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Chlorine in Tap Water: Is It Safe?

Allie Ogletree
Written by Allie Ogletree
Updated January 19, 2022
woman getting water from kitchen sink
Photo: Erik Isakson / Getty Images

Highlights

  • Drinking water shouldn’t contain more than 4 milligrams of chlorine per liter.

  • Signs of overly chlorinated tap water include dry skin, dull clothes, and lower-performing appliances.

  • Chlorine can cause both short-term and long-term health problems, like respiratory issues and cancer.

  • A water softener specialist can run water tests to confirm if your levels are too high.

  • Some water filtration systems filter chlorine out of your tap water.

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Going for a shower or a bath shouldn’t feel like you’re going for a swim in a chlorinated pool. But in some cases, tap water contains high amounts of chlorine that can affect the quality of the water you use, your water systems, and even your body. Here’s what you need to know about the safety of chlorine in your drinking water.

Is Chlorine in Drinking Water Dangerous?

woman getting tap water into glass
Photo: vitapix/ Getty Images

In short, it can be. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that while chlorination is a useful disinfectant for killing parasites, bacteria, and viruses, chlorine levels in drinking water should not surpass 4 milligrams per liter.

However, as with any regulations, this number can be hard to measure when you're exposed to chlorine from other sources, such as your swimming pool or through the air you breathe. High amounts of chlorine in drinking water can pose several problems for your body and home.

Side Effects of Overly Chlorinated Tap Water

Chlorine can cause problems for anyone who comes into contact with too much of it. Below are a few ways you may be affected by over-chlorinated tap water:

1. Plumbing System Damage

Chlorine is a strong oxidant that can dry out toilet flappers, rubber seals, and gaskets. This can result in damage to your appliances, including leaks and other expensive repairs. Look out for rubbery parts turning to mush or compromised water seals.

2. Shortened Life Span of Appliances

Your water heater, washing machine, dishwasher, and other water-using appliances will have a shorter life span if high amounts of chlorine are present in your water. This is because chlorine causes iron to rust, which can build up in your systems.

3. Cosmetic Problems

Some homeowners have issues with chlorine for cosmetic reasons. For example, chlorine can fade clothes or cause dry skin and hair. If chlorine can wreak havoc on an appliance, just imagine what it's doing to your body.

4. Heightened Cancer Risk

According to the CDC, chlorine produces a byproduct called bromodichloromethane (BDCM), which is grouped as a possible human carcinogen. Chlorine byproducts are considered less of a hazard than unclean drinking water, but the dangers are still there—especially for homeowners who could mitigate these risks through increased filtration.

5. Immediate Symptoms

As well as long-term effects like cancer and dry skin, there are also immediate side effects for dangerously high exposures to chlorine. Symptoms include blurry vision, burns, skin redness, blisters, sore throat, nose, and eyes, coughing, chest tightness, difficulty breathing, and more.

How to Tell If There’s Too Much Chlorine in Your Water

woman washing her hands in kitchen sink
Photo: Southworks/ Adobe Stock

If you’re concerned there’s too much chlorine in your water, look for these five signs to see if you may have a water problem:

1. Chlorine Smell

While federal regulations control chlorine levels, some consumers are more sensitive than others and may notice a funky smell or taste in their water. If it smells like you’re drinking or bathing in a swimming pool, that’s a telltale sign you have a chlorine surplus.

2. Dull Hair, Skin, and Nails

If you’ve ever stepped out of a swimming pool after a nice swim, you know how it can leave your body feeling dry. Chlorine can wear your skin, hair, and nails down, so you may experience more dead ends, dry skin, and brittle nails.

3. Lackluster Laundry

Too much chlorine can also affect your clothes, making that crisp white shirt look anything but white and bright. Likewise, your darker or brighter clothes may look faded and dull. Keep an eye out for worn-out clothes, as this could indicate your water is over-chlorinated.

4. Discolored Tap Water

When you pour a glass of water from your sink, get a little curious before you take a sip. Look closely at the coloration to see if it’s clear. Water with too much chlorine can appear cloudy and slightly yellow or brown.

5. Toilet, Shower, Tub, and Sink Stains

If there are rusty, bronze streaks in places your tap water runs, this could also be a sign of excess chlorine in your water system. Chlorine works as an oxidizing agent, which is a fancy way of saying that it turns iron into rust.

Testing Your Water

Call a local water softener specialist to evaluate the situation if any of the above signs are present or you want to ensure your chlorine levels are safe. A water technician can test your tap water and help recommend the best water filtration system for your home.

Can Water Softener Systems Remove Chlorine?

A water softener system can be a great way to remove chlorine, minerals, and hard metals from your tap water, but not all systems are made equal. A basic water softener system is unlikely to remove chlorine, as its main focus is on calcium and magnesium. Instead, you’ll want to focus on the type of filter in your system.

Here are the best types of water filters to remove chlorine from tap water:

1. Granular Activated Carbon

Granular activated carbon (GAC) uses organic carbon material inside cartridges to absorb chlorine from waterways, making it ideal for a filtration system. These filters cost $50 to $500 and can be used on single-point filters—such as for a washing machine, dishwasher, or sink faucet—or for whole-house filtration, where it treats all the water that exits the fixtures.

2. Catalytic Activated Carbon Filters

A catalytic activated filtration system filters minerals through the tank using sodium or potassium molecules to swap out minerals and hard metals. These filters are newer to the market than granular activated carbon, and they’re considered an upgrade to the granular filters. They tend to cost the same as GAC filters or slightly more, depending on the size and demands of your system.

3. Kinetic Degradation Fluxion Process Media

Kinetic degradation fluxion (KDF) process media are granules that contain copper and zinc. This type of filtration system uses oxidation and reduction to effectively eliminate chlorine, iron, and other unwanted compounds found in your tap water. You can pay anywhere from $50 to $500 for KDF process media filters, but they have a life expectancy of six years compared to activated carbon, which lasts only six to 12 months.

4. Reverse Osmosis Water Softener

A reverse osmosis water softener uses the most effective filtration system to filter out chlorine and other hard water particles. However, it’s also the most expensive system on the market, costing $1,500 on average for the system and $100 to $200 a year to replace the filters.

Alternative Ways to Remove Chlorine From Water

If you don’t have the budget for a water filtration system, there are other ways you can keep drinking water safe and remove chlorine from your tap water that won’t break the bank.

  • Chemical neutralization: For a quick and affordable chlorine remover, dissolve the potassium metabisulfite tablet into your tap water to neutralize the chlorine.

  • Evaporation: Chlorine evaporates quickly in standing water, so one way to remove it is to put your tap water into an open container in your fridge for 24 hours.

  • Boiling: You can speed up the evaporation process by boiling water to get the chlorine to release into the air as a gas.

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