How Long Should a Salt Cell Last? How Can I Tell If My Pool Salt Cell Is Working Properly?

Written By Tom Hintze

24th October 2018

How long should a salt cell last? The answer really depends on the use conditions and how often you do maintenance on your pool. The safe answer is that they usually last for about five to seven years.

Salt Cells cost between $200 and $900 to replace, depending on your chlorinator model. We'll go through more details throughout this blog post.

This guide will go through three main things that you need to know about Salt Cells.

  • What is a salt cell?
  • Basic salt cell troubleshooting
  • Chlorinator components

What Is a Salt Cell?

Your chlorinator is a miniature chlorine manufacturing plant. The action of salt water passing through the salt cell causes electrolysis, creating chlorine (sodium hypochlorite), which is then returned to the pool.

The easiest way to be certain if the chlorinator is working is to make sure the cell is clean by checking the needle or production lights on the chlorinator box. When operating, you should also see bubbles (hypochlorite gas) inside the chamber, producing what looks like cloudy water - that's chlorine being created! If you don't have a clear housing to view the chlorine being made, many salt cells can be removed from the housing and placed in a bucket of salty pool water. Turn it on and look for tiny bubbles or cloudy water being created.

Tip: Remember less salt = less chlorine, so ensure you check your salt levels first.

Basic Salt Cell Troubleshooting

1. Check Power

The salt cell is powered by the control panel. If the control panel has no indicator lights, that's a good sign that there’s no power. Many salt chlorinators also have a fuse inside the cabinet that is designed to blow in the event of power overload or a lightning strike.

2. Check Water Flow

The salt cell needs a certain amount of water flow to operate effectively. Flow rates can be reduced by a clogged pump or skimmer basket, a dirty filter or closed directional valves.

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3. Check Salt Level

The salt cell needs a certain amount of salt in the water to be able to convert the salty water to chlorine. Each salt cell is calibrated to work within a certain range of salinity, generally around 4000 ppm. Most salt chlorinators use a salt sensor and display the measured salt level or have an indicator light or error code to let you know when the salt level drops below the minimum threshold.

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4. Check Water Balance

Your pH, alkalinity and calcium hardness should all be within range so that the created chlorine has the optimal efficiency, or killing power. A low pH can accelerate the activity of chlorine, burning it off more rapidly, while a high pH can reduce the activity, making your chlorine sluggish and less effective. You can test these water levels yourself using a 5 in 1 Test Kit.

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5. Inspect Salt Cell

The salt cell needs to be cleaned regularly to remove calcium deposits that slow water flow and bridge the gap between metal plates, preventing the electrolysis from happening. The majority of the salt cell chlorinators are now self-cleaning by reversing polarity on the metal plates to slough off the collected calcium, which is then swept away by the water flow. However, even self-cleaning cells need regular inspection, and, perhaps, occasional cleaning. You can clean cells by giving them an ‘acid bath’, which usually consists of a ratio of 90% water to 10% acid, and ‘brushing’ the calcium deposits off with a toothbrush. The acid will eat away at the plates given enough time, so be sure to bathe the cell for no longer than 10 minutes.

What Are Some Signs That Your Salt Cell May Need Replacing?

  1. Looking worse for wear, it's lost a few plates and the acid baths just aren't working
  2. Your pool is starting to turn green or cloudy, even though your chlorinator is turned up to 100%.
  3. Your chlorinator is constantly displaying ‘low salt’, even though you've added salt to the pool

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Can't find your Salt Water Cell model? Check out our collection of Salt Water Cells, we're sure it's there somewhere. If you need help in identifying your Salt Water Cell, shoot us an email with a photo of your Chlorinator and Salt Cell to and we'll sort it out for you in no time.

Chlorinator Components

It’s also important to clean the electrode terminals, which can develop corrosion similar to car battery terminals. Terminal corrosion can be removed with an old toothbrush dipped into an acid solution.

Check the output leads and replace if required, we also stock half lead kits, making it an easy fix. The salt cell will eventually lose performance and the controller circuit boards can develop problems over time.

Chances are, at some point you will face an expensive repair to your salt system, either a new salt cell or a new control board. Both of these repairs can approach half the cost of a whole new
salt water chlorinator system.

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Chances are, at some point you will face an expensive repair to your salt system, I’m talking about either a new salt cell, or a new control board. Both of these repairs can approach half the cost of a whole new Salt Water Chlorinator system.

Featured Products throughout this blog

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We've categorized all of our blog posts into relevant groupings so for easier browsing. Simply follow the links down below to find what you're looking for.

All of the Pool Maintenance articles in our site in one place.

Pool Chemicals, what they're for and when to use them.

Pool Filters of all shapes and sizes for every pool type.

Replacement Pool Pumps and Accessories.

Do you have any questions about this topic or the featured products? No worries, we're here to help! Drop us a question down below and we'll get back to you ASAP.

Happy swimming :)

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Written By

Tom Hintze

Head of eCommerce & Operations at Mr Pool Man,
Co-Founder at Water TechniX

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