Saltwater vs. Chlorine Pool: Which is Better?

A saltwater pool is a gentle alternative to traditional chlorine pools. Know the details before choosing one over the other.

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Everybody has different swimming preferences. Fortunately, there are plenty of options available for your backyard pool. You can get a zero-depth entry for leisurely wading or a deep end for excited cannon balls. You can get a rectangle for swimming laps or an oval for social gatherings. In addition to size, shape, activities and accessories, you can choose a water sanitization method that fits your needs. Here are the differences between two of the most common types of pools: saltwater vs. chlorine.

The Difference Between Saltwater and Chlorine Pools

The water in traditional chlorine pools must be sampled and balanced with liquid or tablet chlorine. Alkalinity, pH and calcium hardness must be adjusted as well. Saltwater pools require the same chemicals except chlorine, although you may need to shock a saltwater pool once in a while.

Instead of relying on store-bought chlorine, saltwater pools create their own through electrolysis. You add pool grade salt to a chlorine generator. Then the generator runs salty water through two electrically charged plates, converting it to chlorine. The pool water is still sanitized with chlorine, but the process differs from that of a traditional chlorine pool.

Although each style of pool is sanitized with the same substance, the chlorine in a saltwater pool may be different than what you’re used to experiencing. According to In the Swim, saltwater chlorine generation results in fewer chloramines, which are the real culprit of the feeling and smell often associated with traditional chlorine pools.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains, chloramines are “a type of combined chlorine that form in water” and emit gas into the surrounding air. They cause the well-known chlorine smell, eye redness and, sometimes, respiratory irritation.

Advantages of Saltwater Pools vs. Chlorine Pools

There are pros and cons to each style of pool water, so let’s go over the pros.

Saltwater pools

  • The cost of day-to-day operations is cheaper. Home Depot estimates $20­–$30 for an entire summer supply of salt. Chlorine for a summer runs from $150–$180.
  • The lighter load of chlorine is gentler on skin, eyes, swimsuits, hair and more.
  • Many people dislike the smell of traditional chlorine pools. Saltwater pools don’t have the same chemical-heavy scent.

Chlorine pools

  • If you already have a chlorine pool, it may be cheaper to leave it as-is. Converting to saltwater can cost between $1000–$5000 depending on pool size.
  • Some people enjoy the smell.
  • They still work on chilly summer days.

Disadvantages of Each System

Both of these pool types also come with cons.

Saltwater pools

  • The salt can speed up erosion of the pool.
  • Salt chlorine generators need to be checked and cleaned regularly. The generator is one more mechanical piece that can break or need replacing, particularly before selling your house.
  • It will not produce chlorine in water colder than 60 degrees.

Chlorine pools

  • They can cause dry skin, red eyes, bleached swimwear and irritated noses, throats or lungs.
  • You must keep chlorine products on hand, which cost more than pool grade salt.
  • Chloramines may cause a strong “chlorine” smell, especially if you have an indoor pool.

Neither saltwater generation nor traditional chlorine is technically better, for both are effective methods of sanitization. But saltwater and natural pools are often preferable among people with sensitive skin, allergies or asthma.