How to Clean a Pool Saltwater Cell Like a Pro! (and when)

If you’ve got a saltwater pool, then you know that the salt cell or chlorine generator is an integral part of the sanitation system.

Every now and again, saltwater cells need cleaning. They clog up with calcium and when that happens the chlorine production can be reduced and the SWG (saltwater generator) doesn’t work properly.

Keeping your salt cell clean and calcium free isn’t difficult, once you know how. And that’s where I come in.

This article will talk you through the steps you need to take to clean your saltwater cell. No need to pay a professional!

Pool Salt Water Cell

Brands this cleaning guide will cover include…

This cleaning methodology is the same for ALL saltwater cells. It covers how to clean all the major brands including:

  • Jandy (including Truclear and Aquapure)
  • Astral
  • Zodiac
  • Aquarite
  • Hayward (including Turbo)
  • Goldline
  • Circupool
  • Ace
  • Pentair (including Intellichlor and IC40)

What to Clean Salt Cell With

There are a few options regarding what you use to clean it with:

  • Muriatic Acid
  • Salt Cell Cleaner (commercial product)
  • Vinegar

Muriatic acid is the popular choice and one that we’ll go into more detail with below. It’s strong and does a great job removing calcium from a saltwater cell. In fact, it’s really the industry standard and what most pool guys use to clean chlorinator cells with. To use it, you will make a diluted water/acid mix and tip it in the salt cell and leave it to do its magic.

Muriatic Acid
Muriatic Acid

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Commercial salt cell cleaners are available too, like this one. Some are muriatic acid mixes whereas others use other chemicals to clean the cell and are supposed to be more gentle than muriatic acid. Having a gentle cleaner can be a good thing too as it will extend the life of the saltwater generator cell.

BioGuard SaltScapes - Cell Cleaner 1 Quart

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Vinegar is the saltwater cell cleaner of choice for some people. Some people have had success cleaning their saltwater cells with vinegar.

And it’s much gentler than muriatic acid. The advantage is that your cell life will be longer. It won’t be as effective as muriatic acid of saltwater cell cleaner though.

What NOT to Clean a Salt Cell With

There are a couple of things you should definitely not clean your salt cell with. Saltwater cells are expensive to replace, so it’s worth looking after it.

Do NOT use Hydrochloric Acid to clean a salt cell. This is not something I recommend as it can shorten the life of your cell.

Do NOT use tools to clean or scrape off the calcium and mineral deposits from the electrodes. The electrodes are fragile and can easily bend. In addition to this, they are coated with a special material and if you use mechanical action to clean the cell, you risk scratching and removing the coating. Stick with a chemical cleaning process.

How to Clean a Salt Cell

You will need:

1. Turn Off the Power

  • First things first, turn the power off before you start examining and tinkering with the cell.  Do NOT try to unscrew the device while it’s still switched on. Electrocution is a lot worse than a clogged up salt cell!
  • Make sure you flip the circuit breaker off and not just turn off the saltwater generator control panel.
  • Unplug the salt cell too.

2. Remove the Salt Cell

  • Remove the salt cell by unscrewing both sides.
  • On each end, it’ll have big screw-in unions. They’ll be the same size as the pipe. (water will leak out when you undo it. That’s OK.).
  • If the salt cell is located below the water level of the pool, close all the valves first so water doesn’t continue to drain out.

3.  Check for deposits/build-up

  • Tip the salt cell up to have a look inside the plates. Is there a white, flaky stuff clogging up the blades? If so, that’s calcium- which plays havoc with your cell’s effectiveness- and it’s time for a clean.
  • If your salt cell has only a small amount of calcium on the plates inside, you can put off cleaning for another month or so. Keep an eye on it.
  • If your filter doesn’t have mineral deposits on it, fantastic; just replace it and check it again in a month or two.

Once you’ve established your cell needs a clean, you can get rid of some of the chunkier bits by hand before you start with the chemicals. Pull any big bits of debris out by hand, if it’s easily reachable. Then hose and scrape off the other bits.

Dirty Saltwater Cell - Shows calcium scale.
Dirty saltwater cell that needs cleaning | Image Credit: Will Lee

Important: Do NOT use a screwdriver or any other tool to do this, as the electrodes (metal parts inside the cell) are easy to damage.

4. Put on Protective Gear

Get suited up! It’s time to get all Breaking-Bad on it! Well, with the uniform, at least.

  • When using these kinds of chemicals, you need to protect your body. Ideally, wear some coveralls. Chemical resisting gloves and a face mask to protect your eyes. And only clean the cell with plenty of ventilation, since the acid can produce harmful vapors.

5. Mix the muriatic acid or cell cleaner

  • Muriatic acid is used to remove the deposits from the salt cell’s filters, but it’s very strong, so you need to dilute it.
  • Fill a clean pail halfway with water, then add the muriatic acid: start with five parts water to one part acid.
  • Never add water to an acid; always add the acid to the water!
  • While occasional cleaning of a cell is acceptable, it’s best to only do so when required. Only clean your cell when it actually needs it, don’t give it a wash just because you have a few hours to kill on Sunday, and you don’t fancy a trip to the in-laws! (unfortunately, that one was the voice of experience…)

While the acid removes scaling, it also erodes the plates slightly, over time, so no more than necessary.

6. Cap The Cell

  • The easiest way to clean a salt cell is to use a saltwater cell cap and stand
  • Simply screw the cell into the cleaning stand, which caps off one end. The stand goes on the end where the cord is. Stand it up on that end.

BLUE WORKS Cell Cleaning Stand Compatible with Hayward AquaRite Turbo Cell T-Cell(3,5,9,15) Salt Cell

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7. Pour in your solution

  • Using the bucket, carefully add the solution to the salt cell, making sure not to spill it on yourself. It should cover the electrodes inside, coming most of the way up the inside of the cell.
  • Leave the solution to soak for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Don’t leave the cell soaking in the solution for any more than 20 minutes.

8. Wait For The Foaming to End

  • The mixture will foam up inside the cell. That is a good sign; it means it’s working its magic on the mineral deposits.
  • Once the mixture has stopped foaming, that usually means it’s clean, though sometimes you may need to go through the process again.

9. Clean Out The Salt Cell With water

  • Once the deposits are gone, get out the garden hose again. Thoroughly rinse out the inside of the cell to remove those deposits. Once you’re sure it’s thoroughly cleaned out, that’s it.

10. Replace the Salt Cell

  • Put the salt cell back into position.
  • Screw the unions back in place.
  • Plug the unit back into the wall.

11. Store or Dispose of the Excess Acid

  • You can keep the water-acid mixture in a clean bottle, though you should get rid of it by the time it suggests on the original bottle of acid.
  • To dispose of it, you could tip it into the pool but you would be adding calcium to the water. Or have a look for hazardous waste disposal collection centres in your area, that’s the handiest way. We also have a full article on how to dispose of muriatic acid.

Why Do These Minerals Build Up On The Cell?

The scaling is usually down to the pH levels and/or the temperature of the water.  If either is not at the ideal level, then you will invariably have a clogged-up salt cell. If you leave this unattended too long it can become progressively harder to remedy so, as I said above, it pays to keep on top of it!

If you find your saltwater cell is constantly clogging up, check out our article: Saltwater Chlorinator Cell Constantly Clogs Up

When to Clean a Salt Water Cell

Many generators have a light telling you when it’s time to clean, but if you see any of the other signs above, it’s worth having a check.

It’s a sign you should clean your saltwater cell if:

  • Chlorine levels are low
  • You have algae (generally means the chlorine levels are too low)
  • Calcium deposits or flakes are coming out of return jets
  • The “service” or “clean” or “check cell” light comes on.

These things above don’t necessarily mean it’s time to clean your cell but it’s worth checking to see the condition of the cell.

If you see white flakes in your pool, check out our article which explains in detail how to remove and prevent them:
White Flakes in Saltwater Pool and How to Remove Them

We have a full article detailing when and how often to clean your salt cell:
When & How Often To Clean Pool Salt Cell? (Answered!)

How Often To Clean a Salt Water Cell?

There’s no hard and fast number, as every pool is different. 3-6 months is about the average. If you have to clean more regularly than every 1-2 months, then that’s a warning sign that your pH levels aren’t balanced, or you have hard water (high calcium content).

For more tips on how to maintain a saltwater generator, check out our article: 8 Tips To Maintain A Saltwater Chlorine Generator

Conclusion

Remember, a little bit of calcium or mineral buildup on the electrodes is fine; it’s the chunkier deposits that stop the cell from working properly. If the electrodes are too clogged to turn, then it will not work properly and you will either have no or reduced chlorine output.

The display screen on the cell’s controller will normally give you the heads-up to any potential issues.

And if your cell does have a heavy buildup of calcium, soak it in diluted muriatic acid for 10-15 mins. That will have your saltwater cell clean and function perfectly in no time.

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