The Dangers of Chlorine in Swimming Pools + How to Protect Your Family

Swimming and summer go hand in hand. But that little slice of summer shouldn’t harm your health. We’re looking at the dangers of chlorine in swimming pools and how you can protect your family while still enjoying fun in the water.

dangers of chlorine in swimming pools

Many parents are concerned about exposing small children, especially babies, to the high levels of chlorine in most swimming pools. It’s a valid concern, so we’re covering ways to minimize chlorine exposure while swimming.

What’s the Problem with Pool Chlorine?

Swimming in chlorinated pool water, and particularly the disinfection byproducts caused by the reaction of the chlorine with our skin and hair, can cause numerous health problems. These include hormone disruption, asthma and allergies, skin issues, and intestinal issues.

Chlorine is effective at killing microbes in swimming pools. In water, chlorine reacts with sweat, urine (all the more reason to avoid public pools!), skin cells and other organic materials to produce chemical byproducts called chloramines (source). In animal studies, some of those chemicals have been linked with asthma and bladder cancer.

In a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, chemists from the Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona analyzed chlorinated water from a public swimming pool in Barcelona. They identified more than 100 chemical byproducts in the water (source).

The American Academy of Pediatrics also notes the dangers of chlorine exposure on children. Their study of more than 800 children found noticeable effects of chlorine exposure on children with allergies or asthma. (source)

You’ve probably noticed how some pools give off an extremely strong odor of chlorine. That’s actually an indicator that there are chloramines in the pool.

A new study shows that sunscreen mixed with chlorine creates a harmful cocktail on wet skin. It neutralizes sunscreen’s protective qualities and releases two dangerous chemicals. The combination of avobenzone and chlorine breaks down the former, and acetyl benzenes and phenols are released when chlorine meets avobenzone.

The dangers of chlorine and how to swim safely

How to Minimize Chlorine Exposure While Swimming

If you don’t live close enough to a gorgeously sparkling lake or ocean, a pool is still a useful and fun way to keep cool. Whether it’s your own, a friend’s, or a community pool, you can minimize chlorine exposure and keep your family protected from dangerous pool chemicals.

Swim Outdoors

Swim outdoors rather than at an indoor facility. This helps to ventilate the chlorine and lessen the effects of the chemicals on little bodies. Better yet, try to find an outdoor pool that uses salt water, UV, or ionization, which all use fewer chlorine and chemicals for maintenance.

Editor’s note: When my oldest son was 6, we took him to swimming lessons at an indoor facility. The smell was potent – almost hard to breathe some days.

After the first lesson and only 30 minutes in the water, he developed eczema patches behind his knees and elbows so bad, they looked like burns. We had to quit and wait for warmer weather outdoor lessons.

Rinse Off Before Diving In

I know! Turns out that’s not a myth. We all remember whining as children, “Do I really have to shower BEFORE I swim?!”

My parents never made us rinse off, but in hindsight I wish we had. Rinsing off not only helps to fight off the chemicals which may seep into our skin and hair, it also washes off sweat, which, when mixed with chlorine, can create more chloramines.

Apply Coconut Oil as a Barrier

As further protection, apply coconut oil before swimming to preserve the skin’s natural pH balance and protect further against chemical seepage. Coconut oil can even provide mild protection against the sun’s rays in the water. Coconut oil has an SPF of 4, which blocks 75% off UV radiation or about 45 minutes of sun exposure (source).

Choose a Safer Sunscreen

Use sunscreen that does not contain avobenzone. Check our guide to nontoxic sunscreens here. Or plan your swimming in shady areas or before or after peak sun hours (generally from 10 to 4).

Rinse Again & Spritz Vitamin C After Swimming

When everyone’s rinsed off after swimming, spritz some Vitamin C, which neutralizes the effects of chlorine and chloramine. You can find topical Vitamin C serum or make your own spray by dissolving 1 teaspoon of powdered Vitamin C or Vitamin C crystals into 2 cups of filtered water. Add to a glass spray bottle and keep in your pool bag.

Safer, Eco-Friendly Options for Pool Owners

If you have your own pool, here are some ways to reduce the need for harmful chemicals and minimize chlorine exposure.

Convert to a Saltwater Pool

If your pool pump or any other equipment is older or will need replacing soon, now is a perfect time to convert your pool to saltwater. In this system, salt is added to the pool water and a chlorine generator uses that salt to create chlorine naturally. The system works to reduce the levels of microorganisms to safe levels, and some products also can oxidize (and essentially burn up) organic contaminants like body oil, perspiration, urine, and sunscreen.

Salt water isn’t able to provide sanitation for pool water, however, without electrolysis, which uses the chlorine generator to provide the sanitation component.

Try an Ultraviolet Pool Cleaner

These products won’t completely replace the need for chlorine or other chemicals, but they can help cut down on the amount of these products you’ll need to use. Relatively new to the U.S., these cleaners harness ultraviolet light to lower chemical levels and eliminate chlorine byproducts.

Choose an Ozone Pool System

Like the ultraviolet system, this still needs to use chlorine for sanitation, but in lesser amounts. The ozone is generated through a type of ultraviolet light. Jets or circulation systems mix the ozone in with pool water. The ozone then breaks down in the pool water and destroys unwanted contaminants in the water.

Consider a Natural Plant Pool

With this option, you have your own swimming pond or lake plus a beautiful oasis of greenery. A natural plant pool can be lined with rubber or reinforced polyethylene with a separate area nearby which has been planted with aquatic vegetation, acting as a biological filter.

These systems have lower maintenance costs, and the installation costs are not much greater than standard designs. A friend has had a natural pool for five years, and recently it’s started growing lily pads and attracting frogs. Her kids have their own little aquatic ecosystem in the backyard!

By taking a few precautions to protect yourself and your family, you’ll be able to cool off and enjoy the water with peace of mind. And isn’t fun and relaxation what summer is all about?

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  1. Can you please link the AAP study?

  2. The only chemical I put in my pool is dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO). Great stuff & it’s safe enough to drink.

    1. Is it safe? Google search showed lot of harmful things about it.