Saltwater vs. Traditional Chlorine Pool Showdown: Which Is Better?

Written by Michael Dean
July 24, 2023

salt vs chlorine pool

If you’re in the market for a new swimming pool, then you probably already know there are an overwhelming number of choices. Everything from your pool’s design and construction to how to maintain it will affect how your pool is run. So it isn’t easy to know what’s right for you.

As far as the general system for your pool goes, your two main options are traditional chlorine pools and saltwater pools. And let me be clear – saltwater pools still use chlorine! While traditional chlorine pools rely on you manually adding chlorine and a pool filtration system to keep the water in tip-top shape, a saltwater pool uses a salt chlorine generator to convert salt into chlorine and sanitize the water.

Both saltwater and chlorine pools have their benefits and drawbacks, but if you’re on the fence, here’s what you should know about each type.

Main Takeaways

  • Saltwater pools use fewer chemicals but have a higher upfront cost.
  • Chlorine pools are more time-consuming and costly to maintain.
  • Saltwater and chlorine pools both have chlorine, but traditional chlorine pools are more irritating and may fade the color of your swimsuit.
  • Salt chlorine generators are not easy to DIY, so you’ll have to hire a professional to help with a good chunk of saltwater pool repairs.

Quick Glimpse at Saltwater Pros and Cons

Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of how these two types of pools compare, let’s look at the pros and cons you can expect from a saltwater pool:


Less Chlorine is Less Irritating

There’s less chlorine used in a saltwater pool, so it’s gentler on your skin and eyes. Many swimmers also describe saltwater pools as having a softer feel than traditional chlorine pools.

Chlorine Won’t Fade Your Swimsuit

The higher chlorine levels in a traditional pool may bleach and fade your swimsuit over time. This may still occur in a saltwater pool, but to a much lesser degree.

Cheaper in the Long Run

There are fewer chemicals involved in the upkeep of a saltwater pool, making it cheaper to run. No more messing with chlorine tablets!

No Need to Store Chlorine

While you still may need to keep some chlorine shock on hand, you won’t need to purchase and store nearly as much chlorine with a saltwater pool as you would with a chlorine pool.


Pricier Initial Investment

Saltwater systems tend to be more expensive initially, requiring a more significant investment.

Can Damage Equipment

Saltwater is slightly corrosive, so you’ll have to be mindful of what types of equipment you have in your pool. Since saltwater can cause damage over time, you’ll need to purchase the right fixtures, lighting, and heaters.

More Complicated to Repair

You might have to call in a licensed professional to work on the pool for any minor issues, as saltwater systems are much more complicated to fix.

Not as Efficient in Cold Weather

Salt chlorine generators will generally shut off when the mercury drops below 50 degrees. But unless you are using a pool heater, it is highly unlikely that you’d be using the pool at this temperature anyway!

Corrodes Decking

Pool salt can corrode your pool deck, so you need to ensure you get salt-resistant materials and spend some extra time cleaning it.

Quick Glimpse at Chlorine Pros and Cons

Chlorinated pools leave salt out of the equation, but they come with their pros and cons.


Cheaper Initial Investment

Chlorine pools don’t require a salt chlorine generator, so they cost less to install. 

Lower Energy Costs

There’s less electricity and energy involved in maintaining a chlorine pool.

Easy to DIY

While you can hire a professional to work on your chlorine pool, it is easy to do a lot of minor repairs yourself.


Higher Chlorine Levels Can be Harsh

Chemicals like chlorine can be harsh on your eyes and skin.

More Ongoing Maintenance

Along with making sure the chlorine levels are in the proper range and being on the lookout for bacteria, pool owners frequently need to add balancing agents to the chlorine.

You’ll Need to Store Chlorine

You’ll need a particular area to store the chlorine so it doesn’t soak up moisture until you’re ready to use it.

Putting It All Together

Here is a summary of the pros and cons of each type of pool:

Saltwater PoolsChlorine Pools
Initially more expensiveInitially less expensive
Higher electric costsLower electrical costs
Less ongoing maintenanceMore ongoing maintenance
Not effective at temperatures below 50 degreesMore effective at lower temperatures
There’s less chlorine and chemicals to irritate your skin and eyesThe chemical composition of a chlorine pool could lead to eye and skin irritations
Can corrode pool equipment over timeDoesn’t generally corrode pool equipment (if all chemical levels are balanced)
Most repairs require a professionalYou can do some of the minor repairs yourself

Keep in mind that these are just general guidelines. This comparison doesn’t cover the specific details and what factors might influence cost or maintenance. Keep reading if you want the approximate numbers related to cost, regular maintenance, and even health and safety.

Which Pool Is More Expensive?

Initial cost: Saltwater pools

Ongoing cost: Chlorine pools

It’s hard to nail down a specific answer since the cost of your pool can depend on location and construction materials. However, most homeowners will find that saltwater pools are almost always significantly more expensive to install.

This has to do with the salt chlorine generator in saltwater pools. These generators by themselves can cost up to $2,500 or more – and that’s on top of any other costs you’ll incur while building and installing the pool in your backyard.

However, this is where a saltwater pool can save you some money when it comes to long-term numbers. Once you’ve got the salt chlorine generator, your annual operating costs for maintaining the pool should only be around $100 to $400. Theoretically, you should just have to buy salt after you initially set up the pool.

Keep in mind that one ongoing expense you’ll have with a saltwater pool is replacing the cells in the generator. This can cost you anywhere from $200 to $900, but you shouldn’t need to replace cells more than every few years. You’ll probably also see an increase in your energy bill.

These annual costs can add up, but they seem pretty reasonable compared to a chlorine pool. Traditional chlorine pools don’t need any special generators, making installing them pretty cheap, but maintaining them isn’t always so cost-effective.

With a traditional pool, purchasing chlorine and other balancing agents can run you up to $1,000 a year, sometimes even more.

One cost you should always consider is the cost of repairs. Your pool probably won’t need repair work every year, but it’s probably something you’ll need to consider at some point.

With a chlorine pool, some handy homeowners might try to do it themselves. I recommend hiring a professional for major work, but for tiny repairs, you can save a few bucks by doing it yourself.

On the other hand, the construction and makeup of a saltwater pool can be complicated, and you might need the help of a special technician, even for tiny repairs.

Which Pool is More Time-Consuming to Maintain?

Answer: Chlorine pools

Besides easygoing annual costs, one major benefit of a saltwater pool is that they don’t require tons of regular maintenance. The swimming pool can self-maintain itself for up to two weeks, but after that, adding more salt isn’t usually too time-consuming. You’ll need to maintain salt levels of around 3,000 ppm (parts per million).

However, you should count on checking and even cleaning the cells in your salt chlorine generator a couple of times a year. Keeping the cell clean will help reduce how often you have to replace it.

There’s no generator that you need to maintain with a chlorine pool, but you will need to add chlorine to the pool every week. You’ll also have to keep any chlorine you buy in a separate dry area to avoid activating the chemicals until it’s time to use it.

Even once you add the chlorine, you’ll have to keep an eye on the pool’s chemical composition. Traditional chlorine pools require other balancing agents, and you don’t want to end up with water with too much or too little chlorine. Homeowners usually monitor their pool’s chemical composition weekly or even daily.

Whether you have a saltwater or chlorine pool, you’ll still need to clean it on a regular basis. After a windy day, you might need to fish out debris or leaves with a net skimmer. This kind of maintenance is unavoidable, but it’s also necessary to reduce the risk of mold or algae growth in your water. Algae can also infect saltwater pools, so make sure to read my guides linked here on how to get rid of it.

Which Type of Pool is Safer?

Answer: Saltwater pool

When it comes to health and safety, both pool types are safe as long as you properly maintain them, but there are a few added health benefits of a saltwater pool.

Contrary to popular misconception, saltwater pools do use chlorine, but the levels tend to be much lower. This might be reason enough to go with a saltwater pool for anyone sensitive to chlorine. The chlorine level isn’t usually enough to irritate your skin or eyes.

Frequent swimmers could be at a higher risk for certain eye infections, irritated skin, and even just faded and damaged swimsuits with a chlorine pool.

Not to mention, if you don’t store your chlorine in a dry, safe area, the chemicals could begin activating early on and render the entire supply useless. On top of keeping it away from your pool before you’re ready to use it, you also want to make sure it’s far enough away that you and your family won’t be inhaling its fumes.

As a sanitizing product, you don’t want to expose yourself to chlorine unless you’re adding more to the pool water.

Immediate signs and symptoms that might not suit your chlorine supply include blurred vision, burning eyes, coughing, and difficulty breathing.

Which Type of Pool Requires More Equipment?

It doesn’t matter whether you end up with a saltwater or chlorine pool – you can expect to have a shopping list of supplies and equipment either way.

Saltwater Pool Equipment

With a saltwater pool, the most important piece of equipment you’ll need is a salt chlorine generator. Without this generator to do its job, you just have a regular chlorine-based pool.

The generator has two main components: a control board and a salt cell. You shouldn’t need to tinker with the control board, but the cell typically requires a semi-annual cleaning and replacement every few years.

On top of the generator, you’ll probably need to invest in a heater that works for a saltwater pool as well as a cover. If you’re planning to convert a chlorine pool into a saltwater one, you shouldn’t assume that the equipment you had before will work with your new saltwater pool. Saltwater pools can be finicky and usually require that all equipment you have – from heaters and liners to pool covers – is suitable specifically for saltwater pools.

Like with any pool, you’ll also need to buy cleaning equipment. Investing in a vacuum or a net skimmer can reduce the risk of scum and get rid of debris.

Chlorine Pool Equipment

With a chlorine pool, you’ll need a pool filtration system, a heater, pool cover, and a regular supply of chlorine to maintain your swimming pool. Depending on where your pool is, you might also want to invest in caulk, pool cleaner, and a chemical feeder. These items aren’t critical, but they can make regular maintenance a little more convenient.

Cleaning equipment is also a necessity. Items like a vacuum hose, telescopic pole, pool brush, and skimmer attachment can make fishing debris and cleaning mold out of the water a lot easier.

Which Pool is Easier to Install?

Answer: Chlorine pools

Another key thing to consider when choosing between these two types of pools is the installation. While neither chlorine nor saltwater pools are a walk in the park to install, chlorine pools are the clear winner here. It really comes down to the fact that saltwater pools require a salt chlorine generator.

Besides the salt chlorine generator, saltwater pools and chlorine pools essentially require the same equipment and, therefore, have the same installation process. Salt chlorine generators can be a bit complicated to set up, and you will likely need to hire a professional to help with this part of the process.

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Is There a Better Choice?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to picking between a traditional chlorine and saltwater pool. Saltwater pools require less maintenance and don’t have as many chemicals in the water, but chlorine pools tend to be more cost-effective and convenient. Ultimately, you’ve just got to weigh the pros and cons of each and determine which is the better choice for your circumstances.

Check out the links below for my comparisons between other swimming pool types.

Feel free to reach out if you are looking for more in-depth advice on saltwater vs. chlorine pools. I am happy to help you every step of the way on your pool journey.

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