Common Salt Chlorine Generator Problems (And How to Fix Them)

Written by Michael Dean
October 3, 2023

troubleshooting a salt chlorine generator

Saltwater pools have been rising in popularity in recent years because they are easy to maintain and don’t need many chemicals to keep the water clean. However, a salt-chlorine generator is a complicated piece of equipment that is hard to get used to if you’re unfamiliar with it. Some problems can arise that will affect your pool systems and the safety of your pool water. So it is important to understand these issues and learn how to look out for them.

Below, I outlined common salt chlorine generator problems you may come across, their causes, how to identify them, and how to fix them.

Main Takeaways

  • If you have corroded galvanized equipment due to exposure to water and salt, replace your galvanized metal parts with brass or stainless steel.
  • Most salt cells have a lifespan of 3-5 years, so replacing it eventually is inevitable, but if you look after it properly, it could last up to 7 years.
  • If the chlorine content is too high, adjust the free chlorine levels on the salt chlorine generator and test the water for a few days. And if the calcium level is too high, you’ll need to drain your pool and refill it with less calcium-rich water.
  • If you’re having water circulation issues, clean out the skimmer and backwash the filter.

Corroded Galvanized Equipment

Given the exposure to water and salt, corroding equipment is a problem most swimming pool owners will face at some point. It is not only unsightly, but it can also cause a lot of damage to your equipment.

What Causes The Problem

Many people that live in coastal areas may have heard about the differences between stainless steel, brass, and galvanized metals. Saltwater will corrode any exposed metal objects made from galvanized steel. So likewise, in saltwater pools, any metal objects made from galvanized metal will be at risk of premature corrosion.

How To Identify The Problem

Look at all the metal components in and around your swimming pool. A corroded part will be rusted and will start to disintegrate over time. In particular, if the salt content of your pool water is too high, your metal screws, handrails, ladders, and covers will rust excessively.

How To Fix The Problem

There are a few ways to prevent metal from rusting in saltwater pools, but replacing your galvanized metal parts with brass or stainless steel is the most effective option. They have much more resistance to salt than galvanized steel. Other ways to fix this problem are cleaning the metal area, scrubbing the rust off with sandpaper, and removing the rusted shaving.

Salt Cell Replacement

Inevitably, you will eventually need to replace the salt cell in your salt chlorine generator. The salt cell is the main component of your generator, and its primary purpose is to turn sodium chloride into chlorine. Salt cells are quite expensive, so you really don’t want to replace them very often.

How To Identify The Problem

Over time, your salt cell will become clogged with calcium deposits that prevent it from doing its job correctly. You should regularly inspect the salt cell and clean it up if you notice calcium buildup. After some time, though, acid baths may not work, especially if you see that several plates are lost. Your salt cell may also need replacing if the water turns green and fills with algae (an indication that it’s not producing enough chlorine), even when the salt chlorine generator displays ideal chlorine levels.

What Causes The Problem

Regardless of your cleaning habits, your salt cell will need to be replaced every 3-5 years. Calcium deposits from the water and acid baths will eventually wear out the salt cell plates, rendering it useless. If the calcium in your water is high, your salt cell will need to be replaced more frequently. So make sure to test your chemical levels routinely.

How To Fix The Problem

There is no way to prevent your salt cell from being replaced altogether, but you can extend its life by routinely checking the salt generator and cleaning it when necessary (roughly every 3 months). Keep your chemicals balanced and maintain a generally healthy pool; your salt cell can last up to 7 years! That will save you a lot of money, considering a new salt cell can cost $300-$500.

High Chlorine Content In The Pool Water

Saltwater pools are rising in popularity for the most part because they do not come with the adverse effects of chlorinated pools. The harmful chloramines you will find in traditional pools are generally not generated in saltwater pools. But that does not mean that the pool cannot become high in chlorine and damage equipment or become unsafe for pool patrons.

How To Identify The Problem

The obvious answer for telling that your chlorine levels are too high is by testing the pool. Use saltwater testing strips or a liquid drop test to test the chlorine in your pool water. You may be surprised to find the chlorine levels higher than expected because saltwater pools don’t emit the classic chlorine smell.

What Causes The Problem

If the chlorine percentage in the salt chlorine generator is not set correctly, it may produce too much or too little chlorine. Depending on the amount of use your pool gets, the amount of sunlight your pool gets, and the pH and alkalinity levels, your salt chlorine generator may need to be set differently.

How To Fix The Problem

Especially with new saltwater pool owners, trial and error is the best way to balance the chlorine levels. Don’t let mistakes discourage you because you will learn how to manage the system properly over time. Test your water at least every few days, and pay attention to the water a few days after the settings on the salt chlorine generator are changed. After testing the water, you can adjust the free chlorine levels on the salt chlorine generator accordingly.

High Calcium

Calcium hardness is something that both freshwater and saltwater pool owners will dread dealing with. When calcium levels are high, flakes of calcium will be present in the water and can cause significant problems to the pool equipment and systems. In a saltwater pool, high calcium levels will damage the saltwater chlorinator and cause a more frequent salt cell replacement.

How To Identify The Problem

Some common symptoms of high calcium content in saltwater pools are cloudiness in the water, rough chalky surfaces, and clogged-up filters with calcium residue. In saltwater pools, you will also notice more calcium content in the salt cell. You can also test the calcium hardness with most standard testing kits.

What Causes The Problem

Several factors cause calcium hardness, but usually, the culprit is hard water. This means the water source used to fill the pool has high mineral content. When water evaporates in your pool, the calcium saturation rises.

How To Fix The Problem

Raising your calcium levels is much easier, but unfortunately, there is really only one option to lower it. You will need to partially drain your pool and refill it with less calcium-rich water to lower your calcium hardness. This can be a frustrating problem if the water in your region is hard. But there are also chemical water softeners that can help with this.

Water Circulation Issues

Your water circulation is important because it allows the chemicals you add to do their jobs and for the filter to function correctly. If your pool is not getting enough circulation, the salt chlorine generator will not do its job well, and the chemicals and salt levels will struggle.

How To Identify The Problem

If you notice your pool water is cloudier or particles don’t seem to be getting sucked into the skimmer, something may be blocking the water circulation. Check the skimmer and pool filter and see if any type of debris is blocking the flow. Stagnant water will grow more algae and become swampy over time, so it is important to check for the warning signs that your water is not moving enough.

What Causes The Problem

The main cause of poor water circulation is blockages in the skimmer, filter, or piping. The pump will need to have a clear system to produce enough suction to move the water continuously.

How To Fix The Problem

This problem is generally pretty easy to fix. You should clean out the skimmer and backwash the filter if necessary. Once you have cleaned everything out, the circulation should return to normal.

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.

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

Bottom Line

Just like traditional chlorine pools, saltwater pools can have issues over time. The salt chlorine generator does not last forever because the salt cell will eventually need replacing. But as with most pool-related maintenance, a proper cleaning schedule will prolong your salt cell life. If you choose to switch to a saltwater pool, you’ll need to become familiar with the specific issues you may need to deal with and potentially install a new salt chlorine generator.

If you have any more questions about salt chlorine generators, feel free to drop me a line!

Scroll to Top