Choosing between chlorine and saltwater pools may seem like a no-brainer to the eco-minded, but the choice is not as clear as the waters surrounding it.

In lieu of a day at the beach, private pools are terrific stand-ins. However, not all pools are created equal. Or are they? A quick comparison of traditional chlorine-treated pools and those boasting salt water exposes some surprising truths.

Developed in the 1960s in Australia, saltwater pools quickly achieved a measure of popularity. The idea caught on in the U.S. in the ’80s, and by the mid ’90s, they were all the rage. As a feel-good amenity, they began popping up at resorts and spas and became a selling point with homeowners.

This wildfire enthusiasm, however, partially stemmed from a few misconceptions that still exist today. Chief among them is the idea that saltwater pools are chemical-free, natural, and eco-friendly. While it is true that chemicals are not added to the water, they are, nonetheless, part of its composition—as is chlorine. Additionally, salt is often thought to have disinfecting properties, as well as the ability to improve water buoyancy; wrong again. As for the idea that salt pools feel, look, and taste better, that is only true when they are compared to poorly maintained traditional pools. But when compared to those that are properly treated, the two stand on par.

Saltwater pool, Aquatic Consultants, Rene Gonzalez Architects, Miami, Florida Saltwater pool by Aquatic Consultants at a Miami home, designed by Rene Gonzalez Architects.

Despite their quasi-ocean lure, saltwater pools are genetically more like their chlorinated cousins. Both use chlorine to sanitize the water; the difference is that salt pools use a generator to produce natural chlorine by separating salt molecules into their component parts: chloride and sodium. This chlorine has the identical chemical structure of store-bought chlorine; it offers the same benefits and poses the same problems. Once the chlorine has sanitized (and oxidized) the water within the generator, it is converted back to salt and returned to the pool. The system, therefore, is self-perpetuating and, as such, conserves salt and balances sanitizer levels.

Surprising truths aside, there are still some very good reasons to go with a saltwater pool. Whereas traditional pools require the addition of chlorine and other chemicals, salt pools are chlorine generators; pool owners need not buy, transport, store, or handle hazardous materials, which makes salt systems a little friendlier toward the environment. Additionally, according to Miami-based Brian Van Bower, president of Aquatic Consultants, Inc., “The constant pH factor…coupled with the minimal chlorine level…creates an extremely eye-friendly environment.”  Furthermore, though there are significant costs associated with the installation of a generator, maintenance of salt pools is more cost efficient, and the systems see fewer incidents of the eye, nose, skin, and lung irritations that are often associated with traditional pools. As a result, Van Bower praises the alternative, saying, “…water chemistry is easy with excellent water quality. It is what I use for my own pool.”

The next wave of eco-conscious pools may be ultraviolet disinfection systems, which harness light energy to eliminate microorganisms, lower chemical usage, and eliminate toxic by-products—a sustainable design sure to please the forward-moving swimmer.

Rimbou Lotus Shade, Frontgate

Rimbou Lotus Shade

Shade Style

Contemporary chic best describes this 100% Sunbrella® solution-dyed Rimbou Lotus Shade from Frontgate. The leaf-inspired shade pivots 360° atop a galvanized stainless steel base, and it is compact enough to work in challenging spaces while providing individual shade for a chaise or lounge chair. Ideal are the acrylic furniture-grade fabric and decorative anodized aluminum base cover plate for adding a sleek element to poolside décor. Imported and available in two colors, Aruba and Canvas, the unit lists for $1,845 (protection cover included).