Saltwater vs. Chlorine Pools: What’s the Difference?

By HomeAdvisor

Updated May 25, 2021

Left/Top: © anucha sirivisansuwan / Moment/Getty Images.
Right/Right: © Changyu Lu / Moment / Getty Images.

Chlorine and saltwater are the two most popular pool systems. And whether you have an above-ground or inground pool, you need to know how to keep the water clean and safe. Saltwater is a healthy, environmentally friendly option and freshwater chlorine has a lower initial cost. Use this guide to familiarize yourself with the other key differences between saltwater and chlorine pools.

On This Page

  1. What’s the Difference Between Saltwater and Chlorine Pools?
    1. Saltwater Pool
    2. Chlorine Pool
  2. Saltwater vs. Chlorine Pools: Pros and Cons
  3. Saltwater Versus Chlorine Pool: Which Is Better?
    1. Cost
    2. Maintenance
    3. Health and Safety
    4. Features and Equipment
    5. ROI
  4. Salt vs. Chlorine Pool: Which is Best?
    1. For Inground Pools
    2. For Above Ground Pools
  5. Chlorine vs. Saltwater vs. UV Pools vs. Other Cleaning Options

What’s the Difference Between Saltwater and Chlorine Pools?

Freshwater chlorine pools often come to mind first when people consider installing a backyard pool. However, saltwater pools continue to gain popularity as a low-maintenance, low-chemical choice.

Saltwater Pools

Saltwater pools aren’t filled with seawater as many people think. You’ll actually add salt to normal pool water at a level much less salty than ocean water. Another incorrect assumption is that saltwater pool systems are chlorine-free. And while you don’t add commercial-grade chlorine to saltwater pools, chlorine is still present.

The saltwater pool system uses electrolysis to produce low levels of natural chlorine. During this process, a generator converts the salt into just enough chlorine to keep the water clean. This way, it’s easier to achieve balanced water and the pool requires less attention and fewer chemicals than chlorinated pools.

Saltwater systems cost more to set up than their freshwater counterparts because they are more complex. Maintenance is also more costly.

Chlorine Pools

Chlorine pools are less expensive to install and maintain than saltwater systems. However, freshwater chlorine systems require more monitoring to keep them clean but not overly chlorinated. You have to add manufactured chlorine weekly in tablet, stick or liquid form. These pools also require other balancing agents to counteract the potentially harmful effects of chlorine.

Chlorine fumes are dangerous; therefore, careful storage is critical for safety. The high concentration of chlorine necessary in these types of pools is harsh on hair and skin, particularly with regular exposure, so you may also need special chlorine-removing bath and hair products.

Saltwater vs. Chlorine Pools: Pros and Cons

Saltware Pools

Pros

  • Lower daily running costs
  • Easier to maintain
  • Lower chlorine concentration
  • Gentler on skin
  • Better return on investment

Cons

  • Installation more expensive
  • Requires more electricity
  • Needs specialist repair professionals




Chlorine Pools

Pros

  • Lower initial cost
  • Minimal energy cost
  • Better potential for DIY fixes
  • Needs less equipment

Cons

  • Higher concentration of chlorine
  • Harsh on skin and hair
  • Requires storage of hazardous chemicals
  • Greater daily running costs
  • Requires more monitoring of water quality



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Saltwater Versus Chlorine Pool: Which Is Better?

Which water system is best for you depends on many factors, including cost, ongoing maintenance and your desired return on investment. See how saltwater and chlorine systems compare across the most important criteria.

Cost

Lowest Initial Investment: Chlorinated Pools

Average swimming pool installation costs range from $11,000 to $36,000. Inground pools tend to cost more than an above-ground pool, regardless of water system type.

Of course, the type of water system you have also impacts installation expenses and the cost of ongoing maintenance and repairs.

A chlorine system only adds around $100 to the setup costs because there’s no complex system or equipment. On the other hand, a saltwater system adds up to $2,500 to the installation costs because of the more complicated system and specialized equipment, including the generator for electrolysis.

Maintenance Costs

Lowest-cost Annual Maintenance: Saltwater Pools

Average yearly pool maintenance costs range from $100 to $400. Saltwater systems are on the low end of this range, at roughly $100 per year, including electricity. In comparison, chlorine system costs can reach up to $1,000.

With saltwater pools, you’ll also need to replace generator cells every few years. This typically costs between $200 and $700.

Maintenance

Simplest Maintenance: Saltwater

Day-to-day pool maintenance should be fast and straightforward. So how easy is it to maintain cleanliness and a healthy water balance in saltwater and chlorine pools?

Saltwater

Saltwater

Pros

  • Low maintenance
  • No need to buy chlorine
  • Reduced need to purchase other pool chemicals
  • Self-maintains water balance for up to two weeks
  • Easy to balance salinity

Cons

  • Still requires periodic shocking
  • Salt cells require cleaning at least twice per year


Chlorine

Chlorine

Pros

  • Minimal equipment maintenance required

Cons

  • Needs more frequent and labor-intensive maintenance
  • Requires shocking every 1 to 2 weeks
  • Requires synthetic chlorine adding weekly
  • Involves more chemicals to achieve balanced, swim-safe water


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Health and Safety

Least Hazardous Option:

High levels of chlorine can cause skin and respiratory issues, and chemicals require special storage. So which water system is best for the health and wellbeing of your family?

Saltwater:

  • No toxic fumes
  • No special storage requirements
  • Gentle on hair, skin and respiratory system

Chlorine:

  • Irritant to skin and eyes; can cause dryness, burning and itchiness
  • Chemicals require significant storage precautions
  • Substances are dangerous if inhaled

Features and Equipment

Requires the Least Equipment: Chlorine

Both saltwater and chlorinated pool systems require some equipment, including pumps and filters. Find out what equipment you need and purchasing considerations.

Saltwater:

  • Basic equipment required:
    • Pump
    • Filter
    • Saltwater generator
    • Saltwater cells
  • Saltwater equipment is generally easy to use and requires minimal maintenance
  • Saltwater can corrode pool equipment and fixtures, so special equipment designed for exposure to saltwater is needed

Chlorine:

  • Basic equipment required:
    • Pump
    • Filter
    • Chemicals
  • Optional chemical controller to automate water balancing
  • Water does not damage fixtures and equipment

Return on Investment

Best for Recouping Investment: Saltwater

Whether you’re planning to sell your property soon or not, it’s still worth thinking about a return on investment.

Saltwater:

Higher initial cost but lower long-term costs

Good long-term investment that potentially increases your property value

Low operational cost and high-quality, salt-withstanding fixtures could help you to recoup 100% of what you spend

Chlorine:

Low initial cost, but higher running costs from consistent chlorine and other pool chemical purchases

Chlorine systems require more ongoing expenses, so the ROI is lower

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Salt vs. Chlorine Pool: Which is Best?

Installing any pool is a big time and financial commitment, so it’s crucial that you choose the right one.

For Inground Pools

When installing a new inground pool, a saltwater system is a smart option because you can choose salt-resistant liners and fixtures from the beginning. Inground pool installation costs between $35,500 and $64,500, depending on the type of pool and the water system you choose.

A salt-resistant fiberglass pool costs between $20,000 and $60,000 to install, and you’ll also incur fees for the electrolysis generator, fixtures and fittings, pump, filter and any additional products.

Suppose you’re thinking of remodeling a pool or converting a chlorine pool to a saltwater system. You may need to resurface the existing pool or even replace the liner entirely. Saltwater damages many common pool materials, including concrete. You’ll also need to replace fixtures and fittings such as lights with salt-resistant ones, which can get expensive.

So, if you’re trying to remodel an existing chlorine pool, keeping the chlorine system is the most cost-effective option.

For Above Ground Pools

For above-ground pools, saltwater and freshwater chlorine systems are tied. The choice depends on your budget and any concerns you have around using higher concentrations of chlorine. Above-ground pools cost between $800 and $4,700, with chlorine systems on the lower end and above-ground pools on the higher end.

If your skin is sensitive to chlorine or you don’t want to worry about safe chemical storage, opt for a saltwater system. If you are working with a tight budget, then chlorine may be the right choice for you.

Chlorine vs. Saltwater vs. UV Pools

UV pool systems use an intense UV light locked inside a sanitation chamber to kill germs, parasites and algae. They cost from $500 to $2,000 to install and are low maintenance.

However, in most cases, the UV system still requires at least a little chlorine as an extra layer of protection. Because the water in most residential pools doesn’t circulate quickly enough, bacteria, parasites or algae could remain in the water for longer before passing through the sanitation chamber.

A UV system does, however, significantly reduce the amount of chlorine you’ll need and may eliminate the need for chlorine altogether if the water circulates rapidly enough. Lower chlorine, chemical and chlorine byproduct levels reduce the damage the water does to your skin.

If you need help deciding which pool system is the right choice, get in touch with a local pool installation specialist who can walk you through your options.

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7 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.

  5. DeeDee Weber, June 17:

    Having a chlorine pool myself and a family member with a saltwater pool, from my personal perspective salt water is not just better, it is cheaper.

  6. Ana Rodriguez, July 18:

    My comment is for Deebie and Warren.. this Ecosmart System, can it be used on a Saltwater pool? My husband and I are looking into getting a Pool but not sure whether a Salt Water or Chlorine. After reading this article I’m leaning more towards a Salt water

  7. Jon, August 21:

    Of the 4 types of ‘pool sanitation’ methods presented, do any of them affect how one uses various ‘chlorine dip-stick’ materials to measure effectiveness between the ‘salt/chlorine/UV/’Copper’ systems ?
    And being a newbie to these technologies, what is the most accurate and dependable method for doing such measurements : are the Dip Stick methods useful?

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