Salt Water pool systems have become so popular that they have begun to be the default choice for home swimming pools. However, many people (even if they have a salt pool) don't get much deeper into what a salt system really is beyond the fact that they just love it. Below are some facts about what a saltwater chlorine generator cell really is, so that you can better take care of your own swimming pool system.
What is a Salt Cell?
The cell (or Electrolytic Cell) is the plumbing component of a saltwater pool system. It is basically a PVC tube that holds a stack of titanium plates inside. Briefly, what happens is that as salt water passes through the cell, the salt system sends a weak electric charge through the water between the titanium plates, which converts salt into chlorine. Learn more about how salt pools work. In essence, your salt system is a chlorine generator which (in terms of operation) you can treat in a similar way as you would a chlorine tablet dispenser. However, you have to fill up a chlorine tablet dispenser as it gets used, don't you? So then what gets used up on a chlorine generator?
How long does a salt cell last? Does a salt cell last forever?
Unfortunately, a salt cell is not an unlimited and infinite supply of chlorine. The process of generating the chlorine naturally wears down the titanium in the cell, slowly and over time. That means the salt cell is a consumable part, at some point in the the future it gets used up. The good news is that generally people see lifespan of at least 3-5 years with normal proper pool maintenance. For higher end models, the lifespan gets even longer. We speak to many pool owners who have seen cell lifespans of 8-10+ years because of a combination of the type of systems they picked out, their pool maintenance, use and environment.
So is it worth it then?
Absolutely. Just think of salt cell as a many, many, many hundreds of pounds of chlorine, all wrapped up in a nice and neat little package. A lot of frustration comes from the fact that when people put a salt pool system on their pool, they have absolutely no idea that the cell is something that just naturally gets replaced. In that situation, it feels the same way as it would when you're told that your refrigerator is shot when you hear that your salt cell has to be replaced after you've had it for a few years and you've been enjoying its use. Salt cells don't last forever, unfortunately, but what they provide is a huge benefit. Think about it this way, would you decide not use a gas-powered electrical generator just because the gas tank can run out? Even more importantly, dollar for dollar, the amount of chlorine you get from just one salt system costs much less than using chlorine tablets, granules, or liquid. PLUS, when it comes time to replace the cell, replacement salt cells are much less expensive than a complete system, so in the long term there is really no comparison in terms of savings - not to mention the other big benefits of salt systems, such as the vast amounts of time it saves in maintenance and the much more pleasant water quality. Best of all, replacing a cell takes about a minute, usually as quickly as you can unscrew some fittings.
What are the important things to know about salt cells?
Essentially, the amount of time that any one cell lasts is only determined by how it's used. However, the sooner it's understood that the salt cell is consumable, the easier everything else becomes from there: from picking out your salt system, to determining the way you run it, to the way that you maintain your pool.
- Choosing a salt system: The larger the salt system, the more chlorine it can create in its lifetime. In other words, a more powerful salt system has to work less hard to create the same amount of chlorine on a daily basis, so it will wear out more slowly and last longer. The experienced pool owner knows to pick a unit with higher chlorine output and/or a higher gallon rating. Furthermore, based on the quality of cell, manufacturers rate their cells for expected lifespan. Salt systems with longer ratings will, naturally, last longer than equivalent systems with shorter ratings.
- Maintaining water chemistry and cleanliness: The harder a system has to work to keep the pool clean, the quicker it will wear out, period. Some people incorrectly think a salt system is a license to never bother with water chemistry again. The more the water is out of balance, the less effective chlorine is at sanitizing the pool, and the more chlorine has to be produced to keep things clean. The more dirt, plants , and debris are in the pool, the harder the salt system has to run. The more the pool is used, the longer the salt system has to run. The more impurities like phosphates, nitrates, ammonia, and metals are in the water, your pool might require so much more chlorine that you can't add enough chlorine to keep up with the demand.
- Proper maintenance: The titanium plates in salt cells will slowly accumulate calcium mineral scaling. This needs to be periodically cleaned, because scaling and debris impede the ability of the salt cell to operate. Check your system's manual for exact instructions, but cleaning basically involves taking 5-10 minutes to soak the cell in a weak acid or vinegar solution that will dissolve the build-up. Unfortunately, many people mistakenly think their cell is used up because the cell hasn't been thoroughly cleaned.
- Preventing premature failure: Similar to maintaining a clean and balanced pool, make sure you don't misuse your salt system. For example, don't leave it running all day long if the pool doesn't need it. Don't operate your salt system if the salinity levels in the swimming pool are outside of its stated salinity range, this cause a lot of unnecessary wear and tear. Don't leave water in the cell if it stays outside during freezing temperatures, this can cause preventable damage as well.