Salt Chlorinators vs. Chlorine Tablets


One of the single most important things to keep in mind when buying a pool or maintaining the one you’ve got is keeping it sanitized, sparkling, and safe for your family. That’s why the pool chemical family of Chlorine products is a common topic here.

Whether you had a pool growing up, or are brand new to the subject, when it comes to sanitation and keeping it clean, Chlorine reigns supreme. However, in today’s world there are more pool chlorine options than ever – including a way to make your own!

Why do Pools Need Chlorine?

We use Chlorine, because it is the most effective agent in the battle against any and all contaminants that lurk in your pool water such as bacteria, sweat, body oil, bird droppings, and anything else that makes its way into the pristine pride of your backyard.

Chlorine effectively removes the conglomeration of unwanted and bothersome things and surrounds them to mask the odor and harmful exposure to your swimmers who are unaware of the matter and busily swimming away. It also combines with other unnatural contaminants, such as nitrogen and ammonia, now appropriately called “combined chlorine”.

Combined chlorine, also known as “chloramines”, build up in your pool and can create lots of pool water problems. These can easily be tested for with DPD Test Kits and Test Strips and removed with a good Shock Treatment – of chlorine.

How to Buy Pool Chlorine

Pool Chlorine is readily available in various popular forms such as Tablets, Granules, or Liquid and by way of an amazing engineering and scientific breakthrough…drumroll please…it can be made with a Chlorine Generator machine right in the comfort of your own home! Well, not in your home exactly, but out by your existing pool or equipment area. Let me explain some important differences…

Chlorine Tablets

chlorine-tablets-iconYou still have the option to buy, haul and store bulky pails of medium-expense Tri-Chlor 3” and 1” tablets and sticks ($100-200/50 lb. pail) which are easily used by placing into a plastic, pool chlorine floater – often molded in the form of a duck or some other friendly figure ($8-15), or the more professional way, by installing a chlorine feeder with a control dial (around $80-150). Both methods are adjustable and slowly erode chlorine into your pool effectively killing bacteria and wiping away the “baddies”.

Granular Chlorine

pool-dichlorYou can instead use Di-Chlor Powdered Chlorine Granules ($150-200/50 lb. pail). Broadcast directly over the pool surface gets you 99% pure chlorine, an instant residual (chlorine level), and is a fantastic way of sanitizing any pool as well as a great green or cloudy water problem solver.

Both chlorine tablets & granules are pH balanced and pre-stabilized – which means they are protected from the sun, which tends to burn off chlorine if left unprotected.

One worrisome note is that both of these types of pool chlorine products are accompanied by harsh odors when opening the containers and leave combined chlorine behind which if left unchecked, causes red eyes, the occasional dry and itchy skin, and faded swimsuits.

Liquid Chlorine

chlorine-iconAnother option is to buy gallon jugs of liquid bleach or liquid chlorine that is effective and inexpensive ($2-4/gal) to buy. Liquid is easily poured right in the pool, however, is packaged in bulky 4 x 1 gallon boxes, can spill and damage your car’s carpet, and can also show up later in the form of bleached spots on your swim suit or street clothes.

This form of chlorine is high in pH yet gentler on your skin and eyes. It is un-stabilized and in fact requires an extra high level of stabilizer to maximize its strength and longevity in the pool. It can also only be purchased locally, it can’t be shipped to you by In The Swim.

Chlorine with a Grain of Salt

aqua-salt-buttonInstead of continuously buying chlorine products, you can invest in a Chlorine Generator which makes chlorine from salt for you so you can avoid all the aforementioned sanitation scenarios. It’s like bringing a small Chlorine factory to your home!

How it works:  You add good old fashioned, ordinary table salt that can be found in most hardware stores or from most pool supply sources to your pool for about $40/40 lb. bag. Once the salt level is established the Chlorine Generator does the rest!  A cell zaps the water as it passes through and converts the salt or sodium chloride (NaCl2) to Sodium Hypochlorite (NaOCl) – which converts to Pure Chlorine!

How Much Salt: Most pools require hundreds of pounds of pool salt for the initial dose, but after that you may just need maintenance dosages which can be as little as a few pounds each spring and throughout the season as water is splashed out, evaporates, or is backwashed away.

How much you add depends on your pool’s gallon-age and the recommended amount for your specific Chlorine Generator, but it’s roughly one 40 lb bag per 2,000 gallons of pool water. All units include instructions and come with a user friendly chart to help you figure it out.

Make sure you do not use rock salt meant for snow melting! Use a salt specifically made for swimming pools. Your best bet is to purchase AquaSalt which is made just for salt pools, dissolves quickly, and is quite pure.

How to Add Salt: The salt can be dumped right into your pool water (best to be circulating and clean and clear) and pushed around with your Telepole and Wall Brush or Vacuum Head. “Dump salt right into my pool – are you crazy?” you say?

Relax, everyone’s doing it, it dissolves in minutes, and makes the water less salty than a human tear drop and in fact, leaves your pool water feeling silky soft, with no skin irritation or strong odor whatsoever! It will require an elevated level of stabilizer much like the application of liquid chlorine.

Types of Salt Chlorinators

Some In Ground Salt Chlorine Generators like the Hayward AquaRite ($739), and Salt & Swim ($599). You have a weatherproof box that you hang on a wall by your equipment which is the Power Supply and Controller and then you have the Salt Cell, which is plumbed into your return line and attaches to your power supply with a shielded cord.

Salt systems include a Flow Switch which is basically a PVCflow-switch-for-salt-system Tee that you plumb before the salt cell and connect to your power supply with a cord similar to a telephone wire and clip. This flow switch lets the power supply know that water is flowing so it does not make chlorine when the pump and filter system is off.

The controller features a digital display for chlorine production level, salt level, error codes, on-off switch, a dial to tune in your chlorine production, and a super chlorinate switch to boost chlorine production.

In ground salt chlorinators, like the Pentair IntelliChlor ($1099-1249) have the Controller built right into the cell so you can make your adjustments right at the cell instead of climbing over your equipment to get to the power supply on the wall.

Above ground salt chlorinators are designed for quick installation and simply hang over the pool wall just under the top seat inside the pool and plug into a wall mountable control box and standard electrical outlet like the Chlor Ease by SmartPool ($200-300) and Solaxx Saltron Retro.ekoklor

The Eko Klor is a salt system that can be used on either pool type and requires no installation – it floats in the pool and is powered by the sun ($299).

Salt Chlorination vs. Tablet Chlorination

ph-icon-2Pool pH Levels: Tablets are low in pH and may lower your pool water pH level. Salt chlorinators create sodium hypochlorite, which is high in pH so it will be necessary to add Acid to balance it out – in most cases on a weekly basis.

For larger pools and folks who want to ph-tekautomate this process there are acid feed systems available such as the pH TEK from Solaxx ($689) that measure and dispense the acid for you. All you need to do is fill a small tank with acid. For the manual application, pH reducer is available in liquid and powdered forms and can be applied as directed on the packaging and tested for weekly to keep up.

maintenance-icon-2Maintenance: Another thing to factor in is the maintenance, and reliability of your choice. With the salt system you must initially invest in the system and have it installed, purchase the salt, and stock up on pH reducer and stabilizer.

The salt level must be maintained and the salt cell must be periodically cleaned, and at some point, you’ll need a replacement salt cell.

Another thing about salt is that at high levels it can be sacrificianl-anodescorrosive and take its toll on anything metal in your pool so Sacrificial Anodes ($30-60) are available to protect your pool light, ladders, and heater cores. They are easy to install and are designed to corrode so your other accessories don’t. Just another little accessory you may need to add to your budget if you go with a salt pool system.

cost-icon-2Cost: A regular chlorine user will spend less up front but probably spend about the same amount in pails of tablets, other maintenance chemicals, floaters and feeders in the same time period. After that you must keep on buying these things.

A salt system user will pay more up front, but very little over the year. Salt chlorination can pay for itself relative to the expense of chlorine tablet usage in about 5 years. After that you are home free as long as the controller and salt cell keep working.

Your salt system is reliable as long as it’s clean, there is electricity and the pump and filter are working. The other forms of chlorine are tried and true methods of pool maintenance but require keeping an eye on your supply and applying the chlorine at regular intervals.

So to Sani-Summarize, Salt Systems are a great way to automate your pool sanitizing but require a sizable up-front investment, require installation, and would be expensive to replace. Traditional tablets and granular forms, although less expensive to start, require annual or multiple in season purchases, trips and transporting to and from the store, manual loading of feeders and floaters, and more attention to keeping appropriate levels in the pool. Floaters are cheap and feeder replacements are not too expensive and can usually be kept working by simply buying a new part here and there.

All of these methods are effective and safe, simple, and smart so either way you go you can be sure your family will enjoy a sanitized, sparkling, and safe swimming pool this summer!


Mike Cummings
InTheSwim Staff Blogger


Salt Chlorinators vs. Chlorine Tablets — 2 Comments

  1. Can I use pool perfect to clean tanning and body oil off fiberglass pool walls in salt water system?
    Thanks in advance
    Rodney Hall

    • Hi Rodney, sure – that is its intended purpose. Pool enzymes like Pool Perfect ingest and consume oils and oily gunk, and are especially suited for tanning oil water line marks (bath tub ring). Works with salt systems too. Pool Perfect Spring and Fall is also very useful for mesh safety covered winterized pools. Pool Perfect is also available with PhosFree, to remove phosphates, or just as the enzyme itself – Pool Perfect.

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