A vital part of any pool is how the water in the pool gets sanitized, which is the process of cleaning the water of harmful microorganisms, algae, and bacteria.
The water in your pool has to be sanitized, or it won’t be safe to swim in! Algae and harmful bacteria will grow, the water will turn green… what was once an inviting oasis turns into an unsightly disaster!
There are four main ways to keep your pool water sanitized and clean:
- Saltwater systems
- Ozone generators
- Ultraviolet (UV) systems
If you are in the process of designing and building a new pool, you have probably heard all of these terms.
But what’s the difference? What’s right for your pool?
I went through this process when we built our pool, I have done the research, and I have talked to different pool professionals to help give you the best information and advice!
So let’s get started!
All pools will have some amount of chlorine (yes, even a saltwater pool!)
Unlike a traditional chlorine pool in which you directly add chlorine, chlorine in a saltwater pool is created by a device that electrolyzes the salt in the water
Ozone generators and UV systems are additional systems you can add to a traditional chlorine and saltwater pool to better sanitize your pool water
People like traditional chlorine pools because of lower initial costs, it’s a typical pool experience, and there is a well-documented and understood process to add chlorine to a pool.
People like saltwater pools because of lower costs in the long run, easier maintenance, and saltwater is gentler on skin and eyes.
When ozone generators and UV systems are both added to a pool, pool water can be cleaned up to 99.94% and pool water can require up to 66% less chlorine.
Chemical Sanitization: Nearly All Pools Are Sanitized with Chlorine (Yes, Saltwater Pools too!)
Chemical sanitization is the most common method of killing bacteria growth and other harmful organisms in pool water. The most common chemicals used in pool sanitization are chlorine and bromine. But more than likely, your pool will use chlorine in some manner.
Chlorine: It is the most commonly used pool sanitizer. It works by breaking down into various chemicals, which kills microorganisms and bacteria in your pool. The chlorine solution is introduced into the pool in a variety of forms, including liquid chlorine, chlorine tablets, granular chlorine, and chlorine-producing salts.
👉 Let’s pause right here on this key point: Saltwater pools and “traditional” chlorine pools both rely on chlorine to sanitize the pool water (see that point about chlorine-producing salts above?). The difference is how chlorine is introduced/produced in the pool water. More on this in a bit.
Bromine: Bromine is another chemical sanitizer used less commonly than chlorine. Bromine is most often found in hot tubs because it is more stable than chlorine at higher temperatures and in wider pH ranges. However, bromine is also a good option for those who find chlorine irritating or have a chlorine sensitivity.
✨ Quick Summary: Your pool is more than likely going to have chlorine in it, even if it is a saltwater pool. The difference is how the chlorine is introduced into the pool. Read below!
How Does Chlorine Get in the Pool?
This is where the difference between traditional chlorine pools and saltwater pools gets clearer (slight pun here).
If you want a traditional chlorine pool, you will add chlorine as tabs, granules, or a liquid. This can be done in the following ways:
Manual sanitation (no extra pool equipment needed): You can sanitize your pool by directly adding chlorine or bromine to your pool without any additional equipment in your water circulation process. Some people may prefer to manually manage their chemicals this way, even if they have equipment that adds chlorine to their pool.
In-line chlorinators (also known as chlorine feeders): In-line chlorinators are a very popular water treatment option to automatically add chlorine or bromine to your pool. These are small devices attached to a pipe near your pool equipment that hold and dissolve chlorine or bromine tabs. These chemicals are then gradually released into the water as it passes through this device and the water circulation process. These devices typically have a control knob that allows you to control the flow rate of the chemicals into the water.
If you want a saltwater pool, you will need special equipment to add salt to your pool and turn this salt into chlorine:
Salt Chlorine Generators: Another popular method of sanitizing pools is through a salt chlorine generator or sometimes called a salt cell, salt chlorinator, or salt generator. This salt system device electrolyzes a small amount of saline in the water (salt) to produce chlorine. This eliminates the need to store and handle chlorine. But you will have to store and add pool-grade salt to your pool every so often. IMPORTANT: If you want a saltwater pool, you will need this sanitation system equipment.
✨ Quick Summary: For traditional chlorine pools, you will add chlorine directly to your pool water either manually or with the help of some equipment. For saltwater pools, you will add salt to your pool, and a piece of equipment called a salt chlorine generator will help turn this into chlorine.
So, What’s the Difference Between Traditional Chlorine and Saltwater Pools Then?
Although traditional chlorine pools and saltwater pools both rely on chlorine to sanitize the pool water, there are key differences that lead people to pick one over the other. Below is a list of these reasons.
Traditional Chlorine Pools
Why People Like Them…
Typical Pool Experience: Some people like a chlorine pool because that is what they are used to, and they like
Low Initial Costs: Traditional chlorine pools are typically less expensive to set up because you don’t need extra equipment
Ease of Understanding and Control: Chlorine pools are well understood, and it’s relatively easy to monitor and adjust the chlorine levels, making them suitable for a wide range of pool owners.
Availability of Supplies and Support: Since chlorine pools are the standard type of pool, chemicals are readily available, and many pool professionals are well-versed in their maintenance.
Flexibility in Chlorine Delivery: Chlorine can be added to the pool in various forms, such as liquid, tablets, or granules, providing flexibility in how the pool is maintained.
Why People Don’t Like Them…
Regular Maintenance Required: Chlorine pools require frequent monitoring and adjustment of chemical levels, potentially demanding more time and effort.
Potential for Chlorine Fluctuations: Managing the right balance of chlorine can be challenging. Too much chlorine may lead to discomfort, while too little can result in algae growth and murky water.
Long-Term Costs: The ongoing need to purchase chlorine and other balancing chemicals may result in higher long-term costs compared to other sanitation methods.
Skin and Eye Irritation: Higher levels of chlorine can lead to skin and eye irritation for some swimmers, especially after extended exposure.
Chlorine Smell: The distinct chlorine smell can be off-putting to some people and may linger on skin and swimwear.
Why People Like Them…
Gentler on Skin and Eyes: Saltwater pools are often seen as more comfortable for swimmers, as the water feels softer and doesn’t cause the same level of eye or skin irritation as traditional chlorine pools. For some people with health issues, this can be the best option.
Lower Maintenance Costs: Although the initial setup is more costly, saltwater systems often require less maintenance throughout the year and fewer added chemicals, which can save money over time.
Stable Chlorine Levels: Saltwater systems can provide a more stable and consistent level of chlorine, reducing the likelihood of either too much or too little chlorine in the pool.
Saltwater Appeal: Some swimmers prefer the taste and smell of a saltwater pool, finding it more pleasant and similar to natural bodies of water.
Why People Don’t Like Them…
High Initial Costs: The upfront cost of a saltwater system, including installation and necessary equipment, can be significantly higher than a traditional chlorine system.
Energy Consumption: Saltwater chlorine generators often require more electricity to operate, which could lead to higher utility bills.
Complexity of System: A saltwater system can be more complex to understand and manage, especially for those who are new to pool maintenance.
Potential Corrosion Issues: Salt can be corrosive to certain materials, potentially damaging some pool components and surrounding structures if not properly managed.
Potential Salt Buildup: Over time, salt can build up on pool surfaces and around the waterline, leading to scaling and potentially requiring additional cleaning and maintenance.
Not Completely Chlorine-Free: Despite being referred to as “saltwater pools,” these systems still produce chlorine to sanitize the water. Those looking to avoid chlorine altogether may be disappointed to learn that saltwater pools are not a chlorine-free alternative.
✨ Which one is right for you? There really isn’t a clear winner here. You will find plenty of people who love either method. It really comes down to what you are comfortable with as far as maintenance, costs, and the smell and feel of the water.
What about Ozone Generators and Ultraviolet (UV) Systems?
By now, you might be thinking, “Is there a way to sanitize a pool without chlorine?”
Well, not really. What you can do, however, is add additional equipment to your pool that can dramatically reduce the amount of chlorine you need in your pool. These are Ozone Generators and Ultraviolet Systems.
An ozone generator is an additional piece of sanitizing equipment that produces ozone gas (O3), a powerful oxidizer that kills bacteria and other microorganisms. The ozone is mixed with pool water, where it kills microorganisms then quickly breaks down into harmless oxygen.
Ozone Generator Advantages
Lower Chlorine Levels: Ozone systems significantly reduce the amount of chlorine you need in your pool.
Reduced Maintenance and Chemical Costs: Due to the powerful sanitizing properties of ozone, you should need less chlorine (lower pool costs) and should experience less cleaning of your pool.
Highly Effective: Ozone is very effective at killing bacteria, viruses, and other contaminants, making the pool water very safe to swim in.
Ozone Generator Disadvantages
Ozone Doesn’t Last Long: Ozone acts rapidly but dissipates quickly, meaning it doesn’t provide a long-lasting residual sanitizing effect. Therefore, it’s often used in conjunction with a low level of residual sanitizer, like chlorine.
High Initial Cost: Installing an ozone generator can be more expensive than traditional chlorine or saltwater systems.
Higher Energy Bills: Ozone is an unstable gas with a short half-life, necessitating a continuous generation for effective sanitization. Thus, an ozone generator must be functioning properly and constantly to maintain adequate levels of ozone in the pool.
Ultraviolet light can be used to kill bacteria, viruses, and other harmful organisms in pool water. UV systems use a special UV-C lamp to irradiate the passing water, which kills or inactivates the organisms. UV systems are often used in addition to chemical sanitizers.
Ozone Generators Advantages
Effective Sanitization: UV light is efficient at neutralizing a wide range of harmful microorganisms, including chlorine-resistant parasites like Cryptosporidium.
Reduction in Chemical Use: UV systems can significantly reduce the need for traditional sanitizing chemicals, like chlorine, resulting in a more natural swimming experience.
No Harmful By-Products: UV sanitation doesn’t produce harmful by-products like chloramines, which can cause a strong chlorine smell and irritate eyes and skin.
Ozone Generators Disadvantages
Initial Cost: The upfront cost of purchasing and installing a UV system can be relatively high.
Maintenance: UV lamps in the system eventually burn out and need to be replaced, typically every 1-2 years, depending on usage.
Electricity Consumption: UV systems require electricity to run, which could increase utility bills.
Is an Ozone Generator or UV System Right for Your Pool?
Let’s answer that question with these facts:
An ozone generator and a UV system combined in a pool can clean water up to 99.94%
An ozone generator and a UV system combined in a pool can require up to 66% less chlorine for your pool
I think if you can afford the upfront cost of these systems, you will definitely see the value in your pool,
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