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Best Practices for Troubleshooting Salt Chlorine Generators
Problems with your Pool’s Salt System May Require Immediate Attention
Salt chlorine generators are a key component of swimming pool systems. They convert salt into chlorine to provide continuous sanitization of a pool’s water. Like any pool equipment, salt chlorine generators can sometimes encounter issues that require troubleshooting and maintenance. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore common problems salt chlorine generators can have and provide tips and solutions to help you resolve them. Whether you're experiencing low chlorine levels, error codes on the display screen, or other issues, we've got you covered with practical troubleshooting steps. By understanding the potential problems with salt chlorine generators and their solutions, you can keep your unit running smoothly and ensure optimal pool water quality.
For a full discussion of all things saltwater chlorine generators, check out our comprehensive guide.
Table of Contents:
- 1. The Reasons Why A Saltwater Chlorinator Stops Working
- 2. If You Are Seeing Warning Lights On Chlorine Generator
- 3. If There Are NOT Any Warning Lights On Chlorine Generator
- 4. Signs That Your Salt Chlorinator Might Not Be Working
- 5. Saltwater Pool Chlorinator Troubleshooting Checklist
- 6. Solutions for Common Salt Chlorine Generator Problems
- 7. More Questions About Salt System Problems
1. The Reasons Why A Saltwater Chlorinator Stops Working
A salt chlorine generator is ultimately a simple device - it is designed to send power from its control module, to its cell, through the water, and then back to the control module, where it measures how this process is working.
When a chlorine generator is unable to do this, there is almost always going to be one of the following typical reasons that force it to stop generating chlorine correctly. When this happens, a chlorine generator will trigger a warning light, error message, or alert. This will most often be a “low salt” or “clean cell” message. If you are not seeing a system warning, skip ahead to the next section.
2. If You Are Seeing Warning Lights On Chlorine Generator
Low Salt In The Pool
Most pool owners will encounter this at a certain point. Insufficient salt levels can impact the salt chlorine generator's ability to produce chlorine. Check to see if the low salt light on your pool’s chlorinator is illuminated and test the salt levels using testing strips or kits to ensure they are within the recommended range specified by the manufacturer. If the salt level is low, add the necessary amount of pool-grade salt to reach the optimal concentration.
Dirty Or Clogged Salt Cell (Mineral Scaling)
Most pool owners will also encounter this at a certain point. Over time, mineral scaling can build up on the salt cell, reducing its efficiency and hindering chlorine production. Regularly inspect the salt cell; if you see mineral scaling (or other debris), clean the cell thoroughly according to the manufacturer's guidelines to remove any mineral deposits. Sometimes, when there is mineral scaling in the cell, it can also cause your chlorine generator to think there is not enough salt in the cell. If you’ve independently measured a good salt level and your system thinks there is low salt, this is a common indication that the cell needs to be cleaned. Many times it can be hard to see inside your cell, so if you’ve checked your salt level and are still getting a low salt or salt cell error, just go ahead and clean the cell as the next step. If you see “fizzing” when you clean the cell, you’ll know there is mineral scaling to dissolve.
Air In The Salt Cell
In order to pass along the expected amount of power through the cell, the cell needs to be 100% filled with water so that its titanium plates are completely covered. A salt cell may develop an “air gap” where a pocket of air develops inside the cell if the pool system is sucking in air somewhere upstream. If this happens, it can essentially trick your system into thinking there is low salt or a dirty cell, since it becomes more difficult for the system to send power through the cell. This may occur due to a bad seal, loose fitting, cracked plumbing, low water level in the pool, improperly primed pump, or other similar reasons. You’ll need to inspect the pool system for these issues. Additionally, if using a variable speed pump, it can be possible that at its lowest RPM settings that the pump is not moving enough water to clear any air out of the cell. If your error seems to occur every day or overnight, but you can reset your salt system and it will work without error for the rest of the day (which means the salt level is good and the cell is fully clean), this is a tell-tale sign of air in the cell due to insufficient flow. In this case, incrementally raise the RPM of your pump's low speed setting. Often only small adjustments are required and you can still ensure very energy efficient operation of the pump while still providing correct water circulation.
Wrong “Cell Type” Setting On The Controls
In many cases, a chlorine generator model line uses one controller that can work with different size salt cells, and the controller has a setting on it that lets it work properly with each cell size. Sometimes this setting may inadvertently get changed, or you may purchase a larger salt cell down the road. When the “cell type” setting does not match the actual cell size being used by the controller, it will not work correctly and will cause the system to trigger an error. Many times this will be a low salt or high salt warning, because the system is sending power through the cell and finding that it is easier or harder to do this than expected. Consult your product manual to see if your chlorine generator has a cell type setting. Double check the manufacturer’s documentation to determine what cell type setting your system should have.
Low Water Temperatures
At very cold water temperatures, microorganisms have little chance to grow, which requires little to no chlorination. Additionally, electrolysis in very cold water can increase wear-and-tear on a salt cell. Some models will display a temperature alert, so you can know that the system is correctly adjusting its operation. In rare cases, or on some older models, cold water temperatures may contribute to a “low salt” or “clean cell” system indicator. If the water is cold and there are no other issues (low salt, scaling in cell), this issue may simply resolve itself. However, if a temperature warning occurs and the water is not actually cold, this may also indicate a more rare issue, that the system’s temperature sensor is damaged.
Bad Cable Connection
If the cable that goes between the controller and the cell is not getting a 100% connection or is damaged, this can make it harder to send power along and it is possible for this to cause a “low salt” or “clean cell” system indicator. Additionally, this may cause a safety issue! Be sure that the cable and its male and female connectors are clean and undamaged. Reconnect the cable, making sure its connectors are properly aligned and fully seated.
Salt Cell Needs Replacing (End Of Life)
The salt cell has a limited lifespan, typically ranging from 3 to 8 years depending on the model and usage. Be prepared ahead of time by knowing what to look for when your cell reaches the end of its lifespan. If you’ve had your system a number of years and your salt chlorine generator is triggering a “low salt” or “clean cell” system indicator, and you’ve checked all of the above troubleshooting and double-checked that the pool’s salinity level is good and the cell is thoroughly clean, it may be time to replace the salt cell.
Other less common system error issues:
Bad setup (incorrect wiring, not wired properly). Improper installation or wiring can cause issues with the salt chlorine generator's functionality. Ensure that the system is correctly installed and wired according to the manufacturer's instructions. If you're uncertain about the setup, consult a professional for assistance. If the controller is hooked up incorrectly (only receiving 120V when configured for 240V), the system may power on and the person installing the unit may walk away, but the system may provide no or erroneous readings and not send power to the cell in order to generate chlorine.
Issue with flow switch or sensor; "low flow" or "no flow" light is on. If the chlorine generator does not think the water is flowing, it will stop generating chlorine. If water is not flowing correctly, check for pump operation, high filter PSI, skimmer debris, or other blockages. A flow switch also might not be triggered properly if it is installed too closely to a plumbing elbow or other source of turbulent water. The flow switch can be checked if it is or is not functioning correctly by removing it and manually triggering it. You should always see a “no flow” error when the flow switch is not triggered, and you should always see the “no flow” indication go away when the flow switch is triggered. A malfunctioning flow switch should be replaced.
Control unit on the salt chlorine generator has electronics damage. Some newer models will provide a warning light or error if electronics damage is detected. For other models however, if your system is powering on and giving a warning light like any of those listed above (such as “low salt” or “clean cell”), and not of the above issues are the case, in extremely rare circumstances, it is possible that a damaged Faulty control units or electronic components can disrupt the operation of the salt chlorine generator. Based on experience, it is emphatically much more likely that a system with an electronics issue just doesn’t turn on, and almost always will be accompanied by physical damage which can be inspected for by a qualified individual. In any of these instances it is recommended to contact manufacturer tech support.
3. If There Are NOT Any Warning Lights On Chlorine Generator
If you are NOT seeing warning lights or alerts on your chlorine generator, but are seeing other signs that your chlorinator might not be working, these issues may be at play:
Tripped Power Or Control Module Not Receiving Power
Most chlorine generators have a built-in power protection mechanism (a fuse or a fuse reset / internal breaker). Make sure that the chlorine generator’s power protection mechanism is not tripped and thus causing the system to be inactive. Also make sure that the chlorine generator is not simply set to “off” on its controls. Check that the salt chlorine generator is plugged in and receiving power. Additionally, verify that no circuit breakers or GFI outlets which supply power to the chlorine generator have tripped. Reset any tripped breakers or outlets and ensure the unit is properly powered.
No Display Or Unresponsive Controls
It’s possible the controls are receiving power but another issue on the controls is preventing the system from operating properly. If the unit's screen and/or LED lights are partially lit, there may be a damaged display circuit board. If you are pressing a button, moving a switch, or turning a dial but the system does not respond, the system’s keypad or control circuit board may need to be replaced.
While it's normal for electronics to feel warm to the touch, if the internal temperature of the electronics gets too hot for whatever reason, many electronics have a built-in temperature protection mechanism that may cause the system to temporarily turn off. If this is the case, wait an hour or two for the temperature of the unit to cool off. Older technology may encounter this more often than newer models. Ensure that your chlorine generator controls are not installed near a heater or heat source.
If a local power surge occurs, or if an internal component fails, it is possible that electronics become damaged. Some newer models will provide a warning light or error if electronics damage is detected. If the unit does not come on after troubleshooting the previous issues, or if damage is visible (or you can smell it), an internal circuit board may need to be replaced.
Other Error Message
Some chlorine generator models have unique error codes or messages that only apply to their configuration or components. If you see any other warning, alert, or indicator, be sure to check the product manual to understand the precise meaning. Some chlorine generator models provide notifications that do not indicate the system has stopped or changed operation, for example some models may alert you that the cell is nearing the end of its lifespan, or some models may alert you whether or not the chlorine generator is being controlled by a remote system
If you neither have system warning lights expressly indicating that the chlorine generator has detected an issue, nor any of the other issues above regarding your controller, that indicates that there is either an operational or environmental issue.
System Is Not Being Run At A High Enough Setting Or For Long Enough
It's important to ensure that the salt chlorine generator is set to the appropriate output level and running for a sufficient duration to produce the desired amount of chlorine. This can happen gradually as seasonal temperatures increase, or this can happen suddenly after heavy pool use or inclement weather. If there is a sudden change, you might activate the chlorine generator’s “boost mode” in order to temporarily generate more chlorine to compensate. Otherwise, you’ll want to increase the chlorine output setting that the system runs at daily. Continue to check the resulting chlorine level in the pool and raise the chlorine output level as high as necessary to generate sufficient chlorine. If needed, increase the chlorine generator’s run time to proportionally increase how much more chlorine is generated (ex: 15% more run time would provide 15% more chlorination).
Pool Water Imbalance
Assuming the chlorine generator was initially sized correctly and historically has been able to generate sufficient chlorine, if the system is set to generate its maximum amount of chlorination, this is a clear sign of an imbalance. In other words, an issue is either decreasing the effectiveness of the chlorine and/or greatly increasing the chlorine demand of the water due to having more impurities to sanitize / oxidize. Many people don't realize that when you are measuring free chlorine in the water, you are basically measuring the residual level of chlorine that is not needed to oxidize or kill microorganisms. This means you are detecting the unneeded leftover chlorine (the amount of chlorine added minus that amount of chlorine required to sanitize every bit of the pool water). Measuring low or even no chlorine in the water is not necessarily an indication that your system is not generating chlorine, only that not enough chlorine has been added to the pool. These issues apply to all pools, and not just pools using chlorine generators. Any or even all of the following issues may be at play:
Decreased Chlorine Effectiveness
The slower acting your chlorine, or the more quickly it leaves the pool, the more chlorine must be added to the pool to compensate.
High pH. unstabilized chlorine can become much less effective at killing microorganisms the higher the pH gets, meaning more chlorine must be added to do the job.
Low or high cyanuric acid (CYA). CYA acts as chlorine stabilizer. If it is too low, sunlight can rapidly deplete chlorine, greatly increasing chlorine demand. However, too high of CYA severely weakens the killing strength of chlorine. Modern research shows that there should be no more than a 20:1 ratio of CYA and Free Chlorine; in other words, since your target chlorine level is 1-3 ppm, your CYA should then be 20-60 ppm depending on the chlorine level you are keeping, and no higher. Otherwise you are essentially making your chlorine almost inert, and however hard you chlorine generator is working it might not be enough.
Increased Sanitation Needs (Higher Demand For Chlorine)
Increasing microorganisms, algae using up chlorine. If your chlorine levels aren’t maintained at sufficient levels and/or issues cause reduced chlorine effectiveness, microorganisms can rapidly multiply (along with the scope of your problem). An algae colony can replicate as fast as 3-6 hours in the right conditions! The more things that need to be killed by chlorine in the water, the more chlorine must be added to the water.
Organic waste after heavy pool use or weather. Oils, lotions, sweat, and especially urine (or worse) can cause severe issues, and aren’t going to show up on a water chemistry test. Urine especially causes problems, as it breaks down into urea, ammonia, and nitrates (big problem, see below). Dirt, grass, leaves or other waste that gets tracked or blown into the pool can introduce lots of microorganisms that will begin multiplying; vegetation like grass and leaves will decay in the water which provides lots of nourishment for microorganisms (and can also stain your pool).
Concentrated nourishment for microorganisms.
Phosphates: These are a common source of pool problems because of their prevalence in our environment. As phosphates build up over time in the pool, they provide a “superfood” for algae and other microorganisms, enabling rapid growth. It only takes a tiny bit to significantly raise the pool’s chlorine demand. Phosphate levels should be under 100 parts per billion (ppb), as close to zero as possible. Phosphates can be removed fairly easily by adding phosphate removers to the pool.
Nitrates: They are similar to phosphates in effect (and sometimes in origin) and are equally important to minimize in the pool water, but they are much more difficult to deal with. Nitrate levels should be under 10 parts per million (ppm) and as close to zero as possible. Nitrates, however, can only effectively be removed by the draining of pool water.
Bromine: There should not be any presence of bromine in the pool, as it can have a detrimental or even hazardous effect. This can occur inadvertently through the use of sodium-bromide based “algaecide” or “chlorine enhancer”.
Fertilizers: Fertilizers make living things grow, microorganisms are living things - keep fertilizer far, far away from the pool! Keep water runoff away from the pool that may contain fertilizer. Fertilizers can cause phosphate and nitrate levels to spike. In areas with agriculture, fertilizers can also easily build up in the pool as wind-blown dust accumulates in the pool.
The presence of any impurities such as copper, iron, other metals or ammonia should be eliminated.
Plan of Action
If any of these pool water issues apply - you need to create a plan of action to address them as soon as possible. It's possible for these imbalances to cause there to be such a high need for chlorination that you will not be able to keep up and maintain a free chlorine residual. Adding extra chlorine or shock may tip the balance and get you by temporarily, but you’re treating a symptom of the problem instead of fixing the root causes. Remember that if the chlorine generator is not displaying errors, it is going to be creating the full and normal amount of chlorine that it is designed to - this is a fixed amount. An imbalance pool can have a higher and higher level of chlorine demand which surpasses the rate of chlorine production. It's not the case that “the system isn’t generating chlorine” because of the imbalance, but rather that the pool isn’t able to achieve a measurable amount of residual chlorine because it is being consumed quicker than it is being replenished.
By identifying the underlying cause of the salt chlorine generator's error lights or warning messages, or the cause(s) for inadequate chlorine residual in the pool, you can take the necessary steps to address and resolve the problem, ensuring optimal pool water sanitization.
If you have a relatively new system and are concerned that perhaps your installation may have been done incorrectly, consider referencing our guide to installing a saltwater pool chlorinator.
4. Signs That Your Salt Chlorinator Might Not Be Working
Calcium flakes in the pool? Pool water looking different? Sometimes life gets busy and you forget to check how things are working, but you catch a glance of the pool as you’re looking outside. It's important to recognize the signs that could be an indication of your salt chlorinator not working optimally. By identifying these signs early on, you can take appropriate action to rectify the issue. Common signs that your salt chlorinator may need attention include:
Low chlorine level
This is one of the most important factors. If your free chlorine level is less than 1-3 ppm (or if your free chlorine level is different than your total chlorine level), this requires your attention. Check your chlorine generator for errors or warnings. If good, you may need to raise your chlorine output level (which can be needed as the season heats up) or temporarily boost it after heavy activity. If you’re having to raise the output more than normal or can’t achieve sufficient free chlorine levels after greatly increasing the system’s output (and run time if needed), you’re likely experiencing a water imbalance that is decreasing chlorine effectiveness, increasing chlorine demand, or both. Review: Pool Water Imbalance troubleshooting.
Cloudy pool water
Cloudiness in the pool water can be an indication of inadequate sanitation caused by a malfunctioning salt chlorinator. It's also possible that there is an issue with the filter, or that flocculent needs to be added to the pool.
Dirty or murky pool water
If your pool water appears dirty or murky despite regular maintenance and filtration, you need to check that the salt chlorinator is operating properly.
Green tint to water or visible algae growth
Algae growth in the pool is going to be the culprit if your pool water is green. If this is happening, or if you see algae spots this can suggest that either the salt chlorinator has not been producing sufficient chlorine to prevent algae growth, or that an impurity or water balance issue is enabling algae growth despite a normal level of chlorination.
Calcium flakes or white mineral scaling visible in cell (high saturation index)
Excessive calcium or mineral scaling visible on is a detriment for the salt cell chlorine generator operation, and can produce calcium flakes in the pool or cause the salt chlorinator to stop generating. If there are frequent issues with calcification, this indicates a high saturation index level, which can be balanced to minimize the amount of scaling that occurs.
Skin & eye irritations
If swimmers experience skin or eye irritations after using the pool, it could indicate inadequate chlorine levels.
High chlorine in the water
Paradoxically, high chlorine levels in the pool water are in issue indicating that the salt chlorinator is not set properly. The system is set to be producing more chlorine than the pool requires. In such cases, it's important to address the issue promptly to avoid potential health risks, as well as to minimize the wear-and-tear on your equipment and maximize its lifespan.
This one should be a given, but maybe you happen to catch out of the corner of your eye that there is a red LED light lit somewhere on your pool equipment pad. If your salt chlorinator has a warning light lit or has an error message on its display screens, check our full salt system troubleshooting guide and consult the manufacturer's manual or website to determine the cause and possible solutions.
Recognizing these signs can help you diagnose a problem with your salt chlorinator and take appropriate measures to resolve it.
If you are troubleshooting your saltwater pool chlorinator and determine you need a new system altogether, check out our guide on choosing the best saltwater pool chlorinator for your pool.
5. Saltwater Pool Chlorinator Troubleshooting Checklist
Verify that the system’s chlorine output is set high enough: If the pool’s chlorine level is low and the system is not running at max output, turn the system up. Ensure that the system is being run long enough. Longer run time provides proportionately more chlorination. A simple rule of thumb for run time is at least one hour for every 10ºF degrees in outdoor temperature.
Verify that there are no system errors: Ensure there are no warning lights or error messages on the control box. If present, check the product manual for next troubleshooting steps.
Check salt levels with a test kit: Test the salt levels in your pool using salt-specific testing strips, chemical kit, digital tester, or store test. Ensure that the salt concentration falls within the recommended range specified by the manufacturer (3500 ppm is a common target level). Adjust salt levels if necessary.
Check and clean your salt cell: Inspect the salt cell for any mineral scaling or debris buildup. Clean the cell according to the manufacturer's instructions using a compatible cell cleaning solution or acid wash. To double verify, clean the cell again in a new cleaning solution - if there is still fizzing, continue to clean the cell. Repeat this until no fizzing occurs when the cell is cleaning with a new cleaning solution. Flush out the cell thoroughly.
Check that all power connections are in place: Ensure that the salt cell is properly plugged into its control box and that the connections are clean and secure. Ensure that the control box is receiving power properly, and that it does not have a blown fuse or tripped internal reset. If your system is plugged into a GFI outlet, check if the test button has tripped. For hardwired systems, check if a circuit breaker is tripped.
Check and balance your pool chemistry: Regularly test and balance your pool chemistry, paying attention to pH levels and cyanuric acid levels. High pH or low cyanuric acid can impact chlorine effectiveness. Maintain a pH level of 7.2-7.6 and a CYA level of 30-50 ppm to reduce strain on the salt cell. Test for phosphates and nitrates: these common impurities cause the pool to require much greater amounts of chlorination and need to be removed.
Ensure proper water flow: A salt chlorinator’s flow switch needs to be triggered properly so the system activates/deactivates when the pump starts/stops. A salt chlorinator’s cell also needs sufficient water flow to ensure it stays 100% filled with water. If there is a flow issue, check your skimmer baskets, pump baskets, and any other “upstream” component for clogs/cracks/leaks, check that your pool water level is high enough, and check that a variable speed pump’s RPMs are not too low.
Visible PCB damage: Ensure there is no damage to the control box. If the Printed Circuit Board (PCB) of the salt chlorinator has any signs of damage, such as burnt components or loose connections, contact the manufacturer.
Ensure that your chlorinator is sized correctly for your pool: Someone else may have installed the chlorine generator on your pool or it may have been improperly sized. Verify that the salt chlorinator's capacity is suitable for the size of your pool. Undersized chlorinators may struggle to generate enough chlorine, while oversized ones can lead to excessive chlorine production.
By systematically following this checklist for troubleshooting your saltwater pool’s chlorinator, you can identify potential problems and take the necessary steps to resolve your issue.
6. Solutions for Common Salt Chlorine Generator Problems
Now, let's explore common problems and solutions for saltwater pools, specifically information on troubleshooting saltwater pool chlorinator issues:
Low Chlorine Level:
Check and adjust the salt chlorine generator's output settings higher as needed.
Verify that the chlorine generator displays no error lights or messages, and is turning on/off normally with the pump system. Increase pool system runtime if needed.
Verify that key water chemistry levels are correct. pH at 7.5, CYA between 30-50 ppm, phosphates close to 0 and under 100 ppb, nitrates close to 0 and under 10ppm. These issues can cause the chlorine to be much less effective or cause much higher amounts of chlorination to be required in order to do the job.
If needed temporarily, extra liquid or granular chlorine can be added to the pool to help compensate. This can be done in addition to a chlorine generator running at max output should there be water balance issues, very high pool usage, or unclean conditions which require much more sanitation than normal.
Frequent or heavy calcium build-up / white mineral scaling in cell:
Clean the salt cell using a suitable cell cleaning solution or acid wash to remove calcium deposits. This needs to be done as much as necessary in order to ensure the cell stays clean. Heavy build up can require multiple cleanings back-to-back, as the acidity of the cleaning solution can get depleted.
This is caused by a high saturation index level, which is contributed to by high calcium levels, high pH, and other issues in the pool water. Lowering the pool’s saturation index under 0.2 will prevent excessive calcification.
Dirty, murky, or cloudy pool water:
Confirm that the salt chlorine generator is producing chlorine by checking the output levels are high enough and no warning lights are on.
Adjust the output settings if needed to ensure adequate chlorine production, follow “low chlorine level” troubleshooting for other issues that can deplete chlorine.
If the pool’s level of chlorine residual is sufficient, there may be issues to address such as a broken pool filter or inadequate water circulation from the pool pump. There may be fine sediment that can only be removed by the pool filter by using a clarifier or flocculant.
There has been insufficient chlorination. Follow “Low Chlorine Level” troubleshooting. Use the chlorine generator at maximum output and add supplementary chlorine or shock as needed to kill all algae present.
Consider the use of algaecide to aid in the treatment to eliminate existing algae and prevent further growth.
Brush and vacuum the pool regularly to remove algae spores. All algae must be removed from the pool and the pool filter.
Error codes on the chlorinator's display screen:
Refer to the manufacturer's manual or website for the specific error code meanings and troubleshooting steps.
Follow the recommended procedures to resolve the error, such as checking for sensor malfunctions or resetting the system.
Skin & eye irritations:
There has been insufficient chlorination. Follow “Low Chlorine Level” troubleshooting. Ensure that the salt chlorine generator is producing adequate levels of chlorine to maintain proper water sanitization.
Test the water chemistry and adjust the salt chlorine generator settings if needed to achieve optimal chlorine levels.
Typical skin and eye irritation in a pool come from “chloramines” which form when there is not enough chlorine to fully oxidize all contaminants. A salt chlorinator eliminates chloramines due to its consistent chlorination as well as the concentrated chlorination and electrolysis occuring in the salt cell. Likely the system is either not being run sufficiently or there are impurities or water balance issues causing rising chlorine demand.
These solutions can help address common salt chlorine generator problems and restore the efficient operation of your system.
7. More Questions About Pool Salt System Problems and Saltwater Pool Chlorinator Troubleshooting Solutions
If it is not working, you should go through the steps of troubleshooting your saltwater pool’s chlorinator. Several factors could be contributing to the issue. Here are some common reasons your saltwater chlorinator might not be working:
Insufficient salt levels in the pool
Mineral scaling or debris inside salt cells inhibiting chlorine production
Air building up in the cell due to insufficient water flow
Electrical issues such as loose connections or a malfunctioning control panel
Incorrect settings on the control box, such as “cell type”
Very cold water
A water balance issue or other contaminants causing a rising need for chlorine or negatively affecting chlorine effectiveness. To troubleshoot the problem, refer to the troubleshooting checklist mentioned earlier in this guide or consult the manufacturer's instructions.
To determine if your salt generator is working, you can:
Verify that the control panel or display shows normal operation without any error codes or warning lights. Some models have additional positive verification of normal chlorine generation: The system may display a certain status light when it detects normal generation, it may display a visual indication such as a graph that verifies power output to cell, it may only turn on the chosen output level’s LED indicators once that amount of power output has been confirmed - check your models documentation for this.
Check for chlorine residual in the pool by testing the water for free chlorine levels using appropriate testing kits. If low and there are no system errors displayed, increase output level or run time.
Remember that a lack of residual chlorine in the pool does not necessarily indicate the chlorine generator is not working. The chlorine you measure in the pool is only any “leftover” that isn’t required for sanitation. Low or now chlorine residual just means more chlorine is being consumed than added. The chlorine generator might need its output raised, or there may be a water issue causing a spiking need for sanitation.
Ensure the salt cell is free of scaling or debris buildup.
Some models of chlorine generators track how long a salt cell has been used over time, and will display a certain system message or warning light to let you know when the salt cell is in the later stages of its lifespan. However, all salt systems should go through the full troubleshooting process to eliminate the possibility of any other issues before replacing the cell. Whether or not the model tracks cell usage, ultimately most chlorine generator models will usually display a warning that the salt level is low, the cell needs to be cleaned, or other such system error. It is not advisable to replace your cell unless:
The salt chlorine generator controller is displaying an error or warning light (typically associated with the cell or salt level). Double check this by turning your system off for a minute and then back on to confirm the error returns
You have gone through the troubleshooting process.
There are proper salt levels in the pool.
There is no mineral scaling or debris in the cell.
The cell is properly connected to its control box.
The control box is set to the proper cell type (if applicable).
The water is not very cold (under 50ºF for most models).
The cell is completely filled with water while it is in operation.
The cell has been used for a number of years (typically 3-8 years, depending on model and usage).
Troubleshooting your saltwater pool and fixing a saltwater chlorinator depends on the specific issue you're facing. Here are some general steps to follow:
Identify the problem by checking for error codes, inspecting the salt cell, and testing the water chemistry.
Refer to the manufacturer's troubleshooting guide or contact their customer support for specific instructions.
Clean the salt cell if mineral scaling or debris is present.
Adjust the control panel settings according to the manufacturer's recommendations.
Check for loose connections or electrical issues and address them accordingly.
Test the water chemistry regularly and make necessary adjustments. If the problem persists, consider seeking professional assistance for a thorough inspection and repair.
Resetting a salt generator may vary depending on the specific model and manufacturer. For many models, this is not required as a matter of course. Generally, you can follow these steps:
Turn off the power supply to the salt generator.
Allow the system to remain off for at least one minute.
Restore the power supply and observe the control panel for any changes. Many models will clear any errors at this point, attempt to resume operation and re-test itself, and then re-trigger an error if the issue is still present.
Refer to the manufacturer's instructions or contact their customer support for model-specific reset procedures. Some models can have resets such as:
Holding down a status button to reset a flashing reminder to inspect the cell
Resetting the system’s internal time counter that tracks cell usage
Updating the system’s cell-type setting if a different model size replacement cell is being used.
Repairing a salt chlorinator cell can be possible if you are restoring worn or damaged components such as o-rings, unions, cell body housing, or any modular sensors that might be present. Service should be done by a qualified individual; consider the following steps:
Turn off the power supply to the salt chlorinator.
Remove the cell from the plumbing system.
Inspect the cell for any visible damage, such as cracked or worn-out parts.
Replace any damaged or worn-out components according to the manufacturer's instructions.
If needed, take the opportunity to clean the cell thoroughly to remove mineral scaling or debris.
Reinstall the cell into the plumbing system and restore the power supply. If you're uncertain about repairing the cell, it's advisable to contact a qualified technician for assistance. If your salt cell is depleted and is at the end of its lifespan, and has a design that allows removable titanium plates, repairing the salt cell would mean replacing this inner electrode. Otherwise if your salt cell is used up and is essentially a one-piece tube with built in titanium plates, you would simply replace the whole salt cell.
If you're experiencing a "no flow" issue with your equipment, follow these steps for troubleshooting your saltwater pool chlorinator:
If your system has a flow switch, ensure it is installed correctly (pointed the right direction, screwed far enough into its housing, and has at least 6-12” of straight pipe before it) and that it is properly connected to the control box.
Check the pool's water level to ensure it's high enough to cover the skimmers.. Inspect and clean the pool pump basket, skimmer baskets, and filter for any debris or blockages.
Verify that the pool's circulation system is operating correctly, that there are no leaks, and that air is not getting sucked in from a crack or bad seal somewhere.
Ensure the salt cell is being 100% filled with water during operation (no pockets of air or large air bubbles).
If you use a variable speed pump, ensure that its low speeds are not set at too low of an RPM. Incrementally raise the low speed RPM setting to see if this clears the issue.
If the issue persists, consult the manufacturer's troubleshooting guide, or contact their customer support for further assistance. Remember, if you're unsure about performing any repairs or troubleshooting steps, it's best to seek help from a qualified individual to avoid potential damage or safety hazards.
To increase free chlorine levels in your saltwater pool, you can take the following steps to troubleshoot the pool salt system problem:
Verify your current chlorine levels, which should be 1-3 ppm. Test the chlorine levels using appropriate testing strips or kits. Note that high chlorine levels can actually bleach testing reagents, making it look like no chlorine is present.
If less than 1 ppm, adjust up the output setting of your salt chlorine generator to ensure sufficient chlorine production. If needed, increase the run time of your pool system.
If the system is running at maximum and additional chlorine or shock is required to achieve a measurable chlorine level, this typically indicates the presence of impurities or a water balance issue that is causing chlorine to be used up more quickly than normal. Supplementary chlorine can be added as needed, but the cause of high chlorine demand needs to be addressed (See: Pool Water Imbalance troubleshooting)
When troubleshooting your saltwater pool, if you discover the salt level is too high, you can lower it by:
Partially diluting the pool water by adding more water to the pool. If the pool is at normal water levels, you’ll only be able to add enough water to very slightly lower the salt level.
Partially draining and refilling the pool with fresh water. If the salt level is significantly high, this will be required. The amount of water to remove is proportional to how much the salt level will be lowered, e.g. removing 15% of the water and refilling will lower the salinity by 15%.
High salt levels only occur because too much salt was added. When adding salt, test the water’s salinity beforehand. Consult the product manual to see exactly how much salt needs to be added based on the pool size and any existing level of salinity. Add salt in stages, testing the salt levels periodically until it reaches the desired range. It can take 24-48 hours with your pump running for all salt to fully dissolve throughout the whole pool.
If the salt level in your pool is too low (under the minimum level required by your chlorine generator model), you can increase it by:
Testing to confirm the current salt level using salt-specific testing strips or kits.
Adding pool-grade salt according to the chlorine generator product manual. This will help you determine exactly how much salt is needed based on the pool size and the existing level of salinity.
If a small amount is needed, dissolve the salt in a bucket of water before pouring it into the pool if you wish to speed things up. If a larger amount is needed, distribute the salt evenly across the shallow end of the pool where the water gets the most circulation.
Allow the pool water to circulate for several hours (or as much as 24 hours for larger amounts) before retesting the salt levels.
Continue monitoring the salt levels and adjusting until it reaches the recommended range.
Remember that for many chlorine generator models, a “dirty” salt cell that has mineral scaling / calcification inside can make it appear to the system that there is a low salt level in the pool. If you independently measure the pool’s salinity and it is in range, you may need to clean the salt cell.
If you go through the steps of troubleshooting your saltwater pool and determine that it is necessary to clean your salt chlorine generator, here are the steps to clean the generator:
Turn off the power supply to the generator.
Remove the salt cell from the plumbing system.
Inspect the cell for any mineral scaling or debris buildup.
Clean the cell using a compatible cell cleaning solution or acid wash, following the manufacturer's instructions. Optionally, many models have a cleaning stand, cap, or vessel that make this process very convenient.
Confirm all mineral scales have been dissolved. Heavy build-up may require multiple back-to-back cleanings. If you place the cell in a fresh cleaning solution and you see fizzing, the cell needs additional cleaning.
Flush and rinse the cell thoroughly with water to remove any remaining residue or debris.
Reinstall the cell into the plumbing system and restore the power supply.
Regular cleaning of the salt cell helps maintain its efficiency and prolong its lifespan.
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