Ahhh… summer! A time for cookouts, baseball, fireworks, cold lemonade, and swimming, of course. It’s a delightful season that means lots of pool time for you and your family. There’s a chance that when you take your kids to the pool, you may notice a strong chemical smell around the pool. As a concerned mom, you may assume as most people do, that there’s too much chlorine in the pool.

That’s a sensible conclusion, but it’s usually incorrect. Despite popular belief, a strong chlorine smell is actually a sign that there may not be enough chlorine in the pool.

Maybe it’s time to set the record straight.

The Cause of the “Chlorine Smell”

Experts at the Water Quality and Health Council, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Swimming Pool Foundation® (NSPF®) tell us that properly chlorinated swimming pools do not have a strong chemical smell. However, when chlorine-based disinfectants mix with pee, poop, sweat, and other yucky substances from swimmers, chemical irritants called chloramines1 are formed. It is chloramines, not chlorine, that cause that strong odor, leading to red, itchy eyes, and irritated skin. In the process of forming, chloramines consume chlorine in the pool, so there’s actually less of it available to kill germs.

The Importance of Chlorine

Chlorine is essential for destroying waterborne germs that can make swimmers sick. A properly maintained chlorinated swimming pool is a healthy pool in which your children’s risk of developing swimmer’s ear or diarrhea from waterborne pathogens is greatly reduced.

While chlorine isn’t the only game in town when it comes to pool sanitizers, only chlorine- and bromine-based disinfectants provide significant residual protection. That means those chlorine- and bromine-based disinfectants keep on working to destroy pathogens long after they have been added to pool water.

Helping to Keep Things in Balance

One of the easiest ways to help eliminate that strong chlorine smell is to teach your child good swimmer hygiene. Remember, unshowered swimmers and those who pee in the pool add to the “chlorine demand.” That means chlorine will chemically bind to those added substances, forming irritant chloramines and reducing the level of chlorine available for germ destruction.

Good swimmer hygiene includes showering before swimming and taking frequent bathroom breaks. Keep in mind that a strong chemical odor can be an indicator of whether a pool is properly maintained or not. When you head out to the pool this summer, use your senses: Sniff the air to decide if you’re about to jump into a healthy pool! And test the waters: The Water Quality and Health Council is making free pool test kits available this summer through its Healthy Pools campaign. You can test your backyard or community pool to ensure that it has an appropriate pH and chlorine level. To order a free test kit, visit www.healthypools.org.


1These chloramines are different from the type of chloramine that is sometimes used to treat drinking water.