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How to Prevent and Remove Scale from Salt Cells

If you have a salt pool, chances are you've had to deal with scale buildup at some point — especially if you live in a dry, hot climate. As you may know, it can be a pain.

One of the main reasons why buildup can be a challenge is because scale typically forms first in hard-to-see places, including the salt cell plates. The plates are inside the electrolytic chlorine generator (ECG), which uses electricity and dissolved salt (Sodium Chloride) to produce chlorine for the pool.

Preventing and removing salt cell scale buildup is important because undetected buildup will eventually lower the effectiveness and shorten the lifespan of the cell.

What causes scale buildup in a salt cell?

The salt cell’s ECG can provide a perfect breeding ground for two reasons: heat and high pH production.

  1. Heat — The hotter the water, the more calcium tends to drop out of pool chemical solutions and mineralize into a deposit. Since the cell plates generate heat, they tend to build scale after many uses. This is also why calcium often builds around pool heaters.
  2. High pH — An increased pH reading is a side effect of the generator converting salt into chlorine (NaOH). Scaling may develop around the pool surface and equipment if the pH level is not maintained within the recommended range.

As scale builds on the salt cell plates, it begins to interfere with the chlorine production (electrolysis). This will not only reduce the unit’s efficiency, but it will begin to run hotter — increasing the scale buildup. Over time this can lead to permanent damage on the plates, including cell failure.

How to prevent scale buildup in a salt cell

Leslie's Stain & Scale Prevent

If you have a history of scale buildup or live in a dry, hot region, using Leslie's Stain & Scale Prevent will help keep buildup away. Stain & Scale Prevent will also help with metal stains, so it's a win-win if you struggle with both issues. Be sure to always follow label directions to ensure proper safety and maximum effectiveness.

Another step you can take to help prevent scale buildup is to ensure your salt cell is operating properly with your pool pump. Your salt cell should never operate when your pump is off. Most salt cells will turn on only if your pump is running at a particular RPM threshold, but if not, you can coordinate your cell timer (if you have one) with your pump timer. Your cell should only turn on when your pump is running, and if you set your cell to turn off at least 30 minutes before your pump turns off, the water flow will cool the cell and help prevent scale.

As always, it's also vital to keep your water balanced. Proper pH and Total Alkalinity levels will help prevent calcium buildup around pool surfaces. We recommend testing your water at least once a week. For a more precise and comprehensive water analysis, bring a water sample to your local Leslie's store for a free AccuBlue® water test.

How to remove salt cell scale buildup

Leslie's Stain & Scale Remove

If you've already got salt cell scale buildup, there are ways to tackle that too. Leslie's Stain & Scale Remove is often an ideal solution. In 2-4 weeks, Stain & Scale Remove can get rid of buildup and any unsightly stains your pool might have. It's safe for all pool surfaces and will help prevent future buildup as well. Again, be sure to follow label directions to ensure proper safety and maximum effectiveness.

Some chlorine generator cells require additional cleaning, including being soaked in a muriatic acid solution. Follow manufacturer recommendations to determine your best option.

If you use a muriatic acid solution, always use proper personal protection equipment and follow label directions completely to help ensure your safety.

In-store assistance

If the salt cell is still not producing chlorine at an optimum level, we recommend that you bring it into your nearest Leslie's store for a free, expert inspection.

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Leslie’s makes every effort to provide accurate recommendations based upon current ANSI/APSP/ICC-5 2011 (R2022) standards, but codes and regulations change, and Leslie’s assumes no liability for any omissions or errors in this article or the outcome of any project. You must always exercise reasonable caution, carefully read the label on all products, follow all product directions, follow any current codes and regulations that may apply, and consult with a licensed professional if in doubt about any procedures. Leslie’s assumes no legal responsibility for your reliance or interpretation of the data contained herein, and makes no representations or warranties of any kind concerning the quality, safety, or suitability of the information, whether express or implied, including, without limitation, any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.