Exterior Pools & Water Features

The Pros and Cons of Saltwater Pools

Learn about the positive and negative aspects of owning and operating a saltwater pool, so you can make an informed decision about whether a saltwater pool is a good choice for your home.
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Backyard pool

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Many people have the impression that the water in a saltwater pool will be similar to ocean water, but that isn’t quite how it works. A saltwater pool actually has about 10 times less salt in the water than the ocean, and this amount needs to be maintained for the pool to remain clean and clear.

Standard chlorine pools rely on regular additions of chlorine or bromine to disinfect the water, while saltwater pools have an electrolytic chlorine generator that breaks down the salt in the pool to generate chlorine. The chlorine that’s released into the water when the salt is broken down sanitizes the pool water in much the same way as store-bought chlorine with one major difference: Saltwater pool chlorine doesn’t produce the same amount of chloramines, which are the byproduct of store-bought chlorine and are primarily responsible for strong chlorine smells, eye redness, and skin irritation.

Related: The Dos and Don’ts of Swimming Pool Maintenance

PRO: Saltwater pool is softer on your eyes and skin.

The electrolytic chlorine generator in a saltwater pool uses electrolysis to split the salt into its component parts, releasing chlorine into the pool water to disinfect the pool. By avoiding the use of store-bought chlorine products, the occurrence of chloramines in the water can be reduced.

This helps to prevent the uncomfortable side effects—and the strong chemical smell—that are common with traditional chlorine pools.

Aluminum sides and support beams are laid out in an excavation during a suburban home swimming pool installation project.
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CON: A saltwater pool is more expensive than a chlorine pool.

While swimming in a saltwater pool feels better on the skin and eyes, it may not feel as good when the bill for the installation comes in. Pools can range from about $10,000 to $40,000 and up on average, depending on whether it’s an in-ground or above-ground pool and whether it’s a fiberglass or gunite pool.

Installing a chlorine system for the pool only costs about $100 to $400, but installing an electrolytic chlorine generator can cost up to $2,500. The generator cell, which ranges from about $200 to $700, will also need to be replaced every few years in a saltwater pool.

PRO: They usually require less maintenance than chlorine pools.

The ongoing chemical-related maintenance tasks associated with owning and operating a non-saltwater pool typically include testing the chemical balance of the water, adding store-bought chlorine, shocking the pool when necessary, and adding additional chemicals to help balance the pH, calcium hardness, total alkalinity, free chlorine, free bromine, and to reduce any heavy metals present in the water.

With a saltwater pool, the electrolytic chlorine generator only adds chlorine as needed, so users don’t need to worry about adding chlorine or having to use multiple chemicals to regularly balance the pool water composition. Just add salt at the beginning of the swimming season and monitor the levels with bi-weekly tests. Add additional salt as necessary to maintain the chlorine levels in the pool.

Technician fixing swimming pool water pump. Service and maintenance for swimming pool.
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CON: Saltwater pools require expert technicians for repairs. 

While repairs to the filter or pump on a chlorine pool should still be handled by an experienced technician, any issues with the pool water composition can typically be fixed by testing the water and adding the necessary chemicals to create the correct balance for safe swimming.

Unfortunately, when it comes to a saltwater pool, most people don’t have the expertise required to deal with repairs on their own. The electrolytic chlorine generator is a complicated piece of equipment that should only be repaired by an expert technician to ensure that it’s working correctly and that the water is safe for swimming.

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PRO: Saltwater pool owners don’t have to store dangerous chlorine at home.

chlorine tablets aren't necessary with a saltwater pool
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Keeping concentrated forms of dangerous chemicals in the home, shed, garage, workshop, or even in a small pool box can pose a hazard to the people, animals, and plants in the surrounding area, and with a chlorine pool, it’s necessary to have these chemicals ready in order to maintain the chemical balance of the pool water.

Saltwater pools use electrolysis to split salt and create the required amount of chlorine with the electrolytic chlorine generator, so users never need to worry about storing bottles or buckets of harmful chemicals including chlorine, bromine, stabilizer, clarifier, algaecide, and more.

Related: The Best Pool Test Kits for Safe Swimming Water

CON: Salt can damage some materials. 

The process of breaking down salt in the water to generate chlorine in order to disinfect the pool comes with a lot of great benefits to swimmers’ skin, eyes, and hair, but the salt is a corrosive component that can damage metal objects, like heaters, ladders, diving board brackets, and more.

Over time, the salt degrades these metals, weakening ladders and brackets, and causing rusting. For this reason, it’s important to regularly inspect the interior and exterior of the pool, including all pool equipment and any nearby structures, like a shed or deck. Try to clean pool water from these surfaces whenever possible, but replace or repair the objects or structures when damage is detected.

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PRO: Saltwater feels softer than traditional chlorine pool water. 

Chlorine pools use store-bought chlorine to help keep the pool water balanced, but these products usually combine chlorine with binders and additives that break down in the water and increase the total dissolved solids in the pool and make the water feel harder on the skin.

The soft feeling that is often associated with saltwater pools is typically due to the low level of chlorine and total dissolved solids in the pool. Because the amount of chlorine in a saltwater pool is controlled by the electrolytic chlorine generator, chlorine levels, while remaining effective, tend to be lower than in a typical pool, where owners often “shock” the pool with high levels of chlorine. Furthermore, generating chlorine via the electrolytic chlorine generator means fewer binders and additives in the water, too.