Using a salt chlorine generator is one of the best things you can do for your pool and the people who swim in it. Salt chlorine generators offer clearer and smoother water without that chlorine smell that can be so difficult to bear. The water in pools with this type of generator is gentler on the skin and eyes, which is especially important for children. It costs less to maintain a salt chlorine generator, especially when considered over the course of years, and there’s no danger from lugging around giant buckets of chlorine all the time.

There are some downsides though. For one thing, the whole salt system can be so convenient that you completely forget about water testing. As you neglect the pool, chlorine levels can creep up, almost without notice, until you find yourself with a serious issue. For another, because the generators require so much less maintenance and repair than traditional pool filtration methods, it can be easy to think that they need none at all. There are some issues and problems that you can encounter with your generator, and we’ve listed out some of the most common ones here so you can keep an eye out for them and know what to do.

What is a Salt Chlorine Generator?

Simply put, a salt chlorine generator pool system uses saltwater to generate chlorine using a chemical reaction. You don’t add chlorine to your water; you only add salt.

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How Does it Work?

Pool water flows through the electrode cell on the control board of your salt chlorine generator. Inside this cell are a bunch of metallic grids generating a low voltage electric current. This current creates a reaction in which the salt is actually converted into pure chlorine. As soon as the chlorine hits the water, it should turn into hypochlorous acid. It is this acid that cleans and sterilizes the water.

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  • Easy-to-view displays enable fast checking of salt levels, cell cleanliness, sanitizer output and water flow
  • Adjustment is as easy as pressing two buttons
  • All performance data—production settings, hours of operation, chlorine output, cell cleaning cycles, salt

What About the Salt?

How much salt do you need and what kind of salt should you use with the salt chlorine generator? The cells of your generator will be rated for particular parts per million, or PPM, of salt. A new pool typically needs around 50 pounds of salt for every 2.000 gallons of water. The only appropriate salt to use in your pool is food grade salt that has not been iodized. The purer the salt, the better the reaction. It’s important never to use rock salt or kosher salt. Only granular salt will do the job.

What About the Expense?

It can be intimidating to consider the initial cost of putting in this kind of generator. Once it’s running, though, it can be far more cost-efficient than other types of pool filtration systems. While typical chlorine pools cost somewhere in the neighborhood a bit costly to maintain, you can maintain your salt pool for a affordable price. You will have to replace the cells, but how well you maintain the pool will do a lot to determine how often you have to do so.

Is This New Technology?

Surprisingly, salt to chlorine technology is actually quite old. The idea goes back to the 19th century when scientists discovered that the molecules of salts exposed to low voltages of electricity would split and produce chlorine gas.

What are Common Problems to Look Out For?

Person standing on pool ladder

Although salt generators are great, time-tested, and useful tech, they can have problems.

What Happens If I Don’t Keep An Eye on Things?

As your salt generator begins to fail, it cannot produce enough chlorine to keep up with the needs of the pool. This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as dirty cells or not enough salt in the water. When this happens, levels of phosphate in the water rise. Phosphate can result in algae blooms and can also corrode parts of your pool.

What Should I Be Looking Out For?

Here are some of the issues that you may experience if you’re using a salt generator:

  • There’s not enough chlorine. If you’ve not got enough chlorine in the pool, there are a couple of possible causes. There might not be enough salt in the water, but if you’ve added some and nothing’s changed, the issue could be your water flow. Clogged impellers and clogged filters can slow up the water flow so much that not enough chlorine gets produced. Another possibility is that the metallic plates within the cell have built up a scale over time. That scale prevents the cell from working efficiently and reduces the amount of chlorine the cell can produce.
  • You have too much chlorine. It’s possible to have too much chlorine, too. The problem is you may not even notice because this type of pool cleaning system doesn’t produce a strong smell and the burning eyes that typically accompany chlorinated pools. Over time, if the chlorine levels are too high it can destroy the pool shell as well as your pool equipment. It is important to regularly test for chlorine levels to make sure they are neither too high nor too low.
  • All your metal is corroding. Salt, water, and metal simply do not mix. This is just a fact of life and something that boaters have been dealing with for a long time. Over time, your galvanized deck anchors and handrails will start to corrode. One way to stop this from happening is to use brass instead of steel wherever possible. If you already have steel and can’t afford to change it out for brass, you can use corrosion inhibitor to slow down deterioration.
  • The “inspect cell” light has come on. Your salt generator system is programmed to let you know if there’s an issue with one of the cells. But most of them are programmed to turn on this light every 500 hours whether or not an actual problem has been detected. If you see the light, it’s important to check the cell and clean it if you see a lot of scaling.
  • Mineral deposits keep building up quickly on the cells. If you are seeing an unusual amount of scaling, this could be a sign that the cells need to be replaced and are no longer operating optimally. Start by cleaning a cell and then see if the buildup comes back quickly.
  • You see a soapy discharge inside the cell, usually greenish or blue in color. If you see this foamy discharge, this is an indication that something might be wrong with the cell. It’s important to check it and clean it and then keep a close eye on it to see if the problem resolves.
  • Your phosphate levels are too high. If you’re seeing too much phosphate, this could be because your city’s water has a lot in the supply, because bathers are jumping directly from a lake or pond into the pool, or because fertilizers or cleaners that contain phosphates are being used around the pool too often. If your phosphate levels are too high, check these issues for the possible source of the problem. If none of these is an issue, it could be that your cells aren’t producing enough chlorine.

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How to Know to Repair or Replace

No one wants to replace the expensive cells on their salt chlorine generator until they have to, so how do you know? The first step is always to thoroughly clean all the cells and connections to make sure everything is working optimally. In many cases, this could be the fix you need. If that doesn’t work, you should find out precisely which parts of the generator are having issues. Then you can determine how much it will cost to fix those particular items, how much life the rest of the generator likely has in it, and how this compares with the cost of a new generator.

Most of these cells in your salt generator can be expected to last between three and five years. The lifespan will depend on a couple things, including:

  • How often you clean.
  • How many people use the pool.
  • How much phosphate it has to work against.How hot or cold your ambient temperatures have been over the years.

Fortunately, the control boards on the generators themselves typically last a lot longer. They can actually last as much as three times longer than the cells themselves, depending on how you take care of them and whether they undergo a lot of power or moisture problems. Another way to make sure that your generator lasts for as long as possible is to properly winterize it. This means deactivating it, disassembling it, and putting it in safe storage. If your winters are fairly mild, this may not be necessary, but it will still be important to do regular maintenance even during the off-season.

Pentair 520555 IntelliChlor IC40 Salt Chlorine Generator Cell (US...
  • Easy-to-view displays enable fast checking of salt levels, cell cleanliness, sanitizer output and water flow
  • Adjustment is as easy as pressing two buttons
  • All performance data—production settings, hours of operation, chlorine output, cell cleaning cycles, salt

Conclusion

Salt generators are great ways of keeping the pool clean. They offer significant benefits over traditional chlorine pools, but they do need regular maintenance and a careful eye in order to ensure you get the most out of your salt chlorine generator for its whole lifetime.

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