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Alternatives can provide ‘killer’ back-up plan

By Marcelle Dibrell

Ensuring water sanitation is arguably the most important aspect of a service technician’s job, and becoming educated about the different ways it can be achieved has become a necessity for service pros.

Over the years, the old standby — chlorine — has been asked to move over and make some room for an ever increasing list of chemicals and equipment that promise to accomplish the same goals. 

Trade shows and training facilities across the nation have put a growing emphasis on educating professionals about alternatives to chlorine. Hundreds of classes are taught each year on the installation, maintenance and repair techniques for newer sanitation technology.

Because their customers demand it, service professionals who want to stay current have no choice other than to learn about modern water sanitation options.

Pool owners are motivated by a variety of reasons to seek alternatives to chlorine. Some people believe that they are allergic to chlorine. Some seek a more “natural” approach to water sanitation. Some are convinced that an alternative may offer superior performance. 

Whatever the motivation, manufacturers listened, and there are now dozens of alternate sanitizing products available to accomplish the two things that chlorine can do so well: disinfect pathogens and oxidize contaminants. 

Solving the problem of replacing chlorine has not been easy because it has had such a long history of superior sanitation properties. But that hasn’t stopped people from trying. Chlorine is simply a fantastic oxidant, capable of selectively dispatching the very contaminants bathers introduce. And as a disinfectant, there is little that can compete with chlorine’s killing power. 

In 2001, the chemist John Wojtowicz concluded that there was no alternative sanitizer that improves upon chlorine’s efficacy. The technology has not changed that much since then. 

Chlorine remains king to a court of chemicals and technologies that have all made moves to unseat it.

But chlorine’s sovereignty continues to be challenged for plenty of valid reasons. The fact that it decays in sunlight, even with stabilizer, is a weakness that some systems have improved upon. 

For example, biguanide does not suffer from this issue. 

Chlorine is not very effective against certain kind of pathogens. Cryptosporidium is highly resistant to even relatively high levels of chlorine unless given sufficient contact time. 

Alternative sanitizers, like ozone and ultra violet light, can help solve this limitation. 

Among chlorine’s worst traits is that the by-products of its oxidation reactions are problematic. 

Chloramines, trihalomethanes and other disinfection by-products are unhealthy for humans, and many of the compounds remain in chlorinated swimming pool water as nuisance labeled combined chlorine. 

Alternative sanitizers can help with this too.

While, strictly speaking, potassium monopersulfate is not an alternative sanitizer, it is a powerful oxidant and is capable of oxidizing some of chlorine’s disinfection by-products. 

And as secondary disinfection systems, both ozone and UV have been shown to accomplish this goal as well.

Alternatives to chlorine have a definitive place in today’s pools and spas.

In the articles that follow, we’ll explore chlorine’s place in the pool, and some of the many alternative sanitizers that have lately emerged to either assist or replace. 

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