Saturday, September 21, 2013

Can I Use Clorox Bleach in my Pool?

Regular Unscented Bleach
I started doing pool service when I was 16 years old back in 1988. I took a break from the industry and did some Real Estate Investing and ran a small business for awhile. But I always loved working outdoors and so I decided to do pool service again. So I have about 15 years of practical experience in the field. My specialty has always been water chemistry as I was formally trained by an experts in the field. So I am well versed in most of the chemicals that are on the market today and I have used and tested a lot of different products. So when you hear those in the industry discourage and even slander anyone who uses bleach in their pool, you may think that it is not a product that you should use. In fact as you read this article you will find that using bleach and only bleach is a safe and smart choice. There is a lot of ignorance surrounding household bleach and the use of bleach in a swimming pool. Here is a video I made that goes in more detail on using Clorox bleach in your swimming pool:


Typical Pool Chemicals
If you walk into your local pool store you will get a whiff of the beautiful smell of pool chemicals. I am not sure how the employees can work in these stores without wearing a mask. Technically most of the chemicals on the shelves are meant to be stored outside and not in a 1,000 sq ft enclosed display area. I park my service truck outside because the chemical smell is so bad, plus everything in my garage would rust as a lot of the chemicals are strong oxidizers. But I digress here. My main point is that you will see a lot of chemicals. If you stand back and think about it for a minute and look at things logically - as Spock would say, "It doesn't seem logical Captain that a 15,000 gallon body of water circulating and filtering would require such massive amounts of chemicals. Logic dictates that this is some mass Romulan conspiracy."  Well maybe not exactly but you get the point. Do you really need all those chemicals? The answer is NO in most cases. There may be specific cases where you will need a Phosephate remover or a Metal Sequestering Agent but for 95% of pools you don't need anything but Chlorine, Acid and pH Down (occasionally you will need Alkalinity Up & an Algeacide).


So let me touch on why there are so many different types of sanitizers on the market and if they are actually necessary. You need to add a sanitizer to your pool in order to kill bacteria and disease causing organisms. The most popular type of sanitizer is chlorine.

 Strictly speaking to the homeowner who does their own pool you will only need to use bleach or liquid chlorine. All the other chemicals where at one time created for the pool service professional but now are marketed also to the homeowners. The advent of Conditioner in 1956  revolutionized the swimming pool industry. Before that time you had to add liquid chlorine once or twice a day as in the peak of Summer as the Sun would destroy 90% of it within two hours. Now that most pools use conditioner to help protect the chlorine from the Sun's UV rays, maintaining a good chlorine level is much easier.

For the pool service industry it allowed us to go from daily service to weekly service thus increasing the amount of pools one company could service tenfold. So since we no longer needed to go everyday to a pool chemicals where created to help maintain a good chlorine level all week long. The two most popular and widely used are now Trichlor 3" Tablets and Dichlor. Both of these are about 50% Stabilizer (conditioner/cyunaric acid)  and the rest a chlorine product.  Cal-Hypo and Lithium Hypochlorite are marketed mainly as a pool shock product. I use a combination of Liquid Chlorine, Dichlor, Trichlor Tablets and Cal-Hypo on my pool route for various reasons, chiefly because it is convenient for me since I only go to each pool once a week.

For the homeowner who is at his/her house all week you don't need all of these chemicals. With a Conditioner level of 30 ppm-50 ppm using bleach or liquid chlorine is all you need. I know this sounds like I am talking out of both sides of my mouth but let me explain further.

Here is a video on testing your Conditioner Level:


Sodium Hypochlorite Formula
The chemical in bleach is the same chemical found in liquid chlorine sold by you local pool store or hardware store. Bleach is just weaker by volume than liquid chlorine. Typically liquid chlorine is 10-12% Sodium Hypochlorite where bleach is about 5-6%  Sodium Hypochlorite. Adding Sodium Hypochlorite to the pool water makes HOCI which is the disease and organism destroying element in chlorine. HOCI is the disease killing chemical that is EPA approved and the one that has proven to be the most effective. It kills everything on contact and will completely sanitize your pool if added and circulated though your filter within hours. So in fact bleach is the same as liquid chlorine only weaker. So if you go into a pool store and the sales clerk tells you that using bleach will stain your plaster yellow over time or cause ammonia to form in your water and make it cloudy just shake your head and walk out. Ignorance is bliss as they say. So to clarify:  bleach is liquid chlorine and both produce HOCI.


So those who say that you can't use bleach only with the proper conditioner level will have a hard time arguing their case against the growing use of salt water systems. Basically what a salt system does is produce the equivalent of one gallon of 10% liquid chlorine each day and in the process creates HOCI which kills all the bacteria and disease causing organisms in the water. It is like adding bleach to your pool each day without you having to actually add anything as the salt system generates chlorine. If you have a salt water pool you will not need Trichlor tablets, Dichlor, Cal-Hypo or Lithium Hypochlorite. The salt generating systems are killing the chemical companies and I really like them because you won't need to handle any chemicals on a weekly basis. So I will argue that if you think you can't keep a pool sparkling blue with bleach, then the salt generating systems are also not effective. This of course is far from the truth.

To learn how a Salt Water System works watch this video:


A boat load of Trichlor Tablets...
Just about everything we use in the pool industry is a carcinogen or causes lung disease with long term improper exposure. From the test kits to the D.E. filter element to Trichlor Tablets - all are harmful with long term exposure. I go back to the beginning of this article where I mention the chemical smell in any pool store you enter. That smell should tell you something as it emanates from sealed containers. I take precautions like always wearing a nitrate laced glove whenever I touch any chemical product (including my test kit). I also wear a mask when applying chemicals to the pool. Most of the danger is not disclosed since it is classified as an industrial hazard.  Meaning long term exposure only effects those in the pool industry who handle the chemicals on a daily basis. Still, a carcinogen is a carcinogen.   You will find a warning about lung disease on the back of the bag of Dichotomous Earth (D.E.) in super small print and you will see a warning on the bag of Cal-Hypo warning you not to breathe the fumes as it causes nose and lung irritation. Bottom line, pool chemicals are dangerous.

Bleach on the other hand is odorless and perfectly safe to pour in your swimming pool. I wear gloves anyway when I add liquid chlorine since I am overly cautious anyway. Bleach is the safest sanitizer for the homeowner and if you don't want to handle dangerous chemicals in your backyard just use bleach or invest in a salt water system.


I now realize that the industry that I am in is very hazardous to my health. I was careless in my younger years and didn't wear gloves or really take things seriously. It wasn't until my hands started to develop chemical sores and burns that I realized that everything I was handling was killing me. I also started to develop chemically induced allergy symptoms. So I am now overly cautious and starting next Summer I will only be working part-time out in the field. I had a plan and it was spawned due to the chemical hazards that I experienced.

I have been actively working the Dave Ramsey Financial Plan over the last seven years with my wife and will be completely debt free with three paid for houses. I didn't take vacations, buy a new car or have much of a life in the process. But the end result is that since I have been working like a madman I can semi-retire next year and live off of our investments. So no worries here for me. But I am way off subject now. So to restate the main point of this article:

You can and should use bleach if you are a homeowner who is maintaining their own swimming pool. I hope that clarifies things for you. And if you want to watch my "Getting Out Of Debt Rant" here is that video: