Chlorine is a staple in swimming pool maintenance, but did you know that it’s in your drinking water, too? It’s added to your supply and pool for the same reason: to act as a disinfectant.
It works wonders in water purification, but it’s a controversial chemical. If you’re wondering how something that burns, stinks, and dries your skin could be safe to ingest, you’re not alone.
We’re going to show you how to remove chlorine from water so that you will have a purer and healthier supply. Before we do, here’s what you need to know about chlorine to determine if removing it is the best step for you.
What Is Chlorine Exactly?
Chlorine’s most commonly used to keep your swimming pool clean and bright, but there’s more than meets the eye. Industrially, chlorine has more purposes than we can count.
Used as a pesticide and food preserver, it’s a component in manufacturing everything from plane seats to bulletproof vests. It plays a role in energy, construction, computers, and healthcare too (1). How is it possible that a cleaning agent you swim in is so versatile?
Did you know that chlorine isn’t man-made and that it’s not a liquid? It’s a chemical element — 17 on the periodic table — that naturally occurs as a green gas. Through the marvels of science, we’ve changed its form and appearance to more effectively harness its power.
Is Chlorine Safe to Drink?
Pool owners use chlorine without fear, but it has a bad rap. It’s persistently blamed for skin irritations and unfairly takes the blame for burning your eyes when you swim.
The fact is, chlorine is innocent. Scientists have explained that chlorine alone doesn’t harm your eyes. It only burns when it reacts to urine in your pool (2).
Gross as that may be, it’s the exact reason why chlorine is added to drinking water. Water is easily contaminated, and chlorine has incredible disinfectant properties. It binds to, and destroys, bacteria and other germs better than most other agents do.
Even so, chlorine is a highly toxic chemical that can have immensely dangerous effects if not handled correctly (3).
The Dangers of Chlorine
Chlorine deserves some praise for its disease prevention, but that’s about where its benefits end. Pathogens are cleared from your water, but there could be nasty repercussions for other areas of your health. Here are a few horrible side effects worth considering:
- It may cause cancer: Though they need further investigation, some studies show that chlorine byproducts promote cancer development (4). Chlorinated water is suggested to be a catalyst for rectal and bladder cancer in particular (5).
- Your gut will suffer: Bacteria is no match for chlorine, and that’s the problem — chlorine can destroy the good bacteria in your intestines. This further proves chlorine’s carcinogenic effect, as one study concluded that it increases the risk of colonic tumor growth (6).
- Birth defects are possible: A Taiwanese investigation links chlorinated water to the rise of birth defects. The study notes that, if ingested during pregnancy, it could cause cleft palates, as well as both heart and brain dysfunction in the fetus (7).
- Food allergies: A study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology found that chlorine byproducts may be the reason we can’t handle our food. More research is necessary, but the conclusion is that chlorine is likely responsible for the increased incidence of food allergies (8).
- It’s a toxin: Chlorine is so toxic, it’s been used in war. It was weaponized in World War One, the Iraq War, and even today in Syria (9). When inhaled, chlorine becomes deadly hydrochloric acid.
Chloramine: A Bigger Problem
There’s good news and bad news. On the one hand, chlorine is losing favor in water purification because of its hazardous effects. On the other, it’s lost favor to its byproduct: chloramine.
Chloramine is a blend of chlorine and ammonia. It serves the same function, and has similar attributes, though to a lesser degree. The problem is that chloramine is far more difficult to remove from water.
How to Remove Chlorine from Water
This isn’t a difficult process to carry out, and the benefits far outweigh any costs and labor involved.
Most water filtration systems use a process called reverse osmosis. It’s effective at removing toxins and other impurities from your drinking water.
Water is pushed through a special membrane, which forces contaminants out of the water and leaves them behind.
- Highly effective.
- Automated operation.
- Commercially available.
- Softens water.
- Installation required.
- Not all filters will remove chloramine.
- Might be pricey.
Chlorine is a volatile chemical, which means it vaporizes easily. If you’re looking for a way to remove chlorine from your supply without spending any money, just leave it to stand. The chlorine will remove itself from the water through evaporation.
This method works just as well as filtering chlorine out of your water, but it’s not without drawbacks. You’ll need to exercise patience, as it’s not an immediate solution to your chlorine problem.
Your environment will play a role in how quickly the chlorine evaporates. Chlorine is a gas at room temperature, so the warmer the air, the faster it will disperse. You can leave your water in an open jug in your fridge too, but it will take longer (at least 24 hours) to clear.
- Costs nothing.
- Natural solution.
- No tools or installation is necessary.
- Not an instant solution.
- Ineffective against chloramine.
It may seem counterintuitive to add more chemicals to your supply, but chemical treatment is a legitimate way to combat chlorine. There is chemistry involved, so this method may not be for everyone.
Potassium metabisulfite (K-meta) is the best treatment for chlorine. Once one of these tablets is dissolved into water, it neutralizes chlorine, and then — being volatile itself — evaporates away.
It works on both chlorine and chloramine and is commonly used in breweries and wineries. It’s powerful, too — one potassium metabisulfite tablet can dechlorinate up to 20 gallons of water.
- Works against chloramine too.
- Relatively effortless.
- Works quickly.
- Might be a hassle to find.
- Has a pungent smell.
This is a highly effective method of water purification, though it’s not as popular as water filtration.
If you have access to, or can get your hands on, an ultraviolet light, you can use it to dechlorinate your water. It’s effective against chlorine and chloramine and doesn’t have the drawbacks of chemical treatment or filtration.
Chlorine is a light-sensitive chemical, so UV rays break down and destroy traces of it. The longer chlorine is exposed to UV light, the greater its dissipation.
A problem is that UV lights aren’t exactly available from your grocery store. They can cost a lot of money to acquire, and continued exposure isn’t healthy for your skin.
- No chemicals required.
- Clears both chlorine and chloramine.
- Doesn’t affect the taste.
- Not budget-friendly.
- Exposure to dangerous UV radiation.
Boil Your Water
If none of the above appeals to you, you could use the most basic method of water purification: boiling your water.
The science is simple to understand. Since chlorine is volatile, the warmer it is, the faster it evaporates.
It’s recommended that you leave your water to boil for at least 20 minutes to be safe. There aren’t many drawbacks to this method; it’s effective and demands very little effort from you.
However, you will have to mind your water, and it uses up extra energy. There are no added chemicals, and you won’t have to spend money on equipment or getting set up, so it’s a small price to pay.
- Minimal effort.
- No additives or equipment needed.
- No impact on taste.
- Higher energy bills.
- Doesn’t remove chloramine.
Chlorine has many wonderful uses in this world, and it’s a valuable resource that we all benefit from. Still, adding it to drinking water can have a massive impact on your health. It’s an incredible disinfectant, but it’s toxic and isn’t necessarily worth its benefits.
We’ve shown you how to remove chlorine from water so that you can stay safe and healthy. Which method appeals to you most? Let us know in the comments section if you try any of them!