Safe Handling

Owning a pool or a spa leads to many great benefits. Like family fun, relaxation, exercise and great memories of summer’s spent by the pool. Whether it’s a pool or a spa along with the benefits there is some responsibility to the upkeep and care that is needed. At the heartbeat of pool and spa care is the use of chemicals to keep water clean and sanitized. Understanding the proper use and storage of these chemicals ensures a safe and hazard free experience for the operators of swimming pools and spas.

Why Chemicals Are Necessary

A glass of water may appear to be clean and clear to the human eye. But even the water we drink is treated to ensure against pollutants and waterborne pathogens not visible to the human eye. The water in swimming pools or spas can become a collecting site for contaminants, which include the following:

  1. Dissolved Solids – These include salts, chemicals leached from the soil, sulfur, calcium and phosphates etc.
  2. Trace Metal Oxides – Iron, manganese, cobalt and copper are just a few types of metal ions that can cause staining on pool and spa surfaces.
  3. Un-dissolved Solids – Small particles of dirt, dust, pollen or floating algae.
  4. Polluted Air – Chemical or bacteria that is airborne. A typical air blower on a spa will pump 50 cubic feet of air every minute into the water. Also, pools with fountains or airing devices. When air passes through water it leaves behind any pollutants it contains. Water acts as a natural filter to whatever is in the air, car exhaust, dust etc.
  5. The Immediate Environment – Plants, trees, weeds, leaves, grass clippings and fertilizers are all potential threats to the quality of pool or spa water.
  6. Insects and Animals – One dog in a pool is equal to the contamination of 50 people. Other culprits include ducks, frogs, birds, rats or even bears. Ants, flies and sow bugs all have an effect on sanitizer residual of pool water.
  7. Weather – Rain can wash dirt, smog and silt into the pool. Acid rain can wreak havoc on the water balance and cause metal ions to precipitate. Wind storms can blow in materials that cause contamination. The sun causes evaporation which leads to a build up of solids left behind in the pool.
  8. Humans – We carry a lot of stuff on our own bodies that can contaminate water. Every time we enter the water our bodies shed millions of bacteria. One person can exude 3 pints of perspiration in a spa in one hour. Deodorants, hairspray, body lotions and perfumes can also add to water quality demands.

Because of the many different water contaminants that can be present in swimming pools and spas, water treatment chemicals are necessary. One of the most important factors in the treatment of swimming pool water is to ensure that it is clean, safe and free from disease causing germs. For this reason, chemicals that are classified as sanitizers or disinfectants are used. Chlorine and bromine are two of the most common chemicals used for the treatment of pool or spa water. Other chemicals include, water balance chemicals that can be corrosive or acidic. There are also an array of specialty chemicals and algaecides which all come with special use and handling instructions.

Understanding Labels

Because chemicals can present various hazards if they are spilled or used improperly it is a requirement that they are labeled to inform the user of any potential hazards from misuse or improper storage. All products that are classified as hazardous in any way will be required to post a hazard notice on the front of the bottle. There are three main words used on pool chemicals to describe the degree of the hazard from the chemical.

  • Caution: This indicates a potential hazard which MAY cause injury if product is used or handled improperly.
  • Warning: Indicates a potential hazard that when product is used or handled improperly COULD result in serious injury and may be fatal.
  • Danger: This indicates an immediate hazardous danger from improper handling and storage. Product WILL cause an immediate injury and/or death

These three words on the front of a chemical are known as “signal” or “alert” words to inform the users of the potential hazards of using the chemical. These signal words are meant to direct the user to more information usually found on the back label of the bottle or container. This further information can indicate if the chemical is an eye, skin or lung irritant for example and there will be instructions to medical professionals on the treatment if there is exposure to the chemical.

Any chemical that is classified as hazardous must state on the label the active hazardous chemical. Many specialty chemicals that don’t fall into a hazardous category are not required to list the active ingredient on the label. Many of these products may still be irritants or have specific handling instructions such as “extremely slippery if spilled” for example.

Most labels for chemicals classified as hazardous also list an 800 number where a medical professional can call to get further information on the chemical and what the counter measures are for any improper exposure.

All chlorine products carry the signal word DANGER on the front label for various reasons depending on the type of chlorine. Calcium Hypo-Chlorite for example is classified as a extreme oxidizer.   If calcium hypochlorite is improperly stored or disposed of it has the potential to create a fire.

Proper Use

When using any product with a signal warning it is important to read and understand all instructions and warnings on the label. When applying any type of chlorine to a pool or hot tub it is advisable to wear rubber gloves and even eye protection. If using a dry powder or granular form never apply when wind is blowing toward you as this can cause the chemical to blow back into your face. When pouring liquids be careful to avoid splash back which can ruin clothing and could be an irritant to skin.  If directions of chemicals call for dilution before adding make sure to always add the chemical TO water, never add water to the chemical. When you pour water onto chemicals it can cause a reaction or splash back onto your face or hands. Always add chemicals to water. Also, NEVER mix chemicals physically in a bucket or container together as this can cause a hazardous reaction that could create an irritating gas.

When using chlorine feeders or floater never mix chemicals or different types of chlorine in the floater, this to can cause a violent reaction or even an explosion. Always check with a pool or spa professional when changing brands or types of chlorine to be applied in a floater or feeder. Unless specifically instructed on label NEVER put chlorine tablets into the skimmer basket of the pool as this can cause corrosion that will damage the equipment. When applying dry chemicals using measuring cups or scoops always make sure these are clean and dry and never use the same scoop or cup for two different chemicals as this can cause a contamination and reaction.

There is also now the option to purchase pool and spa chemicals in a safe, easy to use 'pod' that dissolves in water and allows consumers to avoid the dangers associated with liquid chemicals. Ask you pool professional about this option which consumers are finding very convenient and the perfect way to ensure against accidents.  

Lastly, read all use instructions and warnings of any new chemical you will be using, if in doubt consult a pool and spa professional. 

Proper Storage

When storing pool or spa chemicals the two most important words are CLEAN and DRY. You want to keep your chemicals in an area that is clean and free from moisture. Also, chemicals should be stored in an area with good ventilation and that is not subject to extremes in temperature. All chemicals should be stored in an area that is out of the reach of small children. All liquid chemicals should be stored closer to the ground and BELOW dry chemicals. NEVER put liquid chemicals on top of or over dry chemicals. If a spill of dry chemicals should occur carefully sweep up the dry material and dispose of it in a bucket of water or in the pool.  Dry forms of chlorine should never be disposed of in a trashcan or dumpster as this can lead to a spontaneous reaction with organic material and could cause a fire. When dealing with a liquid spill always use disposable towels or absorbent materials to contain the spill, follow label directions or contact a local hazardous spill authority for disposal instructions. Chemicals should NEVER be stored in closets or any cabinets in a space shared by bathers. Certain chemicals such as oxidizers, bromine or chlorine can create off-gassing when they become moist or begin to degrade this can cause a nauseous gas which can be harmful when breathed in. All chemicals should be stored in an area away from visitors that is dry and has good ventilation.

To gain the greatest enjoyment from your pool or spa means that the water is clean and sanitary. The best way to keep water pure is by using chemicals that are designed to disinfect and keep the water free of contaminants. The use of these chemicals requires responsibility to see that these beneficial chemicals don’t become something that causes harm. Taking the time to read and understand the proper use and storage of these chemicals will help ensure that you have an enjoyable and safe experience with pools and spas.

Terry Arko is a Recreational Water Specialist for SeaKlear Pool and Spa Products.