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Salt Water vs. Fresh Water: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on December 8, 2023
Salt water contains significant amounts of dissolved salts, mainly found in oceans, while fresh water has minimal salt content, typical in rivers and lakes.

Key Differences

Salt water, comprising about 97% of Earth's water, is characterized by its high saline content, primarily found in oceans and seas. Fresh water, making up a mere 3% of Earth's water, has a significantly lower salt concentration, predominantly present in rivers, lakes, and glaciers.
The salinity of salt water, around 35 parts per thousand (ppt), makes it unsuitable for human consumption without desalination, while fresh water, with less than 1 ppt of salt, is vital for human consumption, agriculture, and most industrial uses.
Marine life adapted to salt water often cannot survive in fresh water due to differences in osmoregulation and vice versa, whereas fresh water supports a different set of aquatic life forms, adapted to its low salinity environment.
Salt water's higher density and boiling point compared to fresh water affect oceanic currents and climate patterns, while fresh water's unique properties are crucial for sustaining terrestrial ecosystems and influencing local weather.
In terms of usage, salt water is mainly utilized for cooling in industries, maritime activities, and salt extraction, whereas fresh water is essential for drinking, irrigation, and supporting terrestrial biodiversity.

Comparison Chart


High, around 35 ppt
Low, less than 1 ppt

Primary Location

Oceans and seas
Rivers, lakes, glaciers


Cooling, maritime activities, salt extraction
Drinking, irrigation, industrial use

Aquatic Life

Supports marine organisms adapted to high salinity
Hosts aquatic life suited to low salinity

Physical Properties

Higher density and boiling point
Lower density and boiling point

Salt Water and Fresh Water Definitions

Salt Water

Salt water is characterized by its salinity, which makes it unfit for direct human consumption.
Desalination plants convert salt water into drinkable water.

Fresh Water

Fresh water is naturally occurring water with minimal salt content, essential for life.
Rivers and lakes provide fresh water for millions of people.

Salt Water

Salt water plays a crucial role in global climate regulation and ocean currents.
Salt water currents influence weather patterns around the world.

Fresh Water

Fresh water supports a wide range of aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.
Fresh water ecosystems are home to various fish species.

Salt Water

Salt water habitats are distinct ecosystems, supporting unique marine biodiversity.
Coral reefs in salt water are some of the most biodiverse areas on Earth.

Fresh Water

Fresh water is a limited resource, covering a small fraction of Earth's surface.
Conserving fresh water is essential for sustainable living.

Salt Water

Salt water is used in various industries for cooling and salt extraction.
The salt industry relies heavily on evaporating salt water.

Fresh Water

Fresh water is crucial for drinking, agriculture, and supporting terrestrial ecosystems.
Irrigation systems use fresh water to cultivate crops.

Salt Water

Salt water is water with high saline content, found in oceans and seas.
The salt water of the ocean is home to diverse marine life.

Fresh Water

Fresh water resources include rivers, lakes, streams, and underground aquifers.
Groundwater aquifers are a vital source of fresh water.

Salt Water

Relating to, consisting of, or containing salt water
A saltwater solution.

Fresh Water

Alternative spelling of freshwater

Salt Water

Inhabiting or occurring in seawater or salt water
Saltwater mussels.

Fresh Water

Of, pertaining to, or living in, water which is not salty; as, fresh-water geological deposits; a fresh-water fish; fresh-water mussels.

Salt Water

Done or used in salt water
Saltwater fishing.

Fresh Water

Accustomed to sail on fresh water only; unskilled as a seaman; as, a fresh-water sailor.

Fresh Water

Unskilled; raw.


What causes the salinity in salt water?

Dissolved salts, mainly sodium chloride, from rocks and soil.

What is salt water?

Water with high salt content, primarily in oceans and seas.

What type of wildlife is found in fresh water?

Species like freshwater fish, amphibians, and plants.

Can humans drink salt water?

No, its high salinity makes it unsuitable for drinking.

Is fresh water drinkable?

Yes, after proper treatment to remove contaminants.

How much of Earth's water is salt water?

About 97% of Earth's water is salt water.

How much fresh water is available on Earth?

Only about 3% of Earth's water is fresh water.

What is fresh water?

Water with minimal salt, found in rivers, lakes, and glaciers.

What wildlife lives in salt water?

Various marine species like fish, corals, and mammals.

Are there any uses for salt water?

Yes, in industries, maritime activities, and salt extraction.

Is fresh water important for the environment?

Yes, it's vital for terrestrial ecosystems and weather.

How is fresh water replenished?

Through the water cycle, including precipitation and runoff.

Can salt water be used for agriculture?

Generally not, as its salinity can harm crops.

Is fresh water conservation important?

Yes, due to its limited availability and essential role in life.

What are the main uses of fresh water?

Drinking, agriculture, and industrial processes.

How does salt water affect climate?

It influences global weather patterns through ocean currents.

Can salt water be made drinkable?

Yes, through desalination processes.

What are the challenges in managing fresh water resources?

Pollution, overuse, and climate change impacts.

What is the boiling point of salt water compared to fresh water?

Salt water has a higher boiling point due to salinity.

How is fresh water distributed globally?

Unevenly, with some regions having abundant sources and others facing scarcity.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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