How to Tell if a Pool Is Saltwater or Chlorine

How to Tell if a Pool Is Saltwater or Chlorine

Most residential pools are chlorine pools, however saltwater pools are rapidly rising in popularity. The thing is, if you know anything about how saltwater pools work, you’ll know that they still technically use chlorine to sanitize the water. Therefore, what are the major differences between saltwater pools and chlorine pools, and how can you tell them apart?

You can easily tell if a pool is a saltwater pool by looking for a saltwater generator, using your sense of smell, or seeing how damaging the pool is to your skin and lungs, swimwear, and any nearby equipment. That is to say, saltwater pools are less damaging and less likely to dry your skin out or cause respiratory issues.

There are many more differences between a saltwater pool and a chlorine pool, so read on to learn about all of them.

How you can differentiate between saltwater and chlorine pools

Presence of a saltwater generator

I think, if your main goal is just to spot whether a pool is a saltwater pool or not, is to look for a saltwater chlorinator. Pretty simple. If you spot one, then it’s a saltwater pool. These are typically located over the plumbing and near the filter and pump.

If you want even more confirmation, look for wires that connect it to the plumbing. Typically, a saltwater cell can be found in the returning side of the plumbing.


You don’t even need a keen sense of smell to be able to immediately tell a chlorine pool from a saltwater pool. Chlorine has a very distinct smell, often associated with swimming pools.

Although a saltwater pool has chlorine in it, it has significantly less chlorine, therefore it doesn’t smell as much or at all. Compare this to a chlorine pool which has a pungent smell, similar to that of bleach.

Therefore, an easy way to settle the debate as to whether a pool is a saltwater pool or not, is to cup a handful of water and give it a nice whiff. If the smell is strong, it’s a chlorine pool. If there’s no odor, then it’s a saltwater pool.

Deterioration of swim gear

Chlorine pools are notorious for deteriorating your swimsuits. You probably won’t notice it right away, but over time, chlorine pools will wear down your swimsuits due to the high concentration of chlorine in them.

You may also notice discoloration since chlorine pools tend to bleach swimsuits and gear. If you happen to have dyed hair, particularly blond hair, you may even notice discoloration in your hair. Many people have had their blond hair turn green, just to give an example.

Effects on your skin and lungs

Since chlorine is an intense chemical, it can react with anything that it comes into contact with, and that affects humans too.

If you are prone to having respiratory issues or have sensitive skin, you may experience redness, rashes, itchiness, coughing, or difficulty breathing.

In fact, many healthy swimmers find that after they start swimming, they eventually develop asthma. For some people, after they quit the swim team, their asthma suddenly went away. Others are not so lucky.

Chlorine fumes are known to cause respiratory issues if inhaled frequently, so you may eventually need asthma medication just to be able to swim in a chlorine pool.

When it comes to saltwater pools, since it uses significantly less chlorine, these side effects are not nearly as much of an issue, if at all.

Effects on the pool

Even though chlorine has such a negative impact on swimmer’s health and accessories, it has less of an adverse effect on the pool compared to saltwater.

Saltwater can erode the pool walls and cause nearby metals to rust. Be very careful around nearby heaters, chairs, tables, lighting, or any other fixtures that salt can corrode.

Energy expenditure

As you know, saltwater pools rely on a salt chlorine generator to turn the salt in the pool into chlorine. This generator runs on electricity, and so does the pump. Since there is the addition of the generator, whereas chlorine pools only need electricity for the pump, saltwater pools require more electrical energy to operate.

Let’s run the math on this. If the average pool pump is about 1.5-2 horsepower, that adds anywhere from 26 to 53 cents to your bill per hour. That would be the energy costs of running a chlorine pool.

Add in the cost of a salt chlorine generator for a saltwater pool, then that can add 3.6 to 8 cents per hour to the bill. So you’re paying more for the electricity expenditure, but saltwater pools can save money by requiring less chemicals for the pool.

Chloramine levels

I mentioned that chlorine pools smell, but it’s not actually chlorine that causes the smell, but rather chloramines. Chloramines are the by-products of chlorine after the free chlorine in the pool reacts with organic substances in the pool like skin, sweat, urine, etc.

This chemical compound has no role in the sanitization of the pool, but it will linger around after the chlorine has been used up. The pungent “chlorine smell” is really just chloramines.

Unsurprisingly, the chloramine levels are much higher in a chlorine pool, which is why they smell more. Additionally, chlorine pools cannot remove chloramines as quickly as saltwater pools.

Ideally, the combined chlorine levels in the pool should not exceed 0.3 ppm. You can determine the combined chlorine levels in a pool with a test kit, and this is something you should be doing at least once a week so that you can balance the water chemistry.

The bottom line

If you’re a frequent pool-goer but dislike the side effects of frequent swimming in a chlorine pool, then you may want to try swimming in a saltwater pool.

You can easily tell the difference between a saltwater pool and a chlorine pool simply by smell. You can go even further by looking for a saltwater cell or testing the chloramine levels. However, the smell check should be more than enough.

The biggest impediment to switching to a saltwater pool is typically the cost. Saltwater pools have a higher installation cost, but you save money on not needing as much chemicals to sanitize the pool as a chlorine pool. Over time, you may even save money,

Many saltwater pool owners enjoy the fact that they don’t have to worry so much about dry skin and hair, respiratory issues, or having the “chlorine smell”. If this sounds like something you’d enjoy, then consider switching to a saltwater pool.