Salt Systems- What are they, and what do they do?

School Summary:

We see customers with salt pools every day, and I wanted to take a minute to discuss some common misconceptions about saltwater chlorine generators

Salt pools explained

We see customers with salt pools every day, and I wanted to take a minute to discuss some common misconceptions about saltwater chlorine generators, what a salt cell actually does, and common maintenance issues that a pool owner will encounter with salt water pools.

Most importantly, remember that a “Salt Water” pool is actually a chlorine pool. The difference between a “traditional chlorine pool” and a “salt pool” is how the chlorine gets into the water. In the traditional pool, you would introduce chlorine into the water via chlorine tablets (or pucks) in a chlorinator or floater in the pool. These erode slowly over time releasing chlorine into the water to fight organisms, algae, and other undesirable compounds in the water. If you run out of tablets, or go on vacation and forget to refill the chlorinator before leaving, there’s a good chance you may return to a pool that doesn’t look the greatest.

What is a salt pool?

In a salt pool, chlorine is made from the salt in the water- I won’t bore you with details, but if you go to our “Pool School” page on salt cells, it shows the science behind it. As long as the salt levels are correct per manufacturer instructions (Pentair’s Intellichlor model, for instance, recommends 3300 PPM Salt to operate at peak capacity), the cell will produce chlorine. Assuming we don’t see heavy amounts of rain, or there isn’t a tremendous amount of water loss (through splash out, leaks, etc.) the cell will continue to produce chlorine with very little input from the pool owner.

I personally have a salt pool, and I really like how easy it is to deal with. It took some time of trial and error to get the chemical levels where I wanted them, but the better feel of the water on my skin and hair made it worth it. I’ve been in standard chlorine pools all my life, and I really enjoy the difference the salt water feels like.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Salt pools

Some advantages of salt over traditional chlorine are

  • Softer hair and skin
  • Less eye irritation (assuming pH levels are in range)
  • Marginally less maintenance and the system is a little bit more forgiving if you’re the type to forget to add tablets

Some disadvantages of salt are

  • The cell is expensive to replace- think of it similarly to a candle- there is a set lifespan of the cell (usually 3-5 years), and though you think you may have saved a bunch of money by not buying tablets, all your savings are eliminated when you have to buy a new cell
  • The process of making chlorine in a salt pool drives the pH of the water higher. Salt pool owners always have muriatic acid (or dry acid) on hand to lower pH- chlorine is less effective at higher pH levels. This is especially critical during summer when the chlorine demand is highest
  • It can be hard on metal furniture, games around the pool area, etc. Make sure all items near the pool are salt safe, or rinse them with fresh water periodically
  • Salt pools in the DFW area may experience erosion problems on stone, especially Oklahoma Flagstone. We recommend sealing any stone around a salt pool to minimize this erosion and reapply as necessary.

Testing Requirements

Water testing is handled the same way in both pool types, except you need to have the salt and Cyanuric acid (stabilizer) tested roughly once per month to make sure your levels are correct. We also recommend testing pH twice a week (at a minimum) to ensure the pH levels stay in range. Nearly every professional pool store can perform these tests for you.

Ultimately, the decision to use salt water chlorination or not depends on your specific situation, materials, and maintenance habits. We recommend talking to professionals and pool owners to get a more complete picture than can be provided here. We are happy to help you make that decision.

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