While the chemical in your pool water is often described as "pool chlorine", this term is actually somewhat of a misnomer. Chlorine is an element, while the chemical you add to your pool is a compound--usually either sodium or calcium hypochlorite. Sodium hypochlorite is actually the same ingredient you'll find in ordinary household bleach, so in one sense pool chlorine and bleach are indeed identical. There are, however, some important differences.
The chlorine you add to your pool is typically more concentrated than chlorine bleach. According to Purdue University, liquid pool chlorine is typically 10 to 15 percent sodium hypochlorite, while bleach is only 5 percent sodium hypochlorite. Since pool chlorine is more concentrated, you need less of it to achieve the same effect.
The pH of liquid bleach is typically about 11, meaning that it's a highly alkaline solution. Your pool, by contrast, should have a pH between 7.2 and 7.6. Sodium hypochlorite dissociates into sodium and hypochlorite (ClO-) ions when it dissolves. The hypochlorite ion is the conjugate base of a weak acid called hypochlorous acid, and at the pH levels in your pool many of the hypochlorite ions will pick up a proton to become hypochlorous acid. Adding sodium hypochlorite to your pool will raise the pH, so often you'll need to test the pH afterwards.
Not all pool chlorine is sodium hypochlorite. Calcium hypochlorite is another chemical in common use; like the sodium hypochlorite in bleach, it dissociates to yield calcium and hypochlorite ions, so the end effect as far as disinfection is concerned is the same, although calcium hypochlorite has two hypochlorite ions for each metal ion, whereas sodium hypochlorite only has one. Chlorinated isocyanurate is another pool chemical that contains a stabilizer to extend the effective lifespan of the hypochlorous acid in the pool. Cyanuric acid is not found in bleach, so bleach and chlorinated isocyanurate are different chemicals.
Chlorine bleach is seldom used to chlorinate pools because of its lower concentration. Instead, chlorine bleach finds a variety of uses around the home, including cleaning, laundry and stain removal, disinfection and shock chlorination of wells. Pool chlorine, by contrast, is used to disinfect pool water.
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