Salt chlorine generators have become a very popular add-on for above-ground swimming pools. Although most of these units work well and pool owners are happy with them, they have a stigma.
Some have a belief that saltwater above ground pools will rust. This is only a belief with no real evidence to support it. Whether you think salt water will cause rust or not, above-ground pools made with non-metal frames (known as salt-water friendly) are now widely available.
WHAT MAKES A POOL A “SALTWATER” POOL?
There is only one thing that turns a regular swimming pool into a saltwater one. And that is when a salt-chlorine generator is added to the equipment.
A salt chlorine generator is exactly what it sounds like. It uses salt in the water to generate chlorine. That is all it does. These units are fairly small and simple, can be added to any type of pool, and require some electric and usually some fairly minor plumbing.
Probably the biggest difference between a regular chlorinated pool and a salt pool is that there has to be a certain level of salt in the water. This is most apparent when the pool is newly filled with water and a couple of hundred pounds of salt has to be added initially.
This may seem like a lot of salt, but it isn’t really. The amount needed for a generator to make chlorine is about one-tenth of the average amount of salt in the ocean. This isn’t enough to even feel the difference, although many claim they can feel it while swimming. In reality, they most likely don’t feel it.
SALTWATER SWIMMING POOL. TO FEEL OR NOT TO FEEL. NOT REALLY A QUESTION
Over the 35 years of being in the pool business, I have heard many people describe the feeling of being in a salt pool. They would say how nice it feels on their skin and how healthy it felt.
We all have different levels of sensitivity of our senses, but the chances of really feeling the difference between a saltwater pool and a regular one are somewhere between slim and none.
Many years ago, I had a pool service company. It was a great business and I kept it for sixteen years before deciding to move on. During this time, salt chlorine generators for residential pools came into existence.
The early salt generator designs were slightly more complicated and definitely more temperamental. They had to be maintained well to keep working. And to make matters harder, it was difficult to tell how well it was making chlorine or if it was making it at all.
Over the next few years, the designs got better but there was still an issue of them potentially not working well. Then units came out that would need an expensive electronic board or cell replacement after only a couple of years. And although most of my maintenance clients were middle-class in-ground pool owners, many wouldn’t opt for such an expensive fix.
This resulted in most pools with older salt systems not working. People didn’t care about fixing them as they already had a weekly pool service adding what was needed chemically to their pool. Over those years, I had many, many pools with salt chlorine generators that hadn’t worked for a long time.
You may be asking what this trip down memory lane has to do with this article. Well, during that time I had a lot of swimmers who thought they were swimming in a salt pool and would comment on it. They would say all these great things about how it felt to swim in saltwater.
The problem was that they only thought they were swimming in a salt pool. Their goodwill toward saltwater was purely placebo.
To make matters more equal, non-saltwater pools that use chlorine (which is about 98% of all pools) have a percentage of salt in them as well. It may not be as high as a pool using a salt-chlorine generator, but it’s still a percentage.
If you are reading this and have claimed to feel the salt in a pool in the past, sorry. Chances are you only thought you felt it. To help explain this, check out one of my favorite books on the subject – “You are the Placebo”
DOES SALTWATER CAUSE RUST IN AN ABOVE GROUND POOL? MOST LIKELY NOT
This is where some of you reading this will have a tilting head while saying “huh?”
Others are labeling me right now as nuts and have just read their last word of this article. For those still reading, let me make my opinion perfectly clear.
“After 36 years of being in the above ground pool business, my opinion is that saltwater does not cause added rust in AG pools”
Now I’m aware that it would make sense to think that saltwater causes rust. And at first (back in the late 80s and early 90s), I thought the same thing. But after years of seeing thousands of above-ground pools and studying why some have rust and some don’t, I simply had no choice but to determine that saltwater has nothing to do with a rusting pool.
If you have had an above-ground pool with a salt system and it rusted, it’s natural for you to disagree with me here. I get that. Some may have even had a pool before that one without a salt generator that didn’t rust, so you made an easy conclusion. I definitely get that.
My view is a different one though. It’s not based on just one or two personal pools. It’s not even just based on a few hundred pools over a long span of ten years. My view is from about ten thousand plus above-ground pools observed over 36 years.
This long-term observation eventually dismisses any emotional or logical stances. The long-term raw data tells a different story. And the story is this:
“I can find no consistent connection between saltwater and rust”
FOUR OBSERVATIONS THAT HELPED ME DETERMINE THAT SALTWATER POOLS DON’T CAUSE ADDED RUST
Over the years, I’ve had many discussions about whether or not saltwater causes rust in an above-ground swimming pool. Almost all that have been in disagreement with me were just pool owners with a bad experience with rust. Others were just internet trolls wanting desperately to just be right based only on their emotion and logic even if they don’t have any real-world experience with above grounds.
Here then are four long-term observations on the subject that cannot be denied.
1 Above ground pools rusted long before the invention of salt chlorine generators
Here’s a simple fact – “Water causes corrosion”. When you associate water with metal, corrosion is always a factor.
It’s important to add the location of rust in above-ground pools. Above grounds have been rusting in the same areas since they were made and filled with water. This has to do with water being corrosive by its nature AND that chlorine fumes are extremely corrosive.
2 I have observed thousands of above-ground pools without a salt-chlorine generator that had rust
You may say “Yeah so what” to this fact. But this demonstrates an important fact here. And that is that above-ground pools can and will rust. Period.
When I come across rust with an above-ground pool, I always try to determine why it rusted. Sometimes I can clearly tell why and sometimes I haven’t a clue.
3 I have observed hundreds of above-ground pools WITH salt chlorine generators (saltwater) that didn’t have any rust
This may be the biggest tell. Imagine seeing so many pools with these supposed rust makers having no rust on them.
And this isn’t a small percentage of pools that I have seen with salt water not having rust. I have only seen hundreds of these (instead of thousands) because most above-ground pools overall don’t have salt generators.
4 The areas and the way an above ground pool rusts with a salt-chlorine generator is the same as one that has rust without a salt system
Here’s a question. “If saltwater causes rust or corrosion, wouldn’t that rust be characteristically different in some way than a rusted non-salt water pool?”
Over the years, I have tried to isolate why pools rust. Certainly, I wanted to find some proof that a salt pool caused it and how. Occasionally, I would see an area of the pool under the top rail that clearly rusted as a result of chlorine gas, but that was about it.
My belief is that chlorine gassing off is the main culprit to rust at the top areas of above-ground pools. The problem here is that there is chlorine gas in both saltwater and non-saltwater pools.
Before I put this to rest, I want to add that getting rust in your pool sucks. People who get rust in their above-ground pool will want to blame it on something.
If they have a salt-chlorine generator, then they will blame the rust on saltwater. If their pool doesn’t have a salt generator, then they will simply blame it on something else.
MORE TRUTHS ABOUT SALTWATER ABOVE GROUND POOLS
If you have read above, you know that my opinion is that swimmers can’t feel the saltwater content and that it doesn’t cause any added rust. What else is there? Here are three more things.
Salt-friendly pools are not all the same
As stated earlier, salt-friendly above-ground pools just have some frame parts made of resin instead of metal. This is good as resin parts (a fancy word for plastic) cannot rust.
Most salt pools have a higher level of chlorine than non-salt pools
Many think that they are avoiding chlorine with a salt pool. Not only are you NOT avoiding chlorine, the fact is that most pools with salt chlorine generators maintain a higher chlorine level than those without.
This sounds much worse than it is. Chlorine levels can be very high in a swimming pool and you’ll never know it. As long as the chlorine is in a free available state and not combined, you are ok.
You will not save money with a saltwater pool
Pool owners chemically maintain their pools in many ways. The main player in this game is chlorine. And with a salt pool, you’ll be making your own fresh chlorine, which is great.
Even though you won’t be spending as much on chlorine per month, having a salt-chlorine generator overall will cost you more in the long run. This is because chlorine is relatively cheap and chlorine generators aren’t.
In truth, you’ll probably never recover from the initial cost of the unit. And even if you do(or think you did), the salt cell in the unit will need replacing at about the three-year mark. This won’t be cheap.
MY OVERALL OPINION ON SALTWATER ABOVE GROUND POOLS
Overall, I’m a big fan of saltwater pools. They make it much easier for pool owners to chemically maintain them. This is great.
And with the trend of above-ground pool frames being made with more and more resin parts, the negative of thinking the pool will rust out is less of an issue.
In truth, I think most chemical add-ons are a complete waste of money. Salt chlorine generators have now stood the test of time and have come down in price. Currently, this is the only add-on I recommend.