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Swimming Pool Salt Water Chlorine Generator Reviews

So you want a salt water swimming pool? Great idea - pool owners love the convenience of using salt water and a chlorine generating cell to provide the sanitizer for day to day use and maintenance of the pool. Salt water feels softer on the skin and is less irritating to skin, eyes, and bathing suits than traditional chlorine treatments. All this stuff you have heard already but you may have also heard some other information which is less...true.

- Salt water is NOT an alternative to chlorine. It IS chlorine but instead of buying chlorine you are "making" your own

- Salt water pools are NOT maintenance free. They must be maintained just like any other form of chlorine or bromine pool

- Salt water pools are NOT like ocean water. Ocean water has 10x the amount of salt of a salt water pool

- Salt water CAN damage your swimming pool so you had better learn about galvanic corrosion!


If you have decided that salt is right for your pool then the information below will help you to make an informed decision on which salt chlorine generator to buy. If you are on the fence and want more information about the potential concerns for your pool from salt water you can read this article about risks of salt water in pools. The information on this current page is an abbreviated salt system review which covers the most popular name brand systems on the market. If you would like you can also read the full (and updated) pool salt water system comparison article which details every brand, make and model of salt chlorinator available (not just the big 3 manufacturers).


How Do Salt Water Pools Work?


A salt water chlorine system for a swimming pool uses the base ingredient for chlorine, sodium chloride (table salt) and applies a small electrical voltage across two points in the water (inside the generation cell). This process causes the sodium molecule to separate from the chlorine molecule. The chlorine then becomes available to float around your pool looking for something to attach itself to. This is your "free chlorine" just like a traditional chlorine pool except that you "generated" your own chlorine instead of buying it directly in a concentrated form.

Since the salt level in your pool remains constant the process will repeat itself in that you can continue to create chlorine as you need it. The dial settings on your chlorine generator simply control how long the unit runs for before turning off. Every pool uses a unique amount of chlorine and you will need to learn what output settings are right to keep your pool in the range of 1-3ppm free chlorine at all times. This is what people are referring to when they say "maintenance free" which is obviously not correct since the pH, total alkalinity and calcium hardness levels are the bare minimum must also be maintained. It is worth noting that the type of chlorine that is generated from a salt water system has an extremely high pH. You will notice that with the addition of a salt water system to your pool that you will need to work to keep the pH down in the correct range.

At pH 8.2 and above the chlorine in your pool is over 90% inactive in the water so balancing your pH is very important





Does Salt Water Damage Swimming Pools?


In a word - yes. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you a salt water system or does not understand the electro-mechanical process of galvanic corrosion. This does not mean that you should avoid going with salt water. This simply means that you need to educate yourself about what this process is and more importantly what you can do as a pool owner to mitigate the damaging effects of galvanic corrosion.

To keep a long and technical subject brief, adding salt water to a pool causes tiny electrical charges to transfer between any metals that are in contact with the water. This includes steel walls in vinyl liner pools, rebar in concrete pools, aluminum, brass, steel, titanium are all examples of metals that exist in most pool installations. When exposed to salt water these metals will degrade at an advanced rate unless you do something to stop it.

The higher the salt level in the pool the greater the amount of current transferring between metal components in the pool. If the pool is not bonded this will allow for a greater "potential difference" or voltage in between these metal components which will further increase the rate at which current transfers between these metals. The current transfer process is what damages the metals so to protect against this your pool must be bonded and also have an outlet for any stray currents that do develop - namely a sacrificial anode.

swimming pool sacrificial anode

Every swimming pool, and especially salt water swimming pools should have a sacrificial anode installed. The addition of this simple and low cost device will reduce dramatically the damage your pool experiences as a result of galvanic corrosion. While you may still experience localized anodization and oxidation of metals in your pool, especially those where two different metals are in direct contact, a sacrificial anode is the bare minimum level of protection that every pool needs. It is absolutely silly to not have one of these - plus they can easily be adapted to any existing system.

To help prevent localized problems you can, and should, add additional sacrificial anodes to your swimming pool. You can use stand alone zinc anodes that bolt directly to your ladder and you can also get zinc anode discs that can sit inside the skimmer basket. For the relatively low cost of these items and the huge preventative protection against damage to integral components of your pool there is no question that every pool owner should be using all of these. The real question is why have you not been using them already? This is more than 30 year old technology that we are talking about so every pool technician working today should be able to explain why you need these - and many can not. As a pool owner you should take the initiative to learn about these subjects since it is your money on the line anyway!


How To Install A Sacrificial Anode For A Pool

Installing a sacrificial anode on your pool system is an easy do-it-yourself project. An inline anode can easily be installed on almost any pool system with the only question being which style to choose for the type of pipe that your pump and filter are plumbed in with. The picture of the anode above is designed to be drilled into a rigid or semi-rigid pipe and then it is clamped in place with a gasket and two pipe clamps.

More and more swimming pools are now plumbed with PVC, either rigid or flexible PVC. If this is what you have in the pump room then instead of drilling into the pipe you can also install a Tee style inline anode . Instead of drilling a hole in the pipe and inserting the anode, this is a standard PVC tee fitting that has been fitted with a zinc anode. While it requires you to cut open the pipe and remove an small section to accommodate the tee fitting, a primed and glued anode is better than a clamp and gasket style. If you have any other piping than PVC then the above pictured anode is the one you want.

Once the anode is installed be sure to attach it to the bonding grid with a large gauge bare copper wire. #6 is common in Canada, and #8 is common in the U.S. but refer to your local requirements for correct wire sizing


How To Install A Salt Water System On A Pool

Installing a salt water system is a very easy process that pretty much any pool owner could do themselves. If you can cut out a piece of PVC and install the salt cell by priming and gluing the two connections - PRESTO - you have installed your own salt water generator. While there is a little more to know than that, cutting and gluing in the salt cell is about the extent of the technical aspect of the installation.

Flow meters - Salt systems have a flow switch which measures the flow of the water in order to prevent the cell from generating chlorine if there is no water flow. This is a very important safety issue. For this reason you should install the flow meter in a straight section of pipe. It should be 10x the pipe diameter in front of the flow meter and 4x the pipe diameter following the flow meter. For 2" pipe that would be 20" and 8" in a clear and straight run with no valves or elbow fittings. Some salt systems have a flow switch separate from the cell while others have the flow switch integrated into the cell itself.

Location - The salt water cell MUST be installed last in the line of equipment. Pump, filter, heater, cell, pool return is the order that the equipment should be installed in. If you were to install the salt cell before the heater you would be sending concentrated chlorine directly into your heater which would certainly ruin it in short order.

Check valve - Since the chlorine can travel backwards through your pool system on occasion, a chlorine resistant check valve (one way valve) should be installed in between the heater and the salt cell. This will prevent chlorine from tracking backwards through the system any time the pump turns off. Having the cell sloped downhill from the heater is not good enough as the chlorine can easily travel backwards in the system since it is a closed loop system. Since the check valve will be exposed to high levels of chlorine, a regular check valve is not ideal, Instead you should pay a little more and get a corrosion resistant check valve

Adding salt - Choose a high quality swimming pool salt to avoid impurities in your pool. When it comes time to add salt to your pool you will need to know the total amount of salt your system requires to operate (typically 1500 - 4000ppm) but you also need to consider the current salt levels that you have. Since you have likely been using chlorine in your pool previously you will already have a salt level anywhere from a few hundred up to 1000ppm. Before you add the recommended amount of salt to your pool you should test your water and find out how much salt you already have. These salt test strips will give you a good enough reading to save you a trip to the local water lab. If you add too much salt the only way to reduce sodium level is to drain water from the pool and replace with fresh water. When you add the salt to your pool, allow for 24 hours before turning on the salt generator cell. During this first 24 hours brush down your pool multiple times to help the salt to dissolve.


Salt Water Chlorine System Reviews - Above Ground

- Hayward Aqua-Trol above ground pool chlorine generator.

For above ground and on-ground pools up to 18,000 gallons this system requires the generator cell to be mounted directly to the return line of the pool. This is different from inground pool salt water cells which are located in the pump room - for above ground pools the cell is remotely mounted to the pool wall at the return line. This unit does not require a hard-wired electrical connection for the control box, instead coming with a plug in cord end for use with an approved GFI receptacle. From a do-it-yourself perspective this system is extremely easy for the average pool owner to install and operate themselves. Hayward is one of the leading names in swimming pool equipment as well as salt water through their Goldline brand. If you want a high quality salt water system for your above ground pool this is one of your best options.


- Pentair IC15 Above Ground Pool Salt Water Generator

Pentair is typically regarded as offering the highest quality pool and spa equipment in the industry. While this is an arguable point, many experienced pool technicians would agree that Pentair pool equipment is of higher quality than other common popular brand names - usually for a higher price. If you are not sure which salt water system would be best for your permanent above ground pool consider what brand pump, filter and/or control panel you have. The Pentair IC15 system is designed for above ground pools up to 15,000 gallons and outputs up to .60 lbs of chlorine per day. Control interface, automatic salt level readings and troubleshooting diagnostics are all controlled through the cell itself as opposed to the Hayward Aqua Trol which offers these features from the wall mounted control box.


Other above ground pool salt water systems - There are many other options in the world of above ground pool salt water systems however as a swimming pool contractor I only offer professional level solutions to my clients (and my readers). There are many very entry level pool salt water systems available however I can not provide detailed review information since I have never used any of these. If you have a permanent above ground pool then go with the Hayward Aqua Trol shown above but if you have a temporary above ground pool and you want to see what salt water is all about there may be some options for you. The Intex 15,000 gallon stand alone salt water system might be a good option for temporary above ground pools like those from Walmart or hardware stores. Solaxx also makes a salt water generator for up to 20,000 gallons for similar applications.


Salt Water Chlorine Systems For Inground Swimming Pools

Before you purchase a salt water chlorine generator for an inground pool you need to know a little bit about how these systems work, but more importantly, how they fail. A salt water cell has a lifespan of 3-5 years on average (which means that a few last 1-3 years and also 5-7 years). When the cell fails it will not just stop functioning but instead will experience a reduction of the amount of chlorine it is able to generate. In year 1 your salt water cell may make enough chlorine for your pool when the dial is set to 50% output. By year 3 to generate the same levels of chlorine you might need to have the dial set to 70% - 80% output. At some point the failure will be that you keep your system set to 100% and it still can not meet the chlorine demands of your pool. At this time you would need to replace the cell.

As a pool professional I prefer to slightly oversize the salt cell for the pool. This allows to meet the chlorine demands with the cell now with low range settings (like 20%-30%) and when the cell begins to output less when it nears the end of its service life you can dial up the output. This can get you another season or two even out of your cell before requiring replacement.


- Jandy / Zodiac Aqua Pure 35 Salt Water Generator

The Zodiac Aqua Pure system is suitable for swimming pools up to 35,000 gallons. This system requires a hard wired electrical connection (not plug-in style) and is compatible for 120 and 240 volt connections. This system requires salt levels of 4000ppm which is the highest of any of the popular brand salt water systems. For this reason use of a sacrificial anode will be extremely important to prevent possible long term damage to integral pool components. This system outputs .93lbs of chlorine per day and requires a minimum flow rate of 40GPM.



- Pentair IntelliChlor IC40 Swimming Pool Chlorine Generator

This is the Pentair IC40 inground pool salt water chlorine generator system which is designed for pools up to 40,000 gallons. This system from Pentair is also available in 20,000 gallon (IC20) as well as a 60,000 gallon (IC60). The most common system, the IC40 model, has an output capacity of 1.4lbs of chlorine per day (the IC20 produces .70 lbs and the IC60 produces 2.0 lbs daily). These systems are designed to operate at 3400 ppm of salt. They offer a salt calculator tool to determine how much salt you will need to add to your pool to reach this desired level - Pentair salinity calculator


- Hayward AquaRite 25,000 gallon T-Cell-9 Salt Chlorine Generator

The Hayward AquaRite Goldline salt system is the flagship salt chlorine generation system from Hayward. Also available in T-Cell-3 for up to 15,000 gallons and T-Cell-15 for up to 40,000 gallons output models. These units have an ideal salinity level of 3200 ppm and the three T-cell sizes are .50 lbs, 1.1 lbs and 1.4 lbs per day. These numbers are calculated off the Hayward advertised lifetime output of 210, 385 and 580 lbs of chlorine for the three cell sizes combined with the 10,000 hour life expectancy of the cells. Also available is the extended life version of the T-Cell-15 which outputs a lifetime total of 725 lbs of chlorine which calculates to 1.75 lbs per day and is suitable for large pools up to 40,000 gallons



IMPORTANT UPDATE - In addition to the most popular name brand salt systems reviewed on this page, I also now have a much more inclusive salt water system comparison that includes every make and model from Hayward, Pentair, Jandy, Zodiac, CompuPool, AutoPilot, Intex, CircuPool and Solaxx. If you are researching salt chlorine generators to buy then this is the article that you have been searching for.






Tips For Installing Salt Water Chlorine Generators

Before you attempt to install any swimming pool equipment you should take a look at the video series from Swimming Pool Steve that reviews installations of pool equipment for deficiencies. Additionally there are sections on pipe materials, plumbing fittings, glue, primer, unions and valves commonly used for installing pool and spa equipment. If you would like to learn more about how to install a salt water generator correctly as part of a pool system read the Installation Tips from Steve.