Each week, we find something new to ask ourselves about the coronavirus pandemic. Can it thrive in summer heat? Will there be a second wave? Can UV light kill it? The latest question I've been hearing since Memorial Day: Does chlorine kill coronavirus?
"Chlorine is listed as a substance that kills coronavirus," confirms Shannon Sovndal, MD, an emergency medical services medical director in Boulder, Colorado and the author of Fragile. Pro tip: He recommends checking out the list of disinfectants provided by the Environmental Protection Agency when asking yourself these questions.
"[Chlorine is a] totally an adequate material to use on hard surfaces, such as your phone and countertops, all of those things," he says. It's not so great on soft surfaces, and he cautions, it's not a good idea to mix chlorine with other kinds of disinfectants. "You have to be aware that when you're using chlorine you can't mix it with vinegar or ammonia because it'll create a noxious gas," Dr. Sovndal says. "Don't mix cleaners."
But most people asking this question are probably thinking of swimming pools, not reaching for a replacement for their standard disinfectant wipe. "As far as chlorine in a swimming pool goes, we don't know from a scientifically proven study that chlorine kills coronavirus in a pool," Dr. Sovndal says. But he doesn't believe that coronavirus is "a crazy zombie virus" that behave unlike other viruses in its class. "We know that in general, if a pool is properly maintained and treated with chlorine appropriately, it should kill viruses in that pool," he says.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, "Currently, there is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread to people through recreational water. However, it is important to limit close contact with people outside of your home when visiting public pools, hot tubs, and water playgrounds, as well as natural bodies of water — like beaches and lakes — to slow the spread of COVID-19."
So a pool in your backyard should be a-okay to splash around in — but take extra precaution if you head to a public area with a pool that other people are swimming in. As long as all of the chemicals and levels of that pool are where they should be, you don't have to worry about catching COVID-19 from the water. But in the summer, public pools are often packed. And if a mask-less person sneezes in your general vicinity while you're in a lounge chair nearby, that could be a problem.
As always with COVID-19, it's a good idea to err on the side of caution. Keep surfaces clean — scrub them down multiple times a day if you have to — maintain good hygiene, don't touch your face, wear a mask when you go out in public, and follow social distancing rules. Again, these instructions may seem repetitive, but they're not excruciatingly hard to follow — and they may even save a life.