Saltwater vs Chlorine

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Sanitation System Breakdown.

Photo by Jesper Stechmann on Unsplash

If you’re thinking that saltwater pools are just a fad or a trend just waiting to fade out, you might be mistaken. According to industry statistics…of the nations estimated 5.1 million in-ground pools, nearly 1.4 million are now saltwater – so why are people making the switch?

We here at USA Pool Direct understand how important it is to lay out all the facts concerning safety, maintenance and overall costs before investing in a pool for your home or business. That is why we took the time to provide you with the facts to help you feel a lot better about your decisions and make you the expert!

Below, we go in depth comparing the traditional chlorine pool versus a saltwater pool – two different concepts, yet, two similar systems. Ideally, by the end, you will have the facts in order to make the final decision – which pool is more safe, environmentally friendly and reasonable for you and your swimming pool needs.

Let’s break it down…

Saltwater Pool: Pros and Cons

Did you know…in a saltwater pool, the total salt content is approximately that of human tears, which is about one-tenth the salinity of ocean water.

Yes, kids, that means you can open your eyes underwater!

Child swimming with eyes open

“What you should know about swimming and your eyes”:

Often mistaken, saltwater pools contain a small amount of chlorine which plays a vital part in any pool you want to deem safe, clear and clean. Historically, chlorine has been the main residual sanitizer in all pools.

Saltwater pools are known to contain just enough chlorine to keep your water clean and fresh. Instead of physically adding chlorine tablets, salt is added to the pool instead and is adjusted at the generator control box. From there, through a sanitation process called “electrolysis”, the saltwater generator produces hypochlorous acid, which causes the breakdown of salt by passing electricity through the saltwater solution.  

Alex’s Tip: Some local ordinances do not allow the installation of a saltwater system. Make sure you check your local ordinances before installing a saltwater pool for your home or business. Traditional chlorine pools, however, do not have issues with damaging landscaping and soil.

Generally, you can expect your salt chlorine generator cell to last you an estimated 3-5 years depending on proper maintenance. Saltwater cells are known to get backed up with debris every so often so it is important to regularly clean and check to ensure that excess calcium doesn’t consume your metallic plates. Another reason you might experience cell failure is lack of water balance. Home test kits are inexpensive and are an important step in maintaining and preserving a well balanced, safe, clean and clear pool.

Only every once in a while does your saltwater pool need chemical treatment. When you start to notice algae beginning to bloom or even after a heavy storm you notice your pool is a green color – it’s about that time to treat your pool. Good news – storage of salt for a saltwater pool requires no special considerations contrary to the storage and hazardous conditions chlorine can cause.

PROS about a Saltwater System

~ Lower chlorine levels –  Although the chlorine levels in saltwater pools still exist, they are lower in levels where you might not notice that awful burn after you’ve mistakenly opened your eyes underwater.

~ Clean and clear pool – Saltwater pools run on a generator that constantly runs, which results as an easier way of cleaning your pool. They are also known to be easier to clean and can be a more cost-effective option than having to constantly purchase chemicals over the years.

~ Softer/Clearer water – Swimmers love the silky-smooth feeling after a swim in a clean and clear pool as well as their vibrant swimsuits maintaining their brightness.

~ Lower chemical costs – Chemicals can cost less and are needed on a less frequent basis.

Requires less frequent maintenance – Saltwater pools are managed through a saltwater generator system. Make sure you keep a close eye on your water chemistry besides your chlorine levels. Your system does not solve your issues, just makes you aware!

Need salt cell replacement ideas, follow this link below:

CONS about a Saltwater System

~ Money – Saltwater pools are a higher initial investment – indeed.

~ Uses more electricity – Approximately a $37 – $50 added to your monthly electricity costs.

~ Costly repairs – Any maintenance or repairs might cost you a pretty penny. Recommended: hire a licensed and specialized technician to do the job as saltwater pools issues can be more complicated to solve…don’t worry. We believe in all you DIY enthusiasts – no one said it couldn’t be done!

~ Damage – Saltwater pools are known to cause corrosion damage to heaters, fixtures, covers underwater lighting, liners and even some types of masonry work. When salt build up occurs, it also has the possibility to stain.

~ Dangerous chemicals – Saltwater pools require amounts of muriatic acid in addition to the 500 – 1,000 lbs of salt required in order to maintain ph balances and an overall chemically balanced pool. Chlorine and other chemicals can escalate to dangerous levels and need to be properly handled and stored.

How to Properly store your Pool Chemicals

  1. Chemicals should be stored in a cool, dry area avoiding any direct sunlight.
  2. Your storage area should be well ventilated to avoid lingering fumes and gases.
  3. Store in a place that is not easily accessible to pets and children.
  4. Always keep your chemicals in their original store-bought containers.
  5. Always double check to make sure the lids on all your containers are closed properly.

Chlorine Pool: Pros and Cons

Overall chlorine is very effective at keeping pools clean, yet, still tends to have a bit of a bad rep with many pool owners. It’s commonly associated with burning eyes, odd smells and being dangerous to handle and store.

Photo by Artem Verbo on Unsplash

In traditional chlorine pools, there is a higher concentration of chlorine that can cause the skin to burn, itch and dry out. To maintain its effectiveness and preventing homeowners from breathing in hazardous fumes, chlorine products should be stored in a cool, dry and well-ventilated area.

Chlorine acts as an active sanitizer residual in the water where it maintains the pool chemistry and continues sanitizing even when the pump is off. In order to aid in sanitation, fight off algae and maintain consistent chlorine levels, your chlorine pool will periodically need to be “shocked”, which means adding high concentrated chlorine and chemicals on a regular basis. This is where most pool owners and operators claim that saltwater pools are easier to maintain due to the automatic system.

PROS of a Chlorine Sanitizing System

~ Cheaper to maintain –  Chlorine pools are projected to be the cheaper option when it comes to overall maintenance and initial investment. Chlorine tablets and at home testing kits are easily affordable and can be found at your local grocery store.

~ Easier DIY maintenance –  Chlorine pools are easier to maintain but require consistent maintenance. By adding chlorine in tablets or in liquid form, you are maintaining your pool on a more regular basis.

~ Uses less electricity – Chlorine pools use a pump that circulates water constantly to ensure that water is being treated for bacteria and debris. This system may save you on your electricity bill every month.

CONS of a Chlorine Sanitizing System

~ Requires frequent maintenance  – Typically chlorine pools chemistry levels need to be monitored on a more frequent basis. Generally speaking, the amount of shock recommended is 1. LB per every 10,000 gallons of pool water. Follow the instructions on your shock treatment packaging.

~ High chlorine levels – Which can cause dry skin, irritation, a potent chloric smell and can cause allergic reactions.

~ Dangerous chemicals – Chlorine must be stored in a dry place and handled properly. Allowing oxidizers to get wet and allowing liquids to freeze is dangerous and can make the product unusable.

Fading clothes or bathing suits –  Chlorine does not damage the physical aspects of the pool and surrounding areas, but, does tend to fade clothing, bathing suits, and swimming gear.

Overall Costs

Owning a pool can be expensive. Initially building a swimming pool typically averages between $12,500 – $37,400. Operating a swimming pool can cost you up to $750 per year and that does not include the possible repair costs associated with maintaining and operating a pool. Below you can see an idea of what operating and maintaining a swimming pool looks like.

Costs and references:

Saltwater System Average Costs

*All values are estimates based off of information from 2017, subject to change.

Saltwater Generator System = $600 – $2,000 annually

Saltwater Cell Replacements = $400 – $900 (recommended to replace once every 3-5 years)

Initial Installation = $300 – $500

Annual Operational Costs = $500 – $900

Annual Chemical/Salt costs= $500 – $1,000

Electricity Usage: Low

Chlorine Sanitizing System Average Costs

*All values are estimates based off of information from 2017, subject to change.

Chlorine Sanitizing System: 40 lb. of salt costs around $5 – 7

Initial Installation:  Depending on the water your pool can hold, approximately 400 – 1,000 lbs. of salt will be needed

Kits/Chlorine tablets: $300-$1,000 annually

Annual Operational Costs: $250-$500

Electricity Usage: High


We found this helpful, a full detailed list outlining US average costs and repairs for owning a pool or spa:

Alex’s Tip: Take note, if you live in a cooler climate – your operational costs may be higher.

It’s safe to say that most pool owners and professionals would estimate that saltwater generators run about four to six hours per day in the colder months and about ten to twelve hours per day during the warmer months, depending on the temperature of the water and how often your pool is being used.

For example, a 20,000-gallon saltwater pool uses about 500 watts of electricity to power the salt generator, in addition to the electricity required for the pool pump and other features.

Which Sanitation System is Best for you?

Photo by Haley Phelps on Unsplash

Like any other subject matter, everyone has their own opinions – as do we –  however, in the end, the choice is ultimately yours. Salt water pools cost more initially but, are known as a safe, environmentally friendly and reasonably maintainable option. They require less maintenance overall and tend to be the popular choice for new pool owners.

Unfortunately, saltwater pools do require some TLC – When a problem arises, the solution may be more complex than that of a traditional chlorine system. We appreciate all you DIY-ers out there… but, strongly recommend to let a pool professional handle your issues. Most chlorine pool issues can be solved with home testing kits and adding the right combination of chemicals.

To learn more about saltwater pools, check out these relative articles: