Salt Water & Chlorine Pool Costs | What’s cheaper?

Is a saltwater or chlorine pool cheaper? That’s a great question! This is a highly debated topic and is asked by new and existing pool owners all the time.

There are a few things to consider when answering this question, one of which is day-to-day costs, maintenance costs, and how much you value your time. By the way, did you know that a salt pool is the same as a chlorine pool? The only difference is how chlorine is added, and I’ll explain that a little later.

Chlorine pools are around $100-$300 per year cheaper to operate over the long term. This is when you take into account saltwater pool equipment and replacement costs. However, saltwater pools are much cheaper in the short term. Chlorine may cost $300-$800 per year whereas salt may only cost $70-$100 per year.

Coming from someone who has owned a pool maintained with chlorine tablets, liquid chlorine, a combination of both, and a salt water chlorine generator (SWCG), the short answer is that the day-to-day costs are definitely cheaper with a saltwater pool, and I don’t miss having to go buy chlorine every week!

However, as with all things that make our lives easier there is a caveat, there’s a less anticipated cost for SWCG pools that you should be aware of as well – salt cell maintenance and replacement. Depending on the length of time you have the pool and your specific conditions, the long-term cost of maintaining a salt pool can equal that of a chlorine pool, but if convenience is your thing then salt is the way to go.

Let’s take a look at all the ins and outs.

Saltwater Vs Chlorine Pool Costs

What is a Salt Pool?

OK, so I promised to explain more about how a salt pool is the same as a chlorine pool so let’s start with that. A salt pool simply uses a device called a salt water cell generator (SWCG) that uses electricity to convert dissolved salt into chlorine and then injects it directly into your pool.

Sounds a bit easier than actually having to physically add chlorine tabs or liquid all the time.

Everything else is the same with respect to maintenance and additional chemicals required to keep your water balanced. Check out our other article for a more thorough comparison and benefits comparison of traditional chlorine pools and salt pools.

What is a Chlorine Pool?

A chlorine pool is very similar to a saltwater pool. The key difference is that a regular chlorine pool does not have a saltwater chlorine generator to make the chlorine. The water also does not contain salt.

The pool owner must manually add chlorine a few times per week to keep the pool sanitized and clean. Other than this, the two pools are the same. However the costs of each type of pool do vary.

Saltwater Vs Chlorine Annual Operating Costs

Depending on your specific situation, the cost could vary, but below is a chart that shows a general assumption for yearly costs for a saltwater vs chlorine pool.

Keep in mind that we’ve only included the variable costs. That is, we haven’t included the costs that are common to both pools. We’ve excluded many common costs such as pH chemicals, algaecides, pump running costs, filter costs, etc.

Over the long term, assuming the saltwater chlorine generator system lasts about 10-12 years and your salt cell lasts 5 years, a chlorine pool will cost $100 to $300 per year less.

If, however, you have a failure of the saltwater system or saltwater cell earlier, the saltwater pool costs will increase and will be even higher than a chlorine pool.

30,000 Gal Salt Pool30,000 Gal Chlorine Pool
Electricity$ 26None
Salt$ 72None
ChlorineNone  $ 250-$350
Stabilizer (CYA)*$ 50$ 20
Salt Cell Replacement**$ 80-$180None
Salt System Upfront Costs***$ 125-$250None
Total$ 353-$578$ 270-$370
Table shows the annual costs of salt vs chlorine pools. Excludes costs common to both pools.

* If you use chlorine tablets in a chlorine pool, you won’t need to add much stabilizer. You will need to add a little more for salt pools as the chlorine doesn’t contain it.
** Assuming the salt cell lasts 5 years. We’ve annualized the replacement cost of $400 to $900.
*** Assuming the salt system lasts 12 years before replacement. We’ve annualized the replacement cost of $1500-$3000.

Equipment Costs for a New Saltwater Pool

Pools that are initially built with a saltwater generator setup (that is, saltwater swimming pool) typically have an overall cost anywhere from $1500 to $3000 more due to the cost of the equipment.

Saltwater pools cost $1500 to $3000 extra upfront.

This is quite a lot more money up front than a chlorine pool.

However, you will also end up paying less ongoing costs over the life of the salt cell. With a chlorine pool, you would spend money on chlorine and the gas and time it takes you to go to the pool store and buy the chlorine.

And then you have the inconvenience of adding it multiple times per week every for the life of the pool.

Costs for Converting from Chlorine to Salt

If you currently own a chlorine pool and want to convert to saltwater, you can anticipate a similar cost as having it done during the build.

It will cost you anywhere from $1500 to $3000, as installing during the build would have. However, you could save some money by installing it yourself too if you are comfortable with electrical work and plumbing.

Note that we recommend having electrical work performed by a certified electrician for safety considerations.

Cost of Converting from Chlorine to Saltwater

Expense20,000 Gallon Pool45,000 Gallon Pool
Saltwater Generator$300 to $1500$800 to $2,800
Installation$300 to $500$300 to $500
Start up Salt$180 for 15@40lb. bags – 600 lbs.$396 for 33@40lb. Bags – 1314 lbs.
Total$780 to $2,180$1496 to $3,696
Chart shows approx. costs of converting a regular chlorine pool to a saltwater pool.

Saltwater Generator Options

It’s also important to note that there are several different options for salt pools as well. There are some that are connected to pool automation systems (typically as part of new builds). These systems can include Wi-Fi control and many other features to make owning a pool easier.

And then there are some that are stand alone and a lot less high tech but require more manual intervention to adjust.

However, part of the benefit of having a salt pool is the low touch required for maintaining your chlorine level so you probably don’t want to skimp on getting a good set up that’s going to make your life easier.

If you are renovating your pool or replacing a pump or filter then that’s a perfect time to consider converting to a salt pool with an automated control system if you don’t already have one.

Ongoing Pool Running & Maintenance Costs for Salt Vs Chlorine

Chemicals (chlorine)

As a basic rule of thumb, depending on pool size and geography, you can count on spending anywhere from $300 to $800 per year on chlorine alone, depending on what type you use and where you are located.

That’s compared to adding salt at a cost of $70 to $100 per year!

For those that don’t want to do the math.

A chlorine pool will cost $200 to $730 per year more in chemicals per year.

The salt that’s needed to feed the SWCG throughout the year is typically 6 @40 lb. bags per year for a 20,000 gal pool.

Time & Convenience

And for additional consideration, think about how easy it would be to simply press a button or turn a knob to quickly add more chlorine when you realize that your chlorine is low, the pool store is closed, and you have a pool party in the morning!

Since you are already planning for a big expense, the small portion of the cost that’s added for this convenience is worth it if you value your time and don’t want to be bothered with constantly shuffling chlorine back and forth from the store to your pool.

Ongoing maintenance

Salt cells need cleaning. Chlorine pools do not have a salt cell.

Typically saltwater systems have a sensor that tells you when to clean the cell, but you can assume that they need to be cleaned at a minimum once per season if you keep your chemistry balanced.

Ideally you will need to clean your salt cell once every 3 to 6 months on average to maintain optimal performance. We also have an article that explains how to clean your cell and what is required.

Corrosion

Saltwater pools tend to have a lot more corrosion over regular chlorine pools.

It’s recommended to use a sacrificial zinc anode in the pool or skimmer and that will help protect metal parts in your pool from rusting and corrosion. The cost of this is generally under $80.

Pool Tool 104-D 104D

Click here to check price >>

O-Rings & Fittings

Salt can also damage rubber used in pumps and o-rings used in valves and fittings so you should consider coating them with silicone pool lube and for the more expensive parts like pump shaft seals you should consider replacing them with salt tolerant seals.

Lube tube 2-Pack: 4oz Pool/Spa O-Ring Lubricant (Service Tech Size)

Click here to check price >>

This is less of an issue than a chlorine pool.

Life of Salt Cell

The one larger expense that people do not account for, when deciding if a salt pool is cheaper than a chlorine pool, is having to replace the salt cell. The cells have a finite lifespan and will need to be replaced every 3 to 5 years on average.

This will run anywhere from $400 to $900 and could be more depending on whether you replace it yourself or have it serviced by a pool professional.

Electricity

Saltwater generators (aka chlorinator) use electricity to convert saltwater into chlorine. The typical cost for that is anywhere from $26 to $48 per year depending on the size of the pool, its use, and the electricity rates in your area.

Regular chlorine pools do not have a SWG (saltwater generator), so there is no additional energy costs.

Other Factors That Impact Cost

The more chlorine demand then the harder your salt cell has to work and the more energy it takes to run it. There are several factors that can affect daily operating costs and salt cell life such as the ones here:

  • The size of your salt cell, is it sized appropriately for the amount of water in your pool?
  • Use of secondary sanitizers such as ionizers, UV, Ozone, or enzymes. Secondary sanitizers remove organic waste so that chlorine can focus on bacteria and algae and all of these will significantly reduce the chlorine demand.
  • Phosphate removers will also help lower chlorine demand, Phosphates are actually food for algae so in their presence algae will thrive and overpower your chlorine.
  • How often the pool is used and whether or not pets are allowed to use it. The more contaminators, the more chlorine demand.
  • How diligent you are with your chemistry, (proper pH and stabilizer levels are crucial for chlorine to be effective.) The most important of those is stabilizer, if it is too low then your chlorine will be destroyed by the UV rays from the sun. Which means you’ll need to either add more chlorine and run your saltwater generator harder or for longer.
  • Weather plays a big factor in chlorine use, the warmer the weather the more chlorine demand.
  • Use of a pool cover to keep debris and sunlight out will lower chlorine demand.

Leave a comment