When & How Often To Clean Pool Salt Cell? (Answered!)

As a saltwater pool owner, you will need to clean the salt cell regularly to remove deposits that can prevent the effective functioning of the cell. But when should you clean the salt cell and how often should you do so? The answers to these questions and more will be discussed in this article. So let’s dive in.

When Should You Clean A Saltwater Cell?

Saltwater cells should be cleaned when they have significant calcium scale buildup on them. This can take anything from 2 months to 3-4 years. Salt cell systems are usually designed with “clean cell” or “check cell” warning lights, which are an indication that the cell may need cleaning.

Here are other signs that indicate when you should clean the cell:

  • When you start getting calcium deposits or flakes coming out of the return jets in the pool
  • When you notice scaling on the salt cell electrodes
  • When chlorine levels are constantly low or when the cell produces low chlorine
  • Recurring algae – may be an indication that the salt cell isn’t working properly

How Often To Clean A Saltwater Cell?

Salt cells should be cleaned a maximum of 2-3 times per year. It’s best to minimize how often a salt cell is clean, as chemical cleaning reduces its lifespan. The time frame or interval to clean the saltwater cell depends on how quickly calcium accumulates on the salt cell.

Factors that affect how often a salt cell needs cleaning include:

  • Calcium level in water
  • Water temperature
  • pH of the water

Calcium-Rich Water Increases Salt Cell Scale

Pool water that is hard, i.e. high in minerals like calcium, tends to promote scale and calcium build up on the pool equipment such as heaters and the salt cell. Acceptable levels of calcium hardness are 200-400 ppm.

Dirty Saltwater Cell - Shows calcium scale.
Salt Cell that Needs Cleaning. Image Credit: Will Lee

If you have a choice, avoid filling up your pool with water with high contents of calcium. Well water tends to be high in metals and minerals and is not usually an ideal choice.

Calcium hypochlorite (cal-hypo), is used for pool shock and for chlorine. It’s great for this purpose, however, it leaves behind calcium as a byproduct. If your water is already high in calcium, avoid using this type of chlorine and use liquid chlorine instead.

Warmer Water Increases Salt Cell Scale

It’s not just the calcium-rich water that affects how often you need to clean a salt cell. Warm water is more prone to calcium buildup. Now, in most cases, you can’t really do much about this one, and you also probably like swimming in a warm pool.

So what should you do? I would leave this one and just accept that this is what does happen.

High pH Water Increases Salt Cell Scale

When a salt cell operates it converts the salt water to chlorine using a process called electrolysis. And a by-product of electrolysis is increases pH. This is why saltwater pools tend to have pH creep, or rising pH.

It just so happens that calcium scale is increased in high pH water. To minimize how often your salt cell needs cleaning, keep the pH between 7.2 and 7.6. You can use muriatic acid to lower pH.

What To Clean Salt Cell With?

Initially, try hosing the saltwater cell with water. If this doesn’t remove the deposits, then soak it in diluted muriatic acid. Calcium can be very hard and difficult to remove, and acid is usually the best choice.

Here are 3 products that help to clean salt cell effectively:

1. Muriatic acid

Muriatic acid is an industry standard acid-based solvent that helps to break down and remove calcium deposits in the salt cell. You should know that muriatic acid should be diluted with clean water to reduce the acid concentration.

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2. Vinegar

Pool salt cell can also be soaked vinegar to be cleaned. Vinegar is a household acid-based product so it’s safe to use on the salt cell.

3. Commercial Salt Cell Cleaner

Salt cell cleaners are made from different solutions including muriatic acid. The cell cleaner is designed to remove calcium deposits and scale on the salt cell. Salt cell cleaners are very effective and safe to use on the salt cell.

BioGuard SaltScapes - Cell Cleaner 1 Quart

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Check out this article on the website for full salt cell cleaning instructions:
How to Clean a Pool Saltwater Cell Like a Pro! (and when)

Why Do I Need To Clean Saltwater Cell So Often?

If you find that your salt cell is clogging up or needs cleaning more frequently than twice a year, it’s time to pay closer attention to your pool water.

Here are the reasons that may cause you to clean the saltwater cell too often:

1. High pH levels

If the pH level is too high, above 7.6, then the salt cell is more prone to getting clogged up and it will need cleaning more frequently. As explained earlier, saltwater pools tend to have rising pH levels. To keep this in check, you’ll need to regularly add acid.

You can balance the pH levels by using pH up or pH down.

2. Pool CSI level too high

When the CSI (calcium saturation index) is too high or higher than +0.6, it means there is too much calcium in the pool water. When there is too much calcium in the water, eventually the water becomes too saturated to hold it and the calcium falls out, resulting in calcium deposits and scale.

You can reduce the calcium in the water by partially draining the pool and then refilling with water that is low in calcium. This is the only true way to remove it.

3. High level of minerals in the pool

When the mineral level in the saltwater pool is high, the minerals will dissolve in the water and increase the calcium hardness. Since the calcium is increased, the water will become harder and scale will form on the salt cell more frequently, requiring you to clean the cell more often. You can reduce the minerals in the pool by draining and refilling part of the water or by using a pool flocculant.

Next, let’s check out the dangers of cleaning saltwater cell too often.

Dangers Of Cleaning Salt Cell Too Often

Can you clean a salt cell too often? Yes, you can. If you’re cleaning more frequently than every 3-4 months, you are not going to maximize the life of your saltwater cell.

Salt cells contain a number of electrodes. The electrodes are made from metal and have a very thin specialized coating on them. This coating is vital to the efficient production of chlorine.

This coating is also very sensitive and because it’s very thin, it’s easy to damage or wear down. Acid and high temperatures are two things that can damage the coating.

Each time you soak the cell in acid or harsh cleaners, the acid eats or etches the coating on the electrodes, causing the coating and/or the actual electrodes to wear down to the point when they no longer work.

The lesson is, only clean your salt cell if it actually needs cleaning.

Pro Tips To Prevent Dirty or Clogged Saltwater Cell

The following tips will prevent your saltwater cell from a build-up of calcium deposits and scaling:

  1. Always maintain a balanced pH level between 7.2 and 7.6.
  2. Avoid well water as it often contains a high level of calcium, iron, and mineral deposits.
  3. The total alkalinity of the pool should be maintained between 80 and 120 ppm.
  4. CSI (Calcium saturation index) level should be between -0.3 and +0.3.
  5. Run the pool pump for at least 30 minutes after you turn off the salt cell. This prevents high pH water around the cell.
  6. Check the salt cell for scale every month.

Final Thoughts

In summary, pool salt cells should be cleaned at least twice a year so always check the cell and indicator lights to know when to clean the cell. Also, only use acid-based products to dissolve remove calcium deposits from the salt cell. Other products and objects can damage the cell. If you have to clean the salt cell too often, it’s a possible sign that the pool water is too hard.

So there you have it. If you liked this post, ensure to check out others like it on this website for more pool maintenance tips.

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