Clearing the air about chlorine, beyond the pool

Ahh, yes. Chlorine. The official perfume of swimming pools around the world. Beyond its distinctive smell, chlorine also conjures up those warm, eye-reddening reminders from our parents that still ring in our ears from pool days past (“Close your eyes underwater!”).

However, while chlorine’s most widely known use may be for disinfecting swimming pools, pool water is not the only type of water treated with chlorine. In fact, chlorine may very well be in the walls around you as you’re reading this, as it is part of nearly all tap water in N. America.

Which begs the questions: just what is chlorine, how does it affect you and your family’s health and well-being, and how much of it is in your tap water?

First things first.  What exactly is chlorine?

Chlorine is a chemical element that is a potent oxidizing agent. In its natural form, it is a gas, one that is highly toxic and unstable. Chlorine is also highly concentrated in our oceans, and is a vital element with many practical applications — the most common being sodium chloride, also known as table salt.

If we shake things about bit more, we find chlorine is an essential part of manufacturing PVC pipes, plastics, medicines, seat cushions, and bumpers. 

Why is chlorine added to drinking water?

As it relates to your drinking water, chlorine (Cl2) or hypochlorite (an ion composed of chlorine and oxygen), is added to the water at the treatment facility. Water treatment facilities pressurize the gaseous natural state of chlorine to turn it into a liquid.

Chlorine is added to drinking water because its chemical properties help destroy bacteria, microbes, and pathogens in a water supply. In fact, disinfecting our water supplies drastically reduces the risk of diseases like salmonella, typhoid, cholera, and dysentery.

So if chlorine does its job, your water could be free of microorganisms that cause diseases. That’s a big W for chlorine! However, even when chlorine is added, there could be bacteria present in your water when it reaches your home (source: Science X, Date).

Common causes include the chlorine breaking down too quickly or micro- organisms leaching into the water at some point during the journey from the treatment plant to your home. 

What are the harmful aesthetic effects of too much chlorine?

Good question – and a tough one to answer – as the exact amount of chlorine that is in your water is hard to determine as it can vary from one are to another.

That said, there are some basic guidelines. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the maximum chlorine concentration considered safe for human consumption is 4 milligrams per liter, or 4 parts per million (ppm).

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that most water treated with chlorine contains the chemical at a concentration between 0.2 and 1 ppm. 

How to test your water for chlorine

If you live in a rural area with a modest population and spring water as your primary water source, your local water supply’s chlorination level may only be tested once a month, it is better to be safe than sorry — don’t assume the chlorine concentration in your water falls between these parameters.

If you want to determine the level of chlorine in your water, use a Rapid Water Test or request a water quality report from your local municipality to see the chlorine concentration in your area’s drinking water. 

Good ole fashion evaporation

Surely this method won’t be helpful for most modern families who use water often, and for many uses, throughout a day. Nevertheless, chlorine will slowly evaporate from your tap water once it leaves your faucet, so it is an option. Did you know if you let a gallon of water stand for 24 hours, the chlorine will completely  evaporate? 

Boiling your water

Boiling water will reduce the amount of chlorine in your tap water but will not remove it entirely. And boiling won’t reduce the amount of chlorine in your shower water at all. 

Enough of the impractical, let's talk filters

Carbon filter technology has come a long way since the time of the ancient Egyptians, who stored water in charcoal because they discovered the water was fresher and tasted better.

This filter alternative is also very common in water purification and filtration products. Makes sense. Carbon filters can reduce the chlorine content in your water and the general taste and odour associated with chlorine and disinfection by-products (DBPs).

The most common type of carbon filter in products on the market today is an activated carbon filter. This type of filter uses granular activated carbon media to reduce many contaminants and unwanted components of your water.

Less common is a more advanced form of carbon filtration called catalytic activated carbon filtration. Pentair Water Solutions uses these types of filters in many solutions because catalytic activated carbon has a high capacity for chlorine reduction.

Catalytic activated carbon filters can reduce trihalomethanes (or THMs) and chloramines because the structure of the carbon changes through different activation and manufacturing processes.

So endeth your crash course in all things chlorine.