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Free Chlorine vs Total Chlorine

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Free Chlorine vs Total Chlorine: What’s the Difference?

Chlorine is a standard chemical element that’s oftentimes used to provide people all over the world with clean drinking water. The reason that chlorine is highly effective and important for water quality monitoring is because it’s able to kill bacteria via a chemical reaction. Whether you’re treating your swimming pool, drinking water or work in a water treatment facility, using the right amount of chlorine can keep the water free from impurities.

When chlorine is added directly to pool water, it breaks down into such chemicals as hypochlorite ion and hypochlorous acid, both of which are effective at killing bacteria and various microorganisms. You should know the difference between free chlorine and total chlorine because each type of chlorine functions differently when in water. If you want to determine the effectiveness of your sanitation efforts, it’s important to properly identify the levels of free chlorine and total chlorine in the water.

Since chlorine is able to kill bacteria and similar microorganisms, its primary applications involve being used as a disinfectant in swimming pools and for the treatment of drinking water. Chlorine can also be used to make consumer products like textiles and paints. Also, the vast majority of pharmaceuticals will use chlorine during the manufacturing of new medicines.
Because of the many applications that chlorine has, it’s important that you understand how chlorine works and the difference between free and total chlorine, both of which are discussed further in the following.


Why is Chlorine Effective?

The reason that chlorine is effective when used for cleaning purposes is that the element is broken down into smaller chemicals like hypochlorite ion and hypochlorous acid, which are able to kill bacteria and microorganisms in the water. When chlorine is combined with such chemicals as ammonia (Chloramines), the bacteria that you’re attempting to get rid of will become oxidized, which makes them harmless. If you have a swimming pool that you want to keep clean, it’s important to understand how chlorine works to ensure that you always use the right amount. This is a strong chemical, which means that your skin can become itchy when you swim in a pool with high amounts of chlorine in it.


Understanding the 3 Types of Chlorine

There are three types of chlorine that you should be aware of, which include free chlorine, combined chlorine, and total chlorine. Free chlorine involves the amount of chlorine that’s able to sanitize contaminants, while combined chlorine refers to chlorine that has combined directly with the contaminants. Total chlorine is basically the sum of free chlorine and combined chlorine.

The formula of chlorine is free chlorine + combined chlorine = total chlorine.


Free Chlorine

Free chlorine refers to the amount of chlorine that has yet to combine with chlorinated water to effectively sanitize contaminants, which means that this chlorine is free to get rid of harmful microorganisms in the water.

This specific type of chlorine is highly important. If you don’t have enough free chlorine in the water, you won’t be able to get rid of the bacteria and other contaminants.


Combined Chlorine

Combined chlorine is a type of chlorine that develops while your water is being sanitized.

During this process, the chlorine will bind to any contaminants in the water, which creates combined chlorine.


Total Chlorine

Total chlorine is the sum of combined chlorine and free chlorine, which is useful to measure for a variety of reasons.

True chlorine is very easy to test for in water when compared to free chlorine or combined chlorine, which is why many of the more inexpensive chlorine measurement tests will specifically test for total chlorine. In clean water, the amount of total chlorine can be used to determine the amount of free chlorine in the water since combined chlorine should be at zero.

If, however, there is some combined chlorine in the water alongside free chlorine, the measurement of total chlorine is essentially useless. Since this measurement doesn’t denote the different amounts of free chlorine and combined chlorine, it won’t be able to tell you much. Even though it can be more affordable to measure for total chlorine, it’s not nearly as effective, which is why you should heavily consider obtaining sensors that measure for both free chlorine and total chlorine.


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