Things You Should Know Before Converting Your Swimming Pool From Chlorine To A Salt Water System

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What’s better… a salt water pool or a chlorinated pool?

Boy, that question will bring out a dozen different opinions!

Looking through the information available on the Internet alone (see the list of links at the end of this article), one can easily become overwhelmed.  Passions seem to run both ways as to which is better — salt vs. chlorine.

 

PROS: Good Things About A Salt Water Pool

Salt pool systems became popular because:

  • They’re very low maintenanceat first.
  • They require very little in the way of expensive chemicals or day-to-day upkeep.
  • The convenience of always being swim ready and always having soft water sure beats the harsh red eye and dry skin experiences that can result with a chlorinated pool system.

After a swim in a new salt water pool, most people could easily be convinced that a salt pool system is the way to go.

But, how would things measure up 3 years after you’ve converted your chlorine pool system to a salt pool system?

Here are some things to think about…

 

CONS: Downsides Of A Salt Water Swimming Pool

Any salt-rich environment is going to be hard on components.  There’s no doubt about it, salt speeds up wear & tear. (But hang tight — there is some good news at the end of this post!)

Case in point: I once bought a car that had spent its 5-year life on an island in the South Pacific.  The last 4 inches of the trunk lid had literally dissolved away.  This was a common occurrence, thanks to all the salt in the air.

Back to your 3-year-old salt pool system…

In that first 3 years, you will likely be faced with several issues:

  • Chances are, the deck around your pool will turn to mush and need to be replaced.
  • Not unlike the highway salt that destroys bridges and freeway supports over time, any concrete, brick, or stone facing around your pool will likely become coated with a powdery flaking material and mortar will weaken and eventually fall out.
  • A minor water leak around the pump in a chlorine pool system would be a simple nuisance that could be ignored without fear of further damage.  But with a salt water system, a leaking pump would likely seize up within a few days and need to be replaced.
  • Don’t forget the diving board and pool ladders.  Metal parts and that nice chrome finish can disintegrate in a matter of months and the weakened structures may need to be completely removed after about a year.
  • Pool lights, basketball hoops, even that nice looking lawn furniture — can all be destroyed by salt.  Anything within 20 feet or so of a salt water swimming pool is destined to have an extremely short lifespan.

 

What About Chemical Savings?

Now, let’s look at the savings in chemicals over that same 3-year time period…

Yes, you will save on monthly chemicals that a chlorinated pool system requires.

But… after putting salt through your pool’s chlorine generator cell for 3 years, you will have decreased its life and a new chlorine generator cell will soon be necessary.  That expense will pretty much wipe out any savings from chemicals that you might have initially experienced.

This video explains how chlorine generator cells work, and what makes them fail:

 

Now For The Good News…

Many of these types of corrosion issues pop up when an existing pool that was designed for chlorine is converted to a salt water system.  IF the original construction didn’t account for corrosive materials (such as salt), then the effect of continual salt saturation can quickly destroy much of your pool.

However, much of the above kinds of damage from salt can be avoided by building from scratch with materials known to withstand the effects of salt.

In the end, deciding between a salt pool system and a chlorine pool system means doing some homework first.  It’s important to understand the long-term cost implications before you jump in and convert a chlorinated pool to a salt water pool.

A word of advice from an experienced pool repair man:

If a salt water pool has ten times as much salt as a traditional chlorine pool then this means that the rate of galvanic corrosion also increases ten times when you switch to salt water. Doesn’t this sound like the kind of thing that someone should have mentioned to you when you asked about adding salt water to your pool? I sure think so, but even today you don’t need to look very far to find a pool guy boasting all about how “salt water pools are maintenance free” or “salt water is better than chlorine”. Salt water is not better than chlorine. Salt water is chlorine. Source

 

More About Salt Water Pools

In addition to the links I’ve included above, here are some other resources to help you decide if it makes sense to convert your chlorinated pool into a salt water swimming pool:

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24 thoughts on “Things You Should Know Before Converting Your Swimming Pool From Chlorine To A Salt Water System”

    • Let me start by saying I do not build pools or sell chemicals and I am in no
      way related to the pool industry. Five yrs ago I bought a salt system pool. My
      observations; you will constantly add acid (gallon/month) to keep ph down, you
      will have a salt ring (this is where the sodium goes) around your water line,
      and in 5 years your salt cell ($500) and Printed Circuit Board ($200) will need
      replaced. Don’t forget to add the 150 watt power draw from the T cell.

      All the crap about dry skin and hair with chlorine is the result of people
      letting their chlorine get to high like at a public pool where they jack it up
      for the people that use it as a bath or toilet (Caddy Shack). Solution; Don’t
      let your chlorine get to high, duh.

      I am switching to chlorine like the rest of the people on my street.  This entails nothing more than replacing the
      T cell with a chlorine tablet holder.

      Pool builders will push salt because they will fix your salt generator (the
      real cost) but usually do not sell chlorine (the chlorine pool real cost).

      My salt honeymoon is over and yours will be after 5 years also.

      Reply
      • I have a salt clorine generation sysytem for our home pool. It has been nothing but perferct for the last 3 years and I have never added any acid!
        The Salt Ring? You’re joking, right? There is no salt ring! The salt does not seperate on the top of the pool, there is no lefover sodium, if you left your pool in the sun to evaporate (theoretically), you would have all the salt put into your pool!
        The chrome ladder? Ohn that;s still shiny too! I did replace all the screw arount the skimmer and caps with Stainless Steel, because that was just common sense!

        Reply
      • We had our pool built less than 2 years ago and have a salt generator system (Compupool). Although the water is great for hair and skin, we have had nothing but problems with the cell housing leaking despite all of the repairs made. In addition, since we are in Arizona and have lots of evaporation, we DO have to add about 2 quarts of Acid per week to keep the PH in check. And yes, we do get a ring around the pool, probably more from the calcium in the water but still annoying. So, as of today, we are kissing the salt idea goodbye and switching to chlorine. Our honeymoon is over too!!

        Reply
      • I’m ready to do the same. How did u switch to chlorine? Just disconnect the saltwater generator and add floating chlorine tablet holder? I’m not sure HOW to make the switch? Is it as easy as just putting chlorine in one of those floaters and letting it loose?

        Reply
      • I know this thread is old (hell, ancient in internet terms) but what people don’t understand, they tend to discredit. That “ring” was calcium from your hard water. Failure to keep Ph in line will cause the calcium (and other metals) to precipitate out onto whatever available surface there is. And, yes, SWG are maintenance nightmares if you a) buy a trouble-prone brand and/or b) fail to do the required maintenance. Pool builders push salt because it’s an item they can sell and not have to service. You or your pool guy should be educated.

        Reply
  1. The guy saying salt water pools eat up decks and corrode the pumps etc. is an idiot. I’d never let him near ANY pool to service it. They do no such thing unless your way over-doing the treatment or spilling salt all over the place. There is no more “salt” in salt-water pool water than there is in a teardrop. It’s really not a salt water pool at all, it just uses salt to naturally create chlorine and treat the water.

    Reply
    • I agree. What kinda salt ruins decks?? I own a pool repair company and with over 2200 pools fixed, I have never seen this type of problem. Ocean has 35000 ppm a tear drop 9000ppm and pools 2800-3000ppm. Badly written

      Reply
      • It’s not the NaCl that corrodes all those things but the Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) that is responsible in corrosion and it is a strong base. Salt cell ads only claim that reaction of NaCl + H2O > Cl2 + H2O but that fact is it also produces NaOH. Salt systems are more efficient and lower maintenance as long as pH and is always checked regularly.

        Reply
    • You know this: Salt Cell systems are fine for hands-on people who do their own pool maintenance and understand it. But they’re a headache for customers who want things “problem-free”. Salt Cell systems are just another huge expense for a piece of machinery that can and will go bad soon.
      It’s far easier to dump a gallon of pool chlorine in a pool once a week, than it is to 1) Buy a cell for $800 or more 2) Installing the thing 3) Clean the cell with muriatic acid every 3 months 4) Deal with a control board that isn’t always accurate 5) Replacing the whole damn system every 5 years.

      Aside from low-end pumps that inevitably fail… salt cell systems are the biggest waste of time and money a pool owner could ever get involved with

      Reply
        • Yes you can. The salt cell will contribute to a little bit of water-resistance to the flow (just like an inoperative heater), but this is no big deal.

          Reply
  2. Its all about maintance regardless however the salt water is turing into cholrine anyways so we are all swimming un chlorine at the end of the day!!

    Reply
  3. The active chemical in both is chlorine. The material make up of the
    hardware is critical (marine brass is the preferred metal) but regardless there
    are systems (catholic protection) that have been used for decades in marine and
    pipe lines that greatly reduce the impact of chlorine in both standard and
    saltwater system.

    My professional training is as an EE my work was in the
    marine and oil patch for near 50 years so *I* have both theoretical and real
    world practical knowledge of how the stuff works.

    As to circuit boards and
    electronics employ proper protection. Encasement/enclosing the electronics it vapor/water
    proof cabinets is a plus. We had a salt water pool on property that was hit by
    Katrina. The only thing working after the (salt) water went down was the pool
    equipment.

    Reply
    • That’s a joke, right? I’m hoping so, because a chemical-free swimming pool would be positively rife with algae, fungi, bacteria, and other microbes.

      Reply
      • There are now counties in California that now have vaccination rates of less than 30% because people are scared of chemicals. If people won’t protect their own children from deadly diseases due to a fear of chemicals, it’s not particularly surprising that they question their use in swimming pools….

        Reply
    • Why yes! In fact, swimming pools were originally chemical-free!
      Many people died or were paralyzed for life from polio as a result.
      You can’t just put tap water into a hole in the ground lined with concrete.
      Try saving water by running your bathtub once. Leave the water in there. Have each family member spend a half hour in it daily. I’m sure you’ll quickly understand why a chemical-free pool wouldn’t work.
      (Also, a chemical-free pool would be empty. Water is a chemical. H2O — hydrogen and oxygen atoms, bonded through the magic of chemistry.)

      Reply

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