Alternative Sanitizer Chemistry for Swimming Pools

For years, I've watched the swimming pool industry produce steady flow of 'chlorine alternatives'. And, at one time or another, I've tried most of those options on pools I serviced.

I'm not impressed.

In my local business, my contracts with commercial pools are written around water quality results, not chemicals. As a result, we're free to use ANY method that produces high quality pool water. Over the years I've experimented with ozone, copper/silver, UV/H2O2, bromine, and some even more exotic materials.

Before I go further, explaining why I don't like most chlorine alternatives, I should explain that one product often sold as an alternative, isn't. Salt water pool systems -- SWG, SCG, SWCG, chlorine generators, salt chlorine generator, and so on -- all do EXACTLY the same thing: they manufacture chlorine (Cl2) from salt (NaCl) and add it to your pool water. Some dishonest companies market SWCGs -- salt water chlorine generators -- as a chlorine alternative. Many more pool companies and salesmen IMPLY that it's a chlorine free method. But, in fact it's just different way to deliver chlorine to your pool!

And, after all the experiments, I still use chlorine.  Why?

It's very simple. I can produce better results, more cheaply, and more safely, with chlorine than with any other method. Most of the alternatives I tested delivered poorer results and cost more money.

Is chlorine perfect? Absolutely not!

But I think before you switch to an alternative system, it ought to be better than chlorine, not just more expensive.

Basic pool chemistry demands that several simultaneous needs must be met. These functions can be supplied with one chemical or many, but your pool chemistry must supply ALL of these functions for a safe and sanitary pool:

Sanitizer which makes sure everything living in a pool, that could make you sick, dies, preferably quickly!
Algicide which makes sure that everything green, that would otherwise grow in your pool, doesn't.

Oxidizer which destroys all the gook (sweat, urine, lotion) that your filter can't remove.
Residual a sanitizer component that works, not only in one location (say, near a UV lamp), but also in the middle of your pool.

Failing to supply even one of these functions can leave your pool not only unpleasant, but dangerously unsafe.

Chlorine alone supplies all four functions. Only one of the alternatives does so: bromine. All of the others require that you use additional chemicals to fill the gap.

Does this mean I'm against 'alternative' chemistry?

With the chemicals themselves (and they are all CHEMICALS, except for UV light), I have no quarrel. They do what they do, and can be used beneficially.

But, I am definitely against the deceptive or ignorant marketing practices which compare chlorine systems operated badly to alternative systems operated perfectly. And, this type of marketing seems to be more the rule than the exception. Sometimes it's the manufacturers generating the hype and spin; in some cases, it's the dealers pushing the pitch. Either way, I don't like it.

But as a result, many homeowners find out the hard way the effect Baquacil� has on their filters, or what copper does to their hair. They are not told that a common method of delivering ozone to their pool can result in severe plaster damage. They hear about chlorine's problems, but they are not told about the problems with their alternative system. Chlorine's effects on humans have been studied intensively for over 90 years, but what effects their alternative chemicals will have on people is mostly unknown.

Before you get too excited about the promised savings or benefits, remember that in our operations, we routinely reduce chemical consumption by 50% or more , without changing chemicals! Rather, we change the way they are applied.

How can you tell if you are being sold a bill of goods?

Very simply. If you are told that system or product XYZ will solve all your chemical problems without creating any new problems, someone's blowing smoke. If you hear a sales pitch like this, it's time to move on! Surprisingly, the sales person may not be deliberately lying: often they've bought the bill of goods they're selling you!

What alternatives would I consider?

Just two: Baquacil or Softswim, and corona discharge ozone systems, combined with sodium bromide.

Neither of these system is perfect either. But if you have an indoor poor, and couldn't get the hang of operating chlorine without odors, you might want to consider Baquacil. But it's NOT for commercial pools, and with it, you can gum up your filters something awful. Plus, you need to change your water regularly, to maintain water quality. A corona discharge ozone system coupled with sodium bromide , and a downstream bleach feed (like BioLab's Vantage system, but without the organic hydantoin carrier molecule used in solid bromine tabs) probably has some benefits. But it's a highly technical system best suited for a commercial pool with a trained operator and a VERY knowledgeable pool dealer.

What about bromine? It just doesn't have any real advantages over chlorine: although it is an acceptable substitute, pound for pound, it takes twice as much bromine as chlorine -- and bromine starts off 2 to 3 times more expensive than chlorine. It does have one real advantage: the solid form of bromine can be stored without the damaging fumes which come from solid forms of chlorine stored for more than a few months.

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