Home » Saltwater Vs Chlorine Pool | Are Salt Pools Better?

Saltwater Vs Chlorine Pool | Are Salt Pools Better?

Are you looking to get a pool and wondering which type of pool is best? Or maybe you’re a veteran pool owner but looking at alternatives to your chlorine pool? Deciding on what pool type to get doesn’t have to be a month-long thinking process. Read on to learn what pool is better and what will suit you best.

Firstly, saltwater pools and chlorine pools are the same, with the fact that chlorine sanitizes both pool types. The main difference is the delivery of that chlorine. Chlorine pools require you to add the chlorine yourself. Saltwater pools create their own chlorine. Secondly, which pool type is better comes down to preference and the use of the pool.

What pool type you pick depends on a few factors. And it’s important to be confident in your choice so keep reading to discover which one is better for you.

Saltwater Vs Chlorine Pool

Summary of Pros And Cons of Saltwater Vs Chlorine

Let’s start with a summary of the pros and cons of chlorine pools Vs saltwater pools. Then we’ll get into the nitty-gritty to help settle your inner debate.

Saltwater Pool Pros And Cons

Cheaper running costsExpensive initial setup (up to $2400)
Some say feels nicer on skinCorrosive to metallic pool elements
Far less time spent on maintenanceComplex system to learn
No chlorine needed (safer as no need to store)Specialist required for repair/replacement

Chlorine Pool Pros And Cons

Cheaper to installNeeds more chemicals (chlorine hazardous to store)
Ideal for heavy pool useNeeds periodic shocks
No expensive salt cells to replace.Chlorine must be added a few times per week
Easier to replace and repairRequires the addition of chlorine

What Is a Saltwater Pool?

As mentioned above, a saltwater pool is similar to the more traditional chlorine pool. It treats the pool with chlorine and you need to measure the same water chemistry levels, along with salt levels.

Saltwater pools are growing in popularity accounting for 1.4 million of the 10.4 million residential pools in the US (as of 2021). A big part of their increasing popularity is the ease of maintenance and the preference for saltwater over chlorine.

So what are saltwater pools? Saltwater pools use a piece of equipment called a saltwater generator (SWG), otherwise known as a chlorine generator or chlorinator. This SWG converts the salt (sodium chloride) in the pool water into free chlorine. A byproduct of this process is free sodium.

The free chlorine then binds with chemicals and contaminants, such as bacteria, fecal matter, and algae to sanitize the pool. Just the same as a chlorine pool. After this, the pool’s filter, filters these substances out of the pool.

Any leftover free chlorine naturally bonds back with the free sodium to form salt, which the saltwater generator recycles through the pool. This is all done automatically within the SWG. Essentially, an electric current passes through the salt cell (part of the SWG), in a process known as electrolysis, to break the salt apart and form the chlorine.

What Is a Chlorine Pool?

Now, you might know exactly how a chlorine pool works or you’re unsure of its inner workings. Regardless, it’s worth learning about the typical pool we all know of.

Chlorine pools sanitize themselves by using chlorine, just like a saltwater pool.

The key difference between a saltwater and chlorine pool is in a chlorine pool, the chlorine is added manually (i.e. you have to add chlorine to the pool yourself).

Most chlorine pool filtration systems are controllable by a pool pump, filter, and multiport valve (MPV) or a diverter valve for cartridge filter pools. Saltwater pools are the same.

This multiport valve has 7 settings allowing you to control how the water flows, perfect for maintaining your pool and circulating pool chemicals. If you’re curious to find out more about what these MPVs are capable of, why not check out our article here: What Do All the Multiport Valve Pool Filters Settings Do?

Once you add the chlorine, you’ll need to let it circulate throughout the pool. And you can help the pool do that by switching the MPV level to the Recirculate position. This will move the water through the filtration system, bypassing the filter. Doing this ensures that the chlorine can sanitize as much of the pool as possible before passing through the filter to waste.

How Are Salt Pools Different from Chlorine Pools?

Saltwater pools are different from chlorine pools because of the use of salt and a chlorine generator to sanitize saltwater pools. Chlorine and salt pools both need a pump and filter.

Man pouring a bag of pool salt into a swimming pool.
Adding salt to saltwater pool. Usually a few bags a season are needed.

1. Saltwater pools need salt

Saltwater pools need salt to be added to the water to function properly. Whereas chlorine pools don’t need salt at all. And where saltwater pools generate their own chlorine, chlorine ones do not. They need you to supply the chlorine.

2. You don’t need to add chlorine

A saltwater pool doesn’t require any additional chlorine for its daily maintenance. Along with the usual monitoring of pool chemicals (pH, alkalinity, stabilizer), you’ll need to keep an eye on the salt level. With a chlorine pool, you don’t use salt, so it’s not a concern if you’re a chlorine pool owner.

Pouring chlorine to pool. This needs to be done a couple of times per week.

The only times you may need to add chlorine to a saltwater pool is if the pool is full of contaminants and needs to be super-chlorinated or shocked. Shocking is the process of overloading your pool with chlorine to clear out large amounts of bacteria or algae blooms.

Unsure what to look out for when dealing with algae blooms? Check out our article here to discover how to prevent blooms: Green Pool – Guide to Easily Preventing & Removing Pool Algae. Plus it’s applicable to saltwater pools too!

How Are Salt and Chlorine Pools Similar?

1. Both Pools Use Sanitize the Water with Chlorine

Saltwater pools and chlorine pools are similar in that they both use chlorine to sanitize the pool. They are also both susceptible to the same contaminants risks. And they both need to have a happy balance with their pool chemistry.

Since both pools use chlorine, they’re both capable of becoming overcome with algae blooms, bacteria, and other contaminants like urine and fecal matter. There is no benefit of one over the other in this case.

However, since a saltwater pool is constantly generating more chlorine, it’s less likely to have algae outbreaks.

2. Both Pools Require Ongoing Cleaning & Water Testing

Man Testing the Swimming Pool Water
Testing the swimming pool water

Keeping either pool type pristine comes down to the maintenance of the pool itself.

  • Regularly testing water (2 times per week)
  • Skimming floating debris daily
  • Vacuuming the pool floor 1-2 times per week
  • Adjusting chemistry once a week or when needed
  • Cleaning the filter every 2-4 weeks
  • Brushing the walls and pool floor every 1-2 weeks

Carrying out each cleaning step and completing regular checks on the filter/salt cell’s condition, and deep cleaning when needed.

3. Both Pools Use the Same Chemicals

When it comes to maintaining pool chemistry, the same chemicals need regular check-ups regardless of which pool type it is. Monitoring the levels of cyanuric acid, chlorine, pH, and alkalinity are just as important in saltwater pools as chlorine pools.

Pool Chemicals
Both chlorine pools and saltwater pools use the same chemicals.

What’s Better About Saltwater Pools?

1. Salt Pools Require Less Maintenance

The biggest draws to saltwater pools is the convenience, reduced maintenance time and cheaper daily ongoing costs when you compare it to chlorine pools. And this is all thanks to the chlorine generator and salt.

With chlorine pools, you need to carry out weekly tests of your pool to make sure that the chlorine levels are correct. That they’re not too high or too low, resulting in the need to add more chlorine.

For a full guide on saltwater pool maintenance, check out our article: Beginners Guide to Saltwater Pool Maintenance

2. Salt Pools Don’t Require Chlorine to be Added

However, a saltwater pool is more streamlined with how it regulates its chlorine level. The saltwater generator (SWG) constantly creates its own chlorine and the chlorine output is adjustable with the simple press of a button.

It’s a lot easy to press a button to increase the chlorine level, rather than go to the pool store, buy the chlorine and manually add it a few times per week.

You can even go on vacation and know that your saltwater pool will keep producing the chlorine necessary to sanitize it and keep it clean.

3. Salt Pools Have Significantly Lower Daily Costs

The ongoing running costs of a saltwater pool are much cheaper, $70-$100 per year vs. $300-$800 for chlorine pools. Of course, this all depends on pool usage and its size.

We have a full article on the cost differences of saltwater pools and chlorine pools:
Salt Water & Chlorine Pool Costs | What’s cheaper?

4. Salt is Safe to Store, Chlorine is Dangerous

Additionally, salt is much safer and easier to store than chlorine. Salt is a natural substance whereas chlorine is a chemical. Improperly stored chlorine is more dangerous to you and your environment than its counterpart.

5. Saltwater Pools Feel Better

Finally, many saltwater pool owners prefer the feel of saltwater on their skin. They say it feels softer and nicer over a traditional chlorine pool. More on that later.

Related Reading: Can You Swim with a Broken Toe?

What’s Better About Chlorine Pools?

1. Much Lower Initial Setup Costs

What makes chlorine pools better than saltwater pools include the cost of installation and its popularity. And that chlorine doesn’t corrode pool features and equipment like salt does.

Because you’re dealing with a saltwater generator, this will cost more than the more simple chlorine filtration system. Again, depending on the size of the SWG you need, you could be looking at an extra setup cost of $1500 to $2,500 for a saltwater pool.

We have a full article on the cost differences of saltwater pools and chlorine pools:
Salt Water & Chlorine Pool Costs | What’s cheaper?

2. No Expensive Salt Cell To Replace

SWGs don’t last forever. In fact, you’ll likely need to replace the salt cell, which is responsible for converting saltwater to chlorine, every 3-5 years. And they’re not cheap. You’re looking at $400 to $900 to replace a salt cell.

Further Reading: When to Replace a Salt Cell – How Long Does It Last?

3. No Salt Cell to Clean

In addition to salt cell replacement, they usually need cleaning every 3-6 months. It’s a simple process to do this, but it is an additional step that isn’t necessary with chlorine pools.

Dirty Saltwater Cell - Shows calcium scale.
Calcium on a salt cell | Image Credit: Will Lee

If you’d like to know more about cleaning your saltwater cell, check out our article: How to Clean a Pool Saltwater Cell Like a Pro! (and when)

4. No Potential Salt System Problems

And whilst we’re on the topic of salt chlorine generator maintenance, just like any other device, they can develop problems and may require repair or replacement. And that could get expensive. Saying that, they’re usually pretty reliable.

5. Reduced Equipment Corrosion

The water in chlorine pools doesn’t contain salt nor does it need the salt to stay clean. Salt is a corrosive substance and can easily corrode uneven pool bonds as well as any metallic pool equipment (ladders, lights, etc.). Because of these corrosive traits, there’s more upkeep in the long term to prevent permanent damage to a saltwater pool.

Who Suits a Saltwater Pool (And Why)?

Those Who Prefer Less Maintenance

A saltwater pool would most suit someone who is doesn’t want to maintain their pool as often as they would with a chlorine one. It’s the choice of someone that values convenience and prefers to have a much lower running cost as well.

Letting the saltwater generator control the chlorine level frees up your time. Now, you can free yourself of adding chlorine several times per week. And, as mentioned above, depending on the pool size, you could be looking at running costs of around 3 times less than a traditional chlorine pool.

Those that Don’t Like the Chlorine Smell

Even though a saltwater pool is still a chlorine pool, it uses the chlorine differently. And this affects the attributes of its water. Because saltwater pools can control the chlorine level better than chlorine pools, there is often a reduced smell of chlorine from this pool type. Chlorine pools are often under-chlorinated, which means more of a chlorine smell.

Many people who suffer from respiratory conditions feel the smell of chlorine aggravates their lungs. Saltwater pools are less likely to give off this odor, which is another reason why many choose to go with them.

Saltwater Can Feel Softer

Anecdotally, many owners of this pool type report that the water feels silkier and smoother on their skin and hair than that of chlorine pools. There’s no evidence to confirm that but it’s likely due to the salinity level and/or having fewer contaminants and chemicals in the water.

The salinity level is the measurement of salt content in ppm (parts per million). And saltwater salinity is similar to the level we have in our bodies. For example, a typical saltwater salt level is 3,000 ppm and human tears are around 5,000 ppm.

Someone With a Family and/or Pets

A surprising consideration to take is the safety of storing and handling salt. Especially if you’ve got a family of children and pets. Salt is a natural substance and won’t harm its surroundings like chlorine will.

Chlorine is an extremely hazardous substance to store. It’s not uncommon for chlorine to explode or cause fires, both in residential homes and in pool stores. Chlorine is also toxic and could kill an animal or a child if ingested. On the flip side, as long as you take precautions storing it, you shouldn’t have any problems.

This isn’t the case with salt, salt is perfectly safe to store. And if it was ingested, it wouldn’t cause any serious health risks. Making it ideal for families of children and pets alike.

Who Suits a Chlorine Pool (And Why)?

Anyone can decide they want to go with a chlorine pool. However, this pool type might suit some lifestyles more than others.

Those That Don’t Want the Extra Upfront Expense

If you’re new to owning pools or don’t want the extra cost of installing a saltwater system, then a chlorine pool would be perfect for you. You’ll save up to $2400. Once you settle on what filter type you want (sand, D.E, or cartridge), understanding what the maintenance involves is simple.

Those Adverse to the Risk of Expensive Repairs or Replacement

Just a bi-weekly check on the system itself and testing the pool chemical levels with a test strip kit. And it’s easier to manage yourself when it comes to repairs and replacements. Plenty of pool stores will carry the items you need, and there are a lot of guides around to show you step-by-step.

You won’t need to worry about replacing an expensive salt cell (up to $900) or the complete failure of the saltwater chlorine generator system.

Someone With a Smaller Pool

If the initial cost of a saltwater system installation concerns you (and its electricity usage), then a chlorine pool would suit you better. Especially if your pool is on the small side. The smaller the pool, the less of a gap there is between the pool’s running costs vs. that of a saltwater pool.

Another factor to consider when deciding if a chlorine pool is for you is pool usage. If your pool is in use by a lot of people very frequently, then this pool type would work perfectly. Unfortunately, pools that experience heavy swimming are more prone to building up contaminants.

Although saltwater pools create chlorine to sanitize, the higher the swimming load, the faster the salt cell will wear out.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to finding out which pool type is better: saltwater or chlorine, it all lies with owner preference. Each one has great advantages but also some negatives.

There is no one right answer. You prefer reduced daily maintenance and lower ongoing costs but don’t mind the higher upfront cost and equipment maintenance, a saltwater pool might suit you better.

If you don’t want the higher upfront cost and are quite happy to add chlorine a few times per week, then you won’t go wrong with a chlorine pool.

Ultimately, it’s your decision. But, hopefully, this article will help you make that decision.

Related Reading: How to Reduce pH Level in a Saltwater Swimming Pool

Leave a comment