Salt Water & Swimming Pool Sanitation
Looking to switch from traditional chlorine to an automated method such as a salt chlorinator? Learn how salt chlorinators work and decide if this option is for you!
What is a saltwater chlorinator?
Also known as a chlorine generator, a saltwater chlorinator converts salt in the pool water to chlorine for effective and automatic sanitization. This means that you don’t have to add chlorine on a regular basis; instead, you add several bags of quick-dissolving, specially manufactured salt to your pool at startup, and typically a few times a year as needed. A saltwater pool is not a chlorine-free pool, but its eco-friendly draw comes from not having to buy, store, or handle chlorine on a regular basis.
If a saltwater pool contains chlorine, how is it different from a traditional chlorine pool?
In a pool with a saltwater chlorinator, the free chlorine is created during the conversion (or electrolytic) process. Because chlorine is produced constantly, strong-smelling chloramines (the byproducts responsible for the “chlorine smell”) are unlikely to form, allowing for a more pleasant swimming pool environment. After the chlorine is used to sanitize the water, it reverts back to sodium chloride (salt), so most of the pool water contains saline rather than chlorine.
Won’t the water feel like I am swimming in an ocean?
The salinity is actually gentle to the skin and eyes because the salt levels are relatively low – about half that of a human tear drop (a concentration of 0.5 percent). At recommended salt levels of 3,000 – 4,000 ppm (parts per million) when compared to the ocean’s 36,000 ppm the pool water doesn’t taste salty or make your skin feel sticky, though you may want to wear goggles if swimming for extended periods of time. Some if not most people will notice a slight salt taste to the pool water.
How exactly is the salt converted to chlorine?
Chlorine is produced due to a reaction in the unit’s electrolytic cell. You first add salt that is produced specifically for salt chlorinators. The salt used for pool sanitation is highly refined and may have additives that are designed to make water balancing easier depending on which brand you use. As the salt dissolves and the water circulates, it passes through the chlorine generating cell and becomes free and available chlorine. The process of producing free chlorine (also known as hypochlorous acid) and sanitizing the water happens in one place – the cell. After that, the chlorine converts back to a mild saline solution (sodium chloride and water) to be reconverted to chlorine again as the process repeats. The water is sanitized continuously as long as the pump is running and the proper level of salt is maintained in the pool water. Levels will drop gradually due to kids splashing and backwashing only; evaporation will not reduce the salt content. It is important to realize that water can evaporate but the salt will not.
How do I maintain a saltwater pool?
Most saltwater chlorinators have a digital control panel that provides the most current salt reading. Recommended salt levels are specific to the actual system you purchase, but generally speaking, the ideal salt level is 2,800 to 4,000 ppm. If levels dip below 2,800 we recommend you use a manual test strip to make sure the levels are correct before adding more salt or bring a pool water sample into our retail store for testing. It is not impossible for a pool to be over salted. Such a situation will create a situation whereby testing the water will not produce an accurate reading. If that’s the case, the last thing you want to do is add another bag of salt! If you add too much, and the salt level exceeds 4,000 ppm, the pool must be partially drained, then refilled with fresh water. (NOTE: draining of any kind must be done under guidance of a professional to prevent serious damage to the pool structure.)
While sanitizer, total alkalinity, and pH levels should still be monitored regularly (at least once a week), it’s easier to maintain a chlorine level of 1 – 4 ppm in a saltwater pool because the chlorine is being produced constantly – as long as the pump is on and the chlorine generator is in good working order.
You also want to use specifically manufactured pool salt to ensure clear water, prevent corrosion, and minimize scale buildup on the generator’s cell. Impure forms of salt may contain metals which can lead to stains on the pool surface. Masterson Pools offers a service to clean the cell per manufacturer’s instructions once per season. As with all pools, it’s a good idea to take a water sample to be tested professionally about every month to check for proper water balance, total dissolved solids, and the presence of metals.
Because the chlorine produced is un-stabilized, a stabilizer such as cyanuric acid/stabilizer is added to maintain a chlorine residual, unless the pool is indoors. If you have a chlorine generator and you run the pump during off-peak times (9 pm – 9 am), you should run it for a minimum of two hours in the daytime during hot, sunny days to avoid algae blooms. Remember – chlorine is not produced when the pump is off.
While we at Masterson Pools like the convenience of using a salt water chlorine generator in swimming pools we caution all pool owners to remain proactive in maintaining the water quality of your pool. Using a salt chlorine generator does not replace good water management practices. The pool water must still be properly balanced to keep the water in optimum swimming condition. It is also important to note that during times of especially high use it may be necessary to supplement your pool with additional chlorine. This is one of the best attributes of using salt to sanitize your pool. Unlike several other non-chlorine systems that are not compatible with chlorine, a salt water pool can use standard chlorine in case of emergencies or in times when chlorine consumption within the pool will outpace chlorine production of the chlorine generator.
In closing, we recommend the use of a chlorine generator and are advocates for salt water pools in general. We just feel it is important to remember that salt/chlorine generators are not a silver bullet for water maintenance. If sized and used properly a salt/chlorine generator can enhance the enjoyment of you get from your pool. If you have any questions or would like to explore the possibility of converting to a chlorine generator, please contact our Service Department.