How Often Should You Clean Your Salt Cell?

Written by Michael Dean
October 6, 2023

cleaning a salt cell and calendar next to it

While it is easy to think of your swimming pool as a simple hole in the ground, there are many components that a swimming pool is comprised of. Keeping all these components clean and well-maintained is a lot of work. When it comes to saltwater pools, one of the most important parts to maintain is the salt cell, which is the heart of any saltwater sanitizing system. But how often should you clean your salt cell and why?

I’m here to answer those questions and more, so let’s dive in!

Main Takeaways 

  • Clean your salt cell every three months and check your salt cell every week for buildup.
  • You should clean your salt cell to maintain efficiency, maintain water quality, and extend its lifespan.
  • Some signs that your salt cell needs cleaning include: low chlorine levels, increased voltage, cell warning light, and visible scale buildup.
  • If your salt cell isn’t working, inspect the salt cell, check for error messages, check salt levels, and adjust the water chemistry, among other tips.

How Often Should You Clean Your Salt Cell?

How often you should clean your salt cell depends on a few factors concerning your pool. I recommend cleaning it every 500 hours or every three months. This means most pool owners will only clean their pools 1 to 2 times per season. However, with that said, the answer can change according to the hardness of your pool water, how frequently you use it, and how well you maintain the saltwater pool.

Why Does Water Hardness Matter?

For example, swimming pool owners with hard water need to clean their salt cells more often – around 3 to 4 times per pool season. This is because hard water has a higher concentration of minerals, such as calcium and magnesium. When these minerals accumulate within your salt cell, you’re looking at lower efficiency and poor chlorine output. Minerals will build up on your salt cell, which you must clean off to keep your salt chlorine generator effective and efficient.

Clean It More Often If you Host Regular Pool Parties

Similarly, if you frequently use your pool for large gatherings of friends and family, you may need to clean the salt cell around 2 to 3 times per season. The more you use your pool, the more chemicals the salt cell plates will be exposed to, which means a greater chance of mineral scale buildup.

Clean Pool = A Cleaner Salt Cell

And finally, it matters how well you maintain the chemistry of your pool in general. To reduce the buildup on your salt cell, you should keep the pool water at a pH of 7.2 to 7.8 and a calcium hardness level of 200 to 400 ppm (parts per million)

I recommend inspecting the salt cell every week for scale and calcium buildup. If you notice any, it’s best to immediately clean it!

Why Do You Need to Clean Your Salt Cell?

Cleaning the salt cell is necessary for several reasons. Let’s have a closer look at why.

Maintains the Efficiency of Your SWG

Considering that the main purpose of a salt cell is to generate chlorine from the salt in the water, it’s easy to see how the salt cell can accumulate a buildup of mineral deposits and debris. Such buildup can hurt the efficiency of the cell—regular cleaning maintains efficiency.

Keeps Your Water Clean

And, of course, a clean salt cell means a clean pool. A well-functioning salt cell means excellent water quality since the swimming pool is properly chlorinated. Cleaning it regularly is essential for maintaining such water quality. After all, who doesn’t want a blue and sparkling pool?

Clean Salt Cells Last Longer

I don’t know about you, but I love it when my pool equipment lasts forever! Regularly cleaning your salt cell ensures it will last longer. Keeping it free of scale and debris means less corrosion on cell plates and other vital components, reducing the need for an early replacement or expensive repairs (and, of course, lower maintenance costs). 

How Do You Know If Your Salt Cell Needs to Be Cleaned?

Since you’ll be doing a weekly check of your salt cell, what telltale signs should you look out for that indicate the salt cell needs cleaning?

Poor Chlorine Production

If you notice that your chlorine levels are lower than usual (even if you are certain the salt levels are adequate), it could indicate that your salt cell needs cleaning.

Increased Voltage

Higher than normal voltage is also a clear giveaway that there might be too much debris and mineral buildup in your salt cell.

Cell Warning Light

Nowadays, most manufacturers add a warning light system to salt cells—these can help indicate various issues, including if the cell needs cleaning.

Visible Scale Buildup

Are you noticing white, flaky deposits on the salt cell plates? That’s another clear sign that the cell desperately needs cleaning.

How to Clean Your Salt Cell

Here’s a short and sweet guide on cleaning your salt cell:

  1. Switch off the power to the control box.
  2. Carefully remove the salt cell from its position by unthreading the two connections.
  3. Examine the salt cell for debris and rinse it with a garden hose.
  4. Submerge the salt cell in a cleaning solution of diluted muriatic acid and water (1:4 ratio of acid to water) for 10-15 minutes or until the bubbling stops.
  5. Carefully remove the salt cell and examine it.
  6. If everything is okay, rinse it thoroughly with clean water and reinstall the cell.
  7. Turn the power back on and monitor it for any issues if necessary.

What to Do If Your Salt Cell Isn’t Working

A compromised salt cell is bad news and needs to be addressed as soon as possible. When your salt cell stops working, your entire pool ecosystem can be thrown off, with chlorine levels dropping and algae blooming! If you think you’re experiencing some problems with your salt cell, here’s a quick troubleshooting list to help narrow down the problem.

Inspect the Salt Cell

Look over the salt cell for any signs of corrosion or excessive scale buildup. If you notice visible scales or debris buildup on the cell plates, it could be hampering the functioning of the salt cell. This means it may be time to clean the cell. If cleaning doesn’t fix the problem, you’ll likely need to replace the salt cell entirely.

Check for Error Messages

As mentioned, many saltwater chlorinator systems nowadays display error codes or flash indicator lights if something is wrong. If this happens, check your user manual for more information about what the lights mean to troubleshoot the SWG further.

Check Salt Levels

Sometimes, the problem is simple – your pool may simply not have enough salt to convert into chlorine. Test your water. The ideal salt level range is between 2,500 and 3,500 ppm. If salt levels are indeed low, all you have to do is top it off so the salt cell can finally do its job.

Adjust Water Chemistry

It could also just be that your pool chemistry is out of whack. Test and adjust the pool’s pH and alkalinity levels—if they’re out of their recommended ranges, it could easily be affecting the performance of your saltwater chlorine generator.

Inspect the System

Examine the cell thoroughly for any issues related to cable damage, power fluctuation, or fuse issues. Is there any visible wear and tear to the control unit? Are cables connected securely to both ends? Is there enough power flowing to the chlorinator? Could there be any tripped circuit breakers or blown fuses interrupting the power supply? Consult an electrician or pool expert if needed.

Reset the System

If you’re still not sure what the issue is, try the trusted and tried method of turning the SWG off and back on again, effectively resetting the salt chlorinator system. You’ll be surprised just how many issues and hiccups can be solved with this method!

Talk to a Professional

If you’ve gone through these troubleshooting steps and the salt cell is still not functioning properly, and you’re uncertain about how to proceed, get in touch with a pool professional. They’ll be able to diagnose the exact issue no matter how complex and offer expert advice on the next steps, such as repairing or replacing components.

Other Tips for Maintaining Your Salt Cell

Along with keeping the salt cell clean, here are some additional tips you can keep in mind to maintain your salt cell effectively.

Balance Water Chemistry

As always, water chemistry is key, so keep a close eye on your pool’s water chemistry levels. Maintenance of proper water chemistry goes a long way in optimizing the performance of your salt cell and other pool accessories.

Use the Correct Salt

Are you using the right type of pool salt? Always ensure you use the salt approved for use in pools, not table salt or rock salt, which are not ideal for the salt cell due to additives.

Winterize the System

If you live in an area with frosty temperatures, you must winterize your salt chlorinator system before the cold season sets in to prevent the cells from being damaged by the freezing water.

Keep Debris Out

Installing a pool cover or using a pool skimmer can go a long way in keeping debris, dirt, leaves, insects, and other unwanted contaminants out of your pool and pool equipment. This helps reduce the load on your salt cell and reduces buildup, extending its lifespan.

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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Regularly Maintain Your Salt Cell

Remember: routine TLC of your salt chlorinator system can help prevent any issues from arising in the first place. This means checking the salt cell every week and cleaning it (at least every three months), winterizing it, and balancing water chemistry, among other maintenance steps. If you are doubtful whether your salt cell needs cleaning in the first place, you can always check with a pool professional to be safe and certain.

Let me know if you want to learn more about the salt cell. I’m always happy to help out.

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