We are living in what are truly unprecedented times—and no one knows exactly how long they’ll last. Chances are you’re getting acquainted with the inside of your home. Really acquainted. And COVID-19, the disease that this particular coronavirus causes, is the talk of the town—over phone calls and messages, that is.
But with so much talk around this subject, there’s also a ton of disinformation circulating—as thoroughly as your pool water should be. In this article, we’ll turn to the most trusted and reliable sources to explain why your pool can actually be the safest place from coronavirus—and how to ensure that it is.
Let’s Set Things Straight: Can Coronavirus Spread through Pools and Hot Tubs?
No, the coronavirus cannot spread through pools and hot tubs.
In a time when many people take it upon themselves to be experts, it’s still important to go straight to the source. The true pandemic authority? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We’ll quote directly from them:
“There is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread to humans through the use of pools and hot tubs. Proper operation, maintenance, and disinfections (e.g., with chlorine and bromine) of pools and hot tubs should remove or inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19.”
Let’s pay close attention to that second sentence. In order to keep your pool and hot tub removing or inactivating the COVID-19 virus, you want to be sure:
- You’re running your pool pump for the proper amount of time everyday—generally, this is around eight hours, though it can vary.
- You’re checking that your pool’s cleaning system is in complete working order, meaning routinely cleaning the equipment, unclogging any debris that’s accumulated, and troubleshooting if your pump goes awry—or starts making odd noises.
- Most importantly: you’re properly sanitizing and disinfecting your pool. I’ll help with this one here.
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What is Chlorine and How Does It Ensure Safe Swimming?
Chlorine is the most popular pool sanitizer and is exceptionally safe—in lower doses, it’s used for drinking water, too. It’s both effective and inexpensive, and that’s a combination anyone should love.
Although chlorine is a chemical compound, it doesn’t have to be complicated—and certainly doesn’t mean you had to ace high school chemistry class to understand it. The solid form of chlorine is sodium hypochlorite, and the liquid form is calcium hypochlorite. Despite popular misconception, you don’t need a different type of chlorine for an above ground versus in-ground pool.
Will All Types of Chlorine Actually Remove the Virus?
Yes, all types of chlorine will either kill or inactivate the virus—as long as the proper amount of chlorine is distributed to your pool.
Got It. So How Can I Properly Chlorinate My Pool?
The ideal chlorine combination of your pool should be between 1 and 3 parts per million (ppm). In order to kill COVID-19 and other pathogenic viruses, you’ll want to make sure your chlorine concentration doesn’t fall below 1 ppm (though the World Health Organization recommends as little as .5 ppm). Go above 3 ppm and while you’re sure to wipe out the virus, you’re also vulnerable to irritation in your eyes, nose, lungs, and throat. We’re trying to be healthy, remember?
Choosing Chlorine: Is Stabilized or Unstabilized Right for My Pool?
Pool chlorine can be either stabilized or unstabilized. True, the idea of unstabilized chlorine might bring to mind lab coats, triangular science beakers, and minor explosions. But in the case of chlorine, “stabilized” only means that it contains a chemical called cyanuric acid. Cyanuric acid shields chlorine from the sun, sort of like a sunscreen that doesn’t need reapplying, and is actually, um, reliably effective.
If you have an indoor pool, you can use stabilized and unstabilized chlorine no problem. If you have an outdoor pool, you’ll want stabilized chlorine, or your chlorine will break down and prove itself more or less completely ineffective. Our goal is to properly chlorinate—pandemic or no pandemic.
Is your chlorine not circulating because your pool water moves too slowly? Your horsepower might be too low for the job your pool presents. Try a more powerful unit like this Blue Torrent 1.5 HP Typhoon In-Ground Pump.
Choosing Chlorine: Which Type is Best and How Much Do I Need?
It’s pretty unanimous in the pool industry: although outdoor pool owners have the option granules of chlorine and chlorine tablets, tablets (and less commonly, pool dissolver sticks) are typically the way to go. Why? They’re cost-efficient, they dispense chlorine at a steadier rate, and they’re simply the easiest to use. It’s a no brainer.
Chlorine tablets come in one-inch and three-inch sizes. For most pools, the three-inch size is recommended, since they are less complicated and cheaper to use—they sanitize a whopping 5,000 gallons per tablet, and you can use fewer of them than you would one-inch tablets.
If you have a spa or a very small pool—in other words, any body of water less than 5,000 gallons—the one-inch tablets are for you. They might also be handy for very, very large pools because of their faster rate of dissolution, but it’ll cost you.
Not sure how many gallons of water your pool contains? It’s simple geometry anyone can do—even if you weren’t exactly a candidate for math camp that year. You just have to multiply the length, width, and depth of your pool in feet, and then multiply that figure by 7.5 to convert the number to gallons. Prefer formulas? Follow the one below:
[Pool Length in Feet] x [Pool Width in Feet] x [Pool Depth in Feet] x 7.5 = [Volume of Your Pool in Gallons]
For the purposes of finding how many tablets your pool needs, round your volume up to the nearest 5,000—so you can be sure you’re not undershooting it. If your pool has a capacity of 25,000 pounds, you’ll want to use five tablets (that’s one tablet for every 5,000 gallons). If only algebra class was always that easy.
How Can I Add Chlorine to My Pool? Just Drop It In?
If only it was as simple as tossing the chlorine tablets into the pool and letting them take care of the rest—it’s not. Thankfully, there are a few devices that will ensure your chlorine is disseminated throughout your pool water—and any active trace of the COVID-19 virus is long gone.
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The Floating Chlorine Dispenser
Ah, dear old friend. If you grew up around pools, you most certainly remember swimming around this floater—and kicking it during your underwater handstands.
Unfortunately, nostalgia is where our warm feelings for floating chlorine dispensers should end. This low-maintenance and fairly inexpensive device—you can get one for as little as ten dollars—proves that sometimes you get what you pay for.
What’s the problem with floating chlorine dispensers? They’re just not consistent. If they get caught in one place, which they do, they can release too much chlorine in one area of your pool (which can also destroy your pool liner). They release chlorine into more or less slow-moving water—not the water that flows directly through your pool filter as part of the circulation of your larger system. This means that the chlorine dispensed is not spread evenly throughout your swimming pool.
With this device, some areas of your pool may be chlorinated enough to be COVID-19 free, but other areas might be well below the CDC-recommended concentration.
The Pool Skimmer
Much better than the floating chlorine dispenser—and if you can believe it, even cheaper to start—is the pool skimmer method. In this case, you really can drop in chlorine tablets and call it a day. The caveat is that you’re dropping the correct amount of tablets into your pool skimmer, which looks like a little basket-lined bucket and is built into the side of the pool. Make sure your pool filter is on, and add in the tablets to push beautifully-sanitizing water through your return jets, which will spread chlorine evenly throughout your pool.
Of course, although this method doesn’t require buying anything but the tablets, it’ll cost you in energy costs to run your filter. My recommendation? Make a long-term investment that’ll save you significantly. Variable-speed pool pumps like this Energy-Star-certified model have the option of running at a lower speed, and tend to pay themselves off in under two years.
The Automatic Chlorinator
Meet the most sophisticated chlorinating device on the market. The automatic chlorinator hooks up to your return line to ensure the water is sanitized just before it enters your pool. A favorite of pool maintenance experts, it allows you to load the feeder with tablets in bulk, without worrying about how many. You then set it for a chlorine level of 1 ppm to 3 ppm (remember, that’s the recommended amount as determined by the CDC), and let it do the work.
Here’s a tip: in the beginning, make sure you use chlorine test strips to make sure that the level you set is accurate for your specific variables: your environment, how frequently the pool is used, and the natural water quality of your area.
My Pool is Properly Chlorinated, But I Want To Ramp It Up Even More.
No, it’s not recommended that you load more than one to three ppm of chlorine because “it’ll kill the virus better.” Again, this won’t do much except give you additional physical irritation. So much for the saying we’re all hearing these days: “wishing you health.”
But if you don’t know about pool shock already, now is the time to learn. After a chlorine particle attacks and kills bacteria or another organic material in your wall, it creates what we call a chloramine. This is an inactive particle that exists in your water until it can be broken apart by oxidation. Enter pool shock.
You don’t need to use pool shock as continuously as you do chlorine, but I recommend at least once a week, coronavirus or no coronavirus. With pool shock, you can have yet another weapon in your arsenal to wipe out the COVID-19 virus. Just remember to add it at dusk or at night, or the sun will burn out the compound that makes it effective.
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I’m All Done. But Isn’t There More I Can Do?
Proper chlorination is always essential to protect against pathogens. But given the pandemic, it’s a good idea to get pool water test strips to confirm that your chlorine level is in the recommended range.
While I’m at it: Don’t mix different chlorines together. Wipe down the outside surface areas of your pool. Swim often to dispel quarantine boredom. Oh, and—wash your hands!