Here’s Why Your Salt Chlorine Generator Isn’t Producing Enough Chlorine (And How to Fix It)

Written by Michael Dean
September 27, 2023

broken salt chlorine generator next to a swimming pool

Like any other pool equipment, salt chlorine generators, or SWGs, can run into issues over time. Whether you’re a seasoned pool owner or new to saltwater pools, learning how to troubleshoot and fix some of the most common salt chlorine generator problems is helpful.

One of the most common issues is your salt chlorine generator isn’t producing enough chlorine. Let’s dive into this issue and what you can do about it.

Main Takeaways 

  • Signs that your saltwater chlorinator might be dysfunctional are low chlorine levels, visible algae growth, and cloudy water.
  • Your salt chlorine generator may not work due to low salt levels, dirty salt cells, or a faulty power source.
  • You should run your saltwater chlorinator for 8-12 hours a day, though it’s best to figure out what fits your pool based on trial and error.

Signs That Your Salt Chlorine Generator Isn’t Producing Chlorine

Your saltwater chlorine generator is the most important equipment in your saltwater pool since it produces the chlorine that keeps your pool clean and sanitized. So, it’s important to ensure your SWG works as it should. Here are a few signs to watch out for that signify that your saltwater chlorine generator isn’t working correctly.

Low Chlorine Levels

This is quite simple and probably your most obvious sign that your salt generator isn’t working correctly. If you’ve tested the water and the chlorine levels are consistently low, you’ll need to check and fix your SWG.

Algae Growth

Algae growth can also be a giveaway that the chlorinator is faulty. If you notice green or yellow algae growing in your pool, it might be time to troubleshoot the SWG. You should also bookmark my article on removing algae from a saltwater pool.

Cloudy Water

More often than not, if your water is cloudy or discolored in any way, your SWG may not be working as well as it should to keep the water clean.

If you’re still unsure what the issue could be, most modern salt generators have built-in diagnostic systems that will display error messages if there is a problem; this makes narrowing down a potential issue a piece of cake.

Reasons Why Your Salt Generator Isn’t Producing Chlorine

Here are the reasons why your salt chlorine generator isn’t producing enough chlorine to sanitize your pool correctly. Thankfully, these issues have relatively straightforward fixes!

Low Salt Levels

If the salt levels in your pool are too low, the saltwater chlorine generator won’t be able to produce enough chlorine. In a saltwater pool, chlorine is generated through a process called electrolysis, which turns the salt present in the water into sodium hypochlorite and hydrochloric acid. These components then chlorinate the water. Salt is naturally essential to this process. Therefore, inadequate salt means inadequate levels of chlorine!

Usually, your generator should alert you to low salt levels on the display screen, but you can also test the pool salt levels to be sure.

How To Fix It

If the culprit is low salt levels, you must increase the salinity levels as soon as possible. The recommended salt level for most pools is around 2,700 to 3,400 ppm. Test your pool using a kit and check how much salt has to be added by deducting the current salinity levels from the required salinity levels. Or use my salt calculator to help!

Then you’ll have to measure and add the required amount of pool salt. Let the pump run for a few hours, and test and adjust the water chemistry if necessary.

Dirty Salt Cell

Most people don’t know how easy it is for a salt cell to accumulate debris and scale that can prevent it from producing enough chlorine. For instance, if the calcium levels in your pool are too high, it can cause scaling on the salt cell and reduce its efficiency due to the calcium deposits formed. Occasionally cleaning your salt cell is a valuable habit to build (around every 500 hours of use), so don’t hesitate to put your gloves on.

How To Fix It

First, turn off the filtration system. Then remove the salt cell from its housing, spray it with warm water, and soak it in a mildly acidic solution for around 20 to 25 minutes. The solution should be a 4:1 ratio of water and muriatic acid. When you make the solution, make sure to add the muriatic acid to the water and not the other way around. Once that’s done, rinse the cell with water and place it back in the salt water generator. Rebalance any chemicals if needed, run your chlorinator, and test your water after 24 – 48 hours to check if everything is okay.

Incorrect Chlorine Output Setting

Most salt generators nowadays have adjustable chlorine output settings. The power levels you choose depend on the device’s capability, the time needed to generate the chlorine required, and the size of your pool. Generally speaking, at a 55-65% power level, for around 8-10 hours, your chlorinator should be able to generate sufficient amounts of chlorine. If not, it won’t produce enough chlorine or produce too much.

How To Fix It

Check the manufacturer’s instructions to check how to adjust the output setting. Remember, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all setting here; you need to find the one ideal for your pool after a bit of trial and error.

I suggest starting with roughly 50% power and running your device for around 8-12 hours, after which you should retest the chlorine levels. If chlorine is still low, increase the power to 80%. If, after that, the chlorine levels in the pool are too high, lower it. Keep adjusting until you reach the sweet spot for your pool. Your chlorine level should be between 1-3 ppm.

Loose Plugs

The salt cell in your SWG has a control box, and within this control box, there is a plug that connects the control box to the salt cell. If this is not properly connected or loose, your saltwater chlorinator may go haywire.

How To Fix It

To fix this, simply turn off the power, open the control box, and check all cords and plugs. Then push all the plugs to ensure they are all tight, and you should be all good to go!

Low Flow

The flow sensor monitors how much water flows into the salt cell. When there isn’t enough flow and your SWG isn’t getting enough water, the sensor shuts the chlorinator down. Depending on your SWG model, you may see a warning light on the saltwater generator that alerts you if there is low water flow.

How To Fix It

If you have a variable speed pump, try increasing the speed of the pump first. If that doesn’t seem to do the trick, there may be an issue with the pool’s circulation. Check the flow of water that is coming out of the return jets. If it’s weak, you should check the entire filtration system for blockages, dirt, or even low pool water levels.

Faulty Flow Sensor or Switch

If you are still experiencing issues with your flow sensor after checking your filtration system for the above issue, the sensor itself may be faulty. It may be reading the wrong flow rate and may shut off the SWG even though there is proper water flow.

How To Fix It

If this is the case, check that your flow sensor is properly plugged in near the salt cell. If it is, you’ll need to replace your flow sensor entirely. To do this, turn off the power and the pool pump. Then remove the flow switch by unplugging the flow switch cable that connects to the control box. Put the new flow switch in its place and plug it into the control box. Finally, turn everything back on to test the SWG.

Power Supply Issues

There could simply be no power going to your saltwater chlorine generator.

How To Fix It

Sometimes, it could be as silly as someone having accidentally unplugged the saltwater chlorine generator control panel. If the SWG is plugged in, check if the circuit breaker has tripped, and if it has, reset it. If it isn’t either of these issues, but you suspect that the issue definitely lies in the control unit or the wiring, call an electrician to sort things out.

Faulty Salt Cell

If you’ve tried all the above solutions and your salt generator still isn’t producing enough chlorine, the issue could be a defective or malfunctioning salt cell.

How To Fix It

You can have the salt cell inspected by an expert and replaced if needed. A salt cell is expected to last anywhere between 4-7 years and can cost an average of $500 to replace. If you believe you can replace the salt cell yourself, here’s a quick rundown of how to do so:

  1. Turn off any pool equipment, such as the generator and pool pump.
  2. Using a wrench, loosen the screws and remove any o-rings and washer.
  3. Clean cell housing, add any teflon pool lube if needed, and restore the o-rings to their positions.
  4. Grab your new salt cell, fix it to the plumbing lines, and then connect it to the control box.
  5. Test the salt levels of the pool, and run the chlorinator to test if it’s working without issues.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does a salt generator take to make chlorine? 

The time it takes for a salt generator to make chlorine depends on the power output. For example, if you have your SWG’s power output at 50%, it will produce chlorine 50% of the time. And when it is producing chlorine, the time it takes for the salt to turn into chlorine and back again is almost instantaneous. The better question to ask would be: how long does it take to produce enough chlorine? For most pools, this is between 8-12 hours.

How many hours per day should you run your salt generator?

The number of hours you should run your salt generator per day differs, depending on various factors, such as the size of your pool, salinity levels, your local climate, and how often the pool is being used (and by how many). But as a general rule, your SWG should run for 8-12 hours per day.

Are you having other issues with your salt chlorine generator? Let me know! Always happy to lend a hand if I can.

Scroll to Top