The Trichlor Shortage

Panelists share impact on companies, industry

Chris Cavanaugh
Cavanaugh Pool
Owensboro and Madisonville, Kentucky

The 2021 trichlor shortage is on every retailer’s mind. [In 2020] between both of my retail stores, we sold roughly 25,000 pounds of 3-inch tablets. My manufacturer is promising 100% of what I purchased in 2020 to be available to me for 2021. I typically buy 75% of my inventory through our early-buy programs to benefit from pricing, but this year I am doing it to make sure I have enough to meet customer demand.

The day after the hurricane hit the BioLab plant in Louisiana, I went ahead and picked up three or four pallets to get me through the offseason. After the fire in Georgia, my distributor and manufacturer went on lockdown on chorine tablet orders and are only approving select purchases. We are in the offseason, so I have a decent inventory left. We have already submitted our early buys to our chemical manufacturer and are hopeful to receive all the items on order.

All of us at the retail and builder level need to get new pools started on something other than trichlor. If the customer is new to swimming pools, we have options these days other than trichlor. Our team may consider the Sigura Pool Life NST System (comprised of a cal hypo tabs, shock and an algaecide) on all new in-ground and above-ground installs, as well as a strong push for Baquacil for smaller in-ground and above-ground pools. We also have the options of saltwater, ozone, UV and AOP.

Tracy Bond
Great Valley Pool
Frazer, Pennsylvania

We sell trichlor in our retail store and use quite a bit on our 450 service routes. In the Northeast offseason we do not need much trichlor, but we are preparing for the upcoming season and expecting shortages through the end of 2021. Our distributors are rationing their chlorine, however we’ve been assured a supply equal to what we had last year due to our purchasing volume. That being said, we are discussing with our team ways to ensure our loyal customer base is able to get the chlorine they need; we are expecting an influx of unknown customers into the store as the supply at other stores and online becomes scarce. We are evaluating our customer loyalty cards as a means to restrict purchases of chlorine to our existing customers, in addition to removing the supply from the showroom floor to avoid telling customers they can’t pay for something they bring to the register.

 We will likely also step up our water chemistry educational efforts with customers as it relates to phosphates, cyanuric acid, pH management and water circulation to minimize chlorine demand. We already sell liquid chlorine and have been assured the supply will not be impacted for the upcoming season, so we may see more of a shift from tabs to liquid. In addition, we are pre-purchasing salt generators and mineral cartridges as we expect the demand for these auxiliary products to increase as well and don’t want to fail to meet customer demand like we experienced this year with heaters.

 We have chosen not to officially notify our customers of the shortage in order to avoid hoarding and panic. We may be forced to let them know, however, to explain the sharp price increase we will be experiencing and passing on to customers.

 This is a bad situation to be in during the pandemic as more people are staying home and wanting to enjoy their pools. We need to ensure they are able to do so in a safe and sanitary manner. 

David Penton
Fluid Dynamics Pool & Spa
Fullerton, California

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I spent most of the first 20 years of my career in the service sector on the residential side, with a bit of small commercial work at the local health club pool and spas, as well as some medium-size HOA pools. I have first-hand experience maintaining pools even though our firm transitioned out of service about six years ago.

For far too long, many in our industry have abused and misused traditional trichlor-based tabs. We as an industry will eventually look back on this shortage and see it as beneficial because it will force everyone to get better about water chemistry in general. As the great cyanuric debate continues to rage, I think CYA has enough detrimental characteristics (especially when abused) to warrant limiting it far more than in the past. Trichlor tabs have been the biggest culprit in the oversaturation of CYA in pools (at least here on the West Coast, where I live). The limited availability of trichlor tabs will force service professionals to find alternate ways to maintain client’s pools between visits.

There are numerous options available to maintain healthy water quality without tabs, the most relevant being saltwater generation. SWG has exploded, and now I have the salt versus nonsalt discussion of with all of our clients. I see a generation of pool buyers and users coming of age who are much more concerned with health and wellness. Gen Z and millennials are willing and able to pay more for things they deem healthy: hybrid vehicles, organic groceries, daily $4 kombuchas to promote gut health. We as an industry need to break out of our low-price mentality and start offering newer technologies to our clients — things like UV and ozone, which minimize the need for chlorine; pH/ORP systems, which can feed chemicals 24/7 if necessary; salt systems (I prefer setting them up with dedicated pH feeders to maximize efficiency) and others.

Twenty-five years ago, a salt pool was an expensive, unnecessary add-on rarely offered to clients. Now it is a staple within the industry. Let your clients know there are better options and promote the health benefits of minimizing CYA in pools, and you will not have to worry about future trichlor tab shortages.

Frank Disher
Franchise partner/owner
Poolwerx Keller; Alpha Pool & Spa
North Richland Hills, Texas

I have been in the service side of the pool industry for 25 years. In my area, trichlor is the dominant form of sanitizer used in residential and some commercial pools. In turn, far too many pools have been abused by trichlor. It is way past time for service companies and pool owners to limit trichlor usage and find alternative methods to properly sanitize pools. This shortage is forcing us to take steps we should have taken long ago. In the long run, it will help us realize the savings and benefits of other methods to sanitize pools.

We sell trichlor in our retail store and use it on our service routes. We have worked hard to educate our clients and staff about problems with trichlor and how to use it properly. I don’t have a problem with trichlor being used properly. It is a good method of getting chlorine in a pool. The problem is overdosing and how it is added. It is too easy to add tabs to a pool. The extremely low pH of trichlor can quickly scar plaster, bleach other surfaces and erode equipment. The CYA issues associated with trichlor, which is becoming the top topic in many pool professional groups, is finally getting the attention it deserves. We have been teaching staff and retail clients to limit trichlor usage, monitor their CYA and supplement with other forms of chlorine. Our sales and usage of nonstabilized tabs, liquid chlorine, borates, enzymes and phosphate removers have been gradually increasing over the last few years. We have made strides with borates, enzymes and phosphate removers. These products help us reduce the chlorine a pool will demand. When there is less demand and you are adjusting accordingly, you use a lot less. This means fewer tabs being fed to the pool and less CYA added. Our issues with high CYA levels have been greatly reduced. Pools in our area are operated year-round. When the water temperatures drop below 65, we try to stop using trichlor and use liquid chlorine and calhypo in its place. This allows the CYA levels to drop over the winter.

I do not believe salt chlorine-generation is the [only] solution, but it is a solution. Salt does not fix problems, it only changes problems. There are too many bad aspects of salt systems for it to be the solution. The maintenance, cell and other part replacements, corrosion issues and costs are too high to consider salt the go-to solution. We sell a lot of salt systems, but we make sure the customer understands the bad as well as the good. When a customer asks for a salt system, I try to persuade them to try using borates first. It gives them the soft-water feel, allows them to reduce their chlorine levels and consumption, helps prevent algae and does not have an ill effect on stonework, equipment or deck furniture.

We are telling customers the price increase and shortage will help them in the long run if they take this opportunity to improve their method of sanitizing their pools. Borates is a no brainer. If a customer comes in and there is a borate customer in the store, we don’t have to sell it. The borate customer will sell it for us. We tell them about enzymes and phosphate removers. The difference now is that they are listening. You tell somebody their go-to product is going up 50%, they suddenly want to learn about alternatives.

Our supplier has told us we can continue to get trichlor but it will be limited, and there will be short periods of backorders. We aren’t very concerned. Our demand will be much less, and our pools will be in better shape.

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