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. Carolyn Avatar

    Where do you live? Looking to relocate and would love to live in an enlightened place with no chlorine pools as i am a swim coach and instructor. Thanks, Carolyn

  2. Hayley-anne Avatar

    Hi Katie!
    Thanks for this great post. I’d like to add vitamin c powder to our natural sunscreen-how much would you add per ml (or cup-I’m in Australia) and do you need to dissolve it in warm water like your lotion? I’d be worried about watering down the sunscreen. Thanks so much, Hayley-anne

  3. Jack H Avatar

    I always wonder about the professional swimmers and what problems they get? Does Michael Phelps have health issues?

  4. Cristina Avatar

    Just wondering…how long would a swim season be? My son takes two classes a week for a whole month. Would it be less than that or more??

  5. ashley Avatar

    Have you looked into adding geranium to the lotion? I love your recipe and use geranium for kidney support and detoxification specifically related to chlorine. I would love to hear your thoughts!

  6. Becky Avatar

    Live this recipe! Works so well! I teach water fitness 6-8 hours a week in an indoor pool! Heavily chlorinated! I’ll get no more comments “Meemaw you smell like the pool”
    Thank you!

  7. Kate Avatar

    One thing I do to reduce my chlorine exposure when swimming is to make sure I have a decently long shower before I enter the pool. The goal is to be completely saturated with the less-chlorinated water in the shower so your body is not able to absorb as much pool water. This is especially effective for your hair. Also, as soon as I get out of the pool, I hit the showers. I don’t lay around on the pool deck until after I’ve rinsed as much of the pool water as I can.

  8. Danika L Delello Avatar
    Danika L Delello

    How much vitamin c powder should be added to a pre-made sunscreen?

    Also, would it be possible to create a lotion that protects from chlorine and the sun, by adding both zinc oxide powder and vitamin c powder? What would the proportions need to be for that?

  9. Brian Avatar

    Came across this article because I am a swim teacher and in the water 9+ hours a day. I dont have any rashses, or health issues (I have been teaching for 26+ years) but I was curious to see if there were any studies done regarding long term chlorine exposure.

    While I am not a doctor or researcher, I do agree that exposure to chlorine is not ideal,. However, I think it is important to keep everything in perspective. As in life, everything in moderation. With the exception of a few of us, the amount of time we (and our children are in the pools) is minimal to all the other harsh chemicals out there. Outside of swim team participants (1-2 hours a day) and swim teachers/coaches, most are in pools for about an hour or less per day, or even seasonally.

    Chlorine in tap water which we use daily (shower, bathe, dri, wash our chlothes, etc…) is a greater concern but again, keep it in perspective. Most dont swim EVERY day and for many it is a seasonal activity (half a year or less even for some).

    Ironically, it has been verified that sunscreens have harsher contaminants and carcinogens than chlorine. See the Environmental Working Groups’ annual report cards. So pick your battles.

    I know I will get flack for saying this, but if POOL chlorine exposure was such an epidemic, I would think more studies would have been done with real world case studies, and data. That is not to say there is not the certain % of the population that is sensitive to POOL chlorine, or that may have gotten sick from POOL chlorine. I just think we are exposed to more toxicity walking down the street and in the air we breathe the other 23 hours a day. I took wish I didnt teach in chlorine pools but its my job, and I love my job.

    I would also think that there would be evidence of adults that grew up on competitive swim teams and grew up with double workouts would now be experiencing many of the same medical conditions if it was a prevalent problem. This would be on a national level since chlorine is the most common disinfectant, particularly with public swim team pools.

    I know my comments are very basic in its simplistic forum, but I think a little dose of reality is in order. Do what you can to avoid POOL chlorine exposure, but dont not enjoy pool time just because you dont have access to a non-liquid chlorine pool. Indoor pools are my least favorite because of the smell, and there are lots of disinfectant techniques available these days.

  10. Jana Avatar

    Thanks for the info on this. I am more aware of the ability of Vitamin C to be a natural remedy to counter the effects of chlorine that we can so easily be exposed to. My daughter is newly on a swim team, and I am now searching for ways to decrease the effects of chlorine on her body. One product I found claims to be a Vitamin C based spray to use after swimming on hair and skin. Katie, you research so well-if you have a moment to check out the product Swimspray and comment I would appreciate your thoughts. Hoping to find more solutions to this chlorine dilemma and swimming. Especially because swimming remains a great method of exercise for the body.

  11. Cathy Avatar

    Thank you for this information. I have changed over to peroxide in my pool but it’s way more expensive than chlorine. Can you suggest a UV system or dealer? Thank you

  12. Aimee Schmitt Avatar
    Aimee Schmitt

    SwimSpray is a ph balanced vitamin C spray. They say it is all-natural. Much easier to use after you swim in chlorine.

  13. Lynn Castle Avatar
    Lynn Castle

    I swim in a chlorinated pool at the YMCA about 5 hours a week. I get wet before I go in, wash and apply cetaphil lotion when I get out.
    I have heard about ascorbic acid.
    Is it helpful to take a warm bath at home (about 2/3 full) with 1/2 cup of lemon juice? It has vitamin C and is acidic. That certainly gets the chlorine smell off. Does it help counteract the effects of the chlorine?

  14. Caitlin McBride Avatar
    Caitlin McBride

    Does this lotion go on before or after sunscreen? Also, is it only good for a year or can we use it until we are out? Thank you!

  15. Melina H. Avatar
    Melina H.

    With all of your knowledge regarding chlorine would you allow your children to participate in a summer swim league at a heavily chlorinated pool (strong smell)? It’s the only option in our area. My son has been on the team for a few years and I’m rethinking it for this year.

    1. Katie - Wellness Mama Avatar

      That’s such a tough decision! Our kids have also done swim team in the past, though the pool wasn’t too heavily chlorinated, but it still seemed to give them headaches. I’m hesitant for ours to do swim team again because I have really bad physical reactions to chlorine, even from inhaling it, but some people do seem to do much better with it…

      1. Tara Avatar

        Katie, I was just thinking of coming to your site to ask this same kind of question, though my question is about swimming lessons, not swim league. I would like to find a non-chlorine pool for swim lessons, but if that isn’t available, that would leave us with either the ever-present chlorine pools, or perhaps we would find a saltwater pool. My understanding is that saltwater still produces chlorine, but I’ve been thinking about that… If it doesn’t smell chlorine-y, is it possible that the saltwater would still be better than chlorine; it seems to me that if it doesn’t smell like chlorine, there would be less of it in the water even if there is some, and perhaps that would be better in terms of the microbiome, inhalation, etc. And if we’re left with only chlorine, we’ll need to go ahead with that, given the importance of learning to swim for overall safety. But I do prefer to avoid the chlorine. As far as you understand it, is it true that the saltwater (though producing some chlorine) would be preferable to chlorine? I would take the effort to seek that out if it’s a better option. And if we do have to go with the chlorine, is there any way to protect the microbiome and minimize any other damage from chlorine in a young child?

          1. P. H. Avatar

            For Clarification, Salt Water Pools are Chlorine Pools. The Salt is only used to create chlorine in the water (NaCl=Salt – A chlorine pool splits it into Sodium, Na, and Chlorine, Cl). Salt Pools have several issues including corrosion of equipment and decking, water chemistry balance due to excessively high pH and maintenance. Chlorine Free pools that use hydroxyls as the primary oxidizer are a far better way to go. Safe, Effective and Healthier to swim in. Clear Comfort offers those

  16. lea Avatar

    For drinking and cooking and sink water, the AquaCera filter filters out almost all fluoride! And you don’t have to buy additional filters like the Berkey. Check out Radiant Life’s products. Also, shower filters with kdf technology are an excellent choice.

  17. Felicity Avatar

    My concern is also with the pool water my 4yr old inevitably swallows during her swimming lessons. Wondering if getting her to take bentonite clay or diatomaceous earth before her lessons would help?

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