As a new pool owner, one of the first and most important decisions that must be made is which method to use to keep your pool water clean. It’s easy to be intimidated by the myriad of choices out there, especially when you visit a pool store and feel like you need a chemistry degree just to walk through the door. Other pool owners will often tell you that they use one particular chemical, but they don’t explain why they chose that method or whether it works well. That’s not to mention the horror stories that many of us hear about pool chemicals causing green hair, bleached out swimsuits, and bloodshot eyes. In reality, the issue is not as confusing as it might seem.
Chlorine is by far the most widely used sanitizing chemical for swimming pools. It’s safe, inexpensive and effective. Chlorine must be added to the water regularly, because over time, chlorine is either consumed by killing microorganisms or broken down by sunlight. Generally, owners will purchase chlorine in tablet form and either place it in their skimmer or a floating dispenser.
The tablet gradually dissolves, giving the pool a constant dose of chlorine. The drawback of chlorine tablets is that they also contain stabilizer. This is an extra chemical that weakens the chlorine a little bit, but helps it to resist the breakdown that occurs when it’s exposed to sunlight. The problem is that the chlorine eventually is consumed or broken down, but the stabilizer isn’t. After many months of using tablets, the level of stabilizer in your water gets to excessive weakening all but the highest doses of chlorine. The pungent smell that many people associate with “too much chlorine” is actually due to excessive levels of stabilizer. The only way to lower stabilizer levels is to partially drain and replace the water.
A second, lesser known method is the use of conventional unscented household bleach. Bleach is less expensive than chlorine tablets, and it’s easier to obtain. Instead of making a special trip to the pool store for more chlorine tablets, you can just pick up a couple of jugs of bleach while you’re getting groceries. Bleach does not contain stabilizer, so it will not raise your stabilizer levels. Many owners use tablets for a few months, and then when their stabilizer levels are adequate, they switch to liquid bleach. The drawback of liquid bleach is that you must add it every day. This means that you stand the risk of ruining clothes if you have an accidental splash or spill. You also have to consider where you will store the bleach container. It needs to be in a cool place, out of the reach of children & pets.
One option that is becoming more & more popular is saltwater. Although people may say that they use saltwater to sanitize their pool, this really isn’t correct. In fact, saltwater pools still use chlorine to sanitize the water. The difference is that saltwater pools use a device called a saltwater generator or saltwater chlorinator to make the chlorine out of a small amount of dissolved salt in the water. This device operates by running the water through small metal plates that are electrically charged. The dissolved salt breaks apart into sodium and chloride (i.e. chlorine).
After a while, the sodium and chloride join back together as salt and the process starts over again. Usually, chlorine generators are set to run for a few hours each day. The longer they run, the more chlorine they make. The advantage of saltwater systems is that they give your pool a steady dose of chlorine each and every day. They don’t use very much electricity, and they make no noise. The amount of salt in the water is very small, and is nearly undetectable without testing equipment.
The only serious drawback of a saltwater system is that metal components of your pool will rust sooner and more severely than they would otherwise. Also, some generators develop a scale between the metal plates that must be cleaned periodically. This can be done by soaking the cell in a vinegar & water solution for 24-48 hours and then spraying through the cell with a water hose.
Another choice available to pool owners is a chemical known as Baquacil. The active ingredient in Baquacil is actually an antiseptic that’s used in contact lens cleaning solutions and medical products used to clean patients prior to surgery. The Baquacil system uses three components a sanitizer & algistat for daily/weekly application, an oxidizer for weekly or bi-weekly use, and CDX for maintaining the strength of the sanitizer.
Baquacil is more gentle than chlorine so it benefits swimmers with sensitive skin or eyes. It also results in fewer faded swimsuits or pool liners. Another benefit of Baquacil is that it’s more stable and does not lose its effectiveness in sunlight or heat. Baquacil also claims to maintain stable levels over 10-14 days even with only one dose of the chemical. Baquacil also doesn’t corrode parts and pieces in your pool.
User experiences with Baqucil vary widely. Some users report excellent results with 6-10 years of clean water. Parents of children with sensitive skin also are very fond of the results. Other users report good results for a few years and then major problems with algae after a while.
When considering whether to use Baqucil as opposed to chlorine, you should remember two important things. First of all, Baquacil is more expensive than chlorine, and it’s usually only sold at pool stores. Secondly, Baquacil and chlorine are not at all compatible. Converting from one system to the other is expensive and time consuming. For these two reasons, you should do plenty of research and be as confident as you can in your decision.
So in the end, chlorine is less expensive and easier to obtain. It also allows you to enjoy the convenience of a saltwater generator. The problems that many people associate with chlorine are usually rooted in imbalanced water, not the decision to use chlorine. In some situations, though, you may have an individual with very sensitive skin or eyes who still has a problem in a chlorine pool. If this is the case, an alternative sanitizer such as Baquacil may be a better choice. Baquacil is very gentle and its presence is undetectable by swimmers. However, Baquacil is significantly more expensive and since it’s only available at pool stores, it’s more difficult to find. Also, some users report that Baquacil loses its effectiveness over time.
Whichever chemical you choose, you must remember that chlorine and Baquacil are not compatible. Switching from one to the other is time consuming and expensive, so do your research, and be ready to commit to your choice for quite some time.