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  • Writer's pictureCollin Campbell


Updated: Nov 25, 2020

Summer is upon us. Heavily upon us. Like, all up on us. That means long days, short pants, and swimming pools. Among other things. With swimming pools comes swimmers, and with swimmers comes the need for sanitation. We won't delve into details here... I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.

So, you've probably heard about some of the various pool systems out there. You've probably heard the most from the people trying to sell them to you. That's where things get foggy, right? Salt pool guy says salt's the best, most perfect thing. Then UV guy says salt is terrible. Then chlorine guy says both of them are stupid. Ozone guy butts in and tells chlorine guy to shut up. Then salt guy calls ozone guy a name. It gets ugly fast. Everyone's chanting “Jerry” and then people are pulling hair and throwing chairs.

Okay, maybe that was a slight dramatization. The point, though, is solid. Every system claims to be the best and claims the others are the worst. Allow me to help lift the fog a bit. Truth is, they all have pros and cons, and where one works for one person it may fail for another.

Let's get a brief overview of some of the more common types of systems so you can make the choice on which is right for you. Crazy, right? Letting you think for yourself. Unheard of.

Chlorine systems

One of the most common and widely known systems. Basically the water is chlorinated by adding a chlorine compound, most often in the form of tablets or granules. Chlorine is a naturally-occurring element that is highly reactive. Chlorine is also highly misunderstood. You may have heard that chlorine is a dangerous chemical. Actually, it just depends on the material form of the element. Regular ol' table salt is chlorine and sodium, and we consume massive amounts of that stuff. Sure, Doc says too much salt can cause high blood pressure and kidney stones, but this is actually the fault of the sodium. Not the chlorine. Then again, chlorine as a free element is a gas known to have toxic properties and was even used as a chemical weapon during the first world war. So what does this mean for the pool? Well, according to the CDC website:

Chlorine is not present in chlorinated water. During water chlorination, chlorine gas may be added to the water at first; however, the chlorine is quickly transformed into other chemicals (hypochlorous acid and hypochlorite anion), which actually disinfect the water.

Drinking small amounts of hypochlorite solution (less than a cup) can produce irritation of the esophagus. Drinking concentrated hypochlorite solution can produce severe damage to the upper digestive tract and even death. These effects are most likely caused by the caustic nature of the hypochlorite solution and not from exposure to molecular chlorine.

That last part sounded scary. Luckily, swimming pools typically have very low concentrations of hypochlorite or hypochlorous acid. Like so many things, there's a definite health risk but not enough for most people to feel the need to worry.

The good:

- Chlorine systems are very effective at disinfecting the water

- They are relatively inexpensive to implement

- Since they are very common, there are plenty of resources available for upkeep

The bad:

- Chlorinated water is hard on fabrics like swimsuits and towels, and leaves a residual odor

- Chlorinated pools are irritating to eyes, skin, and other parts of the body

- Handling the concentrated chemicals needed for treatment poses health risks

The best case scenario:

A chlorine system is low cost, and effective at sanitation. As long as exposure to chlorine compounds is limited, and all safety precautions are followed, it's a good system. You'll just have to tolerate a little red eye and a bleached swimsuit. That's pretty unavoidable. I'd recommend a shower after swimming. For sure.

Saltwater Systems

These systems have actually been on the market for a few decades, but have fairly recently grown in popularity. It uses sodium chloride (table salt) and a generator that, through electrolyisis, creates hypochlorous acid to sanitize the water. Contrary to what many think, a saltwater system is not chlorine-free. It simply achieves chlorination from the chlorine in the salt. The benefit is that maintaining the pool doesn't require the frequent handling of dangerous chemicals. It also operates with lower chlorination levels in the water, which makes it more comfortable to swim in.

The good:

- Saltwater systems reduce the need to handle dangerous chemicals that pose health risks

- Saltwater pools have a softer “feel” to the water that is generally desirable

- Yearly chemical costs can be greatly reduced

The bad:

- Saltwater generators are very costly to install initially

- Your pool will still be chlorinated (see above)

- Salt is corrosive and can damage pool surfaces, liners, pumps, and other equipment

The best case scenario:

Saltwater is nice to swim in. It doesn't burn your eyes as badly as traditional chlorine systems and feels softer on the skin. However, the system is not for the faint of wallet. Upon installing the system, make sure all components are corrosion resistant. Some things can be sealed, many need replaced with composite or plastic counterparts. Watch your pH, as the saltwater tends to run high and might affect the clarity of the water.

Ozone Systems

Ozone is a relatively new development in the pool world. Sanitation is achieved via oxidation from the addition of ozone gas to the water. Ozone is phenomenally more effective than chlorine at sanitation. Now, just like chlorine, ozone in its pure form is a toxic gas. The major difference here is that the ozone isn't actually in your pool. Weird, right? It's like nothing I'm saying makes any sense. Here's the deal; in residential ozone systems, so little ozone is injected that it only ozonates the water in a portion of the pump piping system. It never makes it into your pool. So they're very safe. The downside is that, even though the water is being effectively sanitized as it moves through the pump piping, the water in the pool itself has nothing keeping it clean. So the system is not killing the germs in the water from that kid next to you that keeps sucking it up and spitting back into the pool. Gross kid. Where's his parents? Anyway, because of this, ozone systems require an additional sanitizer for the water in the pool. The typical workaround to this problem (can you guess?) is adding chlorine. Like saltwater systems, it's far less chlorine than traditional systems. Also, some other sanitation methods can be used in place of chlorine. So there is the health benefit of less chemical contact. Ozone also doesn't share the corrosive qualities of the saltwater systems so there isn't the need to replace or protect your pool surfaces and equipment.

The good:

- Ozone systems aren't corrosive, and are easier on pool liners and equipment

- Chemical upkeep is minimal, benefiting health and bank accounts

- Like with salt, the water is more comfortable to swim in

The bad:

- Initial costs are higher than chlorine systems, but often lower than saltwater

- Ozone still requires an additional sanitizer for the water in the pool

The best case scenario:

Ozone systems are typically easy to maintain and produce a nice, clear, clean pool. Find an effective chlorine alternative for sanitation and you can potentially swim in a chemical free pool. There can be a bit of initial cost, but maintenance is typically inexpensive.

Other systems

Those are the most common systems currently on the market, but there are many others out there.

UV pool systems use UV light from a bulb to sterilize bacteria and destroy various microbes, but still require the addition of a sterilizer (like chlorine).

Mineral cartridge systems pump water through a cartridge that kills the contaminants, but require the pool pump to run almost constantly to be effective.

Biguanide chemicals are basically a safer chlorine alternative that are very effective at first, but over time can result in a waste buildup that decreases efficiency of the system and is notorious for algae buildup that is very hard to remove.

There are other systems I've heard of that claim to be better than all of these, but are often quite obscure on details of exactly what the system is, or does. They could be awesome, but I personally like to know the whys and hows about things.

There you have it. A whole mess of info. Go pick one. What's that? I made them all sound bad? They all have their weaknesses, sure. The best systems out there tend to be ones that use a combination of methods. They combine strengths of various systems to cancel out their weaknesses.

Would you like a recommendation?

I'm always an advocate for finding what's best for yourself. A bit of trial and error to discover the right fit, you know? I'm also aware that if you're reading this article you were probably hoping to eliminate, or a least minimize, the trial-ing and error-ing.

I really like the Healthcare System by Superior Aqua. Its a two part system that uses both ozone and ionization to achieve sanitation. The ozone sanitizes as it runs through the pump system and the copper/silver ions work as a residual. A major benefit though, is that the ionization process also replaces the need for algicide and stabilzer, which almost every other pool system needs. The system is extremely low maintenance, and produces some of the cleanest water you'll ever swim in. There is no odor, and the water feels great. Just for the sake of saying it, no I don't get paid to mention those systems. I kinda wish I did. Bottom line is, its the best one I know of. Really good system.

I hope this article clears up a few things... like your pool water. See what I did there? What's that? Stick to my day job? Got it. Being that pools are plumbing, and we know plumbing, Roto-Rooter is here to answer any questions you have on your pool plumbing. We're also perfectly positioned to repair your pool plumbing problems. Happy swimming!

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