Gone are the days of blissful ignorance when you could bite into food without knowing (or caring) what its calorie count was. I never thought I’d need to know the ingredients making up my shampoo, but, for some reason, I can name at least five. And when I go for a dip in a new pool, I wonder whether I’m stepping into salt water or the standard chlorinated water.
Think back to your childhood, when a pool was just a pool. Chlorine simply kept the water clean, tasted funny and burned your eyes as you searched for sunken toys and treasures. If you happened to get itchy and irritated from it, it was a sacrifice you willingly made to enjoy a day at the pool. But in this new world, where new items promise healthier and softer skin each day, you know we had to go and a make a pool that did too. So, what are the real differences between a saltwater and a standard pool?
Don’t get it twisted - saltwater pools are not chemical-free options. They use chlorine to disinfect their water just like any standard pool, but, instead of adding it directly, salt or NaCl is employed to generate chlorine. Saltwater systems use electrolysis (the chemical decomposition produced by passing an electric current through a liquid or solution containing ions) to decompose the salt into the same chemical compounds used by traditional pools. Although chlorine is in constant production, swimmers are in no danger of electric shock. The saltwater is forced across an electrically charged metal cell out of any swimmer’s reach. Salt is always present in your swimming water, don’t expect the briny feel or overwhelming taste of seawater. In fact, in a case where a saltwater and a standard pool were both maintained properly, there might be only the slightest difference in how the water feels and tastes. So why is saltwater easier on sensitive skin? Easy. Our bodies are naturally salty. The closer the salt content in the water is to our bodies, the less water we will lose or gain through osmosis. Also, the chlorine is in constant supply, leading to less chloramines and disinfection byproducts (AKA the culprits behind irritated skin, eyes and lungs.)
Besides the obvious lack of salt, the main difference between a saltwater pool and a standard pool is how the chlorine gets into the water. Standard pools receive their chlorine directly by adding liquid, granular or tablet forms of it to the pool water, while saltwater pools are constantly creating their own. Unless very precisely maintained, chloramine buildup can occur. This is one of the reasons that people with sensitive skin lean towards saltwater systems. Often times, it all comes down to individual households and their level of pool maintenance.
Both pool types are great options for clean fun in the sun. If you’re following maintenance procedures to a T and still find the chlorine levels in standard pools irritating, give a saltwater system a try. If your current setup suits you and your family just fine, there’s no need to switch over. With either pool, you’re getting safe swimming water that has been disinfected with chlorine. It’s up to you to decide how you want your chlorine to get there.