12 Common Questions About Salt Water Pools Answered

12 Common Questions About Salt Water Pools Answered

Salt water pool systems have increasingly become the go-to method of sanitizing pools over chlorine and bromine pools that use large amounts of chemicals. But there are many myths and questions regarding how salt water pools work and what owners should know before they build or acquire one.

Here are 12 FAQs regarding salt water pools answered.

Does salt water pool water taste salty?

Fortunately you aren’t drinking salt water from a pool so it doesn’t really matter, right? The water doesn’t taste salty because the salt content is usually set around 3,000 parts per million (ppm) which is over 10x lower than the salt content in the ocean.

Many people find salt water pools easier on the eyes and skin than chlorinated pools because of the lower chemical content. The salt level is low enough that you may be able to open your eyes in the water while swimming without worrying about irritation or redness, too.

Are salt water pools easier to maintain?

Salt water pools are generally much easier to maintain than chlorine or bromine pools that have the chemicals manually added to them weekly or more frequently to maintain sanitation. Salt water pools usually require much less work to keep water chemistry balanced because the system manages it for you.

Salt water pools come with a chlorinator system which is effectively a computer than controls the pool’s chemistry and water balancing. Depending on the system you purchase, you can operate your pool pump on a timer, automatically produce chlorine, operate the heater automatically and rely on a number of sensors that monitor and adjust water chemistry automatically. It will also keep the chlorine at the required level and monitor your salt levels, too.

In that regard, a salt water pool usually involves much less work than a regular chlorinated pool which requires more knowledge of pool chemistry and water balancing. Salt pool systems also produce a very consistent level of chlorine which is another benefit.

What is a saltwater pool?
A diagram explaining aspects of a typical salt water pool chlorinator system

Do salt water pools kill germs?

Salt water pools kill germs just like regularly chlorinated pools do but in a slightly different way. Salt water pool systems convert regular salt into a cleaner form of chlorine than what is supplied by the strong smelling liquid chlorine that is normally used in pools. The chlorinator cell in a salt water system electrically converts the crystal salt into chlorine which is pumped throughout the pool to sanitize the water. When water reenters the chlorinator through the water returns, it is again chlorinated using the same method and the process continues.

A salt water pool owner will usually put a bag(s) of salt water pellets – the ones you use in your water softener usually suffices – in the pool in the spring and perhaps midway through the season to top it up. The total cost of salt for one season might be $20 give or take. Compare that to hundreds of dollars spent on liquid chlorine or bromine for other pools.

The chlorinator only produces salt when the pump is running but will stop producing chlorine when the level has been reached. The chlorinator can be set to produce enough chlorine to keep the pool clean and will turn the chlorine production on and off as required to keep it at the desired level.

Is a salt water pool system chlorine free?

A salt water pool is a chlorine pool albeit with a different form of chlorine. Salt water pool systems require some liquid or crystal chlorine to shock the pool water in the spring and possibly during the season if required and again at pool closing in the autumn. Over winter the pool water is stagnant with no chlorine being produced but because the temperature is usually very low, the water can deal with having no chlorine production. If the water temperature rises to a certain level however, algae can accumulate in the absence of chlorine.

To start the pool system up again and get crystal clear water quickly in the spring, you can pour liquid or crystal chlorine into the water to start the chlorine production up again. Then you can turn the chlorinator on to start automatically producing its own chlorine from the salt you added.

The amount of actual chlorine used in a salt water pool is a fraction of the amount needed for a pool that strictly uses chlorine for sanitation.

Does salt damage my pool equipment and patio?

Salt has a corrosive effect and can over time damage metal such as a pool ladder as well as certain kinds of patio stones. But chlorine can damage as well. If you keep the water chemistry of a salt water pool in check, you should experience little to no trouble with splashing of pool water on the patio or even the garden. The level of salt in the pool is much lower than the salt content in ocean water and in small amounts, should have no impact even on flowers and trees growing nearby.

Are salt water pools expensive?

Check out my complete article on the cost of installing a salt water pool and related costs.

Whereas you might spend $300 – $800 each year on liquid chlorine, you may only spend about $20 on salt for a salt water pool system. You typically just use salt pellets that also get used in your water softener. The main cost of a salt water pool is the salt chlorinator system and the chlorine cells.

While a new inground pool installation may cost $30,000 – $80,000 depending on the goodies you add, the salt chlorinator and cell may add $1,000 – $3,000 to the total cost of the pool install depending on which chlorinator system you go with.

Can I convert my existing pool to a salt water pool?

You can convert a regularly chlorinated pool to a salt water system and vice versa too. A salt water pool has extra equipment including a chlorinator control system and chlorinator cell to replace the addition of chlorine to the pool water. So the equipment for a salt water pool system would be added into the existing pool system. The chlorinator system may required an electrician to install if it is hard-wired and your pool company will typically install the chlorinator cell by removing part of the existing piping and adding the cell in between.

Is it safe to swim with dyed hair or bright colored clothing in a salt water pool?

Salt water pools do have chlorine in them but a different form of chlorine. One concern with salt water pools often relates to if it will give you green hair. This is not a function of the salt but rather copper content in the pool:

An acceptable level of copper in a swimming pool is 0.2 ppm to 0.4 ppm (parts per million). A higher level outside this range increases the chance that water gets cloudy and copper stains appear on the pool liner and walls. If you have traces of copper in your pool, the combined effect of the copper with pool chlorine may cause light-colored hair to appear to have a greenish-tint. This is especially true for people with blonde hair.

If you have recently dyed your hair or have naturally blonde hair, avoid getting it wet to be safe or wear a swimming cap. Also keep your copper levels in check and within the acceptable range to eliminate the chance this problem will occur.

Will my eyes still get red and itchy in a salt water pool?

Many people find it easier to open their eyes in salt water pools than in chlorine pools. If you wear contact lenses or have sensitive eyes, your best bet is to wear goggles or don’t open your eyes under water.

When I backwash my filter, will the salt water harm my lawn or garden?

The salt content in a salt water pool is very low and will generally not damage grass or most plants. When backwashing a sand filter or draining pool water in your lawn, you should not experience any problem with affecting vegetation.

I emptied our pool every autumn down our lawn between our house and our neighbor’s and also had to occasionally drain the pool following a heavy rain storm in the summer and noticed no impact on the lawn ever.

What are the disadvantages of salt water pools?

You salt cell typically wears out and has to be replaced every 3-5 years depending on how much it is used and how well you take care of it. This is an expense that typically costs several hundred dollars to replace. Eventually your chlorinator system will also need to be replaced and it may cost around $2,000 to buy and install but it should last much longer than the chlorinator cell.

The biggest issue salt water pool owners face that owners of chlorine pools don’t is that when the salt cell or chlorinator system dies, you either need to quickly replace it or use regular chlorine in the pool in the meantime to keep the pool crystal clear. Chances are that you may need several days to order and arrange for a replacement cell or hard-wired chlorinator system which means adding liquid or crystal chlorine to the pool to keep it clean until the salt system is back up and running.

Another thing to keep in mind is that salt chlorinators are usually designed to shut down chlorine production when water drops to a specific temperature, when water flow gets very low (ie. a blockage in the system) or when salt levels get very low or very high. This is a safety mechanism to protect the cell from damage. So while salt water pools are typically automatic, there may be times when troubleshooting is needed to correct a problem.

Can salt water pools be heated?

A salt water pool can be heated in the exact same way that other pools can. Gas heaters are commonly used that heat the water after it has been chlorinated and then gets sent back by the pump into the pool to raise the temperature of water over time. Solar pool heating options are increasingly being used as are heat pumps.

I wrote a more detailed article about heating a salt water pool that compares various options and heating troubleshooting.


While the up front costs of a salt water pool are higher than other pool types, they generally require less maintenance and work and provide a consistent level of chlorination and sanitation with very little tweaking or testing on your part.

Salt water tends to be softer on the skin and eyes, too.

Carl Mueller

I bought a home with a salt water pool in 2006 and soon realized the benefits over traditional chlorinated pools. On this website I'll discuss all the tips and tricks I've learned over the years. I'll also help you troubleshoot various problems with pools in general and ones specific to salt water pools that I've experienced personally!

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