This summer a chlorine shortage threatens to put a damper on backyard pool plans. Chlorine is the chemical that’s commonly used to kill bacteria in swimming pools. So while millions of Americans are gearing up for fun in the sun, this shortage could cause us to rethink how we sanitize our pools. Let’s look at what is causing the shortage and alternative ways you can keep your pool clean this summer.
Why Is There a Chlorine Shortage?
A big part of the shortage can be attributed to supply issues from one of the primary chlorine tablet manufacturers, BioLab. Last year, the manufacturer, based in Westlake, La., had a major chemical fire caused by Hurricane Laura. It took three days to extinguish, but not before it took its toll on the environment and the chlorine supply.
The other cause of the shortage was the higher-than-normal demand for chlorine last year. When millions of Americans went into lockdown last summer, people started using their home aquatic centers instead of venturing out to water parks or public pools. Sales of chlorine unexpectedly increased so much that there’s not as much to go around this year.
“I’m not going to lie, a lot of people in the industry are concerned,” said Rudy Stankowitz, pool water chemistry expert and author. “Everybody wants to make sure they have enough chlorine tablets to take care of their tablet-using customers. None of us know how long we will be able to meet that demand.”
How the Chlorine Shortage Affects You
The impact of the shortage will be felt at the register this year. The shortage immediately heightened the price of chlorine tablets by over 40 percent, Stankowitz said. Some places may even put limits on the number of chlorine tablets you can purchase at a time. If you’re a pool owner on a budget, you may want to consider non-chlorine options to sanitize your pool or spa.
Other Ways to Keep Your Pool Clean This Summer
If you don’t want to pay the premium for chlorine tablets this year, there are other options for sanitizing your pool or hot tub. Stankwotz recommends liquid chlorine bleach for pools, calcium hypochlorite, sodium dichloroisocyanurate and lithium hypochlorite as alternatives to chlorine tablets. But, he warns people that switching to a new disinfectant type will require a new feeder. Not doing so is almost guaranteed to result in a violent reaction. Consult with a licensed and insured professional to determine which system is best for your pool.
Some other pool-cleaning alternatives include:
In the same chemical family as chlorine, bromine is a common alternative to chlorine in pool sanitation. You can find them as tablets, granules and complete systems. All of them do the job of killing bacteria and keeping your pool clean, according to the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals. A bromine feeder can cost about $150-$400, and tablets cost about $1,000 per year, depending on where you live. Prices may be higher considering the chlorine shortage.
Converting your pool from chlorine to saltwater can have multiple benefits, according to Pool Research. Saltwater is softer than chlorine, which is great for skin, hair and nails. Saltwater pools also don’t require as much maintenance as chlorine pools because the salt raises free chlorine in the pool. You’ll just need to top off the water with more salt when the levels get low. But, bags of salt are generally cheaper and safer to handle than chlorine tablets, making it a good long-term money-saving option. The upfront cost for a saltwater system is about $750-$2,500, depending on where you live.
Ultraviolet (UV-C) Water Treatment System
A UV-C system won’t eliminate the need for chemicals, but it will significantly cut down on the amount of chlorine or bromine tablets your pool needs. The system uses ultraviolet light to kill off bacteria like cryptosporidium and giardia that chlorine or bromine may not. They can even improve air quality, according to Pool and Spa News. It’s a greener option than chlorine alone, and a system can cost about $350-$2,000, depending on where you live.
Similar to the UV-C system, an ozone generator system uses corona discharge or ultraviolet light to disinfect a pool. Again, it’s not a total replacement for chlorine tablets, but it’ll cut down on the amount of chemicals you’ll need. The cost can range from $1,000-$3,000, depending on where you live.
Copper or Silver Ionization System
A copper or silver ionization system sounds fancy, but they’ve been used to keep water clean for centuries, according to the APSP. The metals produce ions that kill off bacteria like algae through oxidation, significantly reducing the need for chemicals. You’ll still need them, but you won’t need nearly as much. The cost can range from $700 to $1,500, depending on where you live.
Advanced Oxidation Systems
Another fancy term, advanced oxidation systems use the power of the sun or ultraviolet light to disinfect pools. A solution is released into the pool that reacts with sunlight to produce free radicals that kill the bacteria. Unlike saltwater, this solution doesn’t produce its own chlorine, which can make it a slightly healthier option, too. An oxidation system for a home pool can cost $700-$1,900, depending on where you live.
“If there are some hiccups in logistics when switching to a new chlorine type or alternative method, try to be mindful that nearly 10 million other people are looking at these options as well,” Stankowitz said. “If you are considering adding a new pool, don’t let the shortage be a deterrent. The builder will install one of these alternative systems from the start, and you’ll have a better pool because of it.”
Bromine. Association of Pool and Spa Professionals, 2017.
Couto, Mariana. Bernard, Alfred et al. Health effects of exposure to chlorination by-products in swimming pools: Position Paper. Authorea, 2021. doi:10.22541/au.161411355.53060401/v1
Adeyemo, Folasade Esther et al. Efficiency of chlorine and UV in the inactivation of Cryptosporidium and Giardia in wastewater. PloS one, vol. 14, no. 5, 2019. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0216040
ION Power. APSA Recreational Water Quality Committee, 2017.
AOP Explained: How New Sanitizer Technology Can Create A Safer Pool. Aquatics International, 2021.