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April 19, 2004
No Diving in the Pasta Water

By Steve Friess

  Chlorinated pools have long left swimmers with stinging eyes and smelly hair; the ocean's got seaweed and lots of salt. But now the hottest trend in cooling off is a hybrid: saltwater swimming pools. Modest but adequate amounts of chlorine can be released from normal table salt (a.k.a. sodium chloride, for you English majors) when the water is passed through a special electrical cell. In saline swimming pools, salt is dumped in at a rate of about 35 pounds per 1,000 gallons of water; the natural chlorination process kills off algae and bacteria without introducing abrasive byproducts, says Michael Gregg of Zodiac Pool Care.

It's unclear how many of the more than 160,000 pools installed last year use the process, which was developed in Australia in the 1970s but only began to take off in the United States in recent years. "Saline is definitely on the rise," says Suzanne Darrow of the National Spa & Pool Institute, an industry trade group. Still, the units aren't cheap-it costs $1,400 or more to retrofit an existing pool. A downside: the process leaves the water with a vaguely salty pall, but owners say it's minimal. "It's not that salty," says Stephen LoCascio of Palm Springs, Calif. "It's like swimming in pasta water." Yum.

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