Salt Water Chlorinator Troubleshooting (Common Problems)

Salt Water Chlorinator Troubleshooting (Common Problems)

A good quality salt chlorinator system can save salt water pool owners a great deal of time and effort in terms of the management of their swimming pool. But with anything that automates our life, things can and do go wrong and your chorinator is no different.

Before you call your pool company or think about replacing your salt chlorinator system or salt cell, here are common problems you may might experience that you might troubleshoot first:

  • No chlorine is present
  • Low chlorine reading
  • Salt is too high or too low
  • Dirty salt cell
  • Water flow problem
  • Water temperature is too low
  • Damaged power cable perhaps bitten by a rodent
  • Tripped fuse in your breaker box inside your house
  • Blown fuse in the chlorinator

Let’s a closer look at them and how to deal with each.

No chlorine is present

When you have 0 ppm chlorine showing, in all likelihood it’s a salt cell problem (i.e. the cell is dirty, damaged or needs to be replaced). Check to see that the chlorinator is actually set to something above zero and wasn’t accidentally turned off i.e. 50% is a common setting.

Check to see that everything is plugged in properly and look for any error messages or warnings in your chlorinator system.

How long does a salt cell last? You typically hear 3 – 5 years but it depends on the brand and model, how much you use it and how you maintain it, too. Each salt cell has a lifespan. It can only produce a certain amount of chlorine after which time it effectively wears out and must be replaced.

Hayward salt cells are generally rated at producing the equivalent of 210 lbs – 725 lbs of chlorine during their lifespan.

Low chlorine reading

Did you experience an event such as heavy rainfall (which dilutes chlorine) or hot sunny weather and/or heavy pool usage?

If not, a low chlorine reading could be because:

  1. You have the chlorinator setting too low and it isn’t running long enough i.e. you’re not producing enough chlorine for the pool. You might need to increase the setting on your chlorinator to produced chlorine for a greater amount of time.
  2. You aren’t running the pump long enough each day. The chlorinator only works with the pump running. If you run the pump for 8 hours each day, the chlorinator only produces chlorine during that time BUT only according to the chlorinator setting. So if you have the chlorinator set to 50%, it’ll run for half the time you have the pump running (8 hours) so 4 hours of chlorine production per day. This might not be enough.
  3. All of the above. You might not be running the chlorinator and pump long enough each day.

Salt pool owners generally find that running a pump for 8 hours per day and with the chlorinator at 50% is enough. Test what works for you. I’ve had the chlorinator down as low as 40% and the pump at 8 hours per day at most and it was enough.

Salt is too high or too low

If the salt level is too high or too low, your chlorinator can shut chlorine production off to protect the salt cell against damage.

In the instance where salt gets too low, it can become harder for the system to produce chlorine which can be taxing on the system and can result in a lower chlorine level than you’d like and need.

Check your chlorinator instruction manual but generally speaking, a salt level between 2700 and 3400 parts per million (ppm) is desirable.

NOTE: It’s easier to add salt than get rid of it! Adding salt when required simply means adding it to the water. Removing salt from the water? That means draining some water from the pool to dilute the salt content, and then add fresh water to replace the water you drained off.

Here are the other ways you tend to lose salt in your pool, in case you’d like to learn more about why you need to add salt to your pool from time to time.

Dirty salt cell

Modern chlorinators often have a timer that alerts you to when it’s time to inspect your salt cell for dirt and damage. Follow the instructions as to how and when you should inspect and clean it.

Over time, the metal plates inside your salt cell can get caked with mineral and other deposits that can negatively impact its ability to function properly.

Some chlorinator systems have a reverse polarity feature which helps to automatically clean the salt cell so you don’t have to.

Water flow problem

Your salt chlorinator functions best when there is a proper and consistent water flow running through the pump and system at all times. When water flow is restricted it can impact the chlorinator to the point where it can shut off chlorine production to protect the salt cell from burning out.

You don’t want to have an active salt cell operating with no water as it can severely damage or destroy the salt cell, meaning you’d have to replace it.

Water flow can be restricted for several common reasons such as:

  • Air leak
  • Full side skimmer basket that restricts water flow
  • Full skimmer basket that restricts water flow
  • Filtration system that needs rinsing or back washing
  • Filtration system that needs sand replacement (sand filter) or new cartridges (cartridge filter)
  • Blockage somewhere in the pool piping

Always keep an eye on water flow and how your pool pump sounds. Over time you’ll learn to listen for sounds coming from your pool – a slurping sound that indicates a leak or a pump struggling for water – and things of that nature. That way you can address the problem early.

Water temperature is too low

At some point, the water temperature in your pool can drop down to a level that causes the chlorinator to shut off chlorine production to protect the salt cell. While chlorinator models can vary, when water temperature drops below 50°F (10°C) with Hayward products, the salt cell will typically stop producing chlorine.

Your pool needs chlorine of course when the pool is open and being used, and during hot sunny days. But once the temperature drops below a certain level such as in the late autumn, the chlorine requirement drops and running the salt cell can be dangerous to its health.

Looking at it another way, if you open your pool too early in the spring, it’s possible that the water temperature will be too low to start chlorine production. You might need to wait several weeks until water temperature rises to the point that it turns the chlorine production on.

Alternatively, the temperature sensor could be faulty and could falsely report that water temperature is too low and shuts off the chlorine production accordingly.

Damaged power cable perhaps bitten by a rodent

I went to open our pool one spring and noticed that a power cable for the lighting had clearly been bitten through, probably by a rodent. Since our old school chlorinator that we had at the time was also a plug in model, it was also susceptible to such damage but since I’d brought it inside for the winter, it was safe.

Rodents walk around during the summer too so if you have accessible power cables, they’re open to being bitten and damaged at any point in the year.

Check your pool system in the spring and during the season too, and look for visible damage to anything. Power cables. Your pump and heater. Piping. Over time things wear out, get damaged and might even suffer a few bite marks from hungry animals roaming your backyard at night.

Tripped fuse in your breaker box inside your house

My chlorinator has its own fuse in the breaker box in my basement. I normally shut the breaker off during the winter just to be safe so I know exactly where the fuse is. Perhaps your pool has a dedicated fuse for the chlorinator and other pool equipment too.

If so, it’s possible that the fuse could be tripped and turn off which will shut down any pool-related equipment that it powers. It’s also possible the fuse itself in the breaker has burned out and needs to be replaced.

Bottom line: If you experience something wrong with your chlorinator, check to see if there is power available. If you notice the entire system is down, it could be a chlorinator-specific problem or it could be a power problem. At some point you might need a qualified electrician to take a look but you can also check a few things yourself first to see if you can at least isolate the problem.

Blown fuse in the chlorinator

If your chlorinator has no power and the screen is blank, you might have a problem specifically with the chlorinator itself such as a blown fuse inside the unit. It may also be a problem with wiring inside the chlorinator or some other problem.

Personally, I’d probably call in an electrician at this point. Or I’d least run it past my pool company first as they might be able to help or at least offer advice. I’m happy to troubleshoot here and there but when it comes to electrical issues, you have to be very careful as it can be dangerous. I leave those items to a licensed electrician if needed.

And if you’re thinking about opening up your chlorinator unit and looking at the internal wiring, it could cause a bigger problem if you do some damage.


While a good quality salt water chlorinator system can make your life as a pool owner easier, there are also reasons that it either stops working or causes you trouble that needs to be quickly addressed.

Commonly, the salt cell itself is the cultprit as it could be dirty or needs to be replaced. Other times it could be an electrical issue or it might be a setting that needs to be changed i.e. adjust the chlorinator setting, adjust the pump run time each day, etc.

Final note: If you’re basing a perceived problem (i.e. lack of chlorine) on a testing method such as test strips, make sure that your testing method isn’t the problem. If you’re using damaged or out of date test strips, it’s possible that this is the problem, not the chlorinator.

Carl Mueller

I bought a home with a salt water pool in 2006 and soon realized the benefits over traditional chlorinated pools. On this website I'll discuss all the tips and tricks I've learned over the years. I'll also help you troubleshoot various problems with pools in general and ones specific to salt water pools that I've experienced personally!

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