Many consumers are under the impression that a saltwater pool does not use chlorine to keep the pool water sanitized. What they don’t understand is that a saltwater pool uses a salt chlorine generator to produce its own chlorine. The generator is inserted into the pool plumbing near the other pool equipment. Inside the generator unit are metal blades which receive a low voltage current and as the pools saltwater passes over the blades a process called electrolysis occurs. During the process the salt and the water molecules are separated into hydrogen and hypochlorous acid. Hypochlorous acid is the active killing portion of chlorine. In short, a salt water pool with a chlorine generator is simply a system which produces its own chlorine and eliminates the need for chemical chlorine to be added to pool water.
A salt water pool actually has a very low concentration of salt. It is so low that your taste buds cannot even detect it. This low salt concentration leaves no reside on your skin or hair and in fact is less harmful to hair and skin than chemical chlorine. Another benefit is that the saltwater generated chlorine has no chlorine or bleach like odor. And finally, the salt generated form of chlorine is considered a higher quality than chemically produced chlorine so it works more efficiently to keep your pool water sanitized.
Nothing is perfect and there are some drawbacks to a saltwater pool. The first one that most consumers discover is the cost of the chlorine generator. This unit is often called a salt cell and it has a life expectancy of 3 – 5 years. And that time frame can be shorter in warm climates where the cell is functioning year round. Pool owners don’t want to commit to purchasing a new salt cell ever few years as the unit can cost between $700 and $1,500 depending on the size of the pool and the features of the unit.
Another drawback is that the owner still needs to work to maintain other aspects of the pool water balance to be sure that the generator can function. So it really does not eliminate the work involved in monitoring the pool water. Finally, salt is corrosive even at the low level that it exists in the saltwater pool. So a saltwater pool needs to be equipped with special salt tolerant equipment such as ladders, light faces and diving boards. In addition to potentially damaging pool equipment, the salt can damage any natural or man-made surfaces that the water comes in contact with such as stone or paver walkways, patios or other hardscape features.
In the end, both salt water pools and chlorine pools function in the same manner to sanitize the pool water. A chlorine pool functions using a chemical form of chlorine which releases hypochlorous acid where a salt water pool, and a salt cell, generate the hypochlorous acid directly. The end result is the same ion being used to kill microorganisms by penetrating their cell walls and destroying their enzymes and proteins. What is really important to consider as a pool owner is are you willing to purchase, store and add chemical chlorine to your pool or would you rather purchase a chlorine generating cell to produce the natural hypochlorous acid for you?