Understanding Pool Salt Chlorine Generators

Pool salt chlorine generators, also known as salt chlorinators or salt water chlorine generators, have become increasingly popular among pool owners due to their convenience and cost-effectiveness. These systems use a process called electrolysis to produce chlorine from salt, eliminating the need for frequent manual addition of chlorine to the pool water. In this post, we’ll explore how salt chlorine generators work, their advantages and disadvantages, and how to maintain them effectively.

How Salt Chlorine Generators Work

A salt chlorine generator consists of two main components: a control board and a salt cell. The control board is responsible for regulating the electrolysis process, while the salt cell is where the actual chlorine production takes place. Here’s how the process works:

The Salt Cell

The salt cell is the core component where the electrolysis process takes place to produce chlorine. It consists of parallel plates or blades made of titanium coated with precious metal oxides like ruthenium or iridium. These coatings act as catalysts to facilitate the electrolysis reaction. As saltwater passes through the cell, a low-voltage direct current (typically 12-28V DC) is applied across the plates by the control board. This electrical current causes the sodium chloride (NaCl) molecules in the saltwater to dissociate into sodium ions (Na+) and chloride ions (Cl-).

Electrolysis Process

The electrolysis process within the salt cell involves two key reactions:

  1. At the anode (positive electrode), the chloride ions (Cl-) lose electrons and are converted into chlorine gas (Cl2)


  • : 2Cl- → Cl2 + 2e-
  • At the cathode (negative electrode), water molecules are split into hydrogen gas (H2) and hydroxide ions (OH-). The sodium ions (Na+) then combine with the hydroxide ions to form sodium hydroxide (NaOH)


  1. : 2H2O + 2e- → H2 + 2OH-
    2Na+ + 2OH- → 2NaOH

The chlorine gas produced at the anode instantly dissolves in the water to form hypochlorous acid (HOCl), which is the active sanitizing agent.

Continuous Chlorine Production

The chlorine produced by the salt cell is continuously released into the pool water, providing a steady supply of sanitizer as long as the pool pump is running and circulating water through the cell. As the chlorine is consumed through its sanitizing action, the salt level in the pool water gradually decreases, but it is replenished by the continuous electrolysis process. The control board allows the pool owner to adjust the chlorine production rate by regulating the electrical current applied to the salt cell. This ensures that the chlorine levels in the pool water remain within the desired range, typically between 1-3 parts per million (ppm).

pH Balance and Sodium Hydroxide

During the electrolysis process, sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is also produced as a byproduct. This sodium hydroxide helps to maintain the pH balance of the pool water, as it is a base that can neutralize acids. However, excessive sodium hydroxide production can raise the pH too high, so it’s essential to monitor and adjust the pH levels regularly. The salt chlorine generator system continuously produces chlorine and maintains a balanced pH level, reducing the need for frequent manual addition of chlorine and pH adjustment chemicals. However, it’s still important to regularly test and maintain proper water chemistry, including alkalinity, calcium hardness, and stabilizer levels.

Advantages of Salt Chlorine Generators


One of the primary advantages of salt chlorine generators is the convenience they offer. With a traditional chlorine system, you need to constantly monitor chlorine levels and manually add chlorine products like tablets, granules, or liquid chlorine to maintain proper sanitization. This process can be time-consuming and inconvenient, especially during peak swimming seasons.

With a salt chlorine generator, the system automatically produces chlorine as needed, eliminating the need for frequent manual additions. As long as the generator is running and the salt levels are maintained, you can enjoy a consistently sanitized pool without the hassle of handling chlorine products.


While the initial investment in a salt chlorine generator system may be higher than a traditional chlorine setup, the long-term cost of operation is typically lower. Once installed, the only recurring cost is the addition of salt, which is relatively inexpensive compared to purchasing chlorine products regularly. Over time, the savings on chlorine products can offset the initial cost of the salt chlorine generator, making it a cost-effective solution.

Additionally, many pool owners find that they spend less on other chemicals, such as pH balancers and algaecides, as the salt chlorine generator helps maintain a more stable water chemistry.

Gentler on Skin and Eyes

One of the most significant advantages of salt chlorine generators is the perceived gentleness of the chlorine they produce. Traditional chlorine products can be harsh on the skin and eyes, causing irritation, dryness, and redness, especially after prolonged exposure. The chlorine produced by salt chlorine generators is in the form of hypochlorous acid, which is gentler on the skin and eyes. Many pool owners report a softer, more comfortable swimming experience with less irritation and a reduced “chlorine smell” compared to traditional chlorine pools.

Consistent Chlorine Levels

Salt chlorine generators continuously produce chlorine as needed, helping to maintain consistent chlorine levels in the pool water. This consistency reduces the risk of fluctuations in chlorine levels, which can occur with manual additions of chlorine products.

Consistent chlorine levels not only ensure effective sanitization but also help prevent algae growth and other water quality issues that can arise from fluctuating chlorine levels. This consistency can lead to a more stable and balanced pool environment, reducing the need for frequent water testing and adjustments. It’s important to note that while salt chlorine generators offer significant advantages, they still require regular maintenance, such as cleaning the salt cell, monitoring salt levels, and maintaining proper water chemistry.

Additionally, the salt cell will need to be replaced every few years, which can be a significant expense. However, for many pool owners, the convenience, cost-effectiveness, and gentler swimming experience provided by salt chlorine generators outweigh these considerations.

Disadvantages of Salt Chlorine Generators

Initial Cost

One of the main drawbacks of salt chlorine generators is the higher initial cost compared to traditional chlorine systems. The upfront investment includes the cost of the generator unit itself, as well as the installation and any necessary plumbing modifications.

Depending on the size of your pool and the specific model you choose, the initial cost of a salt chlorine generator can range from several hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars. This can be a significant expense, especially for those on a tight budget.

Salt Cell Replacement

The salt cell is the heart of the salt chlorine generator system, and it has a limited lifespan. Over time, the coating on the salt cell’s electrodes will degrade, reducing its efficiency and eventually requiring replacement. Most manufacturers recommend replacing the salt cell every 3-5 years, depending on factors such as usage, water chemistry, and maintenance.

The cost of a replacement salt cell can be substantial, often ranging from $300 to $800 or more. Failure to replace the salt cell when needed can lead to decreased chlorine production, potentially compromising the sanitization of your pool water.

Potential Corrosion

The high salt levels required for salt chlorine generators can potentially lead to corrosion of metal components in and around your pool. This includes handrails, ladders, light fixtures, and even the pool’s structural components if it’s a metal-walled pool.

While the salt levels in a properly maintained salt pool are not high enough to cause immediate corrosion, prolonged exposure over time can accelerate the deterioration of these metal components. This can lead to costly repairs or replacements down the line. To mitigate corrosion, it’s essential to regularly rinse off any salt buildup on metal surfaces and consider using corrosion-resistant materials when possible.

Additional Chemicals

While salt chlorine generators produce chlorine, they do not eliminate the need for other chemicals to maintain proper water chemistry. You will still need to monitor and adjust pH levels, alkalinity, and calcium hardness, which may require the addition of pH adjusters, alkalinity increasers, and calcium hardness adjusters.

Additionally, salt pools often require higher levels of cyanuric acid (a chlorine stabilizer) compared to traditional chlorine pools. This means you may need to add more cyanuric acid to your pool water to maintain the desired levels. Failure to maintain proper water chemistry can lead to issues such as scaling, cloudy water, and decreased chlorine effectiveness.

While salt chlorine generators offer many benefits, it’s important to carefully consider these potential disadvantages and weigh them against your budget, maintenance preferences, and overall pool setup. Proper maintenance and attention to water chemistry are crucial to mitigating these drawbacks and ensuring a safe and enjoyable swimming experience.

Maintaining Salt Chlorine Generators

Here are more details on maintaining salt chlorine generators for your pool:

Salt Level Monitoring

Maintaining the proper salt level in your pool water is crucial for the efficient operation of your salt chlorine generator. Most systems require a salt level between 2,500 and 4,000 parts per million (ppm). Low salt levels can cause the generator to work harder, leading to decreased chlorine production and potentially damaging the salt cell.

On the other hand, excessively high salt levels can lead to corrosion of metal components and scaling issues. To monitor salt levels, use a salt test strip or a salt meter specifically designed for pool water.

Check the salt level at least once a month and add salt as needed to maintain the recommended range. Use a high-purity pool salt or salt specifically formulated for salt chlorine generators to avoid introducing impurities into your pool water.

Salt Cell Cleaning

The salt cell is the heart of your salt chlorine generator system, and it requires periodic cleaning to remove any buildup of calcium, scale, or other deposits. Buildup on the salt cell can impede its performance and reduce chlorine production efficiency.

Most manufacturers recommend cleaning the salt cell every 3-6 months, or more frequently if you have hard water or experience heavy calcium buildup. Refer to your owner’s manual for specific cleaning instructions, as the process may vary between different models and manufacturers. Typically, the cleaning process involves soaking the salt cell in a mild acid solution, such as a diluted muriatic acid or a specialized salt cell cleaning solution. This helps dissolve any mineral deposits or scale buildup on the cell’s plates or electrodes.

After soaking, rinse the salt cell thoroughly with fresh water and reinstall it in the generator. Proper cleaning and maintenance of the salt cell can extend its lifespan and ensure optimal chlorine production.

Water Chemistry Balancing

While salt chlorine generators produce chlorine, they do not eliminate the need for maintaining proper water chemistry in your pool. Factors like pH, alkalinity, and calcium hardness levels can impact the efficiency of your generator and the overall water quality. Monitor and adjust these levels regularly using a reliable test kit or by having your pool water professionally tested.

Maintaining the recommended ranges for pH (7.2-7.8), alkalinity (80-120 ppm), and calcium hardness (200-400 ppm) will help prevent scaling, corrosion, and other water chemistry issues.

Additionally, salt chlorine generators require the use of a chlorine stabilizer, such as cyanuric acid, to protect the chlorine from being degraded by UV rays. Maintain the recommended stabilizer levels (30-50 ppm) to ensure efficient chlorine utilization.

Filter Maintenance

Proper filtration is essential for maintaining clean and clear pool water, regardless of the sanitization method used. With a salt chlorine generator, it’s crucial to keep your pool’s filter clean and in good working condition to ensure proper water flow and circulation.

Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for backwashing, cleaning, or replacing your filter cartridges or media. A clogged or inefficient filter can reduce the effectiveness of your salt chlorine generator and lead to poor water quality.

Winterization (for Colder Climates)

If you live in an area with freezing temperatures during the winter months, it’s essential to properly winterize your salt chlorine generator to prevent damage. Refer to your owner’s manual for specific winterization instructions, as the process may vary between different models and manufacturers.

Generally, winterization involves draining the salt cell and generator unit, removing the salt cell for storage, and potentially adding a non-toxic pool antifreeze solution to the plumbing lines. Failure to winterize your salt chlorine generator properly can lead to cracked or damaged components, which can be costly to repair or replace.

By understanding how salt chlorine generators work, their advantages and disadvantages, and following proper maintenance practices, you can enjoy the convenience and cost-effectiveness of these systems while maintaining a clean and healthy pool environment.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Affordable Water Systems