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Hidden costs of having a Salt Chlorination System?

Updated on May 12, 2009
Electrolytic Cell
Electrolytic Cell


Salt Chlorinator for your Pool?


While a properly operating salt generator is great –


Here are some things to think about. Some good and some bad?


Here are a couple of things you may or may not know. Since you are adding salt to your pool your pool’s pH it will be high on a regular basis (salt is high pH). pH stands for “potential of hydrogen”, but it could be considered to mean a Potential Hazard. It is probably the single most important test in your pool kit, and keeping the pH in the correct range is one of the most valuable things you can do to keep your pool clean and safe.

pH is basically a measure of the relative acidity / alkalinity of a substance. It ranges from 0 (most acidic) to 14 (most alkaline), with 7 being neutral. Your blood, skin, saliva, and the diet Coke you drink all have pH values. When the pH in your body falls outside a certain range, it's a sign that something is wrong. The same is true of your pool water.

The pH in your pool should generally be kept in the 7.2 to 7.8 range, although I shoot for between 7.4 and 7.6 (Ideal). If it gets outside this range, several things can happen.

Some of the first things you may notice. Stinging, red eyes and itchy skin are symptoms of an undesirable pH. High pH levels also increase the likelihood of yeast infections – bad for dogs and people alike.

The second problem is sanitation. Chlorine and bromine do not work when the pH is too far out of balance. So you could be putting in chemicals to clean the water that are having little or no effect.


ph of 7.0 has a active chlorine of  73%

ph of 7.2 has a active chlorine of  66%

ph of 7.6 has a active chlorine of  45%

ph of 8.0 has a active chlorine of  21%

So you can see that the higher the pH is in your pool water the lower the active chlorine is available to kill bacteria and algae in the water.

So you will have to add muratic acid on a regular basis to balance your pools pH – It would be a good idea to buy a case of acid to have on hand – you’ll be using it a lot!

Along with ph - Alkalinity should be checked on a regular basis. Normal levels should be between 80ppm and 130ppm. Higher levels on a Fiberglass or Vinyl Liner pools. A low Alkalinity will cause your ph level to fluctuate up and down causing the active chlorine in your pool water either working at 21% to 73% or more. (see above chart). This is could cause you to have algae problems. Finally, a pH that is too high (Base) can contribute to cloudiness in the water, while one that is too low (Acidic) can damage your pool and equipment.


CYA –Cyanuric Acid also known as Stabilizer

Cyanuric Acid has to be added to pools and especially salt pools to protect the suns UV rays from using up the chorine in the pool water. Chlorine stabilizer is essential to prolong the life of chlorine in the pool water. It acts like a sunscreen for your pool water. On conventional pools stabilizer is mostly added through dissolving chlorine tablets or chlorine sticks.

These are some things that need to be done on a weekly basis in the summer time.

Check pH, Alkalinity, and free chlorine at LEAST weekly if not more in the summer and adjust as needed. CYA should be checked monthly or after heavy rains and stabilizer added as needed. Balance water as needed.

The main reason for this is that too many builders and retailers sell these systems as a "set it and forget it" solution. Most people with salt systems will run their pH from 7.8-8.0. This is bad for two reasons. One the pool is in a scaling mode and two the chlorine is less effective in the water at high pH. It is best to run a pH between 7.4-7.6 when using chlorine.

Periodically you will have to remove and clean the cell. Turn the system off- remove the cell and look into it you will see what looks like a hard white rock. What you are looking at is a calcium/scale buildup on the plates. This will have to be removed so your cell will work properly. I would suggest a good pair of gloves and eye protection for this. Cleaning the cell is accomplished by adding a mixture of 4:1 water to acid =  1 quart of acid to 1 gallon of water. Removing the cell placing in a bucket and running the mixture through the cell numerous times or letting it soak until the cell is cleaned. NEVER ADD WATER TO ACID – ALWAYS ADD ACID TO WATER. This may need to be done on a regular basis depending on the bather load (kids, party’s or heavy use). And you will have to shock your pool no matter that your pool builder says. You can use almost any chlorine to shock your pool. However using the standard shock on the market (Calcium Hypochlorite) will quickly cause build-up on the electrolytic cell... Liquid chlorine works well but it can be messy filling chlorine jugs and taking them in and out of your car.

You might find that you have to run your pool longer because your salt generating system is only generating chlorine when it’s running. Costing you more money on your electric bill.

A big expense your builder most probably didn’t tell you is that the electrolytic cell typically only lasts for around 5 years and most warranties are pro-rated. Meaning that if in 3 years the electrolytic cell needs replacing you get 2 years credit on replacing it – not a new cell for nothing.

 The cost to replace your electrolytic cell varies depending on manufacturer but you can expect to pay anywhere from $400 to $550 or more for a new electrolytic cell. That would buy a whole lot of chlorine tablets or chlorine sticks.

Typical Salt Chlorination System
Typical Salt Chlorination System


Here are a couple of things to think about.

· You need to keep a constant watch on your pH. Adding acid to balance the water.

· With a salt system you will need to monitor your Sanitizer -(Cyanuric Acid ) level and add more sanitizer accordingly.

· You’ll need to check your salt level weekly and keep it from going to low. Adding salt as needed. Running the electrolytic cell on a low salt level can cause premature wear on the cell.

· Periodically you will have to remove and clean the cell with muratic acid.

· While you can use just about any chlorine product to shock your pool. Use of Calcium Hypochlorite will cause the scale/calcium build-up on the cell plates to happen more rapidly. Liquid chlorine is good inexpensive and also can be messy. Check your car trunk carpet after you make a few trips to the pool store. Most manufactures recommend using a non-chlorine shock. Isn’t that nice yet another expense. Using a non-chlorine shock is more expensive than alternatives.

· You may need to run your pool longer because chlorine is only being made when the pump is on. Because of bather load, parties or bad weather. Adding to a bigger electric bill.

· Most electrolytic cells only last 5 years on average. Most warranties are pro-rated for 5 years. Replacement electrolytic cells cost $400 to well over $550. That sure would buy a lot of chlorine!

· Are you seeing the added work yet? Or cost?

When the salt generating systems are NEW they work pretty well. They are good for your skin ect... And salt generators claim they are easy to operate to maintain. But I hope you don’t have any problems with your salt generator as a number of manufactures customer service people don’t seem to know much about the product they are selling. And they seem to be reading from a book. I was VERY disappointed when I called customer support about a problem I was having with a suspected bad cell. I then found out from my distributor that it seems to be that way for a number of manufactures. O’Well.

I have found that salt generators are work, constant work to stay on top of. Most homeowners don’t want to spend a lot of time on their pool. Surprise! You will be.

If you still want a Saltwater Chlorinating System for your pool at least you know going in what to expect.


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I have been a pool/spa service tech for 4 years.The main problem is neglect or a misunderstanding of water chemistry.Salt systems work well when properly maintained.The problems I see are with customers who get monthly service.The chemicals are always way out of balance among other things and when I ask if they have test strips most say no.They think they will save money by getting monthly service but end up paying more in the long run due to their neglect.if your lifestyle is too busy or if your just plain lazy then pay for weekly service.Be proactive.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Ive had a salt system for going on 8 years and had a chlorine system before that, and I have to say this article is OBVIOUSLY bias or written by someone who hasn't had much experience with salt systems. Ive spent enough on chlorine pool supplies and chemicals to buy 3 salt systems, and dreaded every dark cloud, due to the fact it was a huge hassle to get the levels back right. With my salt system I have spent $25.00 on a gallon of muratic acid that's lasted a loooong time and I only have had to add once at the beginning of every summer, so no dont let people like this talk you out of a salt system it is EXTREMELY low maintenance and is no where NEAR as expensive to keep up as a non salt system!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      If high pH is a problem for you then buy an acid feeder, or buy a salt chlorinator that comes with one. Like a Zodiac TRI for example. Salt pools save time and money for the end user. We are all time poor nowadays because we lead busy lives and a salty saves you time. I have never sold a salt chlorinator to a customer and then received bad feedback on one. 99% of salt chlorinators I put in with an acid feeder which we set point at 7.4 for pH and never have problems.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      You are all crazy. Some guy writes an article, who probably has no real knowledge. Some guy that says he is a pool builder, doesn't like what supposedly makes him money. People concerned that a very low salt level will pit their deck. Topped off by the complaint that the salt system is more work. Face it. Work is hard.

    • profile image

      Salt swimmer 

      6 years ago

      One major truth here is that the more salt systems that are installed, the worse it is for the pool chemical industry - bear that in mind when reading anonymous negative comments!

      I converted my vinyl pool to salt approx 10 years ago, and have had no problems with my imported Australian Watermaid Salt chlorinator from (there were very few choices here in the US back then). I have had no corrosion problems (there is almost nothing in my pool that is metal anyway). The concrete decking shows no ill effects from salt whatsoever. I replaced the cell for the first time after 7 years, which cost $400.

      On the plus side it is possible to run your pool at a salt concentration that matches the natural saline concentration of the human body (look up 'isotonic solution') which is more comfortable. Salt itself is cheap, and the power required to run the chlorinator is quite low compared to the cost of chlorine. Note also that the salt is NOT USED UP by the chlorinator - you ONLY have to replace the salt that is splashed or backwashed out of the pool. While a salt system requires the pump to be running to generate chlorine, consider upgrading to a two speed pump motor - the power savings are **considerable**, and can pay for the motor in a short period and save far more power than the electrical costs of running the chlorinator.

      All in all, the salt systems are easy to run, quite inexpensive to run and require no onsite dangerous chlorine storage.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Salt is made of NaCl sodium chloride. It is not the salt messing up pH. The first paragraph of this article has misinformation in it. Get a cup fill with water, test the pH. Add salt test pH again, you will get the same result. Because there is NOT hydrogen in sodium chloride and Hydrogen ions are what change your pH. After reading that I decided the writer did not know much about chemistry.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I love my salt pool. It beats hauling and storing jugs of cholrine. I find maintenance much easier and most pool supply stores check your water at no charge. I make it part of my weekly chores. Salt is a lot cheaper than cholrine and you don't have to buy it that often. $5.23 for 40 Lbs. at Sams Club. I buy about 3 bags a year.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Let me start by saying I do not build pools or sell chemicals and I am in no way related to the pool industry. Five yrs ago I bought a salt system pool. My observations; you will constantly add acid to keep ph down, you will have a salt ring around your water line, and in 5 years your salt cell $500 and PCB board $200 will need to be replaced. Don't forget to add the 150 watt power draw from the T cell.

      All the crap about dry skin and hair with chlorine is the result of letting your chlorine get to high like at a public pool where they dose it high because of the people that use it as a bath or toilet(Caddy Shack). Solution; Don't let your chlorine get to high, duh.

      I am switching to chlorine which is nothing more than replacing the T cell with a chlorine tablet holder.

      Pool builders will push salt because they will fix your salt generator (the real cost) but do usually do not sell chlorine (the chlorine pool real cost).

      My sale honeymoon is over and yours will be after 5 years also.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      My pool was built 1 year ago. The Jandy 1400 cell aquapure has been replaced twice. The salinity sensor just went bad last week again. I have used more chlorine tablets than actual salt because leadtimes on the cells are long. I don't know others brands but Jandy salt cells are unreliable and expensive. The whole salt system is a piece of bolonie. Do yourself a favor stay away from salt systems.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Lots of misinformation....

      Staining - if you dump poor quality salt in and let it sit in one place it can stain, but so can chlorine and other powders.

      Cost - on a per year basis - what is spent on chlorine? If you only spend $100 per year then a salt cell is only break even after 5 years. But who spends only $100 per year on chlorine?

      Safety - If you want to keep Chlorine around, breathe fumes, handle, etc. then by all means

      Corrosive - lots of FUD here. Last I checked the only metal item around my pool was a light and it is stainless. Even without salt it will corrode. Chlorine is an oxidizer and corrodes things to - so the real question is "which is more corrosive" - I am pretty sure the chlorine is.

      Set and forget - you can do this with a salt water chlorinator more easily, but you still have to test the chlorine levels as hot days/ busy days will demand more chlorine.

      I encourage anyone that has read the junk above to go read more before they believe just one article.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      One of the problems with salt which has not been addressed in this forum is the way that salt can stain your pool- and quickly!

      We had a pebble tec pool installed last year and within weeks of the salt being added brown stains started to appear on the bottom of the pool. After much going and froing by the pool company and after the Pool association had inspected the pool the final decision was made. The pool had to be resurfaced.

      We are now staying with chlorine, mainly because pool companies are quite ignorant as far as understanding the quality of salt that they are adding and how to add it safely.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Another poster said something along the lines that salt is better than chlorine because it doesn't dry your skin, doesn't make your hair wirey and doesn't fade your clothes.

      I may not understand these salt pool chlorine generators properly but.... dont they generate chlorine? If they generate chlorine, how is this different than the chlorine granules or tablets that I'm already feeding my pool with? Wouldn't I still have dry skin, wirey hair and faded swim shorts?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I came here looking for good advice with regards to changing my pool over to Salt chlorination.

      I have to agree with E Smith - with a salt pool if your kids are splashing salt water onto a hot concrete pool deck and it evaporates, your expensive pool decking isn't likely to look very good after a few short years. Refinishing the pool decking would cost substantially more then old fashion chlorination.

      Furthermore, the cells cost a fortune and some don't last all that long. For example, the new Hayward Salt and Swim - The cell that lasts 6 months costs + - 200$ !!! holy smokes, 200$ right at the start of the season on the generator alone not counting salt or any other chemical. Then, if this generator fails before it's 6 month anticipated life expectancy, then you have to either buy another 200$ cell to finish the season or .... go back to using chemicals by hand.

      Salt pools I'm out!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      You are all stupid !!! Your using twice the amount of electric.One for the cell and for the filter pump DA!! Electric is not cheap anymore.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I have a salt system and I love it. Some people complain that their pH is constantly rising and that they are always having to add acid to bring it down. This is probably a sign that your Total Alkalinity (TA) is too high. It should be around 60-80 with a salt system or you will have this problem. I have my TA at 70 and the pH is rock steady. All I have to do is watch my salt levels and add stabilizer periodically. Otherwise very stable.

      I bet I spend about $200 for an ENTIRE season of chemicals (salt, stabilizer, algaecide, etc) now that my pool is balanced. My neighbor spends that much in the spring when he opens his pool.

      Keeping your calcium hardness levels balanced and the pH below 7.8 is imperative for long life of your plaster. Some of these people who complain about pitted plaster are probably the same ones who neglected their calcium and pH levels for YEARS and the plaster was destroyed by poorly balanced water, not salt...

      It pisses me off when people who haven't taken time to learn a little basic water chemistry start bashing stuff they really don't understand. There are some great resources online for DIY pool care. It's to the point now that I usually wind up teaching the guy at the pool store a thing or 2. Buy a good test kit and learn how to use it.

      I just don't get it - people will spend tens of thousands of dollars on a pool for their backyard and then neglect it. These are probably the same people who put synthetic oil in their cars and go 25,000 miles between oil changes.

      I can't comment on the long term effects of corrosion in my pool because it is only 4 years old but so far I have not seen any pitting in my plaster. Nor have I seen any pitting or problems on my pool deck. My driveway was pitted in year 2 from road salt and I never even put any additional salt on it myself.

      Bottom line is this - whether you chlorinate by salt or tablets or liquid, nothing will replace diligence. If you don't check your chemical levels, how will you know if your salt system is even generating chlorine? You still need to test your water and keep an eye on things.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I switched over to salt about a year ago and am glad I made the switch. My total chemical usage is down dramatically. The only additional expense I have seen is in muriatic acid - I have to add about a half a gallon of acid each week to keep the PH low. However, this is much less expensive than the chlorine tablets I bought in the past. In short, probably about a 90% reduction in annual chemical costs.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      i was going to go on to write a comment but E SMITH said it all for me...hit the nail on the head...builder stand point A++....owner , no koolaid for me!...WAY TO CORROSIVE...2700PPM IS NOT GOING TO CAUSE MAJOR PLASTER DEGRADATION OVER NIGHT...BUT WHAT ABOUT THE WATER THAT SPLASHES ON YOUR COPING AND DECK AND THEN EVAPORATES ......100% SALT MY FRIENDS!

    • profile image


      7 years ago


      I've recently installed a unit which my dad gave to me ( his water was too brackish for the chlorinator ) so I figured what the hell... The first 4 months have worked well, with no algae and buildup in the pool. I just cleaned the cell using an acid mixture and a toothbrush ( similar to the method I used when I got it )

      The problem is now I think the cell is busted. The power supply shows water flow starting up, but when the water flow is ok all the lights go off and the meter is at zero - the manual doesn't mention this scenario as a cell failure. My question is - could I have broken the cell by using a too strong acid mixture? I cant afford to replace it so if it is busted I guess I'm back to manual chemicals...

    • profile image

      E Smith 

      8 years ago

      As a pool builder for over 20 years, I can you the salt systems is a money maker for pool companies. The pool industry has done a wonderful marketing job leading people down this path. Salt systems are corrosive and will destroy your equipment. It is a revenue generator that just keeps on giving - the initial cost is about 10 times that of an automatic chlorinator.When the cell breaks (and it will) that's another $500 minumum. Then in about 10 years when all of your equipment is corroded and your coping and plaster is pitted, time for a major remodel - $8,000 - $10,000. As a pool builder, gotta love it. As a pool owner - I am not drinking this kool-aid.

    • profile image

      Karen Reader 

      8 years ago

      Do you know how much it would cost to convert a regular chlorinated pool into a salt water pool?

    • profile image

      Aloha Swimming Pools 

      8 years ago

      To me this entire column is way too discouraging and does not state all facts good and bad. We have been dealing with salt pools for the last couple years now and all feedback I get is positive. With any system there will be some maintenance as upkeep is normal with pools. With a salt pool the equipment stays the same and for the most part so does the water chemistry. The main things to watch with any pool is ph levels, metals, alkalinity, and chlorine/salt levels. To sum it up, a pool owner will recoupe their money on the initial cost of a salt system within 2 years of buying high chlorine and algaecides. You can find good and bad about any subject matter on the net but this doesn't beat experience in the field. Salt is 100% better!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Salt system has been great. All items mentioned above has to be checked on either a salt syatem or no salt system. I had my salt system for the past 4 years, I very happy with it. I do clean the cell once or twice a year, no big deal. Buying Chlorine in any form is not cheap and very time consuming. This system is very low maintenance and I would highly recommend it.

    • Wingrider profile image


      9 years ago from South Carolina

      By the way I build pools ,have been on salt myself for the last 5 years , have converted several customers over to salt and haven't heard a one of them even consider going back to chlorine.

    • Wingrider profile image


      9 years ago from South Carolina

      While it is true that you do need to monitor the ph on a salt water pool on a regular basis ,you fail to mention that you also need to do this on a chlorinated pool as well. Yes you do have to add stabilizer.  such is so with chlorine , it just happens to be included in most tablets. the cost and benefits of salt ( in my opinion ) far outweigh the bad. No more straw hair ,faded clothing, dried out skin or dealing with a potentially hazardous chemicals.If the cell is sized right for the pool it should adequately generate enough chlorine during a normal filtration cycle anyhow and as far as cleaning the cell goes I have had no problems with more than a once a year soak in muratic acid for the past 5 years.It sounds like to me you need to find a pool service company that know what they're doing.


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