SALT WATER. CHLORINE. SALINE. FRESH WATER. WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE, AND HOW DO THEIR MAINTENANCE NEEDS COMPARE? LET’S DIVE IN.
Over the past 10 years, saltwater pools have become more popular in the Lowcountry, according to Year Round Pool vice president Jeff Fotia. He says over time, he’s seen customers seeking a pool option that requires fewer chemicals like chlorine — but saltwater pools aren’t completely chlorine-free.
“It is actually a myth that salt water pools do not contain chlorine,” Fotia said.
An Australian invention brought to the U.S. in the mid 1980s, saltwater pools use a different method of chlorine sanitation than traditional pools, which add concentrated chlorine directly to the pool water. A saltwater pool requires a salt chlorine generator that uses electrolysis to convert salt to free chlorine and then distributes the chlorine to the pool water.
This system makes chlorine levels lower in saltwater pools, so the water feels smooth and causes less eye and skin irritation and damage to hair. Salwwater pools don’t fade swim suits, and the water doesn’t emit that chlorine smell familiar to many swimmers. The salty taste in the pool comes from the residual salt in the water.
But maintenance costs to a salt water pool can be higher over time, Fotia said, because the generator equipment, pool surface and patio decking may require repair or replacement from long-term exposure to salt’s natural abrasion. But homeowners with salt water pools don’t spend as much on other chemicals.
The swimming pool industry often refers to saltwater pools as freshwater pools, but only to distinguish them from regular chlorine pools. And a saline pool is the same as a saltwater pool; saline is just another word for sodium chloride, or common salt.
Unlike saltwater pools, chlorine pools add chlorine to the water using either a separate pump unit that distributes the chemical to the pool or with a floating device that slowly releases chlorine into the pool. Chlorine pools are attractive to buyers because they avoid the upfront costs of a chlorine generator and the long-term wear from salt. Cleaning a chlorine pool is also faster— it takes hours to clean a chlorine pool versus days for a saltwater pool.
In use for 100 years, chlorine is safe when levels are kept within the recommended range of 1.0 ppm, according to the Water Quality and Health Council, which also notes that about 90 percent of pools are sanitized using chlorine. Fotia said other forms of sanitation include UV light, bromine or hydrogen peroxide, all safe options for swimmers with a medical aversion to chlorine. The Island Recreation Center uses a UV filter for added sanitation.
Most swimmers assume that a chlorine odor comes from too much chlorine in the water, but it actually signifies that bacteria are in the water. High levels of chloramines, which form when chlorine combines with contaminants, cause the odor. If the pool has been properly treated, chloramine levels remain normal.
Pool water quality can change quickly due to the amount of dirt, debris and sunlight, which can reduce chlorine levels. The CDC recommends routinely cleaning the filters to remove debris and checking chlorine levels, pH balance (which should be in the 7.2 to 7.6 range, the same range as the human body) and calcium levels (which should be 180 to 220 ppm).
For more information on pool safety, check out
- The CDC’s healthy swimming page: cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/index.html
- The National Swimming Pool Foundation: nspf.org
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s directions for using chlorine: epa.gov/sites/production/files/2013-11/documents/chlor.pdf
- A YouTube video created by the American Chemistry Council and the CDC explaining the best practices for your pool chemicals: youtube.com/watch?v=f-T6czL0cKM.
Don’t have a pool of your own, nor a neighborhood pool? You can jump into these:
ISLAND RECREATION CENTER POOL
20 Wilborn Road, Hilton Head Island
Open swim: 8:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, and noon-4 p.m. Sunday.
Cost: $4 daily for children and seniors, $5 for adults; other longer-term rates available.
TOWN OF BLUFFTON INDOOR POOL
55 Pritchard Street, Bluffton, adjacent to M.C. Riley Elementary School
Open swim: 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday
Cost: $4 daily rate, other longer-term and family rates available