Pros and Cons: Saltwater vs. Freshwater Pools

There’s so much to consider when designing your dream backyard oasis, especially when it comes to the pool. Shape, size, cost, material…and these days, you have to consider the type of water, too. Saltwater pools are majorly on the rise—three out of four in-ground pools are now saltwater, compared to just one in eight back in 2002—and it’s not hard to see why. Indeed, they bring some major benefits over typical freshwater pools. But it’s not all black and white, as they say. There are some drawbacks to saltwater pools, too. Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of saltwater pools to see which kind will bring the best swimming experience for you and your family.

What’s the Difference?

Before we dive in, it’s important to establish exactly how saltwater and freshwater pools differ. It seems obvious: one has salt and one doesn’t. But that’s not the whole story. In fact, the real difference between these two kinds of pools is the chlorination process. Saltwater pools use salt chlorinators—also known as salt generators—which use electrolysis to split the salt into hydrogen and hypochlorous acid (the dissolved form of chlorine), thereby sanitizing the pool without added chlorine.

On the other hand, traditional pools use chlorine tablets or granules, which are physically added by the pool owner to sanitize the water. In other words, a saltwater pool is constantly being chlorinated through the salt chlorinator, whereas a freshwater pool is manually chlorinated at certain intervals. Because of this, you’ll get a much less intense chlorine experience from a saltwater pool, and it typically doesn’t have the same smell or harsh effects that you associate with a traditional swimming pool.

It’s also important to note that while saltwater pools are indeed salty, they only have about 3,000 parts per million (ppm) of salt, compared to the 35,000 ppm in the ocean. Therefore, swimming in a saltwater pool isn’t exactly like swimming in the ocean. The lower concentration of salt also ensures that you don’t experience that salty or sticky feel that you’d get after a swim in the ocean.

Saltwater Pools: Pros and Cons

Both advantages and disadvantages of saltwater pools stem largely from the way in which these pools are chlorinated. Just like in your diet, salt can be good and it can be bad. The same goes for the swimming pool. Salt is a less intense way to sanitize, but it’s also corrosive and complicated.

 

Pros of Saltwater Pools

  • They’re Less Harsh—If you hate the pungent, chemical-like smell of chlorine, then you’d probably prefer a saltwater pool. Salt chlorination prevents irritation in the eyes and skin, which often occurs in regular freshwater pools, especially in people who are particularly sensitive to certain chemicals. Salt sanitation prevents the buildup of chloramines, which are responsible for irritation and the harsh feel of swimming in a chlorine pool. Saltwater is also less damaging to your swim gear.
  • They’re Less Expensive and Easier to Maintain—What do freshwater pools have that saltwater pools don’t? Extra pool chemicals and chlorine products, of course! That means that, over the life of the pool, you’ll probably spend less if you opt for saltwater over freshwater. That’s not to say that saltwater pools don’t require maintenance. You still need to regularly test your water and may need to occasionally make chemical adjustments with saltwater pools, but maintenance is generally lower.
  • They Provide Constant Chlorination—Oftentimes, issues that we have in typical pools—irritation, algae growth, discoloration, etc.—occur because the pool is either under-chlorinated or over-chlorinated. Saltwater pools are constantly being chlorinated, which means that there’s less chance that the sanitation levels will go off balance, triggering common pool issues. This also prevents gaps in sanitation, so swimmers are always safe as long as the generator is working properly.
  • The Water Feels Softer—Not only do saltwater pools provide a more enjoyable and less irritating swimming experience, but many people actually believe that the water simply feels better. This silky-soft water makes the pool more hospitable for long swims.

Cons of Saltwater Pools

  • They’re More Expensive Upfront—Despite the fact that saltwater pools are certainly more efficient to operate, they do come at a premium. That’s because of the complexity of the saltwater chlorination system, which will run you between $1,500 and $2,500. The size of your pool will determine how big and how expensive your system needs to be, so costs can vary widely.
  • Salt is Corrosive—Remember how we said that salt is good and bad? It’s bad from a pool perspective because it can be damaging to your pool’s parts and even the hardscaping around it. There are two important ways to deter saltwater damage: Make sure that you use salt-friendly pool accessories and furniture, and closely follow your pool maintenance guide to ensure proper salt levels.
  • They Come with a Learning Curve—Even people who have been maintaining and operating pools their whole lives might find that the saltwater configuration is a bit more confusing. With a regular pool, you can often easily correct certain issues by adjusting the chlorine level as you see fit, but this won’t work with a saltwater pool. Finding the cause and solution for common pool problems may be harder with saltwater.

 

Which is Best for You?

The basic takeaway is this: Saltwater pools are gentler and lower maintenance than freshwater pools, but they do leave less up to the pool owner. If you’re the kind of pool whiz who likes to be able to control every single aspect of the swimming experience, then you’d probably prefer a freshwater pool. However, if you find fussing with chemicals too taxing—and if you like the idea of a gentler swimming experience—then a saltwater pool is probably a good solution.

About the Author:

Chris Hoffman is the founder of Backyard & Pool Superstore currently based outside of Dallas, TX.  Backyard & Pool Superstore is an e-commerce leader in backyard, pool, spa, grill & patio products. Before starting Backyard & Pool Superstore, Chris has had 10 years of retail, construction, manufacturing and distribution experience in the swimming pool & spa industry.