I’ve always been sensitive to the smell of chlorine. In hotels, I could always tell as soon as the elevator door started to open if the pool was on that level of the hotel. A visit to a highly-chlorinated indoor waterpark once left me foggy for days. For this reason, I’ve always been careful to avoid chlorine while swimming, but after hearing a respected doctor talk about the connection between chlorine exposure and various health problems (including thyroid problems), I started to research chlorine in much greater detail.
What is Chlorine?
Chlorine is a common disinfectant that is a gas at room temperature, but it is often pressurized and made into a liquid for transport. Chlorine is an ingredient in many types of household bleach (though not all) and is also often used in water treatment and pool sanitation.
Chlorine is toxic even in small amounts. When chlorine gas is inhaled, it combines with moisture in the respiratory system to make hypochlorous and hydrochloric acids that can harm tissue.
What we call “bleach” is actually sodium hypochlorite, which is diluted to a small percentage for household use. This can also be toxic in small amounts and is extremely dangerous when it mixes with other chemicals, especially ammonia (if you ever do this accidentally, leave your home and call the poison control center immediately!)
Why Avoid Chlorine Exposure?
Chlorine can be extremely harmful, even in small amounts. Symptoms of exposure can begin immediately and include wheezing, difficulty breathing, eye or skin irritation, tightness in chest, lightheadedness, and other problems. Severe problems include things like build up of fluid in the lungs.
While most of us are thankfully not exposed to concentrated sources of chlorine gas, many of us do encounter chlorine on a daily basis from drinking water, swimming pools or common household cleaners.
The most common source of exposure is drinking water, as chlorine is used to disinfect water for human use. Certainly, this is an important step in creating clean drinking water, but with emerging research showing a link between chlorine exposure and dementia (amongst other problems), it seems important to take a critical look at chlorine use in drinking water (1). In fact, the U.S. Council of Environmental Quality found that overall cancer risk is 93% higher in people who drink chlorinated water.
It is definitely easier to avoid chlorine in swimming pools and other non-essential sources, but drinking water is a necessity and many municipal water supplies add chlorine. Exposure to chlorine from pools has been linked to asthma, skin/eye irritation and even erosion of tooth enamel. (2, 3, 4)
Baths and showers are another source of major chlorine exposure. It wouldn’t seem at first glance that we’d absorb as much from a bath or shower as we would from drinking water, but since chlorine vaporizes more quickly than water and can be inhaled and absorbed through the skin, we can actually absorb much more chlorine from showering than from drinking water!
Chlorine also creates byproducts when it enters water, air or our bodies, including:
- Dichloro acidic acid (linked to liver cancer)
- Trihalomethanes or THMs including Chloroform (increase free radical production, speed aging and linked to cancer- found in high amounts in women with breast cancer)
- Unknown mutagens
How to Avoid Chlorine in the Home
Chlorine is added to most municipal water supplies and is in the water most people have in their homes. While it serves the very important purpose of disinfecting the water (though there are other more effective and more expensive ways now), it does have some potentially serious health consequences.
Since we largely can’t control what is in the water supply, the only option I’ve found to help avoid chlorine exposure in our home is to take measures to reduce or remove the chlorine coming in so we aren’t drinking or bathing in it.
Unfortunately, these means are not inexpensive or easy, but I considered them a priority for our family since we drink so much water daily. These are the steps I took (in order) to reduce our chlorine exposure at home:
1.Using Safe Laundry Products
We have to use laundry products anyway so this was an easy switch to make (and one that saved money). We switched away from chlorine containing laundry products (like bleach) and started making our own laundry soap. With little kids, I was glad not to have the more toxic laundry products in the house, and the homemade alternatives have worked really well for us.
2. Shower Filter
Another switch that was relatively inexpensive and simple to make: using a shower filter. I prioritized this over our sink filter, since statistically, we absorb more chlorine from a warm shower than from drinking water.
After much research, I ordered this New Century Shower Filter for our shower and it only took five minutes to install (even for me!).
3 De-chlorinating Bath Ball
When I ordered the shower filter, I also ordered a chlorine-removing bath ball for use in the kids’ baths. This neutralizes chlorine, chloramines and chlorine gas in about 5 minutes. I just add the bath ball to bath water as I fill the tub and leave for about five minutes before the kids get in.
Also, check out these other tips for reducing chemicals in bath water.
4. Kitchen Sink Filter + Water Bottles
I research everything before I buy it, and the bigger the purchase, the longer the research. I researched water filters for over a year before finally deciding on one and I’m so happy with my decision. There are a lot of great water filter options available, but not all are created equal. Regular reverse osmosis removes chlorine, fluoride and other contaminants but also strips out beneficial minerals (plus, it wastes a lot of water!). Other types (like pitchers) are not completely effective and may contain plastic chemicals as well.
The two filters we have personally used in our home are:
- The Berkey (we used this for years and still travel with it)
- A 14- Stage Filter that we use now
I love the convenience of the under-the sink 14 stage filter we use now, but our Berkey served us well for years. Both remove chlorine and with the added fluoride filters, the Berkey removes fluoride as well.
Since we now have filtered water at our kitchen sink, we use plastic-free reusable water bottles when we travel, exercise, or are not home to save money (and avoid plastic use). This way, we always have filtered (chlorine-free) water with us.
5. A Whole House Filter
The gold standard of chlorine and other contaminant removal is a high-quality whole-house filter. We waited years to finally get one and now that we are living in a home that we hope to stay in for a long time, we made the jump to a whole-house filter.
This type of filter installs at the water main where water enters the house (ours is in the garage) and filters out chlorine, fluoride and dozens of other contaminants. It technically removes the need for other types of filters, like bath and shower filters, and is a very effective way to filter all water that enters the house.
If I could have afforded it at the time, I would have started with this option, but it is more expensive and difficult to install, though now that we have it, I wish I’d prioritized it years earlier.
Do you avoid chlorine? What methods do you use?
Discussion (73 Comments)
Did you research any of the Vitamin C water filters? They supposedly eliminate 100% of chlorine on contact, regardless of water temperature…curious of your thoughts!
Great info, thanks. I researched water filters and recently bought a Berkey. I’m glad to hear others speak highly of it and I’m so glad to be getting fluoride out of our drinking water.
But now I need to look into chlorine in the shower and bath. One small improvement at a time.
Hi I live in Scotland uk in the countryside so our water is from the stream and it is filtered with a uv filter which is great so I don’t have the worries some do, but I do know that many salad leaves and veg are now washed in chlorine so I try to avoid where possible. I went swimming three times a week and I am sensitive to chemicals anyway but before swimming I always had to cover myself in olive oil otherwise I’d be itchy for days, but recently there has been other problems with thrush which I use my home remedies for but every time I went swimming it seemed to upset the ph balance and got worse, so for now I’ve had to cancel my membership, I really miss swimming but as there are no salt water or uv filter pools nearby I have no choice and of course the sea in Scotland is ice cold even in summer!
We use the Berkey and love it as well. We used to have reverse osmosis, but when I learned from you, Katie, about the waste of water, the Berkey was the clear choice for us.
Also, I wanted to say that we have a swimming pool in our backyard and it’s salt water instead of chlorine. It makes it’s own “chlorine” which keeps it sanitized, but no harmful chemicals! We love it! And we hooked up solar panels to keep it warm into the cooler months.
Thanks for all of the great ideas. We are sensitive to chlorine too!
I dont get how reverse osmosis wastes water
Been using a Berkey for 5 years and like it a lot. I used it when I was in North Carolina where I was caring for an elderly couple who had contaminated well water (lead and arsenic) which they CONTINUED to drink–their cognitive abilities were severely compromised. Their adult children finally got them on bottled water but that was a battle due to their compromised thinking. When I cleaned out my Berkey a couple of months later, the upper chamber was coated with black stuff and the plugs were coated with silver but the lower chamber was pristine–that’s what I was drinking. God is good!
I feel so stupid but do you just put the Berkley on your counter?
Katie - Wellness Mama
Why do you use de-chlorinating bath balls if you have the whole house filter that filters chlorine?
I used them before we had the whole house filter installed…
Thank you Katty for your answer. I wish we could afford to have the whole house filter. It is so expensive therefore I guess it is so Efficient. we will try to save to buy one.
When you were researching did you look into the Nikken filters? Just wondering what you think of them.
I am so glad you posted this. My son has severe eczema. We just ordered filtering shower heads this week. I noticed my skin was red, itchy, and irritated after showering. Chlorine is nasty stuff.
Which whole house system did you go with?
This one: https://wellnessmama.com/go/whole-house-filter/
the list of contaminates on the website for whole-house filters does not seem to filter flouride, unless I am not recognizing a chemical name for it or related compounds…so it does not filter flouride?
It states that it filters fluoride. It could have been hard to see since it lists so much information 🙂
Hi, great post once again…iv been looking at the shower filter and the bath ball, I’m wondering how they filter and if whatever is used could cause any thing else to get into the water that could be harmful…
And just to let everyone know iv been using a Berky for 3 months and its the best purchase iv ever made and I would never go back…thanks for your advice