Salt Versus Chemical Chlorine Pool Water

Chlorinated pools are popular but aren't the only option.

I first owned a salt water pool beginning in 2006 when my wife and I bought a house with an existing pool that was about 3 years old. So on this website, I’ve discussed many of my experiences with this pool – mostly good and a few bad – and my overall happiness with a salt water pool systems. But since we’ve largely talked about the benefits of a salt water pool, how about the other side of the equation:

The benefits of a regularly chlorinated pool that uses manually added chemical chlorine.

Chemically chlorinated pools do have benefits

A regularly chlorinated pool tends to have an overall lower cost of installation since you don’t have to buy a salt chlorinator system or salt cell as with a salt water pool. A chlorine pool will right off the bat probably save you $2,000 or more which is the typical cost of a salt chlorinating system.

A regularly chlorinated pool is also typically easier to learn in the sense that if you’re not technically inclined you might have issues setting up and troubleshooting the chlorinator system, salt cell and water flow sensor of a salt water pool.

Salt water pools are additionally more corrosive given their salt content, something you don’t have to worry about as much with a chlorine pool.

And if your salt water chlorinator system breaks or the salt cell needs replacing (which it does every 3-5 years typically) you’ll be running your pool on chemical chlorine anyways until you can get the new salt system purchased and installed.

Both Pools Have Chlorine

Chlorine pools may use liquid, crystal and pucks of chlorine to sanitize them. Liquid chlorine is typically added directly to water. With crystals you usually mix it with water in a bucket before pouring the slurry into the pool directly. Pucks may be put into the skimmer basket, in a chlorine feeder or inside a slow release container of some sort. In each case you just follow the manufacturer’s recommended instructions.

With chlorine pucks, they dissolve over time so the actual “work” involved is simply placing them in the skimmer most likely. It’s easy, in other words.

But salt water pools always have chlorine in them, too. Just a different form. Your salt system chlorinator converts regular salt into chlorine. The chlorine produced doesn’t have the strong smell and eye irritating effect that chemical chlorine does, but it is still chlorine.

And in the spring when opening your salt water pool, you typically use chemical chlorine as mentioned above – liquid, crystal or pucks – to shock the pool, build up the chlorine level quickly before turning the chlorinator on to produce its own chlorine the rest of the pool season. Then when you close the pool in the fall, you may shock the water again with chemical chlorine to shut it down for the winter.

Regardless, chlorine and salt water pools both contain chlorine to keep them sanitized and clean for swimming.

Ongoing Costs

This might be a toss up. The biggest cost of a chlorine pool is the chlorine itself. Perhaps you’ll spend upwards of $800 per pool season on chlorine and other chemicals. One of the benefits of a salt system is that it’s generally easier to maintain water chemistry so less chemicals are often used. With a chlorine pool using a sand filter or D.E. filter, it additionally means backwashing which can throw water chemistry off, meaning you have to add more costly chemicals to get the water chemistry levels back within range. It also means more work on your part to accomplish this.

With a salt water pool, you might spend $100 on salt each year. I spend less than half that actually. The salt system typically also makes keeping water chemistry balanced quite easy. Modern chlorination systems have sensors and offer real time salt readings. Higher end systems have additional features that automatically adjust chemistry as needed to keep it in line. Chlorine pools don’t have this feature.

But the real ongoing cost of a salt water pool is the chlorination system and salt cell. The chlorination system may cost $1,200 – $2,000 to install and might last 10 years or longer if you’re lucky. A salt cell typically lasts for 3 – 5 years and may cost $300 or so to replace.

Having said that, if you’re spending less money on chemicals and less time actually adding chemical to the pool while also measuring and balancing chemistry, these salt water pool benefits may end up paying for themselves.

The flipside is that you may be fine with spending more time on a chlorine pool to save money on the equipment, appreciate the simplicity and be quite happy in this regard.

Equipment Responsibility

When it comes to pool equipment, salt water pools have more stuff to take care of. Specifically you have the salt chlorinator system which is the brains and computer of the operation provides the functionality for the system that runs the salt production and also enables you to set pump timers, get real time salt readings, manage water features, run the heater and operate your lights.

And you also have the salt cell which is the plastic attachment that screws into the piping that converts NaCl (salt) to chlorine as the water passes through it and over its electrically charged titanium plates. The salt system typically also comes with an integrated water flow system to ensure that enough water is flowing at all times through the cell.

How good are you at troubleshooting? If a sensor goes off and something isn’t working, are you capable of fixing it? If your salt cell needs to be cleaned once or more per season, are you capable and even interested to do this without damaging it? It typically costs $300+ to replace so it’s not cheap. Bottom line: A salt water system costs more and thus has more responsibility than a chlorine pool.

Salt water is corrosive and may damage metal such as a pool ladder over time.
Salt water is corrosive and may damage metal such as a pool ladder over time.


Salt is a corrosive substance. While the salt level in a salt water is low – 2,700 – 3,400 parts per million – it is still salt water. Salt water can corrode metal such as a pool ladder, can damage certain patio surfaces and can cause damage to other pool equipment especially if you allow your salt level to go higher than recommended. Chlorine pools don’t have this problem since no salt is used.

It probably won’t be a concern if you keep pool chemistry in line but you should check when installing a salt water pool to ensure that you aren’t using materials that may get damaged by repeated exposure to salt water.

Pool Water On Grass And Plants

I routinely empty pool water down the side of my house on the grass when the water level is too high and it has never caused the grass to die. My hose isn’t long enough to go to the road or even the driveway and I haven’t bothered to buy a new one.

While I can’t necessarily guarantee that it won’t kill plants around your pool if salt water gets splashed on them repeatedly, we have significant bushes, trees and plants around the pool and they survive just fine. We’ve never had a problem with the salt water from our pool causing damage to living things. Again, the salt level is relatively low in your salt water pool, about 1/10 the salt content of ocean water.


  • Salt water and chlorine pools both have advantages over one another. A chlorine pool will certainly save you money on the install since it doesn’t have as much equipment to buy and install.
  • Chlorine pools generally require less responsibility since there is no chlorinator or salt cell to take care of and maintain.
  • Depending on the cost of the chlorinator and salt cell and how frequently you replace them, it’s likely that ongoing costs of a salt water pool are higher than a chlorine pool.
  • Salt water is corrosive and while it most likely won’t cause damage to grass or plants it may cause damage to metal and certain patio and deck equipment.
  • If you don’t like technology and electrical equipment that may need understanding and troubleshooting, a chlorine pool has less of both than a salt water pool.

Carl Mueller

I bought a home with a salt water pool in 2006 and soon realized the benefits over traditional chlorinated pools. On this website I'll discuss all the tips and tricks I've learned over the years. I'll also help you troubleshoot various problems with pools in general and ones specific to salt water pools that I've experienced personally!

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