Salt Chlorinator Problems – Repair or Replace?

zodiac-jandy-aquapure-ei-salt-generator-smlSalt Chlorine Generators do require some maintenance and repair. The salt cell will eventually lose performance and the controller circuit boards can develop problems over time.

New technology in salt systems may also sway your decision to repair or replace your salt chlorinator. Newer models self-clean and self-diagnose and other advanced features.

Chances are, at some point you will face an expensive repair to your salt system, I’m talking about either a new salt cell, or a new control board. Both of these repairs can approach half the cost of a new system.

How do you know if you have a salt chlorinator problem? Usual symptoms are low chlorine output, as determined by your water tests, indicator lights or error codes flashing on the control box, or no lights at all.

Troubleshooting a Salt Chlorinator

plug-for-salt-systemFirst, check power. If your salt cell is plugged into an GFI outlet, make sure that the test button is not popped, or tripped. If your salt system is hardwired, variations in voltage could cause the controller to go a little haywire.

salt-shaker-2Secondly, maintain the proper salt level in the pool. Using salt test strips is recommended, even if your unit displays a digital salt level – it could be wrong.

pressure-gauge-toolCheck the water flow. Dirty pump baskets, clogged impellers or filters can reduce water flow to such a low point, that very little chlorine is produced. Check the pump timer too, for the same reason.

Check your water balance. Especially your pH,pool-testing and your Cyanuric Acid levels. High pH and low CYA can make it hard for chlorine to be effective. Keep a pH level of 7.2-7.6, and your level of CYA (or Stabilizer), at 30-50 ppm, to reduce the workload on your salt cell. Using the salt cell too much increases scale, and may cause premature cell failure.

clogged-salt-cellGot a clean salt cell? As it creates the electrolysis needed to convert the salty water to chlorine, the metallic plates of a salt cell develop a scale build-up that reduces chlorine production.

New Salt Systems can reverse polarity to slough off accumulated scale. Other units may have an indicator light to let you know when the cell needs to be manually cleaned. Older salt systems have neither, and require periodic inspection and cleaning.

try-this-2Good flow, proper water balance and salt level, and a clean salt cell can restore chlorine production, or in some cases, correct unrelated error codes. So try these things first, and you may not need a replacement salt cell, or new controller hardware.

Buy New or Repair Old?

Back to the original question. Well, if my troubleshooting tips didn’t help you, the next step might be to assess the likely parts needed to repair the salt system, so you can determine the probable repair costs, to weigh against the cost of a new salt chlorine generator.

If the salt system is still within the warranty period, by all means, get on the phone with the manufacturer’s support reps, for some advanced troubleshooting, or warranty service.

Most salt cells last 3-5 years, depending on the salt system, and situational factors. The control boards used can last 3x as long, even in the outdoor environment, or they could fall victim to insect, power or moisture issues.

If you’ve invested too much money into your current salt system, and are finding it unreliable, perhaps switching brands would be appropriate. Or, if your system is over 10 years old, you may enjoy the features and benefits available on our newest salt systems for pools.

Davy Merino
InTheSwim Blog Editor


Salt Chlorinator Problems – Repair or Replace? — 38 Comments

  1. Hi, I have a magnapool 40g. The pools got a low chlorine content so I checked the cell. It still bubbles but is using 17v but only using between 0.1a and 1.0a. Do you think the cell needs replacement? Could I remove the oxidised material on the cell plates to expose clean material and restore function?

    • Hi Rowan, not familiar with the Magnapool salt system here in the U.S., but likely not too different from our brands. When a salt cell measures low amperage (check owner’s manual or controller label plate specs for proper amps – all systems are different), that can mean a dirty salt cell, or it could be low salt levels, or a weak power supply, or bad wires. Start with cleaning the cell, by soaking briefly in an acid solution to remove calcium deposits.

  2. All these issues with salt cells.
    Wouldn’t it be simpler to just pour chlorine in the old way? So easy. So simple. So accurate.
    And besides, if you want soft water (and you do not have copper pipes), you can still throw a bag or two of salt into the pool. Right?

    • Hi Joe, salt systems will be troublesome, at some point in their lives. When they work well, they are awesome – and the simplest way to go. But at some point down the road, eventually… they will start acting up and require a bit of troubleshooting to determine if it’s the salt, the sensors, the cell, the board, the power supply…. Most salt systems can go at 3-5 years without any such trouble however, and some can even go longer when well maintained. Pouring in chlorine, liquid chlorine, does seem simple, however you have to do it everyday, and this creates peaks and valleys of chlorination – very high, followed by a gradual tapering off possibly to zero. Chlorinators (salt or tablet) have the advantage of consistent and constant chlorination, which is always best. (liquid too, when used with a liquid pump). Thanks, Joe!

  3. Hi,
    Have a crystal clear salt water chlorinator and finding when the pool pump goes on, the chlorinator is not going on automatically and or the dial is not registering in the green as to producing chlorine. If I back wash and rinse, turn back on the pump then the chlorinator needle moves to the green area?

    • Hi Grant, aha! Sounds like a flow rate issue, from a flow sensor issue, and possibly a filter sand needing replacement issue. Most salt systems have a flow sensor, to operate only when there is a sufficient water flow, to protect the salt cell. So, either the sensor is just doing it’s job, and there are some flow issues, like bad filter sand or clogged pump impeller, or closed valves, or air in the lines, etc. – OR, the sensor has failed or lost the original calibration. Flow sensors can also be mis-aligned with the water flow, or have scale deposits on the sensors, both of which can be corrected (on inground systems, not sure about the Intex system, which is more ‘black box’). Check that your flow rate is optimum first, and if so, look into the owners manual for any sort of flow sensor adjustments or maintenance needed. By the way, many A/G sand filters need new sand every 1-2 years (due to their small size), although the standard for I/G pools is much higher at 5-7 years. You can extend sand filter life by using a Sand Filter Cleaner once or twice per season.

  4. I noted that the light on the display came on. Usually that means the cell is dirty. I cleaned it but the light stays on. The display reads cell temp sensor shorted. When I unplug the salt cell it reads open circuit. What do I do to get this fixed?

    • Hi Ken, sounds like either a bad temp sensor, or connection problem with the temp sensor, or… it could be (?) that the water temperature is too cold for the salt cell to work properly. Most salt systems do not work when water temps dip below 60 degrees F.

  5. Hi,
    My Zodiac Tri Series (5 years old) is not retaining its settings/memory (clock and timers) when the electrical supply is turned back on. I am on Tariff 33 which means the supply goes off for a number of hours each day. When the supply returns i have to reset the clock and timers and all is ok until the supply is cut.
    Can you please advise.

    • Hi Shaun – there is a battery backup in the Jandy Ei series manual, but not one mentioned in the Zodiac TRi model manual, but for the Ei, it says it lasts for 500 hours (see below). I’m not sure where they battery is located, but seems to not be sold separately, may be a part of the Control Assy, or the Power Assy…

      The Clearwater Ei unit is fitted with a long life rechargeable battery. This battery should last in excess of 500 hours without the mains being connected. The battery will retain ALL settings in the event of a power failure.

  6. i have sparks or tiny flames ciming from my c170 cell. i can’t find any thing about it should i be switching it off?

    • Dave, OMG yes, shut her down! I’d check the voltage coming in, and the transformer in particular, which may be bad. The cell may also be bad too… I don’t have any experience with this problem, fortunately! Sounds like something the manuf. would like to hear about, I’m sure they’d be especially helpful in this case, I would think…

  7. Hi we recently bought a house with a chlorine pool. Since we have had a salt pool for about 7 years we decided to switch this pool to a salt one. We installed have the salt chlorinator Circupool SJ 40 model. We installed it this April (2017). Since then we have put in the appro amount of salt, constantly checked the PH, chlorine levels, calcium hardness, alkilinity, and cyniric acid with out testing kits. We make sure the everything is balanced and yet we still cannot get our water clear. We replaced the sand in our filter-not knowing the last time it was replaced since we just bought this pool. However it is still cloudy and we occasionally starts to turn slightly green. We constantly add algaeside and make sure the water is balanced but no luck. We are not new to this and have never had our other pool do this. We switched it as well to a salt pool and never had to “baby” it or struggle to get the water clear. We have also treated the water for metals as there has been some slight staining. Still no luck with clarity. It is frustrating to put this amount of time and effort to not have a clear pool. We also take the water to Leslie’s pool store for testing and they are stumped as well. HELP!!! Help!!

    • Hi Wendi, if your chlorine level is constant and consistent, and the same with pH – the problem should lie in the filtration and circulation (since sanitation seems covered). For circulation, are you running the pump long enough each day? If your filter is on the small side, it could need 18 hrs daily, especially during the heat of July. So that’s one possibility. Second is that the new filter sand was not actually filter sand (unless it was labeled Pool Filter Sand), or possibly not enough sand was added (or too much sand)? Third most likely scenario is that the multiport valve (or push pull valve) on the sand filter is allowing water to bypass the filter, because of a bad spider gasket (MPV) or plunger o-rings (Push-Pull). Finally, could be contamination of phosphates/nitrates, consuming the chlorine as fast as it is added… you can test for phosphates, and treat with a remover, if you haven’t already…

  8. Hi there-

    We have a Jandy AquaPure APURE35 that appears to have no power to it. There are no lights on it at all. I believe it is wired to the pump and the pump is running with no issues. Any ideas? It is 5 years old so not sure if it just died!

    • Hi Lori, no lights on at all could be a power supply or transformer failure, or a circuit board failure. Or a power cable failure, or it could just be a fuse, or a relay… The problem lies where the power dies… if you have a multimeter (and aren’t afraid to use it), you can troubleshoot where the incoming power is stopping. It may have just died, which could be expensive, 5 years is about the right time for that, but hopefully something easy. Check that the GFI test button is not popped on a wired outlet, if you have one, and that the power is reaching the control unit.

        • Well, as they say the problem lies – where the power dies, so you have power up to the board, but no lights. Look closely on the board to inspect for any damaged, melted or warped relays, resistors, anything that looks burnt, or smells burnt. There may be a fuse and a transformer on the board, which may be the problem, or one of the relays. Be sure all cables and wires and secure and tight. Of course, try a reboot or reset if not done already.

  9. Hi! When i push the Output button on my board, nothing happens. The light stays amber and does not go up. Can it be because there is almost no salt in the water? My cell has been changed not even 2 years ago. The add salt light is on, and if i push the “super chlorinate” Button the light goes green.

    Do i only need to add salt? Thanks!

    • Hi Marie, that would be the first thing to try, yes. Salt systems are very picky about having enough salt, and need to be within a few hundred ppm of the recommended levels. You can test the salt level with salt test strips, so you know exactly what the level is and how much is needed

    • Hi John, that sounds like a loose wire connection, broken wire, corroded wire, or a short on the circuit board. Look closely to inspect all wires, and connections, and look at the circuit board closely for any burnt marks or melted items.

  10. my salt cell would not raise my ppm higher than 2600 no matter how long it runs. I recently purchased a new cell. How long should it run before it starts increasing the level higher than 2600. It normally is higher than 2700.

    • you must be speaking of your salt level in the pool, at 2700 ppm? The salt cell produces chlorine, but not salt – that you have to add yourself. After an initial dosage, an annual booster dose is needed to make up for backwash water, or splashout, or rain. 8 lbs of pool salt will raise salt levels by 100 ppm, per 10000 gallons of pool water.

  11. Hi Davy, I have a Stroud Model 330 Chlorinator with Stroud cell – it’s been in operation since 2005.

    This is the problem: The operation light is green, but none of the production LEDs are lighting up, apart from very occasionally the bottom one will flash on and then off again.

    I’ve checked the cable connections, which seen fine and the cable doesn’t seem damaged. There’s no obvious signs of damage to the plates in the cell and they’re not heavily coated in calcium.

    The water is only 16C at the moment (it’s the start of the season here) but that’s not been a problem in the past. I added the salt yesterday and then noted this problem with the chlorinator. It’s been running (on high) for about 24 hours and I have zero chlorine in the pool – I was hoping it was just faulty LEDs, but alas no.

    In your opinion is this a problem with the cell or the control box?

    Any advice welcome.

    • Hi, many salt systems do not operate at around 60 degrees F, or 16 C, so that could be the problem, but if not, i would bet on the cell first, if it is 12 years old as you indicate. The coatings tend to wear off the metal plates over time, which can lead to corrosion and failure of the plates. You can try cleaning the cell first with a mild acid bath, and clean the wire terminals well, and make sure the water flow is good, or normal. If you can visually see the cell, most cells will produce fizzy bubbles when operating, if they are working that is. You can also check power at the salt cell terminals, possibly the transformer is weak. And of course it could be the circuit board. inspect for any obvious signs of damage, anything melted or warped or burnt looking (look closely). Hope that helps!

  12. I have a Poolrite Surechlor 3500 RP, I have it set at 100% production at the moment, salt level is ~5000ppm, Sometimes it will run at full production and others it will only run at about 50% and then the next time it kicks in at 100% again, the cell is clean and the whole set up is about 2 years old, could it be the PCB?

  13. I have an Autopilot salt system that is approx. 16 years old. My salt cell is a year old and has stopped generating chlorine. All of the indicators on the control box say the cell is generating chlorine, but the result is no chlorine in the water. Is this a cell issue or a control box issue? Since I have had no problems in the past, it seems to be a cell issue. Given the age of the system, should I look at replacing the system?

    • Hi Tom, the first thing that comes to mind is – are you sure it’s not producing chlorine? Is your cyanuric acid (stabilizer) level at least 25 ppm? Is the ph level between 7.2-7.6? Is it turned up high enough? Is there evidence of algae or cloudy water? Is the pump running long enough each day to produce enough chlorine? Are your test strips or test kit reagents fresh and accurate? Now if that is all true, is the water temperature above 60 degrees, and is the salt level at recommended levels? Can you trust the salt level reading? (some folks use salt test strips to verify). Is the flow rate proper, and pool filter is clean? Sorry for so many questions – just not a simple answer, I suppose.

  14. We have a zodiac ei series chlorinator
    Problem it’s giving alternating error messages 1 no flow ( red light comes on for a second). 2 out put fault (displayed for a second ). 3 check salt (yellow warning light displayed for a second). As stated these messages keep displaying alternately
    Now when back washing filter no flow red light will not stay on but the above messages keep displaying

    • Hi, a process of elimination would be good. Use salt test strips to test the salt level, to make sure it’s optimum (not too much or too little). Then be sure your flow rate is as high as possible, with clean filter, clean pump basket and skimmers, high speed (if you have more than one speed pump), and all valves open. If you still get flow errors, but you are sure that your flow rate is good, as good as it’s always been, then you can inspect the flow sensor, bypassing the switch to see if errors go away. If flow and salt are both good, and the display is still erratic, inspect the circuit board for obvious problems, and inspect all cables for damage.

  15. Hi Davy, I have an ESR 160 chloromatic cell which one of the outer plates has snapped off on. Could this be causing it to be ineffective in chlorine production?
    Regards Tamara

    • Hi Tamara, If a plate snaps off, this could be the end of the cell, since each plate is electrically charged. However, I’m not sure in your case, does it still produce chlorine? If not, perhaps it could be spot weld repaired, by a knowledgeable welder (?), either to reattach the plate or to seal of the electrical flow to the absent plate.

  16. Hi, I have Ei2 chlorinator which is only a few months old. Its seems to have stoped working, there is no power in the unit. The plug is still working. Do you have any possible solutions for this? Thanks

    • Hi jason, Do you have display on the controller screen? There is a Power Supply error message ‘Output Fault’ that should display if that is the cause. If no display at all, check the power cord, and outlet, be sure the Test button isn’t popped, if it’s GFCI. If you do have power to the unit, but no action visible in the salt cell, check that your flow is proper (clean filter and baskets, check valves), although that should generate a ‘No Flow’ error message. Check that the cable leading to the salt cell is intact and not damaged. Finally, check that the salt cell is clean and does not have scale buildup. Here’s a technical guide on the Ei salt system from Zodiac:

    • Hi Rosie; for the Ei salt system, the pipe is drilled with two small holes, which are sealed up with the ‘Saddle Clamp Assy, R0511700’- which has two small o-rings. There is another larger o-ring used to seal the salt cell to the saddle clamp, pn R0511600. Since you say it’s leaking out of the bottom, it’s likely the smaller o-rings, probably deteriorated from the chlorine.

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