Chlorine Pools Versus Salt Water Pools: Which Is Best?

Written by Published in Pool Construction

Salt water or chlorine?

This is one of the most common questions we get here at California Poolside. Both have theirs pros and cons, and it isn’t as simple as chlorine is tried and true or salt water pools are newer and better.

One of the biggest differences is the way you go about cleaning the pools. Either way we have some tips the make it easy to keep your pool clean.

But I digress, onto the subject at hand!

If you’re thinking of installing a new pool soon, it’s time to weigh your options. Should you build a chlorine pool or a salt water pool? Let’s put these sanitization systems head to head and find out.

Chlorine Pools

Chlorine pools are the familiar choice for most prospective pool buyers. Chlorine is cheap and effective, and everyone knows chlorine is THE pool cleaner.

At the start, chlorine pools are very cheap to open and maintain, much cheaper than salt water pools (we’ll get to that in a bit). However, chlorine pools are more difficult and time-consuming to maintain as time goes on.

That’s because chlorine pools require constant balancing of various chemicals, and monitoring that needs to be done at daily, weekly and monthly intervals. Alkalinity, pH, calcium hardness and available chlorine levels are just some of the factors chlorine pool owners must stay on top of.

Luckily, testing is quite simple, and correcting chemical imbalances is just as easy. You can find tips for this in our post common pool troubleshooting tips.

The frustrating side of owning a chlorine pool comes when owners fail to keep up with these routine check-ups, and water conditions become nasty or even dangerous. Skin irritation and algae overgrowth are just two of the side effects of ignoring your chlorine pool’s health, and require shock treatments and thorough cleaning to correct.

But shock is also needed at weekly intervals to cleanse chlorine pools of chloramines, basically the leftover ‘deactivated’ chlorine that’s already helped sanitize your pool. When chloramines build up, your pool can take on an unpleasant odor—which, again, is why routine testing is necessary for chlorine pools.

Salt Water Pools

First of all, I have to get this off my chest—salt water pools actually do use chlorine. There, I said it. However, chlorine levels in salt water pools are lower than chlorine pools.

Plus, you aren’t the one tossing chlorine into a salt water pool. It’s actually produced via electrolysis in the pool’s salt water generator. As a result, salt water pools tend to dry out your skin much less than chlorinated pools.

But let’s talk about that generator. As you can imagine, the salt water generator is a big investment that turns some people off salt water pools altogether.

The generator constantly churns out chlorine, and is actually better at keeping pools clean than a typical chlorinated pool. Besides those up-front costs for purchasing the generator, you have to factor in electrical costs. During pool season (just about all year in SoCal), you may have to leave the generator running up to 12 hours per day. That adds up.

When you first set up your salt water generator, you’ll need to watch your pool’s chlorine levels and create an ideal routine so you’re not running the generator too much or too little. But from there, it’s smooth sailing.

Bear in mind that the longer you own your pool, the better investment a salt water generator is. While the generator requires more money at the start, over the years it will pay for itself as you don’t have to buy chlorine, testing kits or other pool chemicals over and over again. (Plus it keeps algae out better)

And if you’re a set-it-and-forget-it kind of person, you’ll appreciate that salt water pools only require major cleaning once per year. That means changing filters, scrubbing down pool surfaces and checking the generator. Draining your pool can be frustrating, but at least it’s only a yearly occasion with salt water pools.

Is Salt Water or Chlorine Better?

The two biggest factors when considering a pool sanitization system are maintenance and time.

Chlorine pools need frequent checking and tweaking, but these commitments aren’t that demanding. Salt water pools need one big scrub and clean every year, but they’re pretty much on autopilot between cleanings.

And of course, time is money. If you plan on keeping your home (and your pool) for a long time, a salt water system makes more sense. You’ll offset the startup costs with yearly savings on pool chemicals and equipment.

Otherwise, chlorine pools are attractive for their much lower initial price.

And don’t worry, your pool builder will help you decide which system is perfect for your pool.

If your thinking about a pool, you may also want to look into why pool owners are not installing diving boards as often as you may think. Or check out our post on mistakes that will drive your pool construction cost up that you may want to avoid.

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