How Does a Salt Chlorine Generator Work?

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Now that pool season is upon us, you may be wondering whether switching (or starting) to a salt water set up may be the way to go, but you aren’t quite sure how a salt chlorine generator works. You may have heard people talk about the health benefits of using salt but the rest is still a bit of a mystery. We will walk you through the workings of a salt chlorine generator, the benefits of going with salt, the parts that make up a salt chlorine generator, potential concerns and precautions and of course, maintenance.

How a Salt Generator Works

While a salt chlorine generator has a large dependency on salt to function, using one does not mean you will be swimming in a chlorine free pool. In fact the salt itself will be used to create chlorine in order to keep your pool clean. The saltwater passes through the electrical current in the generator to create chlorine gas (Cl2), hydrogen gas (h2) and sodium hydroxide (NaOH). Using a combination of dissolved salt and electrolysis, the sanitizing agents are created. The salt is converted into hypochlorous acid (HClO) and sodium hypochlorite, which will be used to keep the water free of dirt and bacteria.

There are a few different types of electrolytic chlorine generators (or ECG’s). The most common type is a system that is installed directly in-line, and chlorine production occurs whenever the circulation system is in operation. With these systems, salt is added directly to the pool in large quantities to establish the ideal concentration. In some less common electrolytic chlorine generators (or ECG’s), the filtration system is designed for direct immersion into the pool. With these systems, chlorine is generated even when recirculation is not operating. This can result in higher concentrations of chlorine closest to the generator, especially during extended periods of no use. Lastly, there are brine systems, which rely on a two-chambered holding tank system to release the salt solution, versus dissolving the salt in the pool as you do with the in line and direct immersion systems. In the case of brine systems, there is a need to refill the holding tanks as opposed to managing the salt concentration in the pool water directly.

A concentration of 3000 to 5000 ppm is the recommended range of salt concentration for proper ECG function. To note, as a comparison, seawater contains between 31,000 to 38,000 ppm of salt, so the pool will have a much lower salt concentration than a saltwater pool created by mother nature. By maintaining the recommended level of concentration in your pool (3000-5000 ppm), you will ensure your pool and bathers that enjoy it are well taken care of. If you add too much salt, bathers may experience some salt residue left on the skin after leaving the water. There is also a higher possibility of corrosion in the pool and its operating system. If the salt concentration is too low, your system will not produce enough chlorine which can potentially reduce the lifespan and efficiency of the electrode cell. The good news is an ECG system works very efficiently. Salt added to the pool is automatically recycled through the chlorine production process, meaning salt does not need to be refilled that often. Check your salt levels as part of your regular weekly maintenance to avoid any surprises.

Salt Chlorine Generator

Benefits of a Salt Generator

The biggest benefit of a salt generator is the reduction in chemical cost and maintenance, specifically chlorine. Salt is dispersed consistently while the pump is on meaning outside of weekly checks, the pool will run well and stay balanced with little interference. Additionally, chlorination levels can be managed automatically through your ECG settings, usually at the click of a button.

There are also health benefits that have been reported by many bathers. Since the salt concentration of a pool is much less than that of seawater, bathers are left with no salt taste on their mouth and additionally, little to no chlorine smell. Salt pools are generally softer on your skin and hair. Salt also causes much less wear and tear to bathing suits and pool toys, potentially extending the life of water accessories.

Parts of A Salt Generator

There are two main parts to a Salt Generator – the cell and the control board. The cell is the first part of the ECG, and it’s the area where the salt gets converted into chlorine. Water passes through the cell which contains blades specially coated in naturally occurring metals, such as ruthenium or iridium. These metals have a charge that has been set by the control board, and through the process of electrolysis the cell uses the electricity needed to convert the salt into chlorine.

The control boards primary purpose is to provide electricity to the cell. It also allows you to control the amount of electricity sent to the cell, which in turn will help to automate the chlorine level in the pool. The control board can also connect the salt chlorinator to a device of your choosing for an easy, automated approach to managing your pools chlorine levels.

Potential Concerns and Precautions

Since all ECG’s are electrical devices, when getting one added to your pool system, it is recommended to get it set up and certified by a professional. This will ensure there are no issues down the line and that your system is functioning optimally from the start. Once your system has been properly set up, it’s important to keep an adequate flow of water running through it. This will ensure there is proper production of chlorine and no build up of gases that could potentially result in an explosion. In many cases, flow protection may be built into your system. This would be a good thing to check with a professional when getting your system installed.

Once your salt chlorine generator is set up and running, it’s important that you take proper precautions to avoid scale build up. Scale is the number one concern most owners of an ECG salt system complain about, though with the proper precautions the effects can be minimized. Regardless of how well you balance your pool water, the higher levels of carbonate ions in the pool create calcium carbonate scale most frequently. Other types of scale may occur as well within the generator itself as scale formation is unavoidable, especially within the cell.

With frequent cleaning and maintenance, you can avoid the scale becoming too much of a nuisance. Make sure to rinse the electrodes with water from the hose regularly. Rinse the cell plates with a pressurized hose if possible for the least harmful and most effective approach. Anti scale products can also be purchased and used where necessary. These will not only help to remove the scale build up, but also offer protection from the formation of scale. Using this technique may prevent the need for more intensive methods of cleaning such as acid cleaning and reversing the polarity of your ECG system.

Acid cleaning can be an effective method for cleaning your cell if the scale build up begins to increase. In some cases, you may be able to reverse the flow of the current using the control panel of your ECG which will essentially reverse the polarity of your cell, which would also aid in scale removal. Though effective, reversing polarity and acid washing too frequently may contribute to a reduced life span of your ECG machine so use these methods only when necessary, and keep to a regular maintenance schedule in order to avoid scale build up.

Scale build up can be harmful to your pool for a number of reasons. Increased scale can cause a reduction in contact between the cell and the water passing through it, which may result in a decrease in chlorine production. Additionally, too much scale may cause your ECG machine to overheat during the surge in electrical current as it cannot effectively cool down. Another possible issue that can come as a result of the scale build up is an elevated amount of salt (ppm) within the eco system of your pool. If this happens, some of the water may need to be drained from the pool in order to restore balance.

Chlorinator Maintenance

Though a salt system may require less maintenance than a traditional pool system, it is still important that you balance your pool and check your chemicals regularly. Though the salt works with the ECG to produce the chlorine needed to sanitize your pool, it does not produce stabilizer, oxidizers, balancing chemicals or other cleaners such as algaecides, flocculants and metal sequestrates. Though they may not need to be added as frequently as the salt top up, for example, they are a necessary part of a pool maintenance routine and may be required to maintain water quality as well as to properly protect pool surfaces and equipment. Salt also needs to be added to your pool regularly, based on the amount of usage and time of year. You should check and monitor this balance on a weekly basis at minimum. It’s also good practice to have your cell checked by a professional at minimum annually. We recommend aligning this check with the beginning of the pool season to avoid potentially losing pool time mid season due to a malfunctioning ECG.

When doing regular maintenance, we recommend the following tips for optimal chlorinator function:

  1. Try to keep a consistent salt level in your pool – ideally in the range of 2700 and 3400 ppm.
  2. Clean your cell at least weekly or more frequently if you have a heavy bather load.
  3. Keep your calcium levels in balance based on manufacturers recommendations.
  4. Turn off your chlorinator to avoid potential power surges during lightning storms.
  5. Limit the use of reverse polarity and acid washing of your cell unless absolutely necessary due to scale build up.
  6. Incorporate anti scale products into your regular maintenance routine.


Though moving to a saltwater system may sound like a big change from what you are used to, our experts at Bliss Home Leisure are here to help make the transition as easy as possible for you. We can handle everything from the installation of your ECG machine to checking your water levels and even regular weekly maintenance. We are here to take the stress out of pool ownership. Contact us today to learn more.


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