The Complete Guide to Salt Chlorine Generators

salt water chlorine generation

Salt water pools have become wildly popular over the last decade or so. This is probably because many people view them as a cleaner and safer way to sanitize their pools.

They’re also a little easier to maintain, generating their own sanitizer when needed and in the appropriate doses. 

But what do salt water chlorine generators actually do, and how do you know if it’s the right choice for your swimming pool?

You had to know we’d have you covered!

Following is everything you will probably ever need to know about salt chlorine generators...

How does a salt chlorine generator work?

You might think salt water pools don’t use chlorine. But that’s actually not true.

What a salt generator does is produce its own chlorine. However, it is a much cleaner and fresher chlorine than the chemicals you buy in the store.

Simply put, a salt chlorinator turns table salt into hydrochloric acid and sodium hypochlorite, using electrolysis.

The salt water passes through a salt cell where an electric current causes a chemical reaction. This creates a chlorine gas which dissolves in the water, producing the two chemicals that chlorinate and sanitize the water. 

But in case you’re a super nerd (and we mean that in a cool way), here’s the chemistry breakdown of the process: 

“4NaCL -> 4Na+ + 4Cl- Salt dissolves in water.

4Na+ + 4Cl- –> 4Na + 2Cl2 By electrolysis.

4Na + 4H20 -> 4Na+ +4OH- + 2H2 Reaction of metallic sodium with water.

2Cl2 + 2H2O -> 2HClO + 2H+ + 2Cl- Hydrolysis of aqueous Chlorine gas.

2HClO -> HClO + ClO- + H+ Dissociation of hypochlorous acid at pH 7.5 and 25C.

4NaCl + 3H2O -> 4Na+ + HClO + ClO- +OH- + 2Cl- + 2H2 Net of all the above.

Addition of Hydrochloric Acid to restore the pH to 7.5

HCl + 4Na+ HClO + ClO- + OH- + 2Cl- +2H2 -> HClO + OCl- +H2O + 4Na+ + 3Cl- +2H2.

NaCl +HCl +2H20 -> HClO + OCl- + Na+ + 2H2 Net of the last two.”

What components are in a salt chlorine generator?

But just knowing what a salt chlorine generator does is kinda confusing unless you understand its components. The two components that make up this system are a salt cell and a control board.

Salt Cell

The salt cell is the part that the water passes through before passing over metal plates.

Metal Plates

The metal plates in the chlorinator are coated with ruthenium or iridium that are charged by the control board. That charge (electrolysis) converts the salt to chlorine.

Control Board

This is sort of the epicenter of the whole salt water system. It’s the component that provides electricity to the plates for the conversion process. You can use this to increase or decrease the amount of chlorine that’s infused into your swimming pool.

Salt Chlorine Generation: Benefits & Drawbacks

Benefits

  • Gentler on the eyes and skin. Even though a salt chlorinator does chlorinate the water, its chlorine levels are much lower than they would be with traditional chemicals. This makes the pool water much easier on the skin, eyes, and hair.

  • Safer. A lot of pool owners feel that salt water chlorine is much safer because you don’t have to handle dangerous chemicals as much. You may use liquid or granulated chlorine to shock your swimming pool occasionally, but overall, your chlorine content generates and remains right in the water.

  • Milder chlorine smell. The strong chlorine smell you notice in some pools is from a buildup of chloramines. And while you can sometimes experience this with a salt chlorinator, it doesn’t seem to be as strong.

  • Lower maintenance. Salt chlorine generators make balancing your pool chemistry a lot easier. Since it’s mostly automated, you don’t have to worry as much about measuring and adding chemicals. You’ll also probably notice that this keeps your pH, alkalinity, and calcium hardness levels in check much better.

Drawbacks

  • Cost. Salt chlorine systems can be kind of expensive. According to Home Advisor, the generators alone can range anywhere from $500-$2,000. And installing them can be an extra few hundred.

  • Harder to work on. Salt water systems are more complicated than traditional systems, so you’ll usually have to hire a professional to make repairs.

  • Scaling. Salt water pools tend to cause an excess of scaling, which can throw off your pool chemistry and erode any metal parts.

5 Tips for Maintaining Your Salt Chlorine Generator

Salt water swimming pool systems are not necessarily harder to maintain. In fact, most of the time, they’re easier. 

BUT they are a little different.

1. Inspect regularly for scale.

One of the biggest problems with salt chlorine generators is that they tend to produce a lot of scaling (or calcium deposits). To keep this at a manageable level, check your generator every 2-3 months.

You will occasionally find scaling on the salt cell, but more commonly it forms on the metal plates and goes largely undetected until there’s a problem. 

When you see it, remove as much as you can with your hand or a gentle brush. if it’s too hard to remove, you might have to make a muriatic acid solution to clean it with. 

To do that, mix about five parts water to one part muriatic acid and pour it directly into the salt cell. Let it foam for 10 minutes or so and then pour the solution into the bucket.

Finally, you can wash out the inside of the cell with a hose and put the cap back on. 

Remember that when you handle muriatic acid, you should use extreme caution and wear gloves and goggles. Also, protect your skin from coming in contact with it at all.

Also keep in mind that you should only clean your generator when it needs it, especially when you’re having to use an acid wash. This is hard on those parts and can decrease the life of the unit if done too often.

  1. Test your chemicals regularly.

The best way you can maintain any pool is to keep your water balanced. This helps prevent excessive mineral buildup as well as all the other junk you want to keep out.

  1. Shock your pool once in a while.

Once in a while, you’ll probably find that it’s necessary to shock your pool with granular chlorine. It’s best to add this task to your monthly maintenance routine, but if you’re just dead set against adding more chemicals, you can wait until it’s needed.

There are a few indicators that let you know when it’s time to shock your saltwater pool. One of them is that you’ll start to have trouble balancing your chemicals. You might also notice your water is a little cloudier or start to smell the strong scent of chloramines.

  1. Maintain the proper salt levels.

Each salt chlorine generator is a little different, but most of them operate at about 3400 ppm (parts per million). Add pool salt to get it to the right level. 

  1. Use a stabilizer.

If you’re used to using chlorine tablets that have CYA (cyanuric acid) baked right in, you might not realize this is something you need to add. Pool salt does not have its own stabilizer, so you’ll have to add it to make sure your free chlorine isn’t eaten up too quickly.

Salt Chlorine Generation FAQs

How much salt does a chlorine generator need?

Ideally, your salt level should be between 2,700 and 3,400 ppm. But figuring out what that means in terms of how much to add requires some calculation.

First, you need to figure out the volume of your pool if you don’t already know. Then you can figure out how much salt you need to add.

Use this handy calculator to easily calculate both. 

How long do salt chlorine generators last?

If you maintain your salt chlorine generator well, it should last anywhere from 3-7 years. 

What is the cost of salt chlorine generation?

The actual generator can range in cost from about $500 to $2,500. But operating these units is fairly inexpensive. 

Salt is much cheaper than chlorine and you should only have to add it a few times a year. You can expect your electric bill to go up slightly though.

What chemicals do I need for a salt water pool?

You’ll need most of the same chemicals for a salt water pool that you would for a traditional pool. However, you’ll use a lot less of some. 

You won’t need much chlorine at all. One container of granular shock is probably all you’ll need for those occasions when you shock your pool.

Other chemicals you might still need are salt, CYA, pH increaser, pH decreaser, and algaecide

Conclusion

If you’re looking for an alternative to a traditionally chlorinated pool, a saltwater system is probably the best option available. It’s an extremely efficient sanitizer and easier to maintain. 

But whatever you decide, it’s important to get as much information as you can. Hopefully we’ve given you everything you need to make a wise decision.