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How Do Salt Swimming Pools Work?

On-site chlorine generation in swimming pools has gained tremendous popularity over the years. Reports suggest saltwater chlorine generators account for over 35% of all residential pool “automated” sanitation systems. Swimmers and homeowners love their salt pools. They practically sell themselves through word of mouth. Smart pool pros should love them too… salt systems and the consumables associated with them do wonders for business bottom lines. 

This article breaks down how salt chlorine generators work in swimming pools. These popular backyard pool chlorine generator systems are commonly called salt systems, saltwater chlorinators, salt chlorinators, salt generators and more. Whether building new pools or retrofitting existing pools, consider some important factors involved with saltwater pool chlorine generating systems.

What Is A Chlorine Generator?

In short, chlorine generators create “free” chlorine in swimming pool water. By doing so, chemical storage, transportation, installation of chemical feeders, and handling chemical are reduced. A qualified pool professional should install chlorine generators. 

Chlorine can be produced onsite by the chemical process of electrolysis. According to the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF) Pool & Spa Operator Handbook, “Electricity is passed through” a mixture of sodium chloride, salt, and water, “and chlorine gas is produced,” most often using an inline system where someone periodically adds salt directly to the pool. Don’t worry, the chlorine gas is absorbed into the water, it won’t be releasing gas around the pool.

Electrolysis is a method by which chemical reactions are carried out by passing an electrical current through a substance. In salt chlorine generation, electricity is passed through the salt solution mentioned above, breaking apart the salt molecules and ultimately producing free chlorine. 

Inline salt systems are maintained by adding salt directly to the pool water. The salt itself is not the disinfectant but is converted into a usable form of chlorine. The pool’s circulation system moves the saltwater through a “salt cell” – a device containing electrochemical cells. The salt cell contains layers of plates that are electrically charged by the generator’s power supply. These plates then convert the sodium chloride into free chlorine, the residual sanitizing form of chlorine that rids the water of dirt and bacteria.


Is Salt Chlorine-Free? Is Salt Better Than Chlorine?

Saltwater pools are in fact chlorinated and are not an alternative to chlorine pools. Saltwater is not better than chlorine; it is chlorine. Having a residual sanitizer in the water is an integral part of what we at CMP call The Complete Modern Pool®. All pools need a residual chlorine working alongside a secondary advanced sanitizer like AOP, Ozone or UV to stay clean, clear and safe.

Chlorine generated from salt creates a consistent baseline level of chlorine in the pool as opposed to the roller coaster levels of chlorine produced by traditional chlorine treatments. A constant, steady supply of chlorine is preferable over the peaks and valleys of chlorine levels normally associated with shock treatments. 

Is the Pool Going to Taste Salty?

Some people are surprised to learn that the water in saltwater pools is not at all like water in the ocean, which is about 10 times saltier. There’s around 3,000 parts per million salinity in a saltwater pool compared to about 35,000 ppm in the ocean.  

Advantages & Disadvantages of Chlorine Generators

There is a wide spectrum of systems on the market. Newer models are designed to be durable, affordable and serviceable. Some provide feedback letting you know the system is working and might be compatible with ORP control systems. 

Potential drawbacks of chlorine generators of the past included difficulty to clean and maintain, calcium build-up on the cell, cheap components and sensors, hard to maintain salt levels, and faulty controls. For more information on problems associated with chlorine generators, watch our video CMP Presents 5 Problems With Salt Systems


Salt systems of today are a breath of fresh air. Customers and pool technicians love them because they’re more reliable, typically require low maintenance and very little attention. Salt is added to the pool infrequently and inspecting the salt cell every few months is easy enough. Salt chlorine generators also require few, if any, additional chemicals. When maintained correctly water balance is rarely a problem. Well-maintained saltwater chlorinator systems should last on average 3-5 years.

There are other benefits to salt generating systems in swimming pools including lower skin and eye irritation, no unpleasant odors, and comfort factor. Salt water has a soft, silky feel that swimmers love. Salt pools are also a great way to minimize pool stabilizer. Check out our article on salt systems and cyanuric acid, Are Salt Chlorine Generators The Answer To CYA-related Pool Issues? 

Powerclean Salt®

Innovative products like Powerclean Salt take the guess-work out of chlorine generator maintenance. Advanced models including Powerclean Salt Ultra are easy to clean by hand and have a modern control center. Wider spacing of the salt cell plates in Powerclean Salt help prevent mineral buildup which leads to permanent system damage. 

The design of Powerclean Salt cells makes using acid solutions and other unsafe cleaning rituals a thing of the past. No special cleaning stand or acid is needed to clean a Powerclean Salt cell. The titanium plates inside a Powerclean Salt cell are easy to remove and clean. Simply unscrew the cap, use the blue cleaning tool to easily remove any debris or mineral build-up, and you are done!

Salt systems have been around for years, but not like this. This next-generation salt chlorine system is designed to be more durable, affordable and serviceable. Now is the time for a chlorine generator that pool professionals and homeowners love to use. Choose a better chlorine generator, switch to Powerclean Salt.

Powerclean Salt Ultra is third party verified as an effective chlorine generator system; certified to UL-1081 and NSF/ANSI-50. Special design features on this premier chlorine generating system enhance system installation and operation. 

View Powerclean Salt products. For more information on making the switch to Powerclean Salt, visit c-m-p.com/saltyswitch.


Find available residential pool sanitizers at c-m-p.com.

We also sell Sanitizer Systems for commercial pools and aquatics. Visit cmpcommercial.com to learn more.

More Posts

Are Salt Chlorine Generators The Answer To CYA Related Pool Issues?

[VIDEO] What Makes Powerclean Salt Different?

[VIDEO] CMP Tech Details: Powerclean Salt Step-By-Step Operation & Troubleshooting

[VIDEO] CMP Presents: 5 Problems With Salt Systems

[SLIDESHOW] Powerclean Makes Easy Work Of Cleaning Salt Cells

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