As a swimmer for nearly 30 years I have just learned to live with the chlorine smell and effects on my skin, eyes, nostrils and swim gear. But my wife has not been a regular swimmer up until the last few years, and in these years we have enjoyed using the Mediterranean Sea almost exclusively. Now that we’ve moved back to the US and I am exiled into the chlorine pool again (yes, thank you, I hear all your ‘Welcome Back!) the strong chemical scent I carry home has shocked my wife’s senses. Surely, we are more sensitive now after from being away from the chlorine saturation so long. Maybe it is the particular pool I swim in now, and maybe I could live with it, but it has really been bothering her this time and she let me know it.
So, to protect the spark in our marriage I was motivated to seek out any new solutions to chlorine neutralization that might be on the market or in someone’s head.
A quick search about removing chlorine smell brought up a lot of ideas from masters swimmers. There was the mention of products we’ve known about for decades. And there was a lot of chatter about “Oh, I tried this…” and “I tried that…” but no real consensus that one particular thing was really effective.
Then I found this one product made by a chemist/swimmer called SwimSpray that looked promising (being a swimmer and a chemist gave some credibility to his sales pitch, at least). I can’t fault him for being a good little capitalist, but the product’s price per volume was expensive enough to motivate my desire to find a cheaper solution. Something I intend to use that much of and often has got to be a lot cheaper than that! He provoked the little socialist in me, “Cheaper chlorine-smell solution for the people!”
And, after all, he pointed out all that that was needed was something to bind to the oxidized chlorine on the surface of the skin. And, what anti-oxidant will bind with chlorine-oxide on my skin?
And, a little more searching led me to another niche of society that has a high interest in neutralizing chlorine’s destructive effects – black hair care! That resonated with me since we are a mixed racial family I knew what these Youtube beauticians were talking about. ‘Hey, ladies – who wants to remove that nasty, drying chlorine from your long, expensively groomed hair and fine ebony skin?”
And, from there I found the beginning to this simple home remedy:
Vitamin C, or by its cooler scientific name, Ascorbic Acid.
Not only is a bottle of plain ascorbic acid powder quite cheap for this purpose, it has the wonderful property of passing the ultimate healthy substance test which I have adopted – Only put on my skin what I am also willing to eat – because at least some of what I put on my skin may very easily be absorbed into my blood stream directly.
Starting with the recipe used by the gal in this video I have begun my own experiment.
I’ve filled a small shower bottle with my solution and as I come into the shower after swimming I rinse in hot water (to keep the pore open), then pour some into my (very short) hair and rub it in. Then fill my right palm and smear over left arm. Fill my left palm and smear over my right arm. Ears, neck, shoulders, chest, and work my way down, section by section.
I am careful about it dripping from my hair into my eyes, and I leave my face until last. But if a little does get into the eyes it’s like getting squirted while peeling an orange. I am sure a big splash would feel a lot worse, but I use common sense in how I apply it.
It is a perfectly clear solution – I can’t see a difference from water, but I can smell and taste-test that the solution is on my arms, at least. I also feel a slight sting on any scrapes there may be on my skin. But otherwise it is a non-eventful application. Then I rinse and use my favorite soap to clean the acid off.
Wow. The effect has been dramatic. Later, on the day I first used it, my wife asked if I had even gone to the pool. Normally, she could smell me across the room, but this first day I couldn’t smell much chlorine myself even when I licked my skin (you know what I mean!). Very cool.
Now, I am only testifying to the neutralization of the chlorine smell. No doubt a good amount of chlorine has soaked into my pores after a 90 minute practice and the next day when I am doing my conditioning and running, some of that smell comes out in my sweat. But it seems reasonable to infer that a massive amount of chlorine residue has been removed that would otherwise have stayed on the surface, further affecting my skin and possibly increasing the amount leaking into my blood stream.
Smell is the only consistent indicator I have for how well this solution is working. But that is the main problem I was trying to solve. I am pleased so far – it has worked better than any swimmer shampoo or wash I used way back in the early days, and for me, it is better than no solution.
My second batch was a maybe half as strong, and it seemed to be half as effective at removing the smell. So, I have stayed on the strong side in my ratio of powder to water. I am still experimenting.
The ratio I am currently using is simple:
- 1 cup (250 mL) distilled water
- 2 tablespoons (30 mL) ascorbic acid crystals (or powder)
Stir in the crystals, a small amount at a time, until it is dissolved.
But it takes some minutes of stirring until the crystals dissolve completely. One could use a machine for stirring the solution until it turns perfectly clear. I might use my hand mixer for the next batch.
I made a few cups of it at one time, then stored the remainder in a recycled jar, with a label of caution – it is an active acid solution after all. Then I used a small funnel to fill my shower bottle.
My shower bottle is about 8 ounces (120 mL) and I used one bottle up in 3 practices. Keep in mind that I have a mere fuzzy head of hair. If one wanted to soak her long locks, she may need a cup of this for each practice.
A 1-pound bottle (sold by weight) is sold here in the US for about $14.00 USD. With my recipe I can make about 33 bottles (8 oz) of this solution from one bottle of ascorbic acid. That calculates to about $0.42 (that’s 42 cents) per 8 oz. bottle. Compare that to SwimSpray at $16.00 per 8 oz. bottle (the website sells a 6 oz. bottle for $12.00). Perhaps there are some features in this commercial product that that one may find convenient but, if there are no adverse side effects from my solution, I think I like the price of mine much better.
I am not a doctor. I am not a chemist. I am just a smelly swimmer who has tested this simple solution on my own skin. It feels great and I haven’t grown an extra arm, haven’t sloughed a layer of skin and haven’t developed any rashes or burns from the acid. If you want to try this idea on yourself you will take full responsibility for it, just as I did on myself.
*Note: Ascorbic Acid when combined with Sodium Benzoate (a common ingredient in some foods and hygiene products) is a known carcinogen. Before using Ascorbic Acid, consult the ingredients in your soaps and lotions, and switch to solutions free of Sodium Benzoate. Some soap recommendations: Dr. Bonner’s – Pure- Castile Soap and Aspen Kay Naturals Shampoo and Conditioner Bar.
With that said, we all wonder what the negative effects on our health and longevity there may be after swimming X decades in chlorinated pools. Fortunately (or not) I don’t know of any scientific studies on this topic at all – not with positive, negative or any results at all. So, if we care about removing a little of this surface chlorine from out skins, it is based solely on our intuition and good common sense, and a desire to be a bit more socially acceptable to our non-swimming community.
Chlorine-neutralizer for the People!
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