Running the Numbers – How to Save on Pool Chemicals

Swimming pool chemicals are expensive, and simple adjustments now can save you thousands each year. Below we offer the basic chemical arguments every operator considers. Choose wisely and you’ll save big on pool chemicals while your pool sparkles.  

Big Picture

A few key choices can make a big difference in costs. Here’s where you should start. 

Sticking Around vs. Shopping Around – If you haven’t requested multiple quotes from different suppliers yet this year, now is the time. Let your current chemical rep know that you’ll be shopping around and taking the best price, and then go do it. There’s a lot of wiggle room when it comes to chemical sales. If your preferred vendor can’t drop actual chemical prices, they can often cut the add-on fees like delivery charges, tank storage, haz-mat costs or chemical disposal levies. 

Generics vs. Name Brand – Most pool chemicals are pretty common, and generic options can have a huge impact on yearly costs. Take a quick look around your chemical storage areas for brand name chemicals. Now take a deeper look on the packaging at their chemical composition. Brand name pH reducer is often just muriatic acid. Brand name chlorine tablets are often just calcium hypochlorite. Shop around for an alternative generic chemical and assess impacts on pricing and performance. 

Old vs. New Inventory Turnover – Chemicals don’t last forever, but many operators find themselves buying a one, two or even three-months’ supply in an effort to cut delivery fees. Consider the costs of chemical deterioration. As a general rule, liquids deteriorate more rapidly than solids and should be turned over much more frequently (weeks, not months). If your pump room is overstocked consider the value in reduced supply and fresher product.

Comparing Chemicals 

Choices abound when it comes to pool chems. Are you making the most efficient decisions?

Chlorine vs. Bromine – Bromine costs have risen in the last decade, but if you’re running your pool at a higher temperature (think therapy pools and spas) bromine should be considered. Bromine dissipates slower than chlorine at higher temperatures and can be an efficient option in warmer water. With that said, too many general use swimming pools have stuck with bromine for far too long. It may have been a more reasonable choice 10, 20 or 30 years ago, but if you’re using bromine in a general use swimming pool, you’re paying too much to sanitize the water. 

Chlorine vs. Chlorine – If you’re going to chlorinate your water, you’ve got plenty of choices to consider. Most common chlorine compounds are liquid (sodium hypochlorite) or solid (calcium hypochlorite, or stabilized chlorine discussed below). Simple cost formulas can be built to compare deliverable PPM costs across different chlorine types. Direct comparisons can help determine the least expensive way to chlorinate the water in your area. 

Organic Chlorine vs. Inorganic Chlorine – Chlorine dissipates quickly in sunny environments. In sunbelt states, organic (stabilized) chlorines like dichlor and trichlor rule the market. These stabilized chlorines have cyanuric acid built into their mix. That cyanuric acid acts a sun block, slowing the degradation of chlorine by the UV rays of the sun. As you move further north, these stabilized, organic chlorines don’t have as much of an efficiency impact, and unstable, inorganic chlorines like sodium hypochlorite (liquid chlorine) and calcium hypochlorite (dry chemical chlorine) tend to be preferred choices at outdoor pools. Organic, stabilized chlorines should never be used at indoor pools. 

Acid vs. CO2 – If you’re going to use chlorine as your primary sanitizer, you’re likely to balance out the high pH with an acid, and you’ve got a choice to make: liquid or gas. The most common pH decreasing options are muriatic acid as a liquid, or carbonic acid, created by using carbon dioxide as a gas. Depending on the availability of these in your area, one option be much less expensive than the other. Industrial supply companies and chemical distributers can typically source muriatic acid in bulk. Welding supply companies and beverage distributers often sell carbon dioxide at low costs. Comparing your options here is a bit tricky with lots of variables at play. Ask around and see what your local peers are using, then compare costs.  

Pump Room Processes

A couple of quick changes to your methods can pay off big in the long run. 

Manual vs. Automatic – Nearly all state swimming pool codes require the use of automatic chemical delivery systems in your pump room, and for good reasons. Automation of chemical dosing allows for more consistent, precise and safer feed of essential chemicals like chlorine, bromine, acids and bases. Upgrading your automated chemical delivery equipment can have a rapid return on investment. Modern units utilize constant electronic testing of the water to determine chemical counts allowing for more efficient chemical dosing. If you already have automated chemical controllers, make sure you’re utilizing them to their fullest potential. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and calibrating your chemical probes. If these probes misread chemical values, they’re likely to overfeed or underfeed chemicals. 

Old Water vs. New Water – Smart operators know that their water is expensive. It’s been heated, treated and chemically balanced. Any process that sends that water down the drain should be avoided. With that said, there are chemical situations where water replacement is prudent. Some chemicals and substances are tough, if not impossible to remove from the water (namely calcium, cyanuric acid and total dissolved solids). There are times when responsible draining and filling makes sense. Heavily used pools and spas may also require more drain and fill cycles.  When situations arise where the water needs to go down the drain, just make sure you’re contentious of the associated costs. 

Simple vs. Specialty – The math and science of water balance hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years – but you wouldn’t know that when scanning a pool supply catalog or touring a trade show floor. Quick fixes and band aids exist in every market, and aquatic chemistry isn’t immune to the latest snake oil sale. With that said, our industry is one founded on scientific principles, academically supported information and peer-reviewed best practices. When in doubt, head back to your CPO handbook for the facts, and keep your pool chemistry simple. It’s the easiest path to great water. 

Time for a chemistry refresher? The Certified Pool Operator program is now offered 100% online. Check out the full schedule here.