Saltwater Pool System: How Does it Work?

Have you ever wondered how a saltwater pool system works You’re not the only one. We’re often contacted by swimming pool owners who are attracted by the significant cost savings converting to a saltwater system can bring, but want to understand the process a little better. 

So, we thought we’d create this simple guide to the science behind how a saltwater pool system keeps your pool water sanitized and crystal clear. 


How Does a Salt System Work in a Pool - An Overview

In simple terms, a pool salt system works by turning a low level of dissolved salt in the water into chlorine. The titanium cells contained in your saltwater system use a process called electrolysis to separate the salt and water molecules and create a pure form of chlorine. The chlorine then cleans, sanitizes, and disinfects the pool water. Eventually, the salt is regenerated; it’s not used up!

Unlike chlorine that is commonly added to swimming pools in liquid, tablet, or granular form, you don’t typically get the harsh chemical effects. Another key difference is that as chlorine is derived from salt, it’s a lot cheaper in the long run!

How Does a Salt System Work in a Pool - The Process

1.) Add the Salt

When you are installing your salt system, the first step is to add salt to the pool. The recommended method of adding the salt is to pour or broadcast it across the shallow part of your pool. Run your pump for a day or do and the salt will fully dissolve - you can brush it along the bottom of the pool to speed up the process if desired. 

The amount of salt added creates such a low salinity level that for many people its virtually unnoticeable. Typical salt systems require salt levels in the pool to be between 2800 - 4200 parts per million (ppm). In comparison, salt levels in the ocean are at least 35,000 ppm. At such low levels, you should not be able to taste the salt in your pool or see it affect things. 

2.) Chlorine Generation via Electrolysis

Once the salt is in the pool, your saltwater system can get to work. Your swimming pool pump circulates the saltwater molecules through your swimming pool’s plumbing, where it passes through your salt system’s cell. 

Every cell has sets of titanium plates inside of it. As the water passes through the cell, it is hit by a weak electric current that travels between the titanium plates. That electric current breaks the salt and water molecules down via a process called electrolysis

The chemical reaction resulting from the electrolysis produces chlorine in the form of sodium hypochlorite and hypochlorous acid. These are the pure forms of chemical chlorine that are commonly used in standard chlorinated swimming pools. 

One benefit of this process is that it avoids the formation of chemical byproducts like chloramines that are responsible for the caustic effects like dry skin, red eyes, bleached hair or swimsuits, and that telltale chlorine smell; that means you’ll have much nicer water quality.

3.) Cleaning the Pool Water

The pure form of chlorine that has been produced by the process of electrolysis then enters back into the pool and disperses evenly through the water. That creates a low residual chlorine level that protects the pool water from the formation of algae and from harmful microorganisms that are in the environment or are introduced into the pool by swimmers. 

Effectively, the salt system provides consistent amounts of chlorine, automatically every day. This acts as a shield by not giving any unwanted organisms the chance to grow. It destroys any germs and algae and leaves a mild residual sanitizer to keep your pool water sparkling clean

4.) Salt Regeneration

The final stage of the process is where the real magic happens. Rather than having to be replaced, the original salt molecules that were broken apart to create chlorine eventually reform. So, rather than adding more salt to the pool, the salt you originally put in is continuously recycled. That’s why there’s no salt tank in a pool salt water system, and it’s another reason why saltwater pool systems have such a low cost of ownership. 

Once the original salt molecules have reformed, the process starts all over again. The salt passes through the salt cell and is turned into chlorine that cleans your pool. The result is clear and clean pool water without the time, effort, expense, or unwanted side effects of a traditionally chlorinated pool. 

Ready to Convert to a Saltwater Pool System?

Now you know how a saltwater pool system works, it’s time to convert. Take a look at our saltwater chlorinators for every pool size to get a hassle-free swimming pool experience without any harsh chemical effects.

Ready For What Comes Next?

Converting your pool to salt just means adding a chlorine generator! Use our intelligent product recommendation system to see what the best choices for you might be. See more now ►

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Patricia Walters

Date 10/3/2021

I have a "dipping pool" .... 4500 gallon. Currently it's a chlorine pool. I'm thinking g of changing to a salt pool . How much would a small pool cost to change to salt pool. It's not 5000 gallons.

DSP Staff

Date 10/4/2021

Charles Lyons

Date 3/18/2023

Will I still have. to shock my pool weekly?

DSP Staff

Date 3/20/2023

A lot of people have misunderstanding about shocking a pool, especially when using a salt chlorine generator. Here’s the rough idea: In typical pools, you often have to regularly superchlorinate the pool to breakdown incompletely oxidized particles that build up due to all of the periods of time where the pool has insufficient chlorination; using a salt chlorinator, this should not be occurring since 1) you are getting consistent & sufficient chlorination daily to help prevent this from happening, and 2) the water going through the cell is constantly getting superchlorinated which would then breakdown any incompletely oxidized particles that might be present. Let us know what other questions you might have or feel free to give our support team a call at 866-766-5243

Bob Mecklenburg

Date 3/19/2023

We have an in ground pool about 12000 gallons. We have a pentar controler with a veriable speed pump. I run the pump fairly high for 8 hours to run the "in floor popup cleaners" and another 2 hours on low for a water fall. I want to remove my automatic cloronation canister right after the filter, but only have 12" of room. Can I glue in a couple 90's and run a "loop" for the saltwater chlorine generator? Is vertical okay with low flow? Or is horizontal and upside down better? Thanks Bob

DSP Staff

Date 3/20/2023

Most salt chlorinators can work fine whether installed horizontally, vertically, etc… Since they usually need a little more than 12”, you’d likely have to do what you mention. In fact, we have a pre-made kit for some popular models that does just what you are saying. You can take a look as a reference or utilize it yourself:

Let us know what other questions you might have or feel free to give our support team a call at 866-766-5243

hellie el

Date 4/15/2023

Hello. What is the optimal HOCl parts per million level? Thank you.

DSP Staff

Date 4/17/2023

The free chlorine level should be 1-3 ppm in the pool water.

Mike Hoerner

Date 4/29/2023

Do you make chlorine generators for spa's? 400_800 gallons.

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