skin feels dry and maybe even a little red, your hair feels like straw, and when you look in the mirror your eyes are edged with a little pink. That’s just no good.
That’s the reason why so many people switch to saltwater. But here’s the kicker: it’s not always chlorine that’s causing that irritation. So although a saltwater pool is usually lauded as the best pool type (and I agree, it’s pretty great!), it’s time to have an accurate conversation about saltwater versus chlorine pools. I’ll explain the real differences between the saltwater and chlorine pools, explain how each work, and break down each of their pros and cons.
At the end of the day, the choice is yours. The right information will help you get there.
What’s the Difference Between Saltwater and Chlorine Pools?
The difference between saltwater and chlorine pools all goes down to how they sanitize your water. Let’s be clear: they both sanitize with the same chemical, which is chlorine. But the source of that chlorine differs, and that’s what makes all the difference. The only other difference is that saltwater pools do require actual pool-grade salt in its waters in order to work, whereas chlorine pools do not.
Because of the way that saltwater pools use chlorine, their waters are generally less irritating for swimmers. And in my opinion, that’s the most important factor to consider when comparing the two. Now let’s break down how each does its thing.
How Does a Chlorine Pool Work?
“Chlorine” is actually a blanket term for about five different chemical compounds: dichlor, trichlor, sodium hypochlorite, lithium hypochlorite, and calcium hypochlorite. And these compounds come in different forms, at different price points, and even differ when it comes to whether or not the sun renders them totally ineffective.
As long as it’s complemented with pool stabilizer, all chlorine works the same. It is added to your pool manually or using a chlorine feeder, and it neutralizes microscopic bacteria and debris. In that process, it creates what are called chloramines, which emit gas, create that “chlorine” smell, and introduce irritation to swimmer bodies, including the respiratory system. In order to create a healthy, less irritating environment for swimmers, chloramines must be blasted out with pool shock at least once a week.
It’s those chloramines, not chlorine, that are responsible for that post-swim “chlorine” feeling.
How Does a Saltwater Pool Work?
A saltwater pool requires a saltwater or chlorine generator, which is also commonly called a salt cell. Instead of using store-bought chlorine, a saltwater pool creates its own chlorine on-site through electrolysis. When you add pool-grade salt to a saltwater generator, it runs that salty water through two electrically charged plates, which converts it to chlorine.
Because saltwater pools produce chlorine on site, that chlorine comes in super low, stable doses. As a result, saltwater pools are proven to create less chloramines, which is why they make for a gentler swim. But keep in mind that they make less chloramines, not no chloramines. That’s why it’s important that pool owners with saltwater pools still shock their waters routinely. Otherwise, those chloramines will build up and the swim will be no different—or even worse—than the irritation associated with a standard chlorine pool.
To keep your circulation system in top shape, you’ll need a reliable, powerful, and energy-saving pump like the ultra-powerful Black & Decker 3 HP Variable-Speed Pump to make sure all your water is sanitized. Plus, it comes with a free warranty, is eligible for rebates, and pays itself off in under a year.
Choosing the Right Pool Type for You
So now you know the real culprit of an irritating swim: chloramines. With that in mind, let’s break down what each pool type has going for it, and where it requires a little bit of an inconvenience.
Chlorine Pool Pros
They’re the standard for a reason. Chlorine is widely available, proven to be safe and effective, and fairly inexpensive.
Choose the right kind for you. Chlorine comes in many different forms—from liquid, to granules, to tablets—and can be added in a few different ways. Some forms include a pool stabilizer, too, so that you don’t have to manually add it in.
You don’t have to go the manual route. If you’re not a fan of constantly checking and adding chlorine to your pool (but constantly, I mean every week or so), then you can install a chlorine feeder. This device attaches to your return pipes and automatically feeds chlorine into your water at the rate that you set.
Chlorine Pool Cons
More chloramines, more problems. Chlorine produces more chloramines, and needs to be shocked more frequently than saltwater pools. But even then, using this sanitizer is usually asking for more irritating water than that of a saltwater pool.
Saltwater Pool Pros
Gentler, softer water. Although saltwater pools use the same type of chlorine that you’d find in any chlorine pool, the fact that there’s less of it, that it’s super stable, and that its complemented by salt all work together to make the water similar to the salinity of the human tear duct. The result? No stinging eyes, skin, nose, or throat.
Easier maintenance. With a saltwater pool, the amount of chemicals you need to maintain are reduced, and can be looked at less frequently, up to every two weeks. You’ll still need to vacuum your pool (or use a robotic cleaner like my top recommended model, the Blue Torrent MyBot In Ground Robotic Pool Cleaner), and check that everything is operating properly, as well as routinely clean your equipment.
Save money over time. The salt that you’ll need to add to your system is wildly inexpensive—in fact, if your pool is properly maintained, it’ll cost less than $100 a year in salt and chemicals, whereas a chlorine pool typically costs between $300 and $800.
Saltwater Pool Cons
The switch to saltwater is expensive. Here’s the up-front cost to get your saltwater pool converted: a saltwater generator costs between $400 and $1,800 and the installation can be $300 to $500, unless you can do it yourself. Plus, you’ll want to install a sacrificial anode on the equipment, which only an electrician should do for safety purposes. This will keep your system from corroding due to salt exposure.
You might have to call in a pro. Because the greater circulation system can be a little more complicated with the addition of the salt cell, it might be harder to fix any problem that arises without calling in an expert—and footing the bill.
They use slightly more energy. And I mean slightly. In comparison to what it costs to run a chlorine pool, a saltwater pool will cost you about $35-$50 more per year. That’s why it’s important if you do get a saltwater pool (and always!) to use a variable-speed pump.
Keep your sanitizer working at its highest capacity by switching to a powerful automatic cleaner that works on its own. Look no further than the Blue Torrent MyBot Inground Robotic Cleaner, which works powerfully to keep your walls and floor sparkling clean. As customer David Lain says, “Very pleased. My wife loves it.” Check out this user review to find out more.
The Choice is Yours!
Now you know the facts, and you can make an informed decision about what kind of pool type is best for you. Because at the end of the day, that’s part of what it means to be a pool owner: you can tailor your swim to your preferences, from water temperature to type of sanitizer. It’s all you. Enjoy.