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Swimming pool products include various kinds of disinfectants and sanitizers which work to control the growth of certain kinds of algae and bacteria in the pool water. Swimming pool products may also be used in hot tubs, spas, wading pools, and whirlpools.
Various kinds of disinfectants and sanitizers are used but the "chlorine" type is the most common. The chlorine usually comes from "chlorinating agents" that release chlorine when they are dissolved in the water. Chlorine gas may be used in large pools.
The chlorine-based disinfectants may be called "chlorinating liquid", "dry chlorine" or "liquid chlorine". The so-called "dry chlorine" is actually the chemical in granular or tablet form while "liquid chlorine" and "chlorinating liquid" are solutions of these chemicals dissolved in water. This document will summarize the safe use of these chlorinating agents but it will not discuss the use of chlorine gas.
There are two main types of chlorinating agents:
Organic and inorganic chlorinating agents are not compatible with each other. Many incidents occur when the same scoop or pail is used for both products without cleaning them or when adding one product after the other or in the pool chlorinator. Mixing or cross-contamination of these products can form an explosive mixture.
Swimming pool products can also be oxidizers, and corrosive to tissue or metals. In all cases, read and understand the Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), all product information literature and product labels for procedures to follow for safe use and in case of spills or splashes.
Oxidizing products (such as calcium hypochlorite) have the ability to react chemically to oxidize combustible (burnable) materials. To be an "oxidizer", the product itself provides oxygen which combines chemically with another material in a way that increases the chance of a fire or explosion. This reaction may be spontaneous at either room temperature or may occur with slight heating. Thus, oxidizing products can be severe fire and explosion hazards.
For more information about oxidizing hazardous products and how to work with them safely, please see the OSH Answers How to Work Safely with Hazardous Products using the “Flame over circle” Pictogram.
Some pool products can also be corrosive to metals, or cause skin, eye or respiratory irritation. The effects on tissues and metals depends on what the product is and how concentrated it is. They can begin to cause damage as soon as they touch the skin, eyes, respiratory tract, digestive tract, or the metal.
For more information about how to work safely with corrosive hazardous products, please see OSH Answers How to Work Safely with Hazardous Products using the “Corrosion” Pictogram.
For more information about how to work safely with hazardous products that may cause health effects, please see OSH Answers How to Work Safely with Hazardous Products using the “Health Hazard” Pictogram, and How to Work Safely with Hazardous Products using the “Exclamation Mark” Pictogram.
Any spills larger than 50 kg should be handled as an emergency and the fire department called immediately. If in doubt of what to do, call the fire department or your local chemical spill emergency response centre.
Before cleaning up a small spill:
Tip – Read and understand the product label and any product literature (such as a Safety Data Sheet (SDS)) before use. It is best to know what to do in advance and what the appropriate first aid procedures are - be prepared!
For more information please refer to the first aid section of our OSH Answer document on chlorine.
General information on first aid for chemical exposures is also available.
For more detailed information, you may wish to view the CCOHS publication The Safety Data Sheet - A Guide to First-Aid Recommendations.