2018 Salt Water vs. Chlorine Pools: Pros & Cons

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What’s the Difference Between a Salt Water and a Regular Chlorine Swimming Pool?

Whether you already have a pool or you want to install one, you have several options for keeping the pool water clean and maintained. The two most common systems are saltwater and chlorine. Below, you will find a quick guide to their differences, advantages and disadvantages.

Benefits of a Saltwater or Saline Pool System

For this option, you must install a salt water generator to regulate and maintain the pool water. The generator uses a process known as electrolysis to convert salt into chlorine. The generator maintains chlorine levels for you, so that you don’t have to monitor, test and balance it as regularly as with a chlorine system.

Freshwater Chlorine

With this system, you add chlorine manually and directly into the pool water. You have to do this on a weekly basis for optimal maintenance and sanitation. Chlorine is available in tablet, stick and liquid form and you must store it with care to reduce human exposure to toxic fumes.

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Saltwater versus Chlorine – Which is Better?

The best system for you will depend on your priorities, your budget and the type of pool you currently have. See how each option stacks up in the most important categories, like cost, maintenance, health and return on investment.

Saltwater is best for… Chlorine is best for…
Lower Annual Maintenance Cost Lower Initial Cost
Easy Maintenance Zero Energy Cost
Health and Safety Chemical Control
Return on Investment

Cost

The average cost of installing a swimming pool ranges from $11,000 to $36,000, with inground pools on the higher end of the cost spectrum and above ground pools on the lower end. The type of water system you have will also have an impact on your initial installation expense. For chlorine, you’ll pay less than $100 because there is no installation involved. For a saltwater system, however, you will add $1,000-$2,500 to your overall price.

Saltwater
Pros

  • Over time, you may recoup your costs because daily operational expenses are low.
  • Pool salt is low-cost and recycles itself in the generator for prolonged periods.

Cons

  • Initial investment will be expensive because salt water chlorine generators (SWCG) are an average of $500-$2,000 and installing them will be up to $500.

Chlorine
Pros

  • Initial investment is small because you only need the tablets and testing equipment.

Cons

  • Daily operational expenses are higher because you must use a new product every week, whether as a tablet, stick or liquid.

Most Immediately Affordable System: chlorine
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Cheapest to Maintain

Saltwater
  • Salt is inexpensive and should only cost around $100 per year in total. This is on the low end of the average cost to maintain a pool, which ranges from $100 to $400.
  • Generator requires electricity and will add to your energy bill. Also, you may need to replace cells in generator after a few years at $200-$700 each.

Chlorine
  • Doesn’t require electricity or equipment maintenance.
  • Annual operating expense ranges from $300-$1,000.

Lowest Annual Expense: saltwater

Ease of Maintenance

Saltwater
Pros

  • Self-maintains for up to two weeks and is easy to add salt to.

Cons

  • Must check and clean cells in generator two to four times per year. Will need occasional shocking throughout the year.

chlorine
Pros

  • No equipment maintenance required.

Cons

  • Must add chemicals manually on a weekly basis.
  • You will also have to shock the pool water much more frequently than with saltwater.

simplest maintenance: saltwater

Health and Safety

saltwater
Pros

  • Gentle on skin and hair. No toxic fumes.

Cons

  • Still involves a low level of chemicals in the form of the generator-produced chlorine.

chlorine
Pros

  • You have total control over the distribution of chemicals in the water.

Cons

  • Known to cause itchy, dry skin, eye irritation and hair discoloration.
  • Must store carefully in order to reduce fume exposure, since the chemicals are dangerous if inhaled.

Healthiest, Safest Option: saltwater

Pump, Filters and Other Features

Saltwater:
  • Pros: Requires a saltwater generator as well as basic equipment like pumps and filters. This equipment is very easy to use.
  • Cons: The saltwater can corrode regular pool equipment and linings. For existing pools, you will need to upgrade to salt-resistant parts and surfaces.
Chlorine:
  • Pros: Only requires the basic equipment like pumps and filters. However, there are chemical controllers available that you can opt for which will add and balance chlorine for you. The chemicals will not corrode this equipment or the pool lining.
  • Cons: Must add chemicals manually if you do not opt for the chemical controller.
Requires the Least Equipment to Run: chlorine

ROI

Saltwater:
  • There is high upfront cost to install the generator, the low operational cost of the equipment could lead to 100% recouped costs.

Chlorine
  • The initial cost is low; the annual cost can range up to $1,000 to maintain this system.

Best for Recouping Investment: saltwater
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Which is Better for Above Ground Pools?

Above ground pools cost around $700-$2,500 to install. Whether you have one already or you’re getting a new one, both chlorine and saltwater are good options. For saltwater, choose features like polymer walls, rather than metal ones, in order to avoid corrosion. Also note that, if you are adding a deck around your above ground installation, saltwater can make many decking materials vulnerable to corrosion. This is because the wood gradually absorbs the water and, as the water evaporates, salt is left. Your best defense is to seal the deck or use composite decking materials.

Which Makes a Better Inground Pool?

Inground pools cost around $35,500-$64,500 to install. If you’re getting a new pool, a saltwater system is a great option because you can get salt-resistant features. A fiberglass lining is a great material for this purpose. A fiberglass pool costs $20,000 to $36,500 to install.

If your pool is already in place, you will likely need to convert it to withstand the effects of salt or install a zinc anode to control corrosion. Retrofitting could include such actions as swapping galvanized steel deck anchors for brass ones and completely resurfacing the pool. Resurfacing a pool averages $5,000 and other pool remodels can cost between $5,000 and $12,000. Salt water can have a negative effect on concrete, masonry, lighting and grass.

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Chlorine vs. Saltwater vs. UV Pools

A UV system could cost as little as $200 to well over $1,000 to install, where saltwater systems are $1,000-$2,500 and chlorine systems are under $100.

UV pools use ultraviolet light to kill bacteria and eliminate algae. The light emitter, or lamp, is installed where water flows from the filter back into the pool and is encased in a strong sterilization chamber. This prevents the UV light from reaching the area outside of the chamber and protects swimmers from exposure.

This option will reduce the need for chemicals and algaecides, will not cause dry skin or itchy eyes and can save homeowners up to $600 on chemical expenses annually. It will not deteriorate pool equipment. And the only maintenance required will be an annual cleaning and lamp replacement.


4 Comments

  1. April, July 25:

    I definitely prefer salt water to chlorine for pools. While I’ve heard from friends that their systems break down more often, I just can’t take the dryness chlorine causes my hair and skin.

  2. Ana Medlock, July 29:

    Interesting article about the pros and cons of saltwater vs chlorine pools, also some info about UV pools. It seems like saltwater is healthier for skin and hair, but may cost more initially. Very interesting!

  3. Hunting.Targ, October 4:

    I am a technician for an IPPSA member employer, and have two comments on this informative, well-balanced article.
    One is that any or all of these methods may be used in conjunction together – I would caution that any equipment installation is best left to professionals with relevant training &/ experience, whether they are pool professionals or not. Some systems, particularly chlorine generators and heaters, do not play well together if everything is not done according to mfgr.s instructions and relevant building codes. There are few things more disheartening than to put in a $3-5000 equipment installation in, only to need a major repair or replacement within a few years because something was done improperly – and those situations are not usually covered by warranties or homeowner’s insurance.
    The second is that finding the right ‘synergy’ or ‘groove’ for your setup is something that takes consistent attention and refinement, and can extend your enjoyment and the lifespan of your pool setup. If you’re willing to put in the requisite research, education, and effort to have a ‘DIY’ maintenance routine, great, more power to you! If you think that you can ‘figure it out’ through sheer guesswork and sticking fingers in the wind, you’re probably better off hiring a professional with the proper training and experience.
    Good luck to everyone!

  4. Debbie and Warren, April 23:

    We have in our inground (home) swimming pool a system that uses neither salt nor chlorine. The Ecosmarte system purifies the water with copper and without chemicals. The initial idea was taken from the NASA Space Program. Chlorine was too volatile so they came up with the idea to use copper. We initially found the Ecosmarte system because we were tired of all the problems we were experiencing with chlorine. Then, we enjoyed it so much that we decided more people should know about the system we had because of the easy maintenance, No weekly trips to the pool store to spend yet another couple hundred dollars. The health benefits are too numerous to mention, but here are a few: No green hair; No skin and eye problems; No more breathing problems: No mixing dangerous chemicals and heavy lugging of Chlorine. We have a long list of clients who love the system too. We live in the south where the heat is pretty bad and calls for more chlorine than normal and we are so glad we don’t have that to deal with anymore.

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