How to Minimize Chlorine Exposure When Swimming

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Wellness Mama » Blog » Health » How to Minimize Chlorine Exposure When Swimming

We go to great lengths to remove chlorine (and other contaminants) in our drinking water and shower water, and it made me think about the effect of this common chemical in swimming pools and how much that exposure can affect us.

The Problem With Chlorine

You don’t even have to swim in the pool to be affected by some of the health risks. Chlorinated pools and other water sources also release chloramines.

Chloramine is a gas that smells like chlorine and you’ve probably smelled this in hotels with indoor pools.

Sweat, sunscreens, urine, and other chemicals and waste combine with chlorine to create chloramines. This oxidized chlorine gas and is present in the air around chlorinated pools and other water sources. As you can imagine, this is especially a concern in indoor pools without ventilation but can also be problematic in outdoor pools.

Negative Effects of Chloramines

A strong smell of chlorine is a pretty good indication that there are chloramines in a pool. This potent gas can also cause symptoms like coughing and sinus irritation. On the more serious end, it can cause symptoms like wheezing and even increasing asthma symptoms.

The CDC reports that:

Breathing of irritants may increase sensitivity to other types of irritants such as fungi and bacteria.

Even the American Academy of Pediatrics acknowledges the dangers of Chlorine. Their study of over 800 children revealed that chlorine exposure had a noticeable effect on children with allergies or asthma. They also found that even children without allergies or asthma were affected by prolonged or regular chlorine exposure.

What to Do?

Our whole family loves the water, so while not swimming and filtering our home water would eliminate chlorine exposure, I’m not quite ready to throw the baby out with the pool water!

Thankfully, there are a few things that can be done to help minimize chlorine exposure:

  1. Avoid chlorinated pools whenever possible. In many places there are options that use salt filters (though these still contain chlorine but in smaller amounts) or UV filters. There are often great places to swim outdoors in some places. Obviously, not swimming in water sources that use chlorine is an easy way to reduce exposure. Thankfully, our local indoor pool uses salt and UV filters and no chlorine.
  2. Use Vitamin C: Check out this great article and the attached lectures for a great background on how vitamin C helps neutralize chlorine and undo the damage of chlorine exposure. Turns out taking vitamin C (ascorbic acid) internally and making some type of solution to rub on the skin can reduce a lot of exposure. Turns out they even make vitamin C shower filters that are pretty inexpensive and which dechlorinate shower water. Since vitamin C is often used in anti-aging serums, this is a win-win solution!
  3. Protect the skin: Providing a physical barrier on the skin with an oil can also help reduce exposure. I like using my homemade lotion and adding vitamin C. It is great for skin and protects from chlorine exposure (recipe below!). A commenter pointed out that many public pools do not allow lotions on the skin before using the pool so check with the rules if you use a public pool and check with your pool instructions if using your own pool.

Do You Have a Pool?

If you have a pool and swim regularly, the effects of chlorine exposure can be even more pronounced. Thankfully, if you own a pool, you also have the ability to control the methods used and limit your chlorine exposure.

There are many great chlorine-free filtration options available now. If you are building a pool, you can start with one of these for about the same price as a regular chlorine pump and system. If you already have a pool, you can convert it relatively easily to a chlorine-free system.

Chlorine-Free Systems

Many places now offer UV based systems that require minimal or no chlorine to operate. These systems kill over 99% of bacteria on their own, so trace amounts of other chemicals can be used. Our method is to use a UV filter and pump system and use food grade hydrogen peroxide as a safety net.

The goal with hydrogen peroxide is to keep it at about 50 ppm. We use simple test strips to test and add about 2 cups of hydrogen peroxide per 1000 gallons of water every couple of weeks.

The important note here is to use food grade 35% hydrogen peroxide. The stuff from the drugstore is only 3% and you’d need a whole to shock a pool. 35% hydrogen peroxide is super concentrated, so use caution when handling it, but it is completely safe once in the pool because it is diluted so much.

Not only is this the most natural method I’ve found, it has been really simple to use and the only other factor we have to look at is balancing the pH. It is also pretty comparable cost-wise to other methods.

If you swim in a pool that isn’t your own or can’t convert to a chlorine-free system, something as simple as a de-chlorinating lotion can help. It can also be helpful to shower in a shower with a vitamin C filter before and after swimming.

How to Make a DIY Dechlorinating Lotion

When we are going to swim, we apply a quick lotion barrier to the skin. (Skip to the end of this post to find a simple sunscreen recipe that will do double duty.)

How to Make Lotion

  1. Combine oils and beeswax in a pint sized or larger glass jar. I have a mason jar that I keep just for making lotions and lotion bars, or you can even reuse a glass jar from pickles, olives or other foods.
  2. In another small jar or bowl, add the vitamin c powder to the warm water and stir until dissolved.
  3. Fill a medium saucepan with a couple inches of water and place the jar with the oils inside the saucepan and turn on medium heat.
  4. As the water heats, the ingredients in the jar will start to melt. Shake or stir occasionally to incorporate. When all ingredients are completely melted, pour into a small blender or food processor. (Keep in the jar if using an immersion blender that will fit in the top of the jar.)
  5. With blender or food processor on, slowly add the water/vitamin C mixture until blended and emulsified.
  6. Store in an air-tight glass jar.
  7. Use before swimming (preferably after rinsing skin) to minimize chlorine exposure. This is purposefully a small batch since no preservatives are used and it will only last one swim season.
  8. Enjoy and be chlorine free!

Other Options (No DIY required)

Those who use sunscreen can add vitamin C powder to pre-made sunscreen to get the benefits of chlorine reduction and sun protection at the same time.

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Shani Muhammad, MD, board certified in family medicine and has been practicing for over ten years. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor or work with a doctor at SteadyMD.

Do you worry about chlorine exposure? How do you avoid it?

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


179 responses to “How to Minimize Chlorine Exposure When Swimming”

  1. Elizabeth Avatar

    Saltwater pools are NOT chlorine free! Rather than putting chlorine in a saltwater pool, it is made by the chlorine generator in a saltwater pool and the levels are the same and often HIGHER than a chlorinated pool.

    We were going to have a saltwater pool installed, but instead went with the “Frog Mineral System” which is truly lower chlorine. We were able to keep our chlorine at 1/3 (to 1/2 at times when we needed a bit more) the level of chlorine a standard or saltwater system uses. We never smelled like chlorine either when swimming in that pool. No headaches and worries. I know it still wasn’t ideal, but it was far better than what our exposure would have been with a standard system.

    1. Shasha Avatar

      The Spa I go to….doesn’t burn my eyes or eat up my swim suit like the YMCA pool does. They make Cl on demand. I don’t know the details. I am glad you found a good way to have safe water. Happiness….

  2. Jennifer Lee Narron Avatar
    Jennifer Lee Narron

    Swimspray. On Amazon. Gets chlorine off skin. Use a chelating shampoo and rinse with half a jug of distilled water. Your hair will be softer. Yes, the shampoo has ‘junk’ in it. But if you need the smell out of your hair and/or it has turned green (blondes) or you want your texture back, it will do it in one fell swoop. I used JOICO k-Pak clarifying shampoo. Again, this product has ‘bad stuff’ in it; but it is an effective solution. And it’s quick. I can not be 100% non-toxic and 100% organic, 100% of the time, so pls don’t judge; I’m just bring real about what worked for me. Using it a handful of times only in the summer is not a huge risk for me. xo

  3. Valeri Romano Avatar
    Valeri Romano

    I’ve been swimming competitively for years now and I have to say I’ve tried everything out there. At one point I had so many bottles of oils, vitaC, lotion I felt like I was going to a picnic. VitaC and oils are a huge hassle and do not work that well. And no lifeguard in their right mind will let you into the pool if you’re oiled. Over my long exposure to the pool chlorine, my skin has become more sensitive to the point of eczema, severe itch, and blotchy skin. I’ve just started using Swimmer Soap bar soap, I’ve only used it for a few of months. It was getting rid of the chlorine and the itch, and at first it wasn’t really doing much for the eczema but its actually going down on it’s own. I’m not on any oral or topical medication for it. Hope this helps.

  4. jill casto Avatar
    jill casto

    wanting to make something for my son to use in the showers after swimming in the pool. He’s a swimmer and is in the pool or pool area 6 days a week for 2-3 hours a day. I made some spray that was just water and vit c but thats only good for 1 or 2 days max due to oxidations. can’t find anything online, but do you think if I put the vit c in a bar of soap it would last longer? also do you know how long it would last in the lotion recipe you have? LOVE your site and your podcasts!!! please make more podcasts! haha! (like you aren’t busy?!) LOL!! take care!! thanks for all you do to spread the word and make it easy to find great info!!! 🙂

  5. Brian Avatar

    I am with you, Wellness Mama! People say that the benefits of exercising, being in water, etc outweigh the risks for them until they are the ones diagnosed with cancer, heart disease, etc. Then it’s “poor me/I did everything right/I guess this is just bad luck/etc” and those of us who chose more responsibly have to provide support and pretend that we don’t see or understand what really is going on.

    I eat organically, take no meds, and filter my shower and drinking water. I definitely, as much as it sucks, will not swim in chlorine. If I even have to take a shower without a filter, my skin is dry and itchy and burns for days. I think for most people to understand and care, they would have to have their skin peel off upon entering the water. Otherwise, they just believe what they’re told and go on their way.

    Also, what makes people think that they can completely submerge their skin, the body’s largest organ, in a bath of chemicals and not absorb them? Rinsing off after (in more chlorinated/fluoridated/toxic water) is not going to change things. Maybe all of the chemicals have affected their brain cells?

    The only way this will all change is if we all come together and demand it. First, though, we have to wake up…
    …thanks for a good article, and for having the courage to do what you do!

  6. Joan C.Levy Avatar
    Joan C.Levy

    I keep getting UTI’s and wonder if you know of any protective garment I might be able to wear while in the pool. I am soon to be 82 and feel that the pool walking I do helps me in many ways. I have also had knees and hips replaced. It does not hurt my body to walk in the pool. I walk about an hour. I really hate to quit. Do you have any suggestions?

    Thank You very much for any help you might be able to give me.

    1. Erica Avatar

      DMannose is a supplement you can take that prevents bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall, helping with Urinary Tract Infections.

  7. Mary Avatar

    Please make a note at the top of this blog post or take this post down. Lotions, oils or other skin applications put on before swimming is not allowed in most, if not all, public pools! You are encouraging something that is against most public pool policy. I agree with most of your wonderful blog post but this one is a big disappointment! Adults and children who are recreational swimmers for a short amount if time every week are fine! Exercise benifits far outweighs the negative affects if short-term chlorine exposure!

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      I added a note to the post, and am certainly not suggesting that anyone break any rules, however I would have to disagree that the benefits outweigh the risks and some individuals (including me) react very strongly to chlorine and will have negative effects for weeks. For me, even showering in most hotels is enough to affect me.

  8. Valerie Avatar

    For me personally, the many mental and physical benefits of swimming laps far out weighs my concern of the chlorine.

    1. Lori Avatar

      Until you hit the point of no return and come down with leaky gut syndrome and auto-immune disorders, the chlorine isn’t really a problem. Once the scales tip to far in the wrong direction, that’s when you cannot tolerate chlorine and fluoride any longer.

  9. Damion Avatar

    Thanks for sharing about this topic i was really concerned about it from last few month, have heard about this issue from my friends, the pool i go weekly, they have some rule to enter into the pool without applying any oil or other skin product on your body, they say it cause some damage to their pool filters. but i think quick shower after swimming & use of any body lotion or oil will help to reduce the effect of chlorine on my body

  10. Jess Humphrey Avatar
    Jess Humphrey

    I have some Sodium Ascorbate powder (the one recommended by Dr. Suzanne Humphries) but no Ascorbic Acid. Do you think that would work in this recipe?

  11. Hampton Avatar

    Unfortunately its not always possible to avoid the chlorinated pools but definitely wash straight after and use a natural product like the almond oil on the skin.

  12. Betsy Avatar

    My daughters and I go in the pool daily right now since the fla heat can be miserable and I’ve tried looking up a spray recipe. I don’t think the ascorbic acid would dissolve in water completely and have thought about rose water which is what I spray on our skin and hair now. Is there a better idea?

  13. Hollie Avatar

    saltwater pools are not the same as chlorine. My daughter is extremely sensitive to chlorine. after just one swim in a chlorine pool her skin is horribly irritated and I don’t let her go in again for at least a week. Thankfully, our neighbors have a saltwater pool and she has no problem going in as often as she wants.

    1. Lauren Avatar

      I will only point out the basics. Salt in a pool is converted into chlorine. NaCl is salt. Na is Sodium. Cl in Chlorine. I am happy that your daughter enjoys swimming in salt pools. Just know that the slat is converted into Chlorine through a device called a salt CHLORINATOR. It puts an electric charge across plate to separate the NaCl into Chlorine.

  14. Steve Berens Avatar
    Steve Berens

    A friend asked that I comment on this. For full disclosure, my company makes a complete alternative to chlorine in pools. To be clear Salt is Chlorine. The same negative effects of chlorine exist with salt systems. The key is to have complete disinfection. In pools it comes in the form of both oxidation and residual sanitation. Chlorine does this at a cost to our health, environment and personal enjoyment of our pools. Good sanitation systems like ours can perform the complete disinfection needed without exposing your family to negative impacts while enjoying your swimming more.

      1. Steven Avatar

        The company is Clear Comfort and the product is called Advanced Oxidation System.

    1. Elizabeth Avatar

      Baking soda does not DISINFECT, which is the point behind chlorine. It’s not about ph in a pool. It’s about preventing people from getting sick from swimming in bodily fluids, germs, & bacteria. I agree chlorine is dangerous and hate my family swimming in it, but baking soda is not the answer.

  15. stef Avatar

    Hi! Thank you so much for the useful info! Can I use coconut oil on my daughters hair before entering the pool to protect it from chlorine? It remains greasy even after shampooing… And is vitamin c safe on children’s skin?
    Thank you!

    1. JB Avatar

      A hair dresser told me that by wetting your hair before going into a pool you saturate the follicles with water so they’re less likely to saturate the chlorine.

  16. Eric Avatar

    This is a horrible and misinformative article. All public pools require the use of a sanitizer. Either chlorine or bromine. So when you say a salt pool with UV doesn’t have chlorine in it, that’s a lie. The salt in the pool is converted to chlorine by electrolysis. It makes the exact same chlorine that you would buy in a bottle. Same chlorine levels as a normal pool too since the health departed regulates this.

    If you go into a pool that isn’t properly sanitized you are asking for a far worse parasit or baterial infection than anything the chlorine could ever cause.

    Fun fact. The average person have .1 grams of fecal matter, up in their you know where,when entering a pool. You should thank the chlorine in the pool, not make it a villain. And if there is no chlorine in the pool, get out.

    1. Marie Fessler Avatar
      Marie Fessler

      Agreed. Yours is one of the most accurate comments here.
      I’m a Florida native and have been swimming (i.e. laps, not just standing in the water to cool off) my whole life. In the Atlantic, the Gulf, and many outdoor pools. I also have a B.S. degree in science.

      I would rather rinse off immediately after swimming – including washing my hair asap in order to wash off chlorine than swim in green slimy pools or pools where the ppm (parts per million) of fecal matter is off the charts. Pools must use something to keep the ppm of feces, urine, algae and the like at a very low level. We have our own pool and every time it rains, or just every 5-6 days, the pool must be majorly adjusted.

      I second the suggestions to shower hair & body just before entering. Lastly, due to my extended-wear contact lenses, I always wear a full snorkeling mask, and I think it might possibly help in that my face, eyes, & nose never contact the water at all.

      All the scientific studies I have seen indicate that the chlorine problem is most often seen in indoor, public pools.
      And the individuals affected have been competitive swimmers and employees — both of whom spend much more time exposed in the pool, breathing the recirculated air (& applying chemicals, in the case of employees) than most of us ever will. The amount of time of exposure must be figured in. (i.e. 365 days a year, or, at the other extreme: 7- 30 days a year for only 1 hour per day if one accounts for swimming lessons, summer camp, and a beach vacation for most children) I hope this last comparison calms some mothers as it has calmed me.

      1. Lynn Avatar

        Thank you for your comment Marie. I grew up swimming in a Lake. I now go to a local community pool that does use chlorine, but is very clean and well ventilated. I rinse off before I go in, and after. The pool/swimming has saved my life. At 50 years old, only a few months ago I was in agonizing pain and was limping due to Sciatica. The exercises and swimming in the pool has greatly improved my life. I am a person that HAS to have-be in the water. I am in the pool one hour 3x week minimum. Hopefully all the other natural things I do will help with detoxing from being subjected to chlorine. I personally use spirulina to help.

  17. Evan Brand Avatar
    Evan Brand

    Those that are paranoid and/or skeptical can listen to my podcast episode with Olympic Swimmer Catherine Garceau as she discusses her depression that stemmed from hours and hours spent in a chlorinated pool.

  18. Linda Avatar

    I use shea butter before swimming in our local pool, it works great! Never thought I could add vitamin C, need to try that 😉 Thank you for the article 🙂

  19. veron Avatar

    Thanks for the recipe. Is it ok to add carrot seed oil for sun protection? And how many teaspoons to add? I can’t get zinc oxide where I’m from. TIA

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