How to Clean a Pool Salt Cell

Written by Michael Dean
January 18, 2024

cleaning a pool salt cell

Saltwater pools function differently than traditional chlorine pools. Instead of manually adding chlorine to the water, saltwater pools produce their chlorine via a process called electrolysis. The salt cell is responsible for this process by breaking down salt into chlorine. While this makes for a great self-sustaining system, you still need to be careful about keeping the salt cell in excellent condition: clean, well-functioning, and optimized. Keeping it clean is especially important.

In this article, I will go over my process for how to clean a pool salt cell. I will also discuss why you need to clean your salt cell and how to prevent calcium scales from forming. Ready? Let’s get started!

Main Takeaways

  • If you don’t clean your salt cell, calcium, and other minerals can build up on the plates inside the cell.
  • A compromised salt cell and lowered chlorine production can harm the hygiene of the entire swimming pool.
  • Keeping the water clean, using a scale inhibitor, and running the pool pump daily are some ways in which you can prevent calcium buildup.

How to Clean a Pool Salt Cell: Step-by-Step

To keep your salt cell in optimal condition, you’ll need to clean it every 500 hours, which translates to around every three months or one to two times per season. Here’s my straightforward step-by-step process to follow when the time to clean your salt cell comes.

Supplies List

  • Muriatic acid
  • Plastic buckets x2
  • Safety goggles
  • Rubber gloves
  • Face mask
  • Garden hose
  • Salt cell cleaning stand

Step One: Turn Off the Power 

Of course, first things first, before you mess with the salt cell, turn off the power. If you can, turn off the control panel just to be extra safe. Then, unplug the salt cell.

Step Two: Remove the Salt Cell

Locate the salt cell. You can usually find it in a section of exposed pipework that filters the water back into your swimming pool. Remove it by loosening the union nuts at both ends of the cell from the plumbing, then twist it free and give it a shake to remove the excess water. 

Step Three: Rinse the Salt Cell

Examine your salt cell for any mineral deposit buildup, then rinse the salt cell with a garden hose to remove any loose debris.

Step Four: Prepare to Soak the Salt Cell

Prepare a cleaning solution using one part muriatic acid mixed with four parts water. Remember: never add water to acid; always add acid to water. Adding acid to water can create a dangerous chemical reaction called chemical bubbling. I cover all these tips in more depth in my research on using muriatic acid in your pool.

Once it’s ready, grab your salt cell stand, which is a cleaning stand that allows the cell to stand upright when you’re cleaning it. Place the salt cell on the stand and then place the entire contraption within a plastic bucket to catch any accidental spills.

Step Five: Soak the Salt Cell

Pour the muriatic acid cleaning solution into the salt cell. Leave it for around 10 to 15 minutes for it to work or until it stops bubbling and fizzing.

Step Six: Remove the Salt Cell

Once time is up, carefully remove the salt cell and pour the solution into a bucket from where you can dispose of it safely later. Grab your garden hose and rinse the salt cell thoroughly with fresh water to get rid of any remaining cleaning solution. Please be careful while you do this—keep a mask on and avoid inhaling any fumes from the muriatic acid solution. Avoid spills or splashes as you handle the salt cell.

Step Seven: Examine the Salt Cell

After the salt cell is rinsed off, pick it up and look at it. Is there still mineral buildup on it? If so, you may want to rinse and soak it again to eliminate all the mineral deposits.

Step Eight: Reinstall the Salt Cell

After thoroughly cleaning your salt cell, reinstall it into the pool plumbing. Twist it back into place, and tighten the union nuts. Turn the system back on and test the salt cell to ensure it works properly.

Step Eight: Properly Dispose of the Acid

Finally, you should ensure you properly dispose of the muriatic acid. Contact your local hazardous waste disposal, solid waste authority, or pool store to do this. Check out my research on how to safely dispose of muriatic acid for more information on this topic!

Video Walkthrough

My buddy Craig Wooster has a nice YouTube video demonstrating the steps I outlined above.

Why Do You Need to Clean Your Salt Cell?

So, why do you need to clean your salt cell in the first place? Is it even necessary?

Salt cells perform a major task for your saltwater pool in terms of creating and controlling the chlorine level in your pool. As an essential component of your pool’s system that filters a ton of water daily, it’s easy to see how mineral buildup can occur over time.

Essentially, there are three main reasons why you need to clean your salt cell.

Maintain Chlorine Production

As you know by now, the salt cell uses an electrical current to convert the salt into chlorine. If the plates inside the cell get coated with scale or mineral deposits, they might not work as efficiently.

Improve Pool Water Quality

A compromised salt cell and lowered chlorine production can also affect the cleanliness of your entire pool, making it unsafe and unattractive for swimmers. Not to mention, with poor water quality, you’re also facing an increased risk of algae growth, which is always bad news.

Prolong Lifespan

Scale buildup on plates inside the salt cell can also shorten the lifespan of the salt cell itself. As a general rule, salt cells last up to five years with proper care and maintenance before they need to be replaced. With unaddressed scale buildup, though, you’re looking at a much shorter lifespan. My research on how to tell if a salt cell needs replacing will cover this more in-depth.

How to Prevent Calcium Scale Buildup in a Salt Cell

You should ideally check your salt cell every week or so to ensure that everything is working correctly as a part of your regular saltwater pool maintenance. And if you see that dreaded calcium buildup on the equipment, you know it’s time for a clean! But can you do anything to prevent calcium scale buildup in a salt cell?

Maintain Proper Water Chemistry

Calcium scale forms much quicker and easier when the pool water is not balanced correctly. My advice is to test your pool water regularly and adjust the usual culprits to keep things balanced: for example, pH, chlorine, and, of course, calcium hardness levels. If you’d like a refresher on the proper parameters of these chemicals, they are as follows:

  • pH: 7.2 to 7.6
  • Alkalinity: 100 to 150 ppm
  • Chlorine: 1 to 3 ppm
  • Calcium hardness: 200 to 400 ppm
  • Stabilizer: 60 to 80 ppm

Clean Regularly

You should clean your salt cell at least every 3 months (or twice a year: once in the middle of the season and once at the end) to clean up any calcium or scale buildup that has already formed- as well as prevent it from getting worse.

Use a Scale Inhibitor

In case you need a little chemical help, you could use a scale inhibitor. Scale inhibitors help prevent mineral buildup from forming on your salt cell and white flakes around other parts of the pool. This works by chelating the calcium ions in the water, which makes them less likely to form deposits.

Run the Pump Daily

You should run your pump every day for at least 8 hours. Running your pump helps to prevent calcium deposits from forming and accumulating in certain areas of the pool.

Avoid Overworking the Cell

Some saltwater systems have a “high output” or “superchlorinate” mode for chlorine. While it might be tempting to turn that on to avoid algae issues, it might actually harm your system in the long run by wearing it out faster. Running the salt cell at high output levels might even spike the amount of scale buildup. Instead, shock your swimming pool the normal way!

Don’t Use Calcium Hypochlorite

When you do need to shock your saltwater pool, don’t use calcium hypochlorite or cal-hypo. While cal-hypo might be popular for traditional chlorine pool owners, it contains – you guessed it! – calcium. I recommend using liquid chlorine or a non-chlorine shock instead!

Get My Free Pool Care Checklist

Download my free, printable pool maintenance checklist to help you accomplish regular pool care tasks for any type of swimming pool.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can you use vinegar to clean your salt cell?

Yes, of course. You can use vinegar to clean your salt cell— a mild acid that might help dissolve calcium and other mineral deposits. A safe and affordable cleaning solution, it’s a great alternative if you don’t have any muriatic acid on hand!

How often should you clean your salt cell?

The general rule of thumb is to clean your salt cell every 500 hours or every 3 months. This generally works out to twice a swim season – once in the middle and again at the end!

What happens if you don’t clean your salt cell?

If you don’t clean your salt cell, calcium and other minerals can build up on the plates inside the cell. This buildup cuts down the efficiency of the cell and prevents it from generating the chlorine needed to sanitize your pool properly, which might cause damage to the salt cell, risk of algae growth, and higher pool maintenance costs in the long run.

Cleaning Your Salt Cell Is a Must

I hope you’re convinced now why keeping the salt cell clean is crucial for a healthy saltwater swimming pool. All things considered, it’s a pretty simple task—all you have to be careful about is the muriatic acid. Please make sure to clean the cell in a well-ventilated area while wearing protective gear.

If you have further questions about how to clean your salt cell, please drop me a message! I’m always willing to help out.

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