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Pool Chemical Safety and Mandatory EPA Labeling: What You Need to Know

Do you know what’s in your pool chemicals? If you’re shopping at Leslie’s, you can rest assured that you’re buying the most effective pool chemicals on the market, and all the information you need will be included on the product label. However, in the age of online shopping, where it’s easy to shop around for the lowest prices, it can be tempting to purchase a cheaper, generic product from any of the many online marketplaces. Unfortunately, when buying low-cost or off-brand pool chemicals, you don’t always know exactly what you’re getting until it shows up on your doorstep and you put it in your pool. 

Off-brand or cheap pool chemicals offered in public marketplaces oftentimes don’t offer the same potency or quality of materials you’d expect to find at your local pool store. When it comes to pool chemicals, this is especially problematic, because some of the chlorine tablets, pool shock, and algaecides sold online aren’t approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Without that mandatory EPA-approved label, it’s not a product anyone should be handling, let alone putting in their pools. Without EPA labeling, pool owners should not expect those products to keep their water free of harmful contaminants, nor presume that the chemicals are safe for use.

Why is EPA Approval Important for Pool Chemicals?

The EPA is a government agency established to protect human health and the environment. Among its long list of functions and responsibilities, the EPA ensures that people have access to accurate information pertaining to personal health and environmental risks for certain classes of chemicals. Specifically, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) requires manufacturers of pool chemicals that kill or control algae and bacteria in the water — including chlorine tablets, chlorine pool shock, liquid chlorine, and algaecide — to register those pool chemicals with the EPA.

Before such a pool chemical can be legally sold or distributed in the United States, EPA performs a rigorous, comprehensive scientific assessment of the product to ensure that, when the product is used according to labeled directions, no unreasonable adverse effects on human health or the environment will occur. Once EPA has granted a registration to a pool chemical, the agency also approves a label for the product. Unlike other types of product labels, these labels are legally enforceable and provide crucial information about how to safely and legally handle and apply pool chemicals.

This important EPA review process helps protect consumers against safety hazards and prevents false claims from appearing on certain classes of pool chemicals. In accordance with FIFRA, a pool chemical registered by EPA and used according to labeled directions cannot cause unreasonable risks to humans or the environment.

In contrast, if a pool chemical that claims to kill or control algae and bacteria in the water does not have an EPA-approved label, the product has not undergone any government risk evaluation and cannot be legally sold or distributed anywhere in the United States.

EPA Product Labels: What to Look For

To know if your pool chlorine or algaecide are EPA approved, take a look at the label on the package. The label provides detailed information about the safe and legal handling of the chemical in question. In addition, all approved products bear a simple statement: “It is a violation of Federal law to use the product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.” The label is the law, and that law is enforceable. These labels will also include key elements like an EPA registration number, establishment number, and the name of the manufacturer or distributor of the product. For reference, we've highlighted these key elements on the product label pictured below:

Approved and registered EPA pesticide label on Leslie's 3" Jumbo Tabs

Example of chlorine tablets that are registered with and approved by the EPA

Again, if you’re buying your pool chemicals from an established nationwide supplier committed to compliance with the law, you can rest assured that you’re buying a quality, tested, federally regulated product. Use extreme caution if you shop for off-brand or cheap products online through marketplace vendors. Many knock-off pool chemicals don’t bear the required EPA label, and since there’s no federal oversight on the ingredients or handling instructions, the EPA has not evaluated whether these knock-off products may cause unreasonable risks to swimmers or the environment. Although it's illegal for these unregistered products to be sold and distributed in the United States, that’s not stopping shady suppliers from offering them for sale. 

Examples of What to Avoid

For reference, here's an example of a product label for chlorine tablets that are not registered with the EPA. Notice the lack of an EPA registration number, absent establishment number, lack of detailed safety and usage instructions, and no mention of Federal law. This bucket of chlorine tablets was purchased from an online marketplace:

example of a chlorine tablet label that isn't registered with the EPA

Example of chlorine tablets that are NOT registered with or approved by the EPA

In addition, the chemical composition or percentages of available chlorine were not mentioned anywhere on the packaging. If you were to purchase a product like this online, you truly would not know what you were adding to your pool. Many of these knock-off chlorine tablets are filled with glues, binding agents, and other fillers, which accumulate quickly in your pool, and you're left with a fast-dissolving and ineffective tablet. You won't find any fillers or binding agents with a trusted, brand-name product like Leslie's.

example of a chlorine tablet label that isn't registered with the EPA

Example of chlorine tablets that are NOT registered with or approved by the EPA

If you have any of these unregistered chlorine tablets, algaecides, or other knock-off pool chemicals, the best route is to stop using them in your pool and dispose of these chemicals properly. We suggest calling 1-800-CLEANUP or your local waste management company to ask about safe disposal options.

Pool Chemicals You Can Trust

When buying chemicals online — especially from a public marketplace like Amazon, eBay, or Walmart — it’s particularly important for pool owners to pay close attention to the product label. Check for the EPA labeling requirements, as shown above, so you know exactly what you’re buying. In most cases, if the price is too good to be true, it probably is! Cutting corners on chemical costs now could leave you with a costly pool care headache later.

There are much better ways to save on pool chemicals. Things like solar covers, enzymes, and maintaining clean, well-balanced water can all help maximize sanitizer efficiency and prolong the lifespan of the chemicals in your pool. Implementing just a few simple tips will help stretch your pool water maintenance budget farther this year. For more helpful pool care tips, check out our Expert Advice & Resource Center, or stop by your local Leslie’s to chat with a pool expert.

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Leslie’s makes every effort to provide accurate recommendations based upon current ANSI/APSP/ICC-5 2011 (R2022) standards, but codes and regulations change, and Leslie’s assumes no liability for any omissions or errors in this article or the outcome of any project. You must always exercise reasonable caution, carefully read the label on all products, follow all product directions, follow any current codes and regulations that may apply, and consult with a licensed professional if in doubt about any procedures. Leslie’s assumes no legal responsibility for your reliance or interpretation of the data contained herein, and makes no representations or warranties of any kind concerning the quality, safety, or suitability of the information, whether express or implied, including, without limitation, any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.