Chlorine alternatives for a pool?
May 21, 2007 7:47 PM   Subscribe

I am moving into a house that has a (currently unmaintained) pool. I would like to use it, but I don't want to use chlorine or bleach to keep the pool clean. What are my options?
posted by Jairus to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ozone - it is environmentally friendly, low poison, yet not cheap to install.
posted by caddis at 8:01 PM on May 21, 2007

You can have a salt water pool. That's what my parents have. The salt keeps the pool clean sans chlorine.
posted by tastybrains at 8:12 PM on May 21, 2007

Actually, salt is made up of sodium and chlorine. When it's dissolved, I understand that the solution essentially contains a bunch of sodium atoms and a bunch of chlorine atoms (is my understanding). It may well be better than just very strong chlorine, though. If the solution dries up, then it will leave NaCl crystals -- salt again.
posted by amtho at 8:26 PM on May 21, 2007

You can get a pool robot which will reduce the amount of chlorine/salt you need to use to keep the walls scum free.
posted by anaelith at 8:43 PM on May 21, 2007

You can't just start using salt in a pool that has equipment made for chlorine, you need to change all the equipment out to make it a salt-water pool. That will not be cheap.
posted by mattholomew at 8:45 PM on May 21, 2007

Sorry, I don't mean to imply that a salt water pool is necessarily a bad idea (I hadn't heard of it before; I think it's very interesting and would consider it myself if I had a pool), just that a salt water pool isn't totally "chlorine free".
posted by amtho at 8:45 PM on May 21, 2007

My father has been extremely happy with his saltwater pool. I think he's most into the fact that if you get it into your mouth, it tastes like you're swimming in a pool of tears - however, he's been writing about the pool industry for as long as I can remember, so if he thinks a saltwater pool is the best sort (and went to the trouble to switch from chlorine to salt) I'd recommend it to anyone with total confidence.
posted by crinklebat at 8:45 PM on May 21, 2007

My parents have had a pool for several years now, and it has always been chlorine free.

They used to use products from Baquacil:

But i think that now they are using Bioguard softswim products.

I will let you know that some people have trouble with these products, so you might want to do what my parents do and take a water sample into the pool & spa store every couple weeks. I think their place tests the water free and then makes recommendations on what chemicals to add, how much, and when.

As for the pool pump and filter, i think it's just the standard pump and sand-filled filter that you would use for chlorine.
If that's what you have, be sure to get some fresh *pool filter* sand (as in NOT play sand).

And you might be better off draining part or all of the pool and refilling it than trying to treat water that already has lots of dissolved chemicals, pollutants and such in it (the few extra gallons of chemicals you would have to use might cost more than several thousand gallons of water - and i think you'd truly be better off in the long run).
posted by itheearl at 9:06 PM on May 21, 2007

The latest saltwater equipment self-cleans and monitors acid levels as well. The latest combo of chemicals includes minerals to give better treatment for your skin. The saltwater pools are also easier on the eyes. BUT! The salt/chlorine converter must be made for the minerals. These converters aren't cheap, but the self-cleanning type ought to last (the non-self-cleanning are easiliy damaged while you clean the accumulated deposits from the electrodes).

I don't have the latest. I rent, so I wasn't about to spend for a new converter. Instead, I switched to the floating time-release chlorine (and other useful chemicals) dispenser. Most stable this pool has ever been.

Here in South Africa, and probably elsewhere, pool stores will test your water for you, and sell you the chemicals you need to add. They know what you need according to your pool type (fiberglass? Chip-tile? Concrete? The chemicals you need vary accordingly). Here, they recommend their testing once monthly.
posted by Goofyy at 10:26 PM on May 21, 2007

nthing the salt pool.

Back in my youth my dad converted our family pool from tablet-based chlorine to chlorine derived from salt (aka a salt water pool).

Yup it tastes like contact lens fluid/tears/eyedrops - nothing like the saltiness of sea water. I distinctly remember being able to swim in the pool all day with my eyes open under water with no ill effects.

Basically you stick an electrical device (some sort of anode thing) in-line with the pump, and it has a dial on it which dictates how hard it works to strip the sodium chloride apart into sodium gas and dissolved chlorine.

You need to add a bag of salt every couple of years, and the normal pool cleaning regimen still applies (vacuuming, checking and balancing acidity, etc).
posted by pivotal at 11:10 PM on May 21, 2007

You could look into copper-silver disinfection. You can't get away without chlorine with this, but you can cut way, way back on it. Silver ion is a natural disinfectant at extremely low concentrations.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:18 AM on May 22, 2007

Do you have children? If you do, or if kids will regularly swim in your pool, I would strongly suggest using chlorine-based disinfection, whether it be direct or salt-based. There are some (common) bacteria that can be introduced into pools through fecal contamination that will not be effectively killed by non-chlorine systems. If you get one kid in the pool that's been having diarrhea (sorry to get graphic) and not wiping properly, you're putting every swimmer at risk that swims in the pool. Unfortunately, most kids that come over to play don't disclose these things.

I don't know how bad the water is right now, but it's certainly possible to clean and disinfect most standing pool water. You'll need algeacide, and perhaps alkalinity and pH balancers to get your water swimable. Like everyone is saying, find a good water lab (many pool stores have these on site) to test your water and tell you what you'll need.

If you're new to pool ownership, you might want to consider hiring a professional to "open" your pool. This might be smart if the equipment needs to be serviced, and at this point, you probably don't know how the equipment works. Pay close attention to what they're doing, take notes, and then you can do it yourself next time.
posted by Flakypastry at 5:41 AM on May 22, 2007

We used to use bromine for our hot tub.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 6:23 AM on May 22, 2007

Ok so my understanding of how a salt water pool works is this. Run salty water between anode and cathode plates with large voltage difference between them, Salt (NaCl) is dissociated (ripped apart) into positive sodium ions (Na+) and negative chlorine ions (Cl-) leaving the free chlorine ions to do all of the disinfecting you need. I'm not sure what happens to the Sodium ions, I assume the ions slowly recombine in the pool. So the awesome thing about these things is that you don't have to be putting free Cl- into the pool while you're in it. Like someone said above there's a dial (I'm sure the can be programmed to a schedule) where you just turn up the voltage between the anode and cathode and thus put more chlorine into the water. So you can leave this thing turned up all night and "shock" the pool with chlorine then turn it off in the morning and the all of the CL- has recombine into NaCl which, I can attest, feels just lovely on the eyes. The other great great thing is that you never have to handle any volatile chlorine salts, only table salt, yes a chlorine salt, but not a dangerous one.
My sister’s in-laws have one and yea it's awesome, you can swim around all day under water with your eyes open and they feel fine at the end of the day.
So I guess this doesn't protect against same day infections, (poopy babies) but personally, I think there are more important areas to worry about pathogens spreading, like door knobs.
posted by sauris at 7:08 AM on May 22, 2007

There are some (common) bacteria that can be introduced into pools through fecal contamination that will not be effectively killed by non-chlorine systems.

Ozone is even more efficient against these bacteria than chlorine.
posted by caddis at 7:56 AM on May 22, 2007

Background: I have been around pool maintenance since I was a kid, my family swears I have "pool-fu", I recently took a pool from clean-but-unmaintained to ready-for-swimming in less than a week. YMMV, void where prohibited

The phrase "chlorine or bleach" bothers me. Although I am sure you could disinfect a pool using Clorox, I do not recommend it any more than I would recommend putting pool chlorine into your washing machine. Would you paint your car with exterior latex housepaint? The additives matter. I am also curious why you want to avoid chlorine. If it is an allergy issue, I am terribly sorry your solution will be expensive and involve expensive contractors. Otherwise, please give properly done chlorine a chance

The reason that chlorine is the most popular pool disinfecting chemical is that it is effective and cheap relative to other methods. The question "what should I use" entirely depends on "what equipment is in place", and more than 9 times out of 10, unless you have a fancy commercial setup, that is chlorine. Sure, if you google for "pool disinfecting" you will find ionizers and hydrogen peroxide setups and diotomacious earth filtration and bromides and who knows what all else. You'll find some people trying to scare you with chlorine resistant bugs, but worrying about them is sort of like worrying about catching Ebola.

Do yourself a favor and find the local pool supply. In these parts, the big player is Leslie's Pools. They will gladly test your pool water for free, and even give you a nice plastic bottle in which to put your sample. Of course this is hardly altruistic; they are hoping you will buy your supplies from them. In addition to testing for disinfectant levels and pH, they will test for dissolved metals and contaminants and a bunch of other stuff. For a fee, they will come out to your pool, tell you what you've got, and what you need to do to maintain it. Oh yeah, and as a pool newbie, you should spend the $10 on their how-to-maintain-a-pool book. It includes the maintenance of several disinfection systems, but I don't think salt water is mentioned at all. This book is well worth the money.

Some things you ought to buy from your local HomeDepot/Lowes sort of place are a standard test kit. It will have two little vials with two little color coded panels next to them; the yellow side is for chlorine (that's how common it is; often it will test for bromides too) and the red side is for pH. This is also where you should buy your muriatic acid -- this is how you keep pH from getting too high, more on that in a moment -- and whatever flavor chlorine your system uses. I personally like 3" tablets because they dissolve slowly in a floater or compatible chlorinator system. Floaters are cheap and adjustable, don't depend on your pump running, and you can take them out of the water while you are swimming. You will also want to buy some "shock", I like a product called "shock plus", depending on your setup, you might shock as often as every 2 weeks or as infrequently as 6 weeks. It does several things, including solving a problem where chlorine gets "bound" to other molecules. These "bound" molecules are what gives some pools that "ew, too much chlorine" smell, but the ironic thing is that as much as those pools smell, they are still not disinfected properly.

If you don't like chlorine, you are going to hate muriatic acid, but it is necessary. Pool pH should be maintained between 7.2 and 7.6. When it is too low, you add something called soda ash. You know how many times I've seen soda ash used in my life? ONCE! Soda ash is a cure for "oh crap I used too much acid." In truth, tap water almost everywhere in the United States has a higher pH than 7.6, so periodically you will add a bit of acid. It is very important to know how big your pool is before you go adding this stuff. Here is the formula. Acid should really be added in quart increments, but it always comes in gallon containers. Only add acid while the pump is running, preferably near one of the places water enters the pool, and preferably when nobody will be swimming for a couple of hours. Keeping the pH in line will greatly reduce the amount of other chemicals you need to add and the amount of maintenance you need to do in general. So sorry to say, if you hate chemicals this is the one you shouldn't skip.

Give chlorine a chance. It is cheap and it works well.
posted by ilsa at 8:21 AM on May 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

I've seen articles about natural pools that use plants to keep the water clean. I would love to have a pool like this.
posted by theora55 at 10:06 AM on May 22, 2007

Response by poster: I am also curious why you want to avoid chlorine. If it is an allergy issue, I am terribly sorry your solution will be expensive and involve expensive contractors. Otherwise, please give properly done chlorine a chance

I have dyed blue hair.
posted by Jairus at 1:10 AM on May 23, 2007

Ahh. I have dyed red hair myself. Although I have tried swim caps (they aren't watertight), this means washing hair *immediately* after getting out of the pool and recoloring more frequently (3-4 weeks instead of 6-7 weeks).

Still, if you want a non-chlorine solution, you ought to talk to local pool supply. They know the options and can estimate what it will cost to implement each one.
posted by ilsa at 9:49 AM on May 23, 2007

Response by poster: Still, if you want a non-chlorine solution, you ought to talk to local pool supply.

I'll do that. I just wanted a vague idea of what I'll be getting into, so I can do some research before I go in and know (somewhat) what I'm talking about before I ask someone to sell me something. :)

I'm renting, so I don't think that salt water would be a solution, unless I want to invest substantially.
posted by Jairus at 12:14 PM on May 23, 2007

If you are renting you probably should just stick with chlorine. Ozone and salt water systems are expensive and then you leave it behind. Baquacil is permanent (you can't go back to chlorine without draining the whole pool, which if it happens to have a liner is generally frowned upon I think and if it is an in-ground pool without a liner it represents a lot of water). I don't know if you are joking or not about the hair, but the level of chlorine you need in a home pool is far less than you may be used to in public pools. As long as you wash your hair after swimming, and probably even if you don't, it shouldn't have too much of a bleaching effect if any.
posted by caddis at 2:46 PM on May 25, 2007

Response by poster: I wasn't joking about the hair. Every time I go into a chlorinated pool, my hair turns green. That's the reason I want a non-chlorinated one.
posted by Jairus at 6:38 PM on May 25, 2007

Your own pool, with low chlorine, it probably won't affect your hari, at least that is my limited experience.
posted by caddis at 9:13 PM on May 25, 2007

hari = funny
posted by caddis at 9:13 PM on May 25, 2007

Response by poster: Har!

Private pools do affect my hair, though. Any chlorinated pool I've ever been in does.

...hence the post. :)
posted by Jairus at 10:10 PM on May 25, 2007

I think your next question should be "How can I keep my hair turning blue in the pool?" Since you're lucky (and amuse me) you get my advice for free!

- Swim cap.
- That VO5 stuff that completely coats your hair before you go in the pool.
- Immediate washing directly after using the pool.
- Finding a different dye that's more chlorine friendly (ask your stylist)?
posted by anaelith at 7:19 PM on May 26, 2007

Response by poster: anaelith, it might be possible to use VO5 or a cap or something, but a very large number of my friends (and more importantly, my roommates) also have coloured hair.

So, even if I'm willing to go through a big routine every time I want to hop in the pool, everyone else might not be.
posted by Jairus at 9:02 PM on May 26, 2007

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