What Do You Need to Know About Salt Chlorine Generators? | Complete Guide For Future Salt Pool Owners

Since salt chlorine generators have become the standard for new pools1, and as more and more older pools upgrade to the latest technology, understanding the essentials of salt chlorine generators (often interchangeably referred to as salt pool systems or salt chlorinators) is crucial for both existing and potential pool owners. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the world of salt chlorine generators, exploring their function, operation, maintenance, and more. Whether you're considering transitioning from a manually chlorinated pool to a saltwater pool or looking to replace your current salt chlorine generator, this guide has got you covered. If you're ready to explore and purchase salt chlorine generators, check out our guide to choosing the best salt chlorinator system for your pool.

It's important to clarify the terminology here, as "pool salt generator" is a commonly used but incorrect term. The proper name for this device is a salt chlorine generator, or even electronic chlorine generator. It's called so because it converts a low level of salt (sodium chloride) in the pool water into chlorine, which is used to sanitize the swimming pool. They don’t generate salt or even utilize a significant salt level in the water; your pool water isn’t salty and it's safe for pool materials, surfaces, and equipment. Understanding this distinction is essential to ensure accurate communication and proper maintenance of your pool's chlorination system.

By familiarizing yourself with the correct terminology and understanding the functionality of salt chlorine generators, you'll be well-equipped to make informed decisions regarding your pool. Whether you're a seasoned saltwater pool owner or considering the switch, this guide will provide you with the knowledge and insights needed to effectively maintain your salt chlorine generator and enjoy the benefits of a well-maintained saltwater pool.

1. First Things First, What is a Salt Chlorine Generator?

A salt chlorine generator is a revolutionary device that converts salt (sodium chloride) into chlorine, which is the most effective and accepted method for sanitizing pool water. This advanced system comprises two main components: an electronic control box and a salt cell. The control box plays a crucial role in regulating the power supply to the salt cell and allows pool owners to adjust various settings, including chlorine output, and also provides pool owners notifications about its operational status.

The salt cell, also known as the electrolytic cell, is where the magic happens. Through the process of electrolysis, the low level of salt contained by the pool water passing through the cell undergoes a chemical transformation, converting it into chlorine. This chlorine then effectively sanitizes the pool, keeping it free from bacteria, algae, and other harmful organisms. Amazingly, the electrolytic process recycles the salt content in the water so that salt doesn’t get consumed and requires replenishment. Best of all, this electrolytic process eliminates harsh by-products of chlorination that cause the red eyes, dry itchy skin, bleaching, and chlorine smell that are so typical in swimming pools.

What is a Salt Chlorine Generator

It's important to note that while the term "pool salt generator" is commonly used, it is actually an incorrect term. The system isn’t making or generating salt, but instead it is of course converting salt into chlorine and running automatically everyday with your pool system to maintain the optimal chlorine levels in your pool. Understanding the correct terminology is crucial for effective communication and ensuring proper maintenance of your pool's chlorination system.

By harnessing the power of a salt chlorine generator, pool owners can enjoy the convenience of consistently maintained chlorine levels in their pools so that you no longer need to regularly buy and add chlorine or shock. With the control box and salt cell working together harmoniously, you can achieve a beautiful clear blue pool that provides a natural-feeling swimming experience.

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2. Understanding Functionality: How Does A Salt Water Generator Work?

The operation of a salt chlorine generator involves a fascinating process of chemistry and engineering. To understand how a saltwater generator works, let's break down the process into key steps:

Salt Dissolution

  1. Salt Dissolution: At the time of installation, salt is added to the pool water, in order to achieve a very low concentration typically ranging from 3000-3500 ppm. (For context, this is nearly at the level still considered freshwater (< 1000 ppm) as opposed to ocean “saltwater” (about 35,000 ppm)

  2. Electrolysis: As this salt content in the swimming pool flows through the salt cell of the generator, a small electric current is applied across sets of titanium plates, causing the salt (sodium chloride) molecules to split into their individual components - sodium and chlorine.

  3. Chlorine Dissolution: The generated chlorine quickly dissolves in the water, forming hypochlorous acid and sodium hypochlorite, which effectively sanitize the pool by eliminating bacteria, algae, and other harmful organisms.

  4. Recycling: After chlorine has reacted with contaminants in the pool water, it reverts back into salt, continuously recycling the salt in the pool. Salt only needs to be added again because of draining of the pool water or after rain during the season slowly dilutes the pool to a minimum level. If this happens, chlorine generators alert you if salt levels get too low.

To further understand the applications of salt chlorine generators for different pool sizes and configurations, check out our guide for chlorine generators for small pools,medium pools,large pools, or spas, hot tubs, and swim spas.

3. Salt Chlorine Generator Components: Detailed Analysis

Salt chlorine generators, also sometimes referred to as salt chlorinators or pool salt systems, consist of two main components - the salt cell and the control box.

How salt pools work

Salt Cell: The salt cell, also known as an electrolytic cell, is where the conversion of salt to chlorine takes place. It consists of titanium plates coated with a rare metal called ruthenium, which is essential for the electrolysis process. The coating on the plates can wear off over time, which is why the salt cell is often the only component that needs replacement every few years.

The salt cell is responsible for the electrolysis of saltwater, breaking down the salt molecules into chlorine. The generated chlorine then mixes with the pool water, effectively sanitizing it. The size and capacity of the salt cell depend on the pool size and the pool’s typical chlorine demand. Larger pools, pools in hot climates, and higher use pools generally require larger (higher capacity) salt cells to accommodate the chlorine production needs.

Control Box: The control box, or power supply, manages the power sent to the salt cell and monitors the system’s performance. It allows pool owners to adjust chlorine output by changing the amount of electricity provided to the salt cell. Modern control boxes often have digital displays to show output levels, salt levels, and any potential system alerts. Some advanced model saltwater pool chlorine generators even allow for remote control via a mobile device.

Proper maintenance of both the salt cell and the control box is essential for the longevity and optimal performance of the salt chlorine generator. Regular cleaning of the salt cell , monitoring of the control box's status, and making adjustments to the system’s output as needed (so it is not over- or under-chlorinating the pool) are recommended to ensure efficient chlorine production and accurate control of the generator's operation.

4. Saltwater Pool Chlorine Generator Maintenance

Maintaining a saltwater chlorine generator is essential for ensuring its longevity and optimal performance. One of the main advantages of a saltwater chlorine generator is its ability to automatically chlorinate the pool, taking the lion's share of the work off the pool owner's hands. This automation saves considerable time and effort in maintaining the pool.

On average, saltwater generator owners can save several hours per month or more that would otherwise be spent manually adding and adjusting chlorine levels. With a properly functioning saltwater chlorine generator, pool owners can focus on other aspects of pool maintenance, such as monitoring water chemistry and cleaning the pool - not to mention trying to actually enjoy the pool.

While the saltwater chlorine generator handles the chlorination, it's important to note that it is not a complete set-it-and-forget-it solution. Pool owners still need to perform regular pool maintenance tasks to ensure optimal water quality. This includes testing and balancing the supplemental water chemistry levels, cleaning the pool surfaces as needed, and maintaining proper filtration and circulation

Two crucial aspects of saltwater chlorine generator maintenance is monitoring and adjusting the chlorine level of the pool, and to a lesser degree the salinity level of the pool. The chlorine levels in the pool are constantly being depleted by the sun, microorganisms, and other impurities; the chlorine generator output level needs to be set to match this rate. Once this is done after initial installation, you’ll want to continue to monitor the chlorine level frequently so you can catch when seasonal changes occur and make adjustments accordingly on the chlorine generator. Unlike the chlorine level, the salt concentration doesn’t get depleted through use, but it does need to be maintained within the recommended range specified by the manufacturer so that the chlorine generator can work properly. Even though the salt itself is not getting depleted, it will typically go down slowly over time as rain storms dilute the pool (or if you drain water & refill). Regularly testing the salinity level with a saltwater test kit and making necessary adjustments ensures the saltwater chlorine generator operates efficiently and is able to produce the right amount of chlorine.

The lifespan of a properly maintained salt chlorinator is measured in decades. However, the salt cell, which is a critical component of the saltwater chlorine generator, will require replacement every 3 to 8 years, depending on the model and usage. Over time, the coating on the salt cell's titanium plates may wear off or accumulate deposits, reducing its efficiency. Regularly inspecting the salt cell and cleaning it according to the manufacturer's instructions can help prolong its lifespan. Even more so, proper chlorine generator sizing and proper pool care are huge factors in extending the lifespan of any model: the higher the capacity system, the less wear-and-tear it gets every day to make the needed amount of chlorine; similarly, the more the water is kept balanced properly, the more it maximizes chlorine effectiveness and minimizes the chlorine demand of the water. For example, improper pH and improper stabilizer render chlorine ineffective, requiring more of it to be added; the presence of phosphates, nitrates, and organic debris or waste in the water can exponentially raise the chlorine demand of the water, requiring much more chlorine to be generated to compensate (if it even can). In the event of any issues or troubleshooting needs, it's helpful to have a reliable resource for guidance. Consider bookmarking a blog or website that provides clear and up-to-date pool care information (example: Orenda’s 4 Pillars of Pool Care) as well as troubleshooting tips and solutions specifically for saltwater chlorine generator problems (example: Salt Water Pool Equipment - Advice, Guides, & Support Facebook Group). This way, you'll have a handy reference to consult if you encounter any challenges with your saltwater chlorine generator.

By following proper maintenance practices and staying proactive with monitoring and adjustments, you can enjoy the benefits of a saltwater generator for years to come. Regular maintenance not only ensures the longevity of the saltwater chlorine generator but also contributes to the overall water quality and swimmer comfort in your pool.

Maintaining a pool salt generator, saltwater generator, salt chlorine generator, whatever you want to call it, is just one aspect of pool care. It's important to familiarize yourself with other pool maintenance tasks and establish a comprehensive routine to keep your pool in pristine condition throughout the swimming season.

5. Choosing The Best Pool Chlorine Generator For Your Needs

Selecting the right pool chlorine generator is a crucial decision that directly impacts the efficiency and maintenance of your pool. The "best" chlorine generator is not a universal choice but rather the one that aligns with your specific needs and preferences. By considering factors such as pool size, usage, features, and budget, you can make an informed decision that maximizes the value and effectiveness of your saltwater pool system.

When it comes to choosing the best salt chlorine generator for your pool, it's essential to evaluate your specific requirements and consider various factors to ensure the optimal fit. By asking the right questions and thinking from the correct perspective, you can find the saltwater chlorine generator that best meets your needs and delivers reliable performance.

One of the key aspects to consider is sizing the chlorine generator correctly. The size of the generator means how much chlorination capacity it has, and should be determined based on your pool's volume and usage, as well as your pool’s climate. Larger pools with higher water volumes and greater chlorine demands will require a more powerful saltwater chlorine generator to maintain adequate sanitization levels. It’s better to go above and beyond if possible. The industry generally recommends looking at the unit’s maximum capacity in gallons and opting for a salt chlorine generator with a capacity at least one and a half times to double the size of your pool. Additionally, we recommend looking at the listed “chlorine output” of the system when comparing systems, and making sure a right-sized model with the highest possible chlorine output for your budget. For more information, check out our video on how to choose the right size salt system for your pool or our handy wizard for determining what size salt chlorine generator you need for your pool.

In addition to sizing, it's important to evaluate the features and specifications of the chlorine generator. Look for options that align with your maintenance preferences and requirements. Consider features such as having a clear salt cell, digital diagnostics, and a wide range of output settings. These advanced features can streamline the maintenance process and enhance your overall experience with the salt chlorine generator.

When it comes to budget considerations, aim for a chlorine generator that offers the best value for your investment. In other words, the greatest lifetime chlorination capacity for the money. While it may be tempting to opt for the cheapest option, it's important to balance cost with quality and long-term performance. Browse our available chlorine generators for examples of reputable brands known for producing reliable and durable saltwater chlorine generators that are backed by positive customer reviews.

Now let's explore the two main types of pool chlorine generators:

pool chlorine

In-line Salt Chlorine Generators: These systems are installed directly into your pool's plumbing and are commonly used in larger or permanently-installed above-ground pools as well as of course in-ground pools. In-line chlorine generators typically offer the highest quality models, and offer precise control over chlorine output and often include advanced features like self-cleaning or digital diagnostics. They integrate seamlessly with the pool's plumbing system, ensuring efficient chlorine distribution throughout the pool. In-line salt chlorine generators are recommended for virtually any pool that you plan to own for more than a few years. They are installed during pool construction and as a retrofit installation, so they are suitable for both new and existing pools - it’s never too late to upgrade your pool.

Drop-in Salt Chlorine Generators: Also known as above-ground saltwater chlorinators, these generators are designed for smaller, above-ground pools. Drop-in chlorine generators are also available for spas, hot tubs, and swim-spas. They are easy to install as you simply hang the device over the side of the pool, and it will generate chlorine as the water passes through it via convection. While drop-in generators may not have advanced features like in-line systems, they provide an affordable and convenient solution for owners of small pools or pools that can be moved or that are only intended to last for a number of years. Drop-in salt chlorine generators are ideal for above-ground pools and require minimal installation effort. They are often compact in size and do not require being plumbed into the pool's existing filtration system. Drop-in generators are cost-effective options for pool owners looking to convert their small pools or hot tubs into saltwater systems without extensive modifications.

By carefully considering your pool size, maintenance preferences, budget, and the types of salt chlorine generators available, you can confidently select the best saltwater chlorine generator for your specific needs. Remember to consult with a pool professional for additional guidance and recommendations based on your unique pool requirements.

For more information on all the factors that go into making this crucial choice for your saltwater pool, check out our guide to choosing the best salt chlorine generator.

6. Benefits of Salt Chlorine Generators

Here are some significant benefits of using salt chlorine generators:

Reliable, Consistent Chlorine Production: A salt chlorine generator continuously produces chlorine, which means the pool water is constantly sanitized. This constant chlorination helps maintain a balanced pool, avoiding the highs and lows of manual chlorine addition. You don’t have to worry about times when you can’t swim because of high chlorine levels, or times that you can’t swim because of an algae bloom. It helps make sure that your “shields” against algae are always up so you don’t get into a vicious cycle requiring lots of shocking.

Cost-Effective: Although the upfront cost of a salt generator system may be higher than traditional chlorine, the long term savings are estimated at up to 40-50% because the operational costs are much lower. The only necessary addition is pool-grade salt, which is relatively inexpensive. Salt chlorine generators require fewer chemical additions and minimize the need for purchasing and storing traditional chlorine products.

Comfort: Saltwater pools are often described as more comfortable to swim in. The water feels softer, and it's less irritating to eyes and skin. Plus, you avoid the strong chlorine smell associated with traditional pools. The gentler water of a saltwater pool can enhance the overall swimming experience and contribute to increased enjoyment.

Convenience: Salt chlorine generators take care of chlorination for you, leaving you more time to enjoy your pool. Instead of manually adding chlorine or relying on a paid service, the salt chlorine generator runs automatically every day with your pool system in order to maintain the proper chlorine levels. Some advanced systems even allow you to monitor and control your generator remotely from a mobile device, offering added convenience and control. Chlorine generators greatly decrease the effort and hassles typically associated with pool care. Not only is it less routine stress, but its predictability also means less worry if you travel.

Safety & Environmental Impact: The use of salt chlorine generators has a positive environmental impact. Since these systems create chlorine on site, they eliminate the need for chlorine production, packaging, transportation, and disposal. All these stages of traditional chlorine usage contribute to carbon emissions and environmental pollution. By opting for a salt chlorine generator, you're making a greener choice for your pool maintenance. Additionally, minimizing the need to store and handle traditional chlorine products at your home creates a safe environment; storing chemical chlorine can be hazardous, touching it is harmful, and even its fumes can cause long-term caustic reactions in the area in which it is stored.

It's important to note that while salt chlorine generators offer numerous benefits, they are not completely hands-off systems. Regular monitoring of the pool water balance, salt levels, and equipment maintenance is still necessary to ensure optimal performance and water quality

More Common Questions About Salt Chlorine Generators

7. Salt Chlorine Generators and the Environment

The use of salt chlorine generators has a positive environmental impact when compared to traditional chlorine systems. Since these systems create chlorine onsite from salt in your pool water, they eliminate the need for industrial chlorine production, packaging, warehousing, transportation, and disposal. All these stages of traditional chlorine usage contribute to carbon emissions and environmental pollution.

Environmental Impact

Traditional chlorine production involves energy-intensive processes and the release of harmful byproducts into the atmosphere and waterways. Additionally, the transportation of chlorine products involves fuel consumption and emissions. With salt chlorine generators, chlorine is produced on-site, reducing the carbon footprint associated with chlorine production and transportation.

Furthermore, saltwater pools treated with salt chlorine generators tend to require fewer chemical additions, which minimizes the consumption of additional pool chemicals and reduces the environmental impact of chemical manufacturing and waste.

However, it's essential to note that like any other pool system, salt chlorine generators must be used responsibly. Regularly checking your pool water balance and properly maintaining your system helps avoid any potential environmental impact. Additionally, routine maintenance of the salt cell and control box are important for ensuring the longevity and efficient operation of the salt chlorine generator.

8. Troubleshooting Common Issues with Salt Chlorine Generators

Low chlorine residual: If your pool's chlorine is low despite the salt generator’s typical output, several factors might be in play. Causes range from high pool usage and rainstorms, which can be mitigated by using the “boost mode” feature on many generator models. Persistent low chlorine levels, especially with seasonal changes, suggest needed adjustments to the pool chlorine generator or increased runtime. If these adjustments don't remedy the situation and there are no system alerts, imbalances, such as fluctuating pH or impurities, might be at play.

System alerts: Modern salt chlorine generators have diagnostic alerts for issues like low salt or mineral scaling. If such alerts pop up, you can refer to the manufacturer's manual for troubleshooting with your salt generator. Regular maintenance, like cleaning the salt cell and monitoring water balance, also ensures the salt water generator's longevity and optimal performance.

See: Best practices for troubleshooting salt chlorine generators

9. Salt Chlorine Generator Installation

Step 1: Install the Control Box: The control box should be installed near your pool equipment and connected to a suitable power supply. Ensure that the power source matches the voltage requirements specified by the manufacturer (120V / 240V). Ensure that this placement will allow its cables to reach the area where the salt cell will be installed.

Step 2: Install the Salt Cell: The salt cell should be installed in the pool's return line, after the pump, filter, and heater if present. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for proper placement and alignment of the salt cell. It's important to ensure adequate space for the cell and easy access for maintenance.

Step 3: Use the provided cable to connect the salt cell to the control box. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for proper wiring and connections. Ensure all connections are secure and in compliance with electrical safety guidelines.

Step 4: Add Salt: Add the necessary amount of salt to your pool, as recommended by the manufacturer. Use pool-grade salt without any additives or anti-caking agents. Distribute the salt evenly throughout the pool, allowing time for it to dissolve.

Step 5: Set Up the System: Turn on the system and follow the manufacturer's instructions to set up and adjust your chlorine output. This typically involves setting the desired chlorine output level based on your pool size & pump run time, and also configuring any additional features or options.

Remember, it's crucial to follow the manufacturer's instructions and adhere to local electrical and safety regulations when installing a salt chlorine generator. If you're unsure about any aspect of the installation process, consider hiring a qualified professional to ensure proper installation and operation.

For more in-depth information on how to install salt chlorine generators, check out our guide.

10. Endnotes on Salt Chlorine Generators

In conclusion, salt chlorine generators offer an effective, convenient, and cost-efficient way to chlorinate your pool. They have come a long way since their inception in order to become the standard for sanitation for new pools, and with ongoing advancements in technology, their popularity among pool owners is only set to grow.

Whether you're considering a new pool or thinking about upgrading your current chlorination system, a salt chlorine generator could be the perfect solution for you. It's always advisable to do your research and consult with pool professionals to ensure you're choosing the best system for your needs

There is a salt generator for most any pool, from those for small, above-ground pools to heavy-duty pool salt generators for large, in-ground pools. Whichever type of saltwater chlorine generator you choose, ensure you follow the manufacturer's guidelines for installation and maintenance, so you can enjoy clear and comfortable pool water all summer long.

1 By 2007, nearly 75 percent of new pool installations in the United States were equipped with saltwater systems, according to P.K. Data Inc.

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