Pool chemicals are an important part of maintaining your pool water. These chemicals help prevent algal blooms, contamination from other germs, bacteria, or potentially harmful substances and help make filtration more effective.
However, handling pool chemicals does come with some risk, as can getting into your pool too quickly after a treatment.
Pool owners need to understand what chemicals are in their pool, why they are important, and the side effects and risks that come from unsafe exposure. Here’s a quick guide to give you the information you need.
Types Of Pool Chemicals
There are a lot of different chemicals in the average pool. Even saltwater pools and other pool types that are designed to help reduce the burden of certain chemicals required to maintain pool health still use at least some chemicals in the process.
If you have a pool or are considering getting a pool, you need to know about these chemicals.
- Chlorine: Chlorine is almost certainly the most common chemical additive in pool water, and also the best-known pool chemical. The chlorine in pool water helps eliminate bacteria and other dangerous contaminants, keeping pool water sanitary.
- Shock: Typically done with a slightly different formulation of chlorine, a shock helps unbind bound chlorine in the pool by inducing hyperchlorination. This process kills all of the bacteria that might have survived your previous level of chlorine and is a necessary step in pool maintenance usually needed once every couple of weeks.
- Bromine: more common in hot tubs than pools, Bromine is a chlorine alternative that is more suitable for warm-water environments. If you have a heated pool, you may use bromine instead of chlorine, depending on the system you have.
- Algaecide: Algaecides are often used to combat algal blooms, and may sometimes be used as a preventative. Chlorine normally does this job well enough, but there are exceptions, and specialized algaecides are more effective if you’re dealing with algae-promoting conditions in your cool.
- Cyanuric Acid: A by-product of chlorination, when chlorine binds with certain contaminants it can form cyanuric acid. Cyanuric acid is also the chemical responsible for the strong chlorine smell in some pools and is the reason that pool water may sting in your eyes if you open them without goggles.
- Clarifier: Clarifiers are used as a filtration aid, and adds polymers to your pool that wrap around small particulates in the water. That effectively increases the size of those small particles so that your pool filter has an easier time eliminating the contamination from the water.
There are other chemicals that might be used, depending on the type of pool you have, where you live, and what kind of pool filtration and sanitization system you have. However, these are the main pool chemicals that are most common in home pools today, and also the ones that tend to cause the most side effects and exposure reactions from pool maintenance.
How Pool Chemicals Work?
Pool chemicals do a variety of different things depending on which chemical you’re talking about. They key goal that all pool chemicals work together to achieve is clean, sanitary, and safe pool water.
If you’ve ever seen a stagnant pond or a lake suffering from an algal bloom, you’ve probably noticed that standing water is often cloudy, difficult to see through, and might even have a distinct unpleasant odor.
There are a lot of reasons that stagnant water develops these traits, but none of them are good for a recreational pool.
So, your pool chemicals work together, along with a filter, to eliminate contamination, prevent algal blooms, and keep the water clean and clear.
The chemicals accomplish those goals in a variety of ways. Chlorine creates an inhospitable environment for bacteria and germs and binds with some other contaminants, neutralizing them and keeping the water safer. Shock helps ensure that you have enough free chlorine available in the pool to react with contaminants and keep them under a safe level. Algaecide eliminates algae cells in your pool, which can prevent your pool developing a toxic bloom.
However, these chemicals are volatile. They have to be to work properly. But, that also means that you and your family, and even pets or neighborhood animals, can be negatively affected by the chemicals you use in your pool if you aren’t careful with them.
Adding too much or too little of any chemical can cause problems. Accidentally spilling a chemical may call for specialized personal protective equipment (PPE) while you’re cleaning it up.
Next, let’s talk about some of the side effects from pool chemicals to help you detect the signs of overexposure sooner.
Potential Side Effects From Pool Chemicals
The majority of risk when it comes to pool chemicals comes from chlorine. Though that doesn’t mean that the other chemicals are inherently safer, instead, one of the main reasons for this is that chlorine is one of the most common chemicals, and also the one that pool owners use most often.
Common side effects from overexposure to pool chemicals include:
- Eye stinging
- Blurred vision
- Burning in the nose, throat, eyes, chest, and sinuses
- Chest tightness
- Productive coughing (especially pinkish-tinged fluid, may be delayed a few hours after exposure)
- Excessive coughing
- Excessive tear production (watery eyes)
- Rapid shallow breathing
- Skin redness, painful blisters
If you suspect that you are having a chlorine reaction, or that someone else is in medical distress because of pool chemicals, it’s important to get medical attention as soon as possible. If your symptoms are severe, or someone appears to be struggling to breathe, call 911 and make sure you tell the operator that chlorine or other pool chemicals may be involved.
This is important not only because it helps you get medical attention faster, but because it will also tell the EMTs, and other medical professionals, what they are dealing with and what the most appropriate treatment is likely to be.
Protecting Yourself From Pool Chemical Side Effects
There are a few things you can do to protect yourself from side effects while handling or storing pool chemicals. Pool chemical safety is critical for anyone with a pool, and it’s up to you or your pool maintenance service to monitor and use your pool chemicals appropriately.
First, never store pool chemicals directly in your home, or in direct sunlight. A shed or small storage area that does not share ventilation with your home is the best location. Ideally, this should be an area that is relatively temperature stable. This is important in case of leaks since the vapors from these chemicals can be irritating and even dangerous in high concentrations.
You should also wear disposable gloves anytime you’re handling pool chemicals, or more durable gloves designed to work as PPE. Reusable rubber dishwashing gloves are a good alternative.
Never work with pool chemicals in a poorly ventilated area. If you aren’t outside, there should at least be good air exchange with the outside. Indoor pools should be in an area with windows that can be opened and may require their own ventilation system.
Other forms of PPE, including a hydrophobic outer garment and a respirator and goggles can provide additional layers of defense. This equipment is more important for people who are regularly exposed to pool chemicals, like a pool maintenance workers, and for people who have had a previous exposure reaction since they may be more sensitive to future exposures.
It’s also important to always follow the instructions for proper use of each chemical and to make sure you aren’t accidentally overconcentrating the chemicals in your pool water.
Testing kits can help you monitor your exact concentrations, even when your pool is slightly over- or under-filled. Never add more of a chemical than recommended for your pool. More is not better or safer. Never add less of a chemical than recommended. Under a certain concentration, your pool chemicals will be unable to properly sanitize your pool.
Lastly, it’s important to prevent anyone from handling pool chemicals who isn’t informed of the risks and trained in the use of these chemicals. Homeowners should make everyone aware of the risks and rules for the chemicals, and children and animals should never be allowed near pool chemicals in use or in storage. It’s a good idea to lock your pool chemical storage area.
When used carefully and according to standard instructions for pool use, pool chemicals are safe and necessary. They help protect you and anyone else in your pool for illness, infection, and other health problems.
However, that doesn’t mean that the chemicals themselves are safe, especially in high concentrations. It’s important to be aware of the risk, careful when handling chemicals, and to never perform pool maintenance if you are impaired or otherwise unable to handle chemicals safely.
Fortunately, chemical exposure is rare when the chemicals are handled properly, and a lot of the most important precautions are simple and easy to follow.
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