The worst chlorine shortage the country has ever seen is set to rock this summer’s pool season.
“We cared about it,” said Cody Saliture, owner of Texas Pool Professionals, which has been in the business for 17 years.
The Rockwall, Texas-based company serves 200 customers a week, and Saliture said it recently started stocking chlorine tablets. He has also looked for various chemicals to clean the pools and keep his customers happy.
“We’re looking for anything we can’t get here in North Texas,” Saliture said. “We’ve been to about six states and 15 cities [for supplies]. “
The lack of chlorine is widespread and is likely to worsen – driving chlorine prices even higher – as homeowners start preparing swimming pools for the season. CNBC spoke to pool industry insiders in several states – including Florida, Michigan, Nevada, and Texas – about the scarce supplies expected by pool owners who are largely unaware of the problem.
A combination of factors created the scarcity, including an unprecedented surge in demand last year and a chemical plant fire that destroyed some manufacturing capacity.
“We started early, buying much earlier and stocking as much as possible,” said Allan Curtis. “We won’t last longer than likely in mid-May or late May and we will run out of chlorine.”
His pool maintenance business, Ask the Pool Guy, serves 1,000 customers near Howell, Michigan. He has been in the industry for 34 years and this is the first time he has stocked up chlorine.
“”[I expect pool owners] has to move from tablets to powdered chlorine, from powdered chlorine to liquid chlorine, from liquid chlorine to non-chlorinated shocks and things, “Curtis said.” And I believe that all of these will literally go out. “
Rudy Stankowitz, CEO of Aquatic Facility Training & Consultants, has been in the industry for more than 30 years and is the author of “How to get rid of swimming pool algae. “
“I call it ‘Poolmageddon’. It’s a chlorine crisis,” said the Florida-based writer. “Lots of people won’t be able to find the chlorine tablets they need this season.”
Chlorine is used to prevent and kill algae. More importantly, however, it also protects swimmers from water-borne diseases such as Cryptosporidium and Legionella, as well as Naegleria fowleri, commonly known as the brain-eating amoeba.
“Chlorine also helps prevent swimming pools from becoming breeding grounds for mosquitoes and related diseases, and helps prevent unsafe conditions that could contribute to drowning – such as cloudy water,” said Stankowitz.
There are 5.2 million residential pools and 255,000 commercial pools in the United States, according to Atlanta-based research firm Pkdata. The number of above-ground pools is unknown.
Stankowitz estimated that 60% to 70% use chlorine tablets.
Last year the Coronavirus pandemic forced people to crouch and cancel travel plans. As more Americans stayed at home, the demand for home improvement – especially backyard swimming pools – skyrocketed. This boom, experts say, led to an even greater demand for chlorine.
Then, one of the main suppliers in the country for chlorine tablets, BioLab, Burned down last August, right after Hurricane Laura. The facility near Lake Charles, Louisiana, is expected to be operational again in the spring of 2022.
“We know how important our products are for everyday families at home. That’s why we’re investing US $ 170 million in rebuilding our BioLab facility – to get even bigger and better. When completed, the facility will be 30% higher Production capacity, “said a spokesman for BioLab’s parent company, KIK Consumer Products.
After the fire, there are only two domestic chlorine tablet manufacturers left: Occidental Petroleum and Clearon Corp.
An Occidental spokesman said the company was not commenting on the production. Clearon did not set any specific production targets.
“Clearon has made significant investments in both our people and our manufacturing capabilities to support the tectonic growth of our industry,” said Bryan Kitchen, President and CEO, in an email.
According to financial services company IHS Markit, chlorine prices are expected to increase 70% this summer compared to last year. In some parts of the country, however, the price of chlorine tablets has already doubled in the past year.
In Las Vegas, Scotty Heer, owner of Scotty Pool Service, sees this firsthand.
“Over the past 20 years, a typical 50-pound bucket of chlorine would cost between $ 75 and $ 85. Over the last year it has increased to $ 140, with the suggested price of $ 158 in the near future.” said Army.
In some parts of the country pool supply businesses have put volume restrictions in place.
“Sometimes the parts stores are completely closed, sometimes there is a limit of one or two buckets – per company and per day – in which we used to be able to shop indefinitely [amount],” he said.
There are alternatives. For example, a saltwater pool produces chlorine from salt during electrolysis. It doesn’t replace chlorine, it makes its own.
Converting a chlorinated pool system to a salt water system worked well for Heer’s customer Mallory Pracale.
“It’s better for us, for our skin, for our hair, for our pool, for the maintenance costs,” said Pracale.
Experts say converting to a salt system isn’t difficult – it requires a small unit and electrical work – but they recommend using a licensed and insured professional to do it. Costs vary from market to market, but pool owners can expect to pay north of $ 2,000.
Other systems such as UV and ozone allow a pool owner to use less chlorine but must maintain minimal levels.
According to Stankowitz, a homeowner could pay up to $ 20,000, depending on the market, to convert a 10,000-gallon garden pool to chlorine-free ozone treatment. However, some ozone systems that work on chlorine can start at around $ 2,000.
Copper and silver ionization systems are another way to use less chlorine and should cost around $ 2,000 or more.
Unfortunately, this year it won’t be easy to switch to a salt system like Pracale. Experts say the swimming pool boom, coupled with the need to replace swimming pool equipment damaged by Texas winter storms, has made supplies significantly more difficult.
According to Heer, “the only problem with converting to salt water is – I would say now – getting your hands on a salt water system. Everything [is] in great demand. “
With the chlorine deficiency expected to last until next year, four pool experts offer the following advice:
- Make sure the water looks clean and clear before you get in. “If it’s a public pool, make sure it is inspected by a city official,” Saliture said.
- Contact your local pool professional to discuss chlorine alternatives. From salt water and UV systems to mineral packs, there are alternatives. “There are different [mineral pack] Names out there. And they have a mixture of minerals that you add to your water at the beginning of the bathing season. And they last all summer. They are very inexpensive, typically less than $ 100. They eliminate algae and reduce the need for chlorine, “Curtis said.
- Keep track of your maintenance. “Don’t forget that filtration and water circulation are huge contributors to swimming pool health,” said Stankowitz.
- Shower before swimming and do not allow pets in the pool. “A dog in a pool is the equivalent of 50 people swimming in that pool based on the amount of debris it puts into the water,” Curtis said. “The fewer oils that are introduced, the less chlorine is required.”
– CNBCs Ray Parisi contributed to this report.