Last Updated: July 19, 2021

Saltwater Pool Benefits, Disadvantages, and Costs (Full Breakdown)

Written By: Pool Care Guide

Most would justifiably assume that the common chlorine pool is chlorinated and a saltwater pool is not. That actually isn’t the case. These two types of sanitization are only indicative of the method to which chlorine is added. It also happens to be the case that saltwater pools require much less chlorine. Among several other benefits, this makes the saltwater pool healthier and less irritable to the human body. We will touch on the specifics in a few paragraphs.

What Does it Cost?

Costs

Saltwater PoolChlorine Pool
Initial Investment$1,000 - $5,000None / No Special Equipment
Annual Maintenance$70 to $100$300 - $800
Cell Replacement (Every 3 to 5 Years)$200 to $700None / No Cells

We want to get this out of the way because it can be a significant hurdle. Saltwater pools are not cheap; at least not initially. The entry fee to a saltwater pool will float somewhere between $1,000 and $5,000. Of course, this is on top of the construction costs of building the actual pool. The cost isn’t dismissible for many, but converting to a saltwater pool can be an amazing addition to those that can afford it.

Saltwater pools are famous for cutting the annual maintenance costs of their owners. While it is true in almost all cases, it may not save as much as many would expect. Because saltwater pools require chlorine generators and chlorine pools don’t, some additional expenses need to be factored into the annual estimates.

Chlorine generators can be separated into two main sections. The first is the control board and the second is the salt cell. The control board, barring any unusual circumstances, won’t give you much trouble. The cell, however, will need to be replaced every three to five years. The cell is where the salt is separated into its constituent parts so that we can harvest its chlorine for the sanitization of the pool.

Referring to the table above, we can calculate a range of potential expenses. With that range, you can see a crossover point where the saltwater pool can potentially become more expensive, annually speaking, than its chlorine counterpart. Let us show you what we mean.

Saltwater High-Cost Estimation

  • Annual Maintenance: $70
  • Cell Replacement: $700 every 3 Years = $233.33 (Annually)
  • Revised Averaged Annual: $333.33 (Annual Maintenance + Cell Replacement Cost)

The cheapest annual chlorine pool maintenance is $300, so you could end up paying $33.33 extra each year.

Saltwater Low-Cost Estimation

If everything goes smoothly and your annual costs are on the cheap end of this financial spectrum, this is what your expenses could look like

  • Annual Maintenance: $100
  • Cell Replacement: $200 every 5 Years = $40 (Annually)
  • Revised Averaged Annual: $140 (Annual Maintenance + Cell Replacement Cost)

Now that is more like it! Those are the kinds of savings that people want from their saltwater pools. Of course, you do still have that initial investment, so don’t forget to factor that into the cost.

Saltwater Pool Benefits and Disadvantages

Even if you do pay in the higher range of that table of expenses, you aren’t paying too much more. The more that you do pay can get you some nice benefits, as well as a few disadvantages. Let’s go over the details

Benefits

Lower Chlorine Levels

In chlorine pools, the amount of chlorine used is much higher than that of saltwater pools. This is partially reflected in the annual maintenance costs. The lower chlorine levels are partially due to the benefit of setting the rate at which the salt is converted into chlorine. If the levels aren’t ideal, turn up the power. If you have too much chlorine, simply turn down the knob.

You won’t need to continually add copious amounts of chlorine into the pool to counteract the constant depletion via evaporation. The steady addition of chlorine allows you to maintain sufficient amounts of chlorine without putting so much in that it irritates the skin.

Weekly Maintenance Becomes Easy

One significant advantage of saltwater sanitation systems is that they are automated. You’ll need to figure out the rate that which chlorine needs to be generated. When you do, you can adjust the saltwater generator to meet that demand. You will no longer need to add chlorine every few days because the levels should barely fluctuate.

Eliminates the “Pool Smell”

To the general public, the “pool smell” is often attributed to chlorine. This is close to the truth but ultimately incorrect. The smell doesn’t come from chlorine but from chloramines. Chloramines are the byproduct of using chlorine to sanitize a pool. When chlorine is added, the chlorine attaches to a pool contaminant and mutates the contaminant’s protein structures. This essentially destroys that contaminant and its ability to spread. The combined remnants of the chlorine and contaminants are what we call chloramines, and those chloramines create the “pool smell.”

One fantastic benefit of saltwater generators is that they dismantle these chloramines into their constituent parts. The electrolysis process that we’ll describe in “How Do Saltwater Pools Work?” goes into a bit of detail. If you’re interested, we highly recommend reading it. It’s a fascinating bit of technology.

Side Note - Most of these chloramines are going to be this will come from attaching to ammonia which is readily given off by humans through sweat and urine. That is why you should take a shower before entering a pool. As far as the “pool smell” goes, this obviously becomes less necessary in a saltwater pool.

Less Chlorine, Less Bleaching

It shouldn’t surprise you to know that less chlorine means less bleaching. Your clothes won’t fade as quickly. Also, if you’re hair is blonde, it won’t be as quick to turn into a festive green. That sounds like a plus to us. 

Water Feels Smoother. You Might Be Smoother.

Smooth water can often be a sign of needing more calcium in your pool. Of course, this is a matter of personal preference. However, most seem to enjoy the feeling of smooth water, so we are listing it as a benefit. The source of this benefit is attributed to saltwater generators breaking up chloramines into their constituent parts. Apparently, reducing chloramines creates smoother water.

There are a lot of people that have adverse reactions to the chlorine in pool water. It varies from person to person, but it can be something as little as drier skin to more noticeable bumps and rashes. 

We haven’t found any studies on this, but many have claimed that saltwater pools improve the health of their skin. Not only does everything look clearer and healthier, but their skin supposedly also feels smoother. 

Natural Relaxant, Antiepileptic, Reduces Joint Pain

Bromide, not to be confused with Bromine, is naturally added to saltwater pools. Bromide has several benefits that many have claimed to notice. According to Wikipedia, bromide is both a natural sedative and an antiepileptic. 

Many regular swimmers claim that their joint pain is reduced after a swim. This is likely attributed to the low impact of a water-based sport and potentially the sedating effects of the bromide.

Benefits aside, we don’t recommend purposely drinking the stuff. There are infinitely better alternatives that are better suited to the task. Historically speaking, when Bromide was medically administered, it was often used at toxic levels to achieve the desired results. It shouldn’t be any cause for concern as far as your pool goes. The amount is too small to be of real concern. 

Of course, that could also indicate that the pain relief is more of a placebo effect and the weightless environment rather than a chemically-based treatment for the pain. Since we can’t find any studies that address this, we can’t give any definitive answers.

Disadvantages

There are indeed many advantages to a saltwater pool. However, there are just as many disadvantages. You need to be aware of them because some of the potential downfalls should eliminate a saltwater pool off of some people’s wish lists.

Constantly Rising pH Levels

You won’t need to worry about adding chlorine twice a week, but you will need to monitor your pH levels. Chlorine generators separate the salt’s sodium from its chloride to produce the chlorine that it needs to sanitize the pool. 

The downside is that the newly freed sodium is ready to mingle with any nearby molecules. Sodium is submerged in a pool of hydrogen and oxygen, so its potential choices in molecular companions are basically determined. When sodium combines with hydrogen and oxygen, it forms sodium hydroxide. Unfortunately, sodium hydroxide has a high pH. 

Since chlorine generators never stop producing chlorine, they also never stop producing sodium hydroxide.  That means your pH levels will never stop rising. When pH rises, chlorine becomes increasingly ineffective.

Now, there are products for this, so it isn’t really a problem. If you happen to live in an area with frequent or exceptionally acidic rain, it might slow down this rise in pH. However, regardless of where you live, you should test your pH levels frequently.

Constant Scaling Issues

If you have a saltwater pool, you are almost certainly going to have calcium scaling issues. The unfortunate fact about chlorine generators is that they are essentially calcium scale farms since they inadvertently create the ideal conditions to build calcium scales. First, you have warmth. Second, you have high pH (low acidity). If your city supplies hard water to your house, you officially have the trifecta that will bring a plague of calcium to your home.

For most people, this really shouldn’t be a dealbreaker. Pools have always been a chemical balancing act, and a saltwater pool is generally easier to maintain than a “chlorine” pool. That said, it is something that should remain front and center within your mind. Scaling issues are why the salt cells within chlorine generators need to be replaced every 3 to 5 years. 

Scaling Issue Update

In recent years, there have been some improvements to the salt cell design. You can buy what has been termed, “self-cleaning chlorinators” This is a notable advancement that improves upon the electrode design. within the salt cell. Electrodes are what channel the positive and negative electrical charges from the generator’s terminals to the salt cell. This is a vital function of electrolysis that is used to separate the salt’s sodium from its chloride. We won’t get into that here since we have another article, “How Do Saltwater Pools Work?” that already goes into much more detail.

The important detail to note is that Calcium is attracted to negatively charged electrodes. In a normal salt cell, that negative electrode would slowly become encased in calcium deposits. As it did, the salt cell’s ability to generate chlorine would decline more and more until the salt cell needed to be replaced.

With self-cleaning chlorinators, the useful lifetime of these electrodes has been extended. This is achieved by periodically and automatically swapping the polarities of the electrodes. When this happens, some of the calcium scales fall off of the electrodes. It isn’t a perfect solution because not all of the calcium scales will fall off. Still, it is a welcome improvement.

Replacing the Salt Cells

This is a disadvantage, so we wanted to list it. However, we’ve already gone over this point, so let’s move on to the next one.

Human Error Can Cause Unhealthy Chlorination Levels

Chlorine generators are fantastic. You set how much chlorine you need, and they will keep producing it. Problems arise when humans set those chlorine levels too high:

  • Breathing Problems
  • Dry Skin
  • Eye Irritation
  • Bleached clothing
  • Dyes hair green

Myth: Salt Water is Corrosive

Before we go, we feel the need to bring some clarity to a pervasive myth that has been rampant within the saltwater pool community. In almost all scenarios, salt water is not the primary cause of the corrosion of your pool. We completely understand why people think it is, but please give us a moment to explain why this isn’t the case.

There is a natural connection to the idea of the salty ocean that brings so much corrosion to coastal towns. However, the amount of salt in the ocean and the vastness of the ocean completely outclasses any potential impact that the salt in a pool could make. In the ocean, the average salt content is somewhere around 35,000 parts per million (ppm). In pools, that number will typically be between 2,700 and 3,400. That’s less than 10% of the salt.

The Real Culprits: Chloramines and Galvanic Corrosion

The real culprits causing all of this corrosion can be found in the chloramines, improper bonding, and improper grounding.

Chloramines are the molecular compounds created when chlorine binds to a contaminant in the pool. Most often, this bond is going to be with ammonia from sweat and urine. Those chloramines corrode metal and corrode it at a much faster rate than the salt in your pool could hope to accomplish. Most likely, if your pool equipment and furniture are experiencing a lot of corrosion, chloramines are the likely cause.
Within the pool, the culprit is often the improper channeling of electricity. When the pool is constructed, engineers should bond and ground the pool equipment to prevent galvanic corrosion. It is a concept difficult to explain in a few paragraphs. Instead, we will refer you to another article on “How to Prevent Galvanic Corrosion in Your Pool.”

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