There are an estimated 1.4 million saltwater swimming pools in the United States, and their popularity is still growing. It's easy to understand this trend when you consider that these pools keep their water clean without the chlorine smell and occasional stinging eyes that can plague swimmers in traditional chlorine pools. Despite these benefits, pool owners, retailers, and builders have all reported some common problems that you should consider before installing a saltwater pool.

Young child having fun in swimming pool.
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Saltwater pools are not the maintenance-free option people believe them to be.

Corrosion

Saltwater systems produce chlorine by passing salt through an electrolytic cell. If the sodium hypochlorite levels get too high, the pool water becomes extremely over-chlorinated and corrosive. Corrosion is a frequent problem with saltwater pools, especially at the ladder and diving board where saltwater can wear away at the deck anchors and cause a safety issue. Over time, the salt itself can attack equipment, cement, lighting fixtures, landscaping near the pool and any area of the pool where water evaporates.

Chemical Use

Because saltwater pools produce their own chlorine, some owners assume they don't need to add chemicals to their pool. In truth, saltwater systems actually need chemical treatments every week. This includes using cyanuric acid to ensure that the salt chlorine generator can reach proper stabilizing levels. If cyanuric acid levels get too high, children, older swimmers, pets, the environment and the pool itself can suffer harm. Saltwater pools also require occasional algaecide, clarifier, stain and scale control applications.

pH Management

Checking the pH and alkalinity balance is an area of pool maintenance many owners fall behind in. This is largely due to some builders and retailers not emphasizing the importance of it. The pH level in a saltwater pool runs higher than that of a traditional pool. When these levels fall out of balance in a saltwater pool, the pH reduces the chlorine's effectiveness, turns the water corrosive, and creates brown stains on the pool's surface. Incorrect pH levels can destroy the cell in the saltwater generator in less than 90 days. Damage caused by improperly managing the pool's pH balance is not covered by the cell's warranty.

Generator Cell Maintenance

The average lifespan of the cell in a saltwater generator is two to three years. After that, replacing the cell is necessary, with costs between $500 (if self-installed) and $800 (when installed by a saltwater pool dealer). The cells also require cleaning every 90 days to avoid calcium buildup. If a pool owner goes six months without cleaning the cell, cell life is shortened, the cell is more likely to break , and the pool will take on the appearance of a swamp.

Health and Environmental Concerns

When exposed to saltwater systems, human skin absorbs sodium, salt, and chlorine. Sodium absorption through the skin has been associated with health concerns and higher heart mortality risks, especially among those with high blood pressure, circulatory issues and a history of stroke. Concerns that saltwater systems damage the environment have led to "Ban the Brine" movements, resulting in the barring of these pools in some areas, including Los Angeles County, California. Pets should be kept out of the pool area so they don't get sick from drinking saltwater.

Legal Issues

In most areas, owners of chlorine pools can simply drain the water from their chlorine pool into the local sewer system. This shouldn't be done with saltwater pools. Many municipalities are banning this practice for those with saltwater pools, forcing pool owners to have saltwater from their pool hauled away in tanker trucks. Others are requiring pool owners to pump the water into their home's sanitary drainage system. Even if draining a saltwater pool into the sewer grates on your street is legal now, it may not be in the future. Always check on local regulations for guidelines on how to drain a saltwater pool.