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Do you know when to use specialty chemicals?

By Marcelle Dibrell

It has long been the conventional wisdom in this country that there is no such thing as too many choices. 

This concept is certainly evident when we take a look at the wide array of specialty chemicals that promise to delivery water perfection that chlorine apparently cannot accomplish alone. There are enzymes and phosphate removers, clarifiers and flocculents, polymers and chelating agents, algicides and algaestats. There are mineral systems and ionizers. 

And those are just the general headings. 

Within each of these categories is a plethora of brand names, each making big statements and not all of them divulging what they even are.

In order to make recreational water chemically safe for bathers, three essential functions must be carried out: the water must be sanitized, and it must be oxidized, and the pH must be roughly neutral. 

To that end, for safety’s sake, truly only three chemicals are necessary for most pools: chlorine, which both sanitizes and oxidizes; cyanuric acid to keep the chlorine present in the water; and an acid or a base to control the pH.

But if that is the recipe for a safe pool, than why is the market flooded with so many other chemicals?

The industry teems with specialty chemicals, many of them promising to solve the very same problems that chlorine has already been shown to address.

If chlorine kills bacteria, what’s the use of non-chlorine shock?

If chlorine kills algae, why do we need algicides, phosphate removers, mineral systems, and ionizers. 

If chlorine oxidizes and destroys organic matter, then what are we doing with enzymes, flocculents and clarifiers?

It turns out that there’s a variety of answers to this question. 

Some people just don’t like chlorine, and by using these products they can use less.

They don’t like the smell of chlorine’s by-products, they don’t like how it dries out their skin and hair, and they don’t like how it burns their eyes.

Some people are worried about their health. They’re thinking about cancer and asthma. They believe that they are allergic to it. 

They are concerned about chlorine’s toxicity.

Some people are motivated to use fewer chemicals. They want to live “greener” life styles.

For others, the chlorine doesn’t seem to be working. 

Maybe they let the cyanuric acid get out of control.

Perhaps the pool was neglected, and algae has turned the pool into a swamp.

Sometimes things get out of hand: the pool looks really bad. 

As the saying goes, desperate maladies require desperate remedies.

Specialty chemicals offer just those types of remedies. 

They promise to clean up the algae, to help filter out the fine particles, to break-up the organic matter, and to remove the unsightly stains.

For the average service technician, whose very job is to maintain pristine water quality, any of these issues might make him desperate indeed, and as Shakespeare once said, “Tempt not a desperate man.”

Because decisions made in desperation are rarely the wisest course. 

A better approach is to anticipate the issue, with a carefully considered game plan. 

This can only be accomplished with an investigation of the resources that are available to combat a variety of problems.

With this in mind, the following articles will examine some of the specialty chemicals that abound in the industry, keeping a keen eye on what they are, what they do, and just as important, what they do not do. 

Paid subscribers have full access to the complete coverage on pool and spa specially chemicals. Contact our circulation department at 949-916-0292 or email for details.

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