Are you having trouble deciding between a saltwater pool and a chlorine pool?
In this article, we’ll explain what salt pools and chlorine pools share in common (this might surprise you), the practical differences between each type, and which one you should ultimately choose.
What Do Salt Pools and Chlorine Pools Have in Common?
Saltwater pools and chlorine pools have more in common than most people think.
In fact, this comparison is a bit of a misnomer because saltwater pools use salt to make chlorine, which technically still makes it a chlorine pool even if it’s not in the traditional sense of manually adding chlorine.
In other words, the main difference between a saltwater pool and a traditional chlorine pool is the chlorine delivery system, or how the chlorine is introduced into the water.
With that being said, how chlorine is introduced makes a notable difference in everything from the water quality to the maintenance to cost.
Saltwater vs Chlorine Pools: The Key Differences of Each System
Let’s look at the main benefits of each chlorine delivery system and how it’s likely to impact your experience as a pool owner.
Here we go…
1. Saltwater Pools Have Better Water Quality
Many people can immediately tell when they’re in a saltwater pool because the water just feels that much better.
This is because saltwater generators produce a steady flow of chlorine into the pool, allowing the pool to maintain a significantly lower chlorine level than that of a traditional chlorine pool.
When you have less chlorine in the water, you experience fewer (or greatly diminished) side effects of chlorine such as stinging eyes or dry hair and skin, resulting in water that is noticeably less harsh.
Aside from the reduced sanitizer level, having additional salt in the water also makes the water “softer”, which is why even some chlorine pool owners add extra salt to their water.
Did you know? The salt levels in a saltwater pool are a tiny fraction of the levels found in the ocean, and they only give off a subtle taste of salt. Most people are unable to tell if they’re in a salt pool by taste alone.
Score: Saltwater pools 1 – 0 Chlorine pools
2. Salt Pools Are Easier to Maintain
Picking up from the last point, the constant, steady flow of chlorine coming from a saltwater chlorine generator inherently means there’s less work involved in maintaining the chemistry of the water.
Where chlorine pools need regular testing and frequent doses of chlorine to stay above a certain level, a salt generator provides an interface that allows you to specify an exact chlorine level to maintain.
What’s more, traditional chlorine pools require buying, transporting, and lugging around physical bags or bottles of chlorine, while salt systems allow you to add more chlorine with just a few button presses.
As long as you remember to top up your pool with enough salt—which is usually only required once every season—your saltwater generator will take care of the rest on autopilot.
Of course, this only accounts for your sanitizer level. Like any pool, you’ll still need to check and adjust other essential parameters such as pH, alkalinity, cyanuric acid, and calcium hardness on a semi-regular basis.
Did you know? The pH level of a saltwater pool naturally rises a little faster than a traditional chlorine pool. This is due to the additional aeration (water movement) caused by the saltwater generator.
Score: Saltwater pools 2 – 0 Chlorine pools
3. Chlorine Pools Are Easier to Repair
Chlorine pools and salt pools share much of the same equipment (pumps, filters, heaters, etc.), so how can chlorine pools be easier to repair?
Well, it really comes down to saltwater pools needing an additional piece of equipment to work; a saltwater generator.
Despite having a seemingly “simple” job of zapping salt into chlorine, these chlorine generators rely on complex machinery and programming to work. It only takes one malfunctioning component to disable the entire sanitation system.
Potential issues range from circuit board failure, a cracked electrode, salt degradation, a broken thermistor, and everything in between.
While some troubleshooting steps can be taken to get a saltwater generator back up and running, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll need to call in the professionals to carry out a complicated repair.
Score: Saltwater pools 2 – 1 Chlorine pools
4. Chlorine Pool Water Isn’t As Corrosive (Kind Of)
Chlorine pools are said to be less corrosive to pool equipment, metal fixtures, and surfaces compared to saltwater pools, especially to copper heat pumps.
But that’s only partially true.
All water will be corrosive to certain metals when it becomes acidic, which is anything below a pH level of 7 (neutral). The lower the pH level falls, the more corrosive the water becomes.
While both chlorine and saltwater pools can experience low pH and therefore become corrosive, water with higher salt content has been shown to accelerate corrosion in some materials, if only to a small degree.
All in all, as long you keep your pH level balanced, you won’t have to worry about corrosion regardless of the pool type you own.
Score: Saltwater pools 2 – 2 Chlorine pools
5. Chlorine Pools Have Much Lower Upfront Costs
Traditional chlorine pools don’t require you to install a saltwater generator because they don’t need to make their own chlorine.
That’s a major advantage when you consider that even a smaller, low-end chlorine generator can cost around $500 delivered, while a larger, high-end generator will set you back as much as $2,000.
You also have to account for installation costs which can be considerable if converting from a chlorine pool as the supporting infrastructure likely doesn’t exist. For example, you may need new electrical lines and piping to accommodate the generator.
Even with the promise of long-term savings (more on that below), the upfront investment might be too much to swallow for some pool owners.
Score: Saltwater pools 2 – 3 Chlorine pools
6. Saltwater Pools Have Lower Running Costs (Kind Of)
Once the initial investment is out of the way, salt systems no longer rely on a frequent top-up of expensive chlorine.
For many pool owners, this can translate into a significant reduction in chemical costs each season. For example, given the extremely low cost of salt, where a chlorine pool might see a spend of $300 per year, a saltwater pool may only require up to $100 for the same level of maintenance.
But those numbers alone can be quite misleading.
While a saltwater generator is often a one-time investment, the salt cell inside the generator (which actually converts salt into chlorine) will need to be replaced every 3-7 years depending on usage and uptime.
Considering this can be around half the cost of the entire salt system, any savings gained through years of running a salt pool can be made insignificant by frequent cell replacements – and that’s without the additional cost of repairing faults with the generator itself.
Overall, while salt pools are cheaper to run in the long-term, it’s a small difference when factoring in the true cost of owning, maintaining, and repairing a salt generator.
Score: Saltwater pools 3 – 3 Chlorine pools
7. Saltwater Pools Don’t Give Off a Smell (Debunked)
It’s often said that chlorine pools give off that familiar and not very pleasant pool smell, whereas saltwater pools don’t.
But this one is actually a myth.
The smell comes from used up chlorine (chloramines), which form after chlorine kills and combines with organic contaminants in the water. This is usually stuff like sweat, saliva, body oils, hair, and even urine.
It doesn’t matter if you have a saltwater pool or a traditional chlorine pool because both types utilize chlorine in the same way, and neither are immune to bather waste contamination that can eventually lead to the same funky smell.
Did you know? To prevent this smell from occurring, you need to shock your pool often in order to break apart (oxidize) the chloramine buildup in your water and release them (off-gas) into the air.
Score: Saltwater pools 3 – 3 Chlorine pools
Final Verdict: It’s a Draw!
Despite the individual benefits of chlorine vs saltwater pools, in the end, neither comes out as a clear winner for the best pool sanitation system.
Of course, our comparison assumes equal importance on each of the above points, which doesn’t translate well into the real world. Not everyone values low cost to the same degree as convenience, for example.
Ultimately, you need to weigh up the benefits of each system and decide what matters most to you, and what you’re prepared to compromise on.