Saline Pools: Myths and Misconceptions

Swimming is a fun and healthy activity for people of all ages. However, improperly chlorinated water puts swimmers at risk for recreational water illnesses like diarrhea and ear and skin infections. Misleading claims about saline pool systems can lead to confusion and potential public health risk. The introduction of saltwater pool systems has generated several myths and misconceptions that pool owners and operators need to be aware of.

Myth #1: Salt pools don’t require “harsh chemicals” or chlorine.

Controlling germs and algae requires a balance of germ killing chemicals – even in salt pools. Chlorine is the primary disinfectant used in most pools, and it is applied in several forms, including gas, liquid, tablets and sticks.

Many pool owners convert to saltwater pools because they are misled to believe that salt pools are chemical and maintenance free. Not true: saltwater pools disinfect water by means of an electrolysis cell that generates chlorine on-site utilizing the sodium chloride (the same compound that fills our salt shakers) that is dissolved in the pool water. Nevertheless, salt pools, like traditionally chlorinated pools, require monitoring and adjustment to maintain both an acceptable pH and an appropriate chlorine level.

Myth #2: Saltwater pools don’t require maintenance.

In addition to the regular pool chemistry maintenance, chlorine generation cells must be maintained. For example calcium builds up on the titanium plates (anodes) in the electrolysis cell and must be cleaned at proper intervals to ensure the unit is producing sufficient chlorine. As a reminder, it is important to monitor the chemical balance/ph of the pool as you would any pool because the success of any disinfection system is based in large part on maintaining the proper parameters for chemical and physical factors in the pool.

The bottom line is that swimming pool water must be disinfected if swimming is to remain a healthy, safe form of exercise. Whether added directly as chlorine disinfectant or generated from salt onsite, chlorine chemistry plays an essential role in protecting swimmers from waterborne disease.

In addition, it is important that saltwater pools also be continuously filtered, to remove algae, suspended particles, dirt, sunbathing oils, etc. Adequate filtration is necessary to maintain sparkling clear water. It also reduces the amount of chlorine that will have to be fed into the pool to maintain the desired chlorine residual for a healthy pool.

(Chris Wiant, M.P.H., Ph.D., is president and CEO of the Caring for Colorado Foundation. He is also chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.)