2021 Chlorine Shortage Will Probably Affect Commercial Pool Operators

Published on Jun 18, 2021

Scott Trafton

In the coming summer of 2021, there could be a severe, unprecedented shortage of some of the most popular chlorine products on the market. Rumors from pool supply store owners suggest that many stores could be entirely out of dichlor and trichlor chlorine tablets by the end of May. Dichlor and trichlor tablets are chlorine products primarily used by residential pool owners, as they are convenient and low maintenance, simply required to be added to an automatic chlorinator or chlorine dispenser. 

As a result of the shortage, chlorine prices are spiking. 50 lbs buckets of chlorine tablets that would usually cost $75 to $85 now cost $140 and could climb to $158 in the near future. Due to the seasonal nature of pool usage, many private pool owners haven’t thought about chlorine since last fall and are unaware of the upcoming shortage. Once more pool owners are aware of the issue, some may buy trichlor and dichlor products in large quantities, depleting stock quickly and exacerbating the problem. 

Fortunately, many other chlorine options like Calcium Hypochlorite (Cal-Hypo) and liquid bleach aren’t experiencing shortages. Unfortunately, these chemicals can require a bit more work and attention for proper use in private pools. To make matters worse, when dichlor and trichlor products run out, many pool owners will have to switch to these options, potentially putting strain on the supply of these alternatives and worsening the chlorine shortage. 

Pool owners must be aware of the upcoming shortage and prepare accordingly. What has caused this shortage, and how can we deal with it?

Causes of the Chlorine Shortage

Increased Demand for Chlorine 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, many families stayed home far more often and for far longer periods than they normally would during the summer. Many of these families looked for upgrades they could make to their homes to offer themselves and their children more entertainment, and backyard pools fit the bill for many. As a result, pool installations, especially of in-ground pools, skyrocketed in 2020 when compared to previous years. This increased the number of pool owners, meaning that there are now far more customers for pool chlorine than there were in previous years. This greater demand has put a strain on the supply of chlorine products.

BioLab Fire

Another significant contributor to the chlorine shortage was the BioLab fire. In late August of 2020, following the destruction in Louisiana caused by Hurricane Laura, a severe fire occurred at a large BioLab chemical facility. This facility, KIK Custom Products, produced around ⅓ of the trichlor products used every year in the U.S., as well as many dichlor products. The fire burned for three days, damaging a still unknown amount of the facility’s 835 tons of product, although it’s expected that a significant amount of the inventory was lost. 

The facility plans to resume operation by the spring of 2022, but in the meantime, only two domestic chlorine tablet manufacturers remain Occidental Petroleum and Clearon Corp. Even if both of these companies increase their production, they’d have to increase it by about 50% each to fill the gap left by BioLab. Right as the number of customers for chlorine products increases unexpectedly, a disaster has crippled the chlorine production industry.

Possible Substitutes for Commercial Pool Chlorine

A number of possible substitutes for trichlor and dichlor products exist, which will be desperately needed this summer.

Other Pool Chlorine Products

As mentioned before, many chlorine products other than dichlor and trichlor aren’t experiencing the same shortages. Cal-Hypo and liquid bleach are two good options for both commercial and private pool owners but may require more attention than trichlor and dichlor products. Cal-Hypo has a high pH, requiring acid to be added to maintain proper pH levels. It can also raise calcium hardness levels, which can possibly cause corrosion of the pool surface if not added properly and if the calcium hardness stays too hard for too long. 

Liquid bleach has a few similar drawbacks, as it has a high pH, requiring acid to be added with it, and it can be corrosive to pool surfaces if not added correctly. Bleach also requires special storage facilities, which can drive up the cost of use. Both Cal-Hypo and liquid bleach can also stain pool liners or fiberglass surfaces if added directly to the pool water, so knowing how to add them to maintain pool surfaces is crucial. 

Bromine in Commercial Swimming Pools

Bromine is a sanitizing chemical that works similar to chlorine, killing algae and other contaminants, and conveniently doesn’t require the purchasing of additional equipment. Unfortunately, it does have the drawback of being slightly more expensive than chlorine, and it is important to balance the pH and alkalinity of the pool water before adding bromine. It is even a better solution than chlorine for hot tubs and spas, as it works better at higher temperatures. It is also better for indoor pools than for outdoor facilities, as sunlight degrades bromine and unfortunately cyanuric acid stabilizer does not prevent this. 

Saltwater Commercial Swimming Pools

Saltwater pools sanitize themselves by making their own chlorine via a chemical reaction, using a generator to slowly turn salt into chlorine. Conveniently, there is no shortage of salt predicted this summer, meaning “fuel” will be easier to acquire than chlorine. Saltwater pools do require the purchase and installation of a proper generator system, which can be costly and time-consuming, meaning it’s not the best short-term solution for this summer’s chlorine shortage. 

There are a few other options for residential pool owners, including ozone-treated pools, but they aren’t an option for commercial pool owners. Several of these other systems, ozone included, don’t have a chemical level that can be traced to indicate pool cleanliness. Commercial pool owners and operators need to have a residual in the water to test, like chlorine, to indicate that they are keeping their pool clean and up to code. Similar to saltwater pools, many of these systems are time-consuming to install and expensive, which unfortunately makes them bad short-term options for residential pool owners as well. 

Switching to an entirely new system like saltwater or ozone will be incredibly difficult this year. The 2020 pool boom and the need to replace pool equipment damaged by the winter storms in Texas have dramatically decreased the number of supplies available. As a result, getting your hands on a saltwater or ozone system won’t be easy, and even if that were possible, installation can take a while, which isn’t ideal during pool season. If these alternatives aren’t an option, what else can be done?

Using Chlorine More Efficiently in Your Pool Operations

One of the easiest ways to keep pools clean and functional during the shortage is simply by using the chlorine we currently have more efficiently. Maximizing the effect of the chlorine you already have is the best way of making it through this shortage, and there are several ways to do so. 

Using Borates can be very helpful in maximizing chlorine efficiency. Borates stabilize pH, making it far more difficult for the pH of pool water to rise or fall. When pH is stable and at the proper level, pool chlorine can do its job more effectively, meaning less chlorine is needed to be used, saving chlorine when it is most needed. 

Using accurate testing methods can also save chlorine. Using strip or liquid drip testing kits isn’t the most accurate and consistent option available. These older options rely on users testing correctly, adding the right amount of drops to the kit, and consistently comparing colors. These testing methods allow for a lot of human error, and can only test for one chemical at a time, making them quite time-consuming. 

Using a digital tester like the LaMotte Spin Touch will give far more accurate and consistent results. It can also calculate chemical levels far faster than non-digital testing kits and can conduct ten different chemical tests simultaneously in under a minute. A more accurate, digital tester can make a big difference in saving chlorine and other chemicals, as having an exact idea of what chemical levels are in pool water will allow users to make more accurate adjustments. 

Using better data storage and correction calculation methods can also make a serious difference in the amount of chlorine used. Recording testing data in a paper pool log is the traditional way of recording pool water testing data, but it isn’t the best option in the industry today. The Pool Shark H2O app digitally records testing data and stores it in a secure cloud database, keeping the data safe from being damaged, lost or modified, which are all possibilities with physical pool logs. The cloud database also grants supervisors and CPOs the ability to view the latest testing data from their pools from anywhere with an internet connection. 

Most importantly, the Pool Shark H2O app uses the entered testing data from water tests to conduct calculations for how much of each chemical the user needs to add to keep the chemicals at required levels. Performing the calculation for the user and giving them the exact dosage decreases the likelihood that they’ll make a mistake, and helps keep the chemical levels in the pool at the desired levels more consistently. This can cut down on wasted chlorine and can decrease the likelihood of the pool falling out of chemical balance due to human error.

It is important to note that if pool owners are switching the type of chlorine they’re using in their pool, especially due to shortages expected this summer, they must not mix different types of chlorine together. If different chlorine products are added to chlorine feeders together, the different types can cause a deadly chemical reaction and/or can cause an explosion. Thankfully, Pool Shark H2O makes switching chlorine types easy. Users can simply identify what type of chlorine product they’re using for pool cleaning and Pool Shark H2O will automatically adjust calculations to account for different products. This allows Pool Shark H2O to always suggest the proper and safe amount of chlorine product to add to the pool, no matter what form is being used. This can save pool owners and CPOs significant amounts of time if they need to switch from trichlor and dichlor to other chlorine products this summer. 

The 2021 chlorine shortage has the potential to hit the pool industry hard this summer, and many commercial and residential pool owners may find themselves struggling to get their hands on their preferred chlorine products. Knowing what alternative options for pool cleanliness exist is a great fallback plan, but it is also imperative that pool owners and operators use what chlorine they have as efficiently as possible. This will not only save pool owners the hassle of switching cleaning products but can also reduce the impact of the shortage for all pool owners impacted.

You can reduce your use of pool chemicals, including chlorine or substitutes by using the PoolShark H2O App. Using the app is proven to reduce your pool chemical usage, saving you money (and headaches when supplies are running short!). Learn how in the ebook below.

Digital Pool Tester Guide

The benefits of implementing Pool Shark include:

  • Substantial ROI
  • Better Water Conditions
  • Improved Guest & Customer Satisfaction
  • Plug and Play Ease of Use
  • Stronger Risk Management & Reduced Liability
  • Guides and Practices
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