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The Three Types of Pool Chlorinators

From cleaning dirty skimmer baskets, to manually testing water chemistry, many aspects of pool maintenance require you to get your hands dirty — or at least very wet. Thankfully, there are ways to reduce the amount of hands-on work needed to keep your pool clean and healthy. Using a pool chlorinator is one of the top ways to add convenience to your pool care routine.

What Are Pool Chlorinators?

Pool chlorinators are handy pieces of equipment that consistently add chlorine to your pool, with little effort on your end. There are three types of chlorinators for above and inground pools: automatic, salt, and floating. Automatic and floating chlorinators use slow-dissolving trichlor tablets to sanitize your pool, while salt chlorinators are a bit fancier and transform salt into chlorine.

trichlor chlorine tablets

Adding a chlorinator to your pool care routine is not required, but it is certainly beneficial! Manually regulating your pool's chlorine content can be a frustrating, time-consuming task. A clean, healthy pool's Free Available Chlorine level should be between 2.0–4.0 ppm (parts per million) at all times. Not having enough chlorine opens the door for algae growth and unhealthy water, while too much chlorine will irritate your skin and damage your pool and equipment. So, why not take the guesswork out of it? Let’s take a deeper look at the three kinds of pool chlorinators, and why they're worth the investment.

Automatic Chlorinators

Automatic pool chlorinators have large canisters that store up to 9 pounds of 3" chlorine tablets, and automatically release a set amount of chlorine into your pool water. Their "set it and forget it" functionality makes them a popular choice for many pool owners. Simply calculate your pool's volume, fill the canister with tablets, and then set the dial to your desired chlorine level. Test your pool water after installing your automatic chlorinator to ensure your pool receives the proper amount of chlorine.

Hayward in-line pool chlorinator
In-Line Chlorinator

There are two kinds of automatic chlorinators, in-line and off-line. Unlike chlorine floaters that sit in your pool, both in-line and off-line chlorinators attach to the return line of your pool's plumbing system, which is the line that sends water back into the pool after it runs through the pump and filter. Chlorinating the water after it passes through the pump and filter protects the equipment against chlorine corrosion.

In-line Automatic Chlorinators

The main difference between in-line and off-line chlorinators is how they connect to your pool’s plumbing system. In-line chlorinators are permanently glued into the PVC return pipe, located at the end of your pool's plumbing system. After the pool water cycles through the pump and filter, it flows through the chlorinating canister, and then back out into the pool. Before purchasing an in-line chlorinator, verify your pool's return line has enough length to accommodate it. If the return line is too short, installing an off-line chlorinator is your best option.

Off-line Jacuzzi pool chlorinator
Off-Line Chlorinator

Off-line Automatic Chlorinators

Instead of being fixed directly into the return line pipe, off-line chlorinators sit separate from the plumbing system and connect to the water lines via two hoses. The first hose connects to the line before the pool filter, and sends water into the chlorinator. The second hose connects to the return pipe after the filter, and flows the freshly chlorinated water back into the pool. You'll need to secure off-line chlorinators to your equipment pad to prevent them from falling or getting damaged.

Salt Chlorinators

Hayward AquaRite Salt Chlorinator

A salt system may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a chlorinator, because you don't need to add chlorine into them. Wait, what? That's right! Salt systems don't use chlorine tablets like the other chlorinators. Instead, they make their own chlorine through a process called electrolysis. When the salty pool water passes through the chlorine generator cell, a low voltage electrical charge zaps the salt particles and transforms them into hypochlorous acid — AKA chlorine!

Salt systems have been in use for over 30 years, and are more full-featured and maintenance-free than ever. They are the most automatic type of chlorinator, and run for months without intervention. Another added bonus is that pool salt does not dissipate or evaporate like chlorine. It only needs to be replenished when lost to filter backwashing, splashing, or pool draining.

Perhaps the only downside to investing in a salt chlorinating system is the costly price tag. Most systems start at $1,000 or more, and require a full pool water conversion if you currently have a traditional chlorine pool. You'll save some money on chlorine tablets, but the salt cell is costly, and will need to be replaced every 3–7 years.

Floating Chlorinators

Jacuzzi Easytell chlorine floater

Floating chlorine dispensers have been a popular pool chlorination method for years thanks to their simplistic nature. They hold multiple chlorine or bromine tablets at a time, and disperse the sanitizer into the water as they float around the pool or spa.

Floating chlorine feeders have many advantages, such as their low cost and nonexistent maintenance requirements. Chlorine floaters usually range in price from $10–$45 and are surprisingly durable, often lasting for years. Some models, like the Jacuzzi Easytell, have a pop-up top that signifies when the floater needs to be refilled. Other styles feature fun characters or colorful solar-powered LED lights for nighttime enjoyment.

Chlorine floaters also have a few disadvantages, namely their spill and staining risk. If the floater tips or breaks, the chlorine tablets will fall out of the floater and cause a rapid spike in your pool's chlorine level. This high concentration of chlorine may be harmful to swimmers and can cause pool surface staining. Chlorine floaters are also notorious for getting stuck under ladders, on steps, and even in skimmers. If stuck, they will continuously disperse chlorine into one location, and may discolor surfaces in that area.

Additionally, we recommend taking the chlorine floater out of your pool when people are swimming. It is not safe for swimmers, especially curious children, to come in close contact with the chlorine tablets within the floater.

Using a pool chlorinator is a great way to add convenience and practicality to your pool care routine. Say goodbye to the tedious chore of constantly adding chlorine to your pool water. Stop by your local Leslie's for more information on chlorine dispensers and pool chlorinators, or for help installing a new chlorinating system.

Recommended Products

Chlorine Feeder

Floating Feeders

In-Line Chemical Feeders

In-Line Feeders

Off-Line Chemical Feeders

Off-Line Feeders

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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.