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Misconceptions about chlorine demand

If a free chlorine residual is lacking, is more salt required?

The third misconception about chlorine demand concerns saltwater pools. A common issue in these pools is a lack of chlorine residual, which is the first sign of chlorine demand. In many cases, the first reaction is to add more salt. There is a misunderstanding that the only thing necessary to maintain a saltwater pool is, in fact, salt. While it is certainly necessary, it is a stable element of saltwater pool chemistry, and salt levels do not fluctuate rapidly enough to cause a sudden inability to maintain a chlorine residual without a significant amount of fresh water being added.

Most chlorine generation cells have an acceptable range of salt that allows free chlorine to be created. Often, a fluctuation of up to 500 parts per million (ppm) is still within range for the effective generation of free chlorine. Adding more salt is usually not the answer to re-establishing a chlorine residual.

As a result of the ‘just add salt’ mentality, chlorine demand is often overlooked when dealing with a lack of residual in a saltwater pool. These are still chlorine pools that can suffer from a chlorine demand the same way a traditional chlorine pool can. However, while a chlorine demand is certainly possible in a saltwater pool, a properly functioning chlorine generator cell is provides a steady source of chlorine and oxidation of contaminants.

If a lack of chlorine residual is an issue with a saltwater pool, other sources of trouble should be considered.
If a lack of chlorine residual is an issue with a saltwater pool, other sources of trouble should be considered.

This makes a chlorine demand less likely to occur, although certainly still a possibility. If a lack of chlorine residual is an issue with a saltwater pool, other sources of trouble should be considered. For instance, the pump/cell run time, size and age of the chlorine generator cell, and temperature of the water. All of these can lead to reduced chlorine output and low chlorine residual. Further, scale buildup on cell plates is common because of the water balance environment within the cell itself.  Scale formation on the electrolytic plates can severely limit the ability to produce chlorine, leading to lower residuals and the increasing possibility of chlorine demand.

As illustrated, chlorine demand can be caused by a combination of different types of contaminants, so the treatment time and difficulty could vary. Therefore, it is important service professionals keep timing in mind when they are treating a demand. Checking the chlorine residual a few hours after treatment could show the presence of free chlorine, and one might assume the demand is broken and no further product application is needed. However, if slow-reacting contaminants are present in the pool water, the chlorine can be used up as they continue to react. As a result, the chlorine residual will end up at zero as more time passes, which means the demand is not truly broken. This is why it is very important to continue to test the water frequently, and be sure the free chlorine residual holds at 1–4 ppm for a full 24 to 36 hours.

A properly functioning chlorine generator cell provides a steady source of chlorine and oxidation of contaminants.
A properly functioning chlorine generator cell provides a steady source of chlorine and oxidation of contaminants.

For saltwater pools, relying on the boost button to provide the additional chlorine needed to treat a demand can cause increased stress on the chlorine generator cell and fail to provide the amount of chlorine necessary to satisfy the demand. Adding chlorine from an alternate source, such as a shock product, is more effective.

Limited options are available

Unfortunately, there is no easy cure for many chlorine demand situations. In most cases, there are still only two options.

The first is to apply the appropriate amount of chlorinating product (usually determined through testing), and the second option is to replace some of the water in the pool/spa with fresh water that has no chlorine demand.

In some cases, a floc treatment may reduce the demand by physically removing some of the contaminants from the water. That said, a floc treatment or water replacement does not actually cure the demand—it only lessens it. Therefore, it is necessary to re-test and apply the newly recommended amount of chlorinating product.

Of course, the best course of action is always prevention. Keeping pool owners on a system that includes routine oxidation as well as application of a maintenance algaecide will help keep pool water clear and free from contaminants that can contribute to chlorine demand. It is also important for service professionals to know when additional oxidation is needed. Most systems recommend a once-per-week application of an oxidizer, but there are instances when more frequent application is needed. These include heavy bather loads, rain, warmer-than-normal temperatures, and any time there is suspected contamination of the pool/spa water (such as fertilizer or pollutants). Designing a maintenance program specific to the characteristics of each pool/spa will help to prevent problems before they begin.

Alicia Stephens is the education and training manager for Biolab Inc. In her 19 years with the company, she has focused primarily on education, training, and development, as well as technical support and new product research and integration. Currently, Stephens supports all education and training initiatives for the Biolab Pro Dealer division. She can be reached via email at alicia.stephens@biolabinc.com.

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3 comments on “Misconceptions about chlorine demand”

  1. Alicia: Excellent article on chlorine demand. I often have difficulty in getting callers to understand what chlorine demand is, let alone how to recognize the signs or how to treat it.

    Brava!

    Wayne Ivusich
    Manager of Education and Technical Services
    Taylor Technologies, Inc.
    Sparks, Maryland USA

  2. Alicia …Thoroughly enjoyed your article as easily understood and pass along to those having misconceptions of chlorine demand.

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