Pool and Spa Chemicals: An integral part of a water maintenance program

May 3, 2017

By David Huxtable


Proper maintenance of your pool and/or hot tub will ensure its long-term enjoyment, and chemicals play an important role in this regime.

This article will detail the chemical products available for pools and hot tubs, as well as discuss when and why they are used. Chemical manufacturers have developed easy-to-follow programs that incorporate the following chemicals to make your water care easy and economical. It is up to you and your professional dealer to determine which products and systems work best.

Before you start any maintenance program, however, you must ensure your pool and/or hot tub’s circulation and filtration system are functioning as per the manufacturer’s recommendations. Further, your pool and/or hot tub must be kept clean and free of debris.

Pool and hot tub chemicals fall under three categories:

  1. Sanitizers and oxidizers for the protection of bathers;
  2. Water balancing products for the protection of surfaces and equipment; and
  3. Specialty products, which are used to solve different water quality problems.

1. Sanitizers and oxidizers
In Canada, all sanitizers and oxidizers are regulated by the Health Canada Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA). Chlorines and bromines are the only two families of products registered for use in Canada as sanitizers. A professional company will only incorporate these as part of a legitimate chemical program.

It is important to know there are no registered pool or hot tub chemicals available in Canada that are known carcinogens (cause cancer). The chemicals used today for water maintenance programs incorporate the latest in science and technology. The availability of safe, potable, chlorinated drinking water is what increases our life expectancy over third world countries. In fact, chlorinated drinking water has all but eliminated microbial deaths in this past century (e.g. typhoid fever, diphtheria), and helped increase life expectancy from 46 years in 1900 to more than 80 years today.

Chlorine and bromine, which come in many forms, are the only products that will ensure your pool and/or hot tub water is safe for you, your family, and your friends. There is no perfect product; each has its pros and cons. That said, it is important you discuss the unique aspects of your water with a professional to determine which products best suit your pool and/or hot tub, and your lifestyle.

When handling chemicals, always follow the instructions on the label and the maintenance professional’s directions. Never mix two chemicals together, and always add them to the water. Under no circumstances should you add water to chemicals.

Stabilized chlorines and bromines
These are used as daily sanitizers. They dissolve slowly and leave a chlorine or bromine residual that protects your water with a constant level of sanitation. This ensures bathers are protected from micro-organisms (e.g. algae, fungi, bacteria, and viruses) at all times. Products in this category include: tablets, pucks, sticks, briquettes, etc.

Unstabilized chlorines
These can also be used as daily sanitizers; however, because they must be hand fed into the water, they tend to be used as a weekly oxidizer or shock treatment. Pool and/or hot tub water is periodically oxidized to eliminate organic buildup that a daily sanitizer cannot keep up with. Products in this category include: liquid chlorine, oxidizers, shock, etc.

Chlorine generators (saltwater pools and hot tubs)
A saltwater pool and/or hot tub has a generator that uses salt in the water to manufacture chlorine (pools and hot tubs) or bromine (hot tubs). The generator is constantly producing chlorine or bromine and can be used as a daily sanitizer and an oxidizer.

Chemicals should be stored in a cool, dry, ventilated areas, such as an appropriate backyard structure, well out of reach of children and pets.
Photo © Dreamstime.com

2. Water balancing products
Proper water balance is necessary to protect the surface of your pool and/or hot tub and equipment (e.g. pump, filter, heater, etc.) so they will last longer. Balancing your water will save you money and is necessary regardless of the sanitation and oxidation system you are using. There are five factors that affect water balance:

  1. pH
  2. Total alkalinity (TA)
  3. Calcium hardness (CH)
  4. Temperature
  5. Total dissolved solids (TDS)

If one or more of these parameters is low, then your water is corrosive. If one or more is high, then your water is scaling. The only way to know the level of these parameters is to test your water. The most accurate method is to have a professional perform a water test.

pH—proper range 7.2 to 7.8
pH is a measure of acidity. The lower the number, the more acidic the water is, while the higher the number, the more base the water. Keep in mind, seven is neutral. The pH of the human eye is approximately 7.5. Thus, pool and/or hot tub water has been adjusted upward to make the water more comfortable for bather’s eyes. If your eyes are red and itchy after going for a swim or soaking in the hot tub, check the pH.

TA—proper range 80 to 120 parts per million (ppm)
TA is the measure of the water’s ability to keep the pH in the proper range. If the TA is low, the water’s pH will fluctuate wildly. On the other hand, if the TA is high the pH will always be high (8.4). Therefore, it is important to always adjust the TA first, as the pH will self-adjust to the proper range in most cases.

CH—proper range 200 to 300 ppm
CH is a measure of the dissolved calcium in your pool and/or hot tub water.

Calcium cannot be removed from your pool and/or hot tub once it is present; however, it can be sequestered to prevent it from depositing on surfaces and equipment (i.e. scale).

The higher your pool and/or hot tub water temperature
is, the more likely it is to scale. On the flipside, the lower the temperature is, the water tends to be more corrosive.

TDS—ideal range 300 to 2000 ppm
TDS is the accumulation of chemicals added to the water. This is more of a concern in a hot tub because of the smaller water volume. Should these parameters go awry, this problem can be corrected by diluting the pool and/or hot tub with fresh water.

3. Specialty products
Specialty chemicals are designed to enhance your pool and/or hot tub’s water quality and correct any problems that may have occurred. There are many different brand names, however, and they all fall into the following main categories:

In summary
Pools and hot tubs are fun. The chemicals prescribed by a maintenance professional—when used properly—will enhance your enjoyment, keep you safe, and save you money.

If you own both a pool and a hot tub, you will notice that sanitizer levels are much higher for your hot tub—but you might not understand why.

There are many reasons for the discrepancy, including your hot tub’s higher water temperature, faster water flow (which dissipates sanitizers more quickly), and increased levels of bodily wastes (such as oils, skin particles, and hair). Since these things generally contribute to sanitizer demand, more chemicals are needed.

Think of it this way: having five people in your 1900- to 2650-L (500- to 700-gal) hot tub is equivalent to having 250 of your closest friends in your pool!

Dave Huxtable is president of Mursatt Chemicals Ltd., in Woodbridge, Ont. He has worked in the pool and spa/hot tub industry for more than 30 years. He can be reached via e-mail at daveh@mursattchemicals.com[3].

  1. [Image]: http://poolsspaspatios.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/bigstock-pool-cleaning-11408255-e1493402635624.jpg
  2. [Image]: http://poolsspaspatios.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/dreamstime_m_6025162.jpg
  3. daveh@mursattchemicals.com: mailto:daveh@mursattchemicals.com

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