Why Do Chlorinator Cells Fail?
The chlorinator cell is an integral part of the salt water pool system that electrically converts salt to chlorine. Major manufacturers of salt water pool systems include Hayward, Pentair, Jandy and CircuPool.
A good quality, well-maintained chlorinator cell may last 3-5 years on average but will eventually need to be replaced. Why do chlorinators fail, how do you know when they’ve failed and what can you do to extend their life?
Let’s answer the question why is my salt chlorinator cell not working and figure out how to get the most of your salt water system in the long run.
Why Is My Salt Chlorinator Cell Not Working?
The chlorinator system that we got when we bought our house with a 3 year old pool was a first generation Lectrinator salt system. That company went bankrupt in early 2020 but we had already replaced the entire salt system with a more modern and automated Hayward AquaRite system in 2010 after the Lectrinator cell died twice and needed to be replaced sooner than I’d hoped.
One of the worst feelings for a pool owner is seeing the warning light to “check salt cell” and realizing that it’s dead. Good quality salt chlorinators are generally very reliable when taken care of but will eventually burn out and need to be replaced. In my experience, I replace the cell about every 3+ years. Sometimes the check salt cell light is simply a warning to inspect and clean the cell so it doesn’t necessarily mean there is something wrong.
Here’s what to check for when you get a warning that something might be wrong with the salt cell:
Check Water Temperature
During cold temperatures – spring openings for example – the chlorinator might not run properly. Since the water might still be very cold in spring, check to see that your system doesn’t shut down automatically with very low water temperatures since not as much chlorine is required in a pool when the temperature is low during those times. I learned this myself the first year we had the pool and I was excited to open it early. I couldn’t get the cell running and was advised by the pool company that the water was still too cold.
Check The Pool System In General
In my experience, I get the surprises in the spring when opening the pool. Twice I’ve discovered that the cell no longer works and needs to be replaced as I’m opening the pool. The pump seized up over winter once and I found that out when I turned it on for the first time in the spring and it wouldn’t turn. Ensure everything is plugged in properly and that nothing is damaged. Once in the spring during opening, I discovered that an animal had been gnawing on a power cable, probably over the winter.
Check The Power Supply
Our Hayward AquaRite system is hard-wired but the old Lectrinator system was plugged into a regular power outlet like a kitchen appliance. Check that a fuse hasn’t blown or been tripped or in the case of the plug-in type, that the plug didn’t accidentally get pulled out, isn’t wet and shut itself off and that the plug outlet didn’t burn out. It happens.
Check Water Flow
Our Hayward system shuts the chlorinator off automatically when the water flow is too low. I can usually hear when the system is struggling for water as the pump gets louder and makes a recognizable sound. Ensure all proper valves are open and weren’t closed, thereby restricting water flow. Check the skimmer for blockages. If something gets caught in the skimmer, it can keep the trap door open which restricts water flow. Inspect the pump basket to see if it’s full, take a look at the main drain for a possible blockage and check the return jets for water flow. If you see bubbles coming out of the return jets, that’s a sign that air is getting in the system so ensure there are no leaks or loose fittings.
Check Water Chemistry
Check salt and chlorine levels manually or with your system if it automatically reads it. Our Hayward system runs at 2700-3400 ppm salt ideally so it should be in that range. Your system might be slightly different but that’s the range we look for. Some chlorinators will shut down automatically to protect the system if your salt level is very low or very high.
If it’s really low, you might have a lack of salt that requires more salt added to the pool. I typically add a large bag of salt in the spring when opening the pool and a smaller bag midway through the summer. I generally take a water sample once per month to the pool company and they tell me when it’s time to add salt.
Remove The Cell And Inspect It
Our Hayward system has a self-cleaning cell feature that I use so I haven’t had to manually clean the cell before. I generally only take the cell out at the end of the season for storage over the winter and take a look at the metal plates to make sure they’re clean. Your system manufacturer might have a similar feature or you may have to manually clean the cell from time to time as per their instructions.
If you are still unable to get the cell working again and can’t get rid of the check salt cell light, check with your pool company for further advice and contact the manufacturer too. Most times you’ll probably find it is one of these problems.
Of course, the cell could also be in need of replacement especially if it’s 5 years or older.
Extend Your Salt Cell Life
- Keep an eye on the cell and inspect it for any noticeable problems when in use.
- Follow your chlorinator maintenance plan. Our Hayward system has a self cleaning mode that takes care of that.
- Keep pool chemistry in check. The closer you keep pool chemistry to the ideal range, the better for your cell’s lifespan.
- Ensure a steady flow of water at all times. Clear the skimmer basket and pump basket regularly to avoid blockages.
- I was told to always put our Hayward Turbo Cell in place so that the indented side is facing down so there is always a pool of water at the bottom of the cell in the off chance the flow slows and the sensor doesn’t react. That way there is always some water in the cell and it won’t get damaged.
- Ensure you buy the correct cell for your pool size. Typically if you read that a salt cell is good for a 15,000 gallon pool, it assumes you’re going to run the pump 24/7. You might want to buy a higher capacity cell in the case where you don’t run the pump constantly.
- Take the cell indoors and store it in a dry, warm place during the winter if you live in a freezing area where the temperatures get very cold.
- If your salt cell is around 5 years old or older and stops working it’s possible that it is in fact dead and needs to be replaced.
- Maintaining your salt cell during the pool season (following manufacturer instructions) and storing it safely (indoors) during the winter is important to extending its lifespan.
- Maintain proper water chemistry during the season.
- Avoid running large amounts of chemical chlorine (liquid, crystal) through the cell as it can damage it over time.
- Salt water pools offer some interesting health benefits over chlorine pools, too.