Modern acid and neutral saline lakes in Western Australia are an excellent natural laboratory for testing how pH affects halite, and for developing criteria for distinguishing past acid saline waters from past neutral saline waters in the rock record. This study characterizes and compares physical, chemical and biological features in halite precipitated from acid (pH 1·7 to 4·2) and neutral (pH 6·8 to 7·3) saline lakes in southern Western Australia. Supplemental data include synthetic halite grown from acid and neutral saline solutions, as well as halite deposited in Permian acid lakes. Although physical processes of halite growth are not affected by pH, there are differences in the colour, accessory minerals, fluid inclusions and microfossils between acid and neutral halites. Acid lake halite commonly is yellow or orange in colour; neutral lake halites examined in this study are always snow white. Acid halites tend to contain abundant sulphate and iron oxide minerals, both as solid inclusions and as solids within fluid inclusions; neutral halites contain little, if any, sulphates and no iron oxides. Acid fluid inclusion freezing/melting behaviours include characteristics that differ from neutral fluid inclusion behaviours, such as lower eutectic temperatures, higher and wider temperature range of hydrohalite rims with a definable fuzzy border and more complex metastable phases. Acid halite contains ‘hairy blobs’, clusters of bacterial/archaeal/fungal remains and sulphate crystals, which are not found in halite from neutral lakes. This distinct assemblage of features characteristic of modern acid lake halites may serve as informal criteria for the recognition of past acid lake evaporites in the rock record.