Pool Equipment Troubleshooting: Salt Water Chlorinators and Cells

Salt Water Chlorinators and Salt Water Cells are very durable and they don’t really require much maintenance and monitoring, but once they start acting up, it’s always best to be prepared (and informed!) to ensure that your pool water stays sanitised and chlorinated.

Signs of a salt water cell failing

Short of just replacing our salt water cells entirely, there are actually some things we can do when we start to see that our salt water chlorinator isn’t outputting the chlorine levels that it’s supposed to be outputting. Here are some things we can first check and do to try and troubleshoot our saltwater chlorinators:

  • Salt Cells Suddenly “Died” - this is something that is pretty common and don’t panic yet! If your salt water chlorinator unit isn’t lighting up, then it’s probably just a blown fuse from a system overload. Check your fuse boxes to see if any fuses are tripped and that should usually solve the problem. Also check the wires leading to and from your salt water chlorinator because for some unknown reason, rodents and critters love chewing on electrical lines whenever they’re exposed and this can be the cause of overloads and fuses tripping.
  • The “low flow” or “no flow” light is on - Many salt water chlorinators have a flow sensor to automatically stop supplying power to the cell in cases where the water flow is low to prevent the cell from burning out or turning on. To fix this, check your pump basket and skimmer basket for obstructions that may cause a low water flow. If you have a more serious obstruction, check out this complete guide on how to unclog your pool lines. 
  • Not getting enough free chlorine levels - If you’re not getting any warnings on your salt water chlorinator but you’re not getting enough free chlorine levels when testing your pool then there can be a couple of causes for this. Either your salt levels are low (check with a salt water testing strip and adjust salt levels as needed) or your cyanuric acid levels could be really low or high, test your CYA level and balance as needed. And if you have high cyanuric acid levels, you can easily lower them with some cyanuric acid removing enzymes.
  • Low output despite proper chemical levels - Now if your salt levels and chemical levels are where they’re supposed to be, maybe it’s time to give your salt cells a good cleaning. It doesn’t matter if your chlorinator is labeled as “self-cleaning”, you will still need to clean your salt water cells once in a while, although less often if you have a self-cleaning chlorinator. Click here to learn more on how self-cleaning chlorinators work.
  • Salt level readings wildly fluctuating - Chemically this isn’t possible since salt doesn’t really evaporate and the only reason why your salt levels should go down is if water is drained from the pool and the water is refilled, and it should only go up if salt is added to your pool. If it’s fluctuating then your salt cell’s probe is probably dirty or malfunctioning. To get an accurate reading of your salt levels, get a Water TechniX Digital Test Meter so you can check as often as you want without worrying about running out of test strips.

Advanced Salt Water Chlorinator Troubleshooting

All of the troubleshooting tips presented so far have been quite simple but now we’re going to go over some advanced troubleshooting tips to ensure that your salt water chlorinator is functioning at optimal levels.

  • Free Chlorine has NEVER reached optimal levels - Now this is only applicable to newly installed salt water chlorinators. This is one of the reasons why we always recommend that you oversize your salt water chlorinator as it’s easy to dial down your chlorinator but it’s very hard to add capacity once it’s installed. Let’s say your chlorinator is rated for a maximum of 50,000 litres and you have a 50,000 litre pool, there’s no room for the cell to deal with added capacity like extra hot days, heavy bather loads, high phosphate levels and so on. Short of replacing your salt water chlorinator, the only thing we can do at this point is to regularly add some Zodiac Salt Water Boost to our pools to help with sanitising the pool.
  • Salt cells receiving low voltage - Another reason to why it would seem that your salt water chlorinator isn’t outputting enough chlorine is that your cells are not receiving enough power to function optimally. To check this, use a digital multimeter on your salt cell’s terminals and compare the reading with the rated voltage on the salt water chlorinator’s control board or user’s manual. Any deviation can mean a problem with either the cables or the terminals/connections leading to poor transmission of power.
  • Burned out PCB - While not a common problem with newer salt water chlorinators, a burned-out PCB will manifest itself as the unit not powering up even if all the connections are in place and the breakers are all functioning fine. Burned out PCB boards can also be easily identified by looking at your control panel’s circuit board. How? If you can see dark discoloration, components swelling or if the board smells burnt, then you have a bad PCB on your hands. Don’t worry though, if you’re comfortable around electronics then you can easily replace the board with a replacement from Mr Pool Man’s online store! Click the button below to browse Mr Pool Man's collection of Chlorinator PCB Boards on the online shop.
  • Chlorinator having problems maintaining free chlorine levels - now if you have a clean cell and your regular chemical levels are up to point, your chlorinator is oversized / properly sized, all the connections are clean, and if everything seems to be alright, then there can only be one possible culprit, and that’s phosphates! Phosphates are basically algae superfood, the more phosphates in your pool, the faster algae can grow and the more it taxes our pool’s chlorine levels. The solution? Simple, simply add some phosphate remover to the pool!

Curious about salt water pool and chlorine pools? Click here to learn more about the differences.

Salt water chlorinator troubleshooting quick checklist

If you're looking for a quick checklist, print out the list below and place it near your pool supply shed/box for a quick reference.

  • Check that all power connections are in place
  • Check and clear your pool lines, skimmer baskets, pump baskets for clogs
  • Check and balance your pool chemistry
  • Check and clean your salt cells
  • Check salt levels with a test kit
  • Ensure that your chlorinator is sized correctly for your pool
  • Visually check your PCB for damage
  • Test and treat for Phosphates

Help! Nothing works!

If you’ve done everything we’ve outlined above and you’re still having problems with your salt water chlorinator then you may already have a dead salt water cell on your hands. When did you last replace your salt water cell? They usually last around five years, longer if you’re lucky and shorter if you’re really unlucky. Don’t worry too much though, if you’re worried about the costs of getting a genuine salt water cell then you can always go for a replacement cell. Don’t believe all of naysaying about losing your warranties when using replacement cells because chances are, if you’re at the point where you need to replace your salt water cells, your chlorinator will probably be out of warranty as well.

When it comes to replacement salt water cells, that really depends on where you purchased your cells. If you buy them from the cheapest online pool shop that you can find then there’s a chance that you’re going to get something of dubious quality. But if you purchase your replacement salt cells from online shops with a good reputation (hint, hint, nudge nudge) then you can be assured that you’re getting replacement salt water cells that will equal or even rival the performance of the branded salt water cells.

Our Recommended Salt Water Chlorinator

Now if you have a burned out control unit or if your unit is way past it prime then maybe it's time to think about getting a newer unit. Our recommendation of course will be the Water TechniX Atomic, it's rugged, it has all of the essentials that one wants for a salt water chlorinator, and of course, since it's from Water TechniX, it's covered by our iron-clad warranties! You can also read up on our in-depth review of the Water TechniX Atomic Salt Water Chlorinator line here.


When it comes to salt water chlorinators, knowing is always half the battle. Arm yourself with information so that when problems come along, you won't be caught flatfooted!

Need to maintain your salt water cells? Here's our guide on how to clean your salt water cells.

Do you have any questions about this topic or the featured products? No worries, we're here to help! Drop us a question down below and we'll get back to you ASAP.

Happy swimming :)

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