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Chlorine Alternatives

CHLORINE HAS BEEN THE MAINSTAY OF POOL CARE for decades. It’s easy to see why – it has many things going for it. It’s inexpensive, available, safe, and easily applied by anyone, even a novice. Chlorine is a powerful sanitizer and works by eliminating contaminants while at the same time expending itself. Chlorine, however, has some downsides – it can be an irritant in high dosages, causing red eyes and sore throats, and it also fades much faster when the weather gets hotter. Chlorine’s most effective temperature range is also less than 75 degrees, making it not a very good choice for use in spas or hot tubs. There are some chemical alternatives to chlorine, however.

Bromine is one of those chemical alternatives. Bromine works similarly to chlorine as a sanitizer, but has several distinct advantages, the first of which is that it is far more stable in warm water, which makes it ideal for use in spas and hot tubs. Bromine is also odor free compared to chlorine, and doesn’t cause red eyes or irritation. Bromine also attaches to contaminants differently than chlorine: Bromine attaches to contaminants but doesn’t get used up in the process, meaning that the next time the pool is shocked, the contaminants are burned off leaving good bromine behind for use in more sanitizing. Contrast this with chlorine, which attaches to the contaminants and changes form to chloramines, which are “used up” chlorine that is ineffective as a sanitizer. Bromine lingers while chlorine disappears, in short. Bromine has disadvantages, however, chief of which is cost. Since bromine needs to be dissolved more thoroughly than chlorine, it usually gets applied to the pool with an automatic feeder system, and the bulk bromine itself costs more per pound than the equivalent chlorine.

Ozonators are another chemical alternative to chlorine, although extremely expensive. An ozonator is nothing more than a machine that is mounted inline to the pool’s filtration system that injects ozone gas into the pool, and this gas reacts with bacteria, impurities, and organisms in the water to sanitize it. Some brands of ozonators even run the return water through an ultraviolet light tube to kill the organisms within. Ozonators provide crystal clear water but clearly the initial equipment costs are much, much higher than with standard chemicals systems – but that’s what you get when you create pool water that’s drinking quality!

PHMB- stands for polyhexamethylene biguanide, a word you never want to say five times fast. The long and the short of this chemical is that it is one of the only chemical alternatives to completely dispense with chlorine. PHMB is a bacteria killer which works in a novel way – it actually penetrates the bacteria’s cell walls, bursting them open and covering them in a gel solution. This mess then floats to the bottom of the pool, where it’s later sucked up by the vacuum system. PHMB isn’t perfect however, and requires an aggressive regimen of pool filter cleaning and the use of a separate algaecide to kill off algae. PHMB also doesn’t play nice with chlorine, so if you’re thinking of going this route, you must drain your pool first. It’s also incredibly expensive compared to chlorine, but requires less of a correct balance to be effective.

Salt Water Pools- A completely different method of sanitization, once the initial expense of the installation is accounted for, this method does have several advantages over traditional chlorine based pools. One of them is the total absence of chloramines, which are the irritants the affect mucous membranes and produce the characteristic chlorine odor. Many people think the salt water in the pool is salty like an ocean, but it’s only about a tenth as salty as that. Although the initial setup is expensive, it pays for itself after 2-3 years since there are very few chemicals to purchase by comparison. The pool works by converting ordinary salt into chlorine through ionization.

Keep in mind when thinking of chemical alternatives to chlorine that most of these methods simply reduce the amount of chlorine you need to use, not eliminate it completely. Enzyme based sanitizers fall into this category as well, and you really need to decide whether you need to be rid of chlorine because of a physical reason like an irritation or allergy problem, since even reducing your chlorine usage by 90% will save you very little money because chlorine is incredibly inexpensive. There are alternatives, however, for those wanting to kiss chlorine goodbye for good, even if they are a little bit more expensive.


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