What Are the Signs of Too Much Chlorine in the Pool?

signs of too much chlorine in the pool

Maintaining a pool so that it remains clean and operates smoothly is difficult. You need to follow the best practices, otherwise you could be exposing your friends, family, and pets to dangerous bacteria in the water if you add too little, or damage their skin if you add too much chlorine.

Many first time pool owners specifically struggle with balancing their pool chemistry. Arguably the most important chemical to add is chlorine, which should kill off germs, bacteria, and algae. Overall, chlorine makes pool water last much longer and safer in the right amounts. That said, putting too little will fail to achieve these results, and too much can also be dangerous.

What are the signs that you’ve added too much chlorine to your pool and are there any health concerns? What do you do if you know you’ve added too much chlorine, and how can you fix it? The easiest way to tell something is wrong is if the pool water is cloudy, has a strong odor, or you’ve used a testing kit or testing strips to determine that the chlorine levels are too high.

In this article, we will go over how you can easily tell if there is too much chlorine in the pool and the best ways to fix this problem.

Side effects of swimming in a pool with too much chlorine

Adding too much chlorine into a pool can result in some dangerous health concerns, which is why we need to bring this to your attention. Most reactions are mild and will heal on their own if you just rinse the water off and give yourself a day or two, but constant exposure can lead to worse side effects.

High chlorine levels will affect the pool’s pH, making it more acidic (higher on the pH scale). If your pool’s pH is higher than 7.8, that is when you can start to experience some side effects, most commonly:

  • Dry skin and dry hair
  • Skin irritations or itchy skin
  • Rash or hives
  • Eye irritation
  • Coughing
  • Pain in the nose or throat
  • Trigger asthma
  • Lung irritation

Furthermore, high levels of chlorine can also be harmful to your swimming pool due to the increased acidity of water which can cause corrosion. Constant exposure to this can corrode metal piping and surfaces, as well as tiles, liners, and concrete. Additionally, any equipment or accessories that come into contact with water can also get corroded.

How much chlorine is too much?

You must keep track of your pool water’s Chlorine and pH levels to ensure that you have just the right amount of chlorine – not too much or too little. Adding too much chlorine can increase the pH levels, but other chemicals can also increase the acidity of the pool water.

Furthermore, the more acidic the water becomes, the less effective that chlorine is. For this reason, the pH of the pool water is also very important to check. Insufficient chlorine will fail to eliminate all of the bacteria, and the effects of too much chlorine was described above.

According to the CDC, the recommended concentration of free chlorine* is at least 1 parts per million (ppm) and a pH of 7.2-7.8. If you look at other recommendations online, some may recommend a chlorine concentration as high as 3 ppm.

*Free chlorine is chlorine that is available to eliminate harmful microorganisms in the pool water, i.e. the amount of chlorine remaining that has not yet been combined with chlorinated water.

Thus, the generally accepted safe range for chlorine levels is 1-3 ppm, with 4-5 ppm still being acceptable but on the higher end. Thus, you have some leeway if you were aiming for 1-3 ppm but accidentally went over. Anything beyond that and you can experience skin irritation, red eyes, and dry hair.

Keep in mind that there will be times when you need to do a thorough disinfecting of your pool by super-chlorinating it. This will eliminate all of the bacteria, algae, and chloramine. As part of this process, you will be raising the chlorine level to as high as 10-20 ppm. Make sure that no one is swimming in the pool during this time as it can severely irritate or burn the skin and eyes.

How to determine if there is too much chlorine

Strong smell

The “swimming pool smell” or what people mistakenly assume is the smell of chlorine is in fact not chlorine. Chlorine is odorless, so what you’re smelling is specifically chloramine.

Chloramine is what you get when you mix chlorine with a bunch of nasty stuff – dirt, sweat, oil, sunscreen, cosmetics, urine*, and other human bodily wastes.

*Be honest, you’ve probably urinated in the pool before, haven’t you? Or at least you’ve heard of people doing this. Yes, it’s a thing unfortunately, and you should know how to deal with urine in the pool.

That’s right, there is a reason why swimming pools will ask you to shower first before entering the water. Unhygienic habits will result in the free chlorine being used up quicker, resulting in a stronger smell.

So if you notice a strong smell emanating from your pool, reminiscent of going to a public pool (which we all know is filthy), then that is a sign that most of the free chlorine in your pool water has been used up.

You will need to add more chlorine, not less (again, chlorine is odorless) to eliminate the stinky chloramine, which is the true culprit behind the “chlorine smell.” A properly maintained pool should not smell like anything at all.

Cloudy water

Another obvious sign that too much chlorine has been added is when the pool water is visibly cloudy. With that said, there are other reasons why your pool water could be cloudy and it may not have to do with chlorine at all.

Any imbalance in the water’s chemistry will give it a cloudy, murky appearance. Unfortunately, you won’t know for sure what the problem is unless you test the water. However, just being aware that cloudy water is bad news can alert you to the fact that something has gone wrong, whether that means too much chlorine or not remains to be seen.

Testing kits

The only way for you to know exactly how much chlorine is in your pool is to test it. You can hire a water technician to do it for you, but this can get inconvenient and expensive really quickly. Alternatively, you can do it yourself using a test kit or test strips. It’ll save you a lot of money, but there is the possibility of user error.

For the most accurate readings, you should use a DPD test kit. This is a comprehensive test kit that will determine the pH levels, free, total, and combined chlorine levels, as well as bromine and ozone levels. It’s the preferred testing procedure for pool owners because of its consistency and reliability.

Some alternative test kits are the Taylor K2006 test kit, which uses DPD powder for chlorine testing, and the Taylor K2005 test kit, which uses a liquid reagent. An even cheaper test kit is the Poolmaster Water Chemistry Case Premiere test kit.

Not a fan of test kits? You can also use test strips, which are the fastest and easiest way to determine your pool’s water chemistry, albeit less accurate than a test kit. Just dip the strip in the water, look at the color, and you’re done. They are significantly cheaper than DPD test kits as well.

Your swimsuits are getting worn out fast

If you feel like your swimsuits are losing their elasticity, becoming discolored, or starting to disintegrate, that could be a sign of too much exposure to chlorine. Swimsuits should be able to last at least for a few months, if not years if you’re taking good care of it.

That said, it could also be that you are not properly rinsing off all of the chlorine and other chemicals from your bathing suit after every use. An overabundance of chlorine can cause swimsuits do deteriorate quickly, so keep that in mind.

How to reduce chlorine in your pool?

After getting the results from testing your pool water, you can determine what the best treatment is. The optimal treatment will depend on how bad the problem is and how soon you want to use the pool.

For example, if your pool water is only slightly above the recommended 1-3 ppm range, say around 4-5 ppm, that is technically still within an acceptable range. Unless you are particularly sensitive to the chlorine, this should still be safe to use.

If you won’t be using the pool anytime soon (or are willing to wait), then the “solution” is to do nothing. The problem will fix itself by waiting a couple of hours or so until the chlorine levels drop to your desired range.

That said, if you don’t have any time to spare and the chlorine levels are significantly higher than the recommended levels, then you must do the following:

Stop adding chlorine

If your pool’s chlorine levels are too high, stop adding chlorine immediately!

Well, duh! Everybody knows that. But what many people don’t realize is that there are other sources of chlorine like a chlorinator, chlorine feeder, chlorine dispenser, etc. These should all be turned off immediately.

Furthermore, if you have a chlorine floater, remove it from your pool as well. If your skimmer has a chlorine tablet, remove it. Forgetting about these extra sources of chlorine will exacerbate the problem.

Use sunlight

If you are about to host a pool party but you still have a couple of hours to solve your chlorine problem, try uncovering the pool and exposing the chlorine to sunlight.

The UV rays from the sun can destroy chlorine. Within 2-3 hours of exposure to direct sunlight, the pool can have a 90% reduction in chlorine levels.

Assuming you only went over the recommended chlorine level by a little bit, you may only need 30-60 minutes for the chlorine to drop to safe levels.

You’re going to have to closely monitor the pool to make sure that there is still a sufficient amount of chlorine left, otherwise you may end up with too little chlorine.

Add other chemicals

The advice we provided above is a relatively quick way to reduce the chlorine levels, but it’s not instant. What if you need to use the pool right away? You will need to add some chlorine neutralizing chemicals. Here are some products you can use:

No matter what chemical you end up using, make sure you have read the instructions and follow them to a T. For neutralizing very high chlorine levels, you may need to add a second dose of chemicals.

Dilute with water

Have you ever cooked soup and accidentally added too much salt? If so, how did you fix it? Chances are you added more water in an attempt to dilute the saltiness and salvage the soup.

Well, a similar principle can apply to “salvaging” a pool that has too much chlorine in it. You will encounter the same advantages and disadvantages whether you’re cooking soup or reducing your pool’s chlorine levels.

To start, you can dry partially draining the pool and adding in some freshwater to replenish what was lost. This method is called dilution and it can work in a pinch if your chlorine levels are only slightly higher than expected.

If the chlorine levels are too high, it becomes less of a viable option due to how much freshwater you’d need to replenish. It can take a lot of time and will significantly increase your water bills, making it rather impractical.

On top of that, it will affect the alkalinity, calcium hardness, pH, and other chemical levels. You would need to monitor each and readjust until they are once again at the levels you want, chlorine included. It might be more trouble than it’s worth to be honest.

Turn on the heater

This tip only applies if you have a heated pool. Raise the temperature of your pool by about 10°F, and do so only for a short time. This is the ideal environment for bacteria to multiply, which will use up much of the excess free chlorine. For this method, make sure to closely monitor how much free chlorine is remaining until it has dropped to a safe level.

Test your pool often

Remember that no matter what method you follow, your pool’s water chemistry can change daily. All pool owners are recommended to test and balance their pool at least once a week to ensure the water remains sparkling clean and bacteria free.

If the alkalinity of your pool is too low, it can lead to drastic changes in pH. Again, if the pH is too high, then chlorine will not be as effective. High alkalinity also causes the water to have a cloudy appearance, making adjustments difficult. The optimal alkalinity range is around 80-120 ppm.

Next, calcium hardness is a measurement of all the minerals dissolved in your pool water, which for the most part are sodium, magnesium, and calcium. Low calcium hardness means the water is corrosive, which can erode tile grouting and plaster and rust metal equipment. High calcium hardness results in water clouding, scale formation, and eye irritation. The optimal range for calcium hardness is around 200-400 ppm.

Lastly, stabilizer (cyanuric acid) reduces the destructive effect that UV rays have on chlorine. Without sufficient stabilizer, you can experience a 90% reduction in chlorine in just a couple of hours (good when you want to reduce chlorine levels, but can quickly get out of hand if not monitored).

Conversely, too much stabilizer can prevent chlorine from working. As long as the stabilizer is kept at 30-60 ppm, it will increase the natural lifespan of the pool water chlorine by as much as 5 to 10 times, so it’s important to keep it at that level.

Last update on 2021-10-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API