Swimming pool cleaner poisoning occurs when someone swallows this type of cleaner, touches it, or breathes in its fumes. These cleaners contain chlorine and acids. Chlorine is more likely than the acids to cause serious poisoning.
This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.
The harmful substances in swimming pool cleaner are:
- Calcium chloride
- Calcium hypochlorite
- Chelated copper
- Soda ash
- Sodium bicarbonate
- Various mild acids
Various swimming pool cleaners contain these substances.
Below are symptoms of swimming pool cleaner poisoning in different parts of the body.
EYES, EARS, NOSE, AND THROAT
- Loss of vision
- Severe pain in the throat
- Severe pain or burning in the nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue
STOMACH AND INTESTINES
- Blood in the stool
- Burns of the food pipe (esophagus)
- Severe abdominal pain
- Vomiting (may contain blood)
HEART AND BLOOD
- Low blood pressure that develops rapidly (shock)
- Too much or too little acid in the blood -- leads to organ damage
LUNGS AND AIRWAYS
- Breathing difficulty (from breathing in the substance)
- Throat swelling (may also cause breathing difficulty)
- Holes in the skin or tissues under the skin
Get medical help right away. Do NOT make the person throw up unless poison control or a health care provider tells you to.
If the cleaner is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.
If the person swallowed the cleaner, give them water or milk right away, if a provider tells you to do so. Do NOT give anything to drink if the person has symptoms that make it hard to swallow. These include vomiting, seizures, or a decreased level of alertness.
If the person breathed in fumes of the cleaner, move them to fresh air right away.
Before Calling Emergency
Have this information ready:
- Person's age, weight, and condition
- Name of the product (and ingredients, if known)
- Time it was swallowed
- Amount swallowed
Your local poison control center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What to Expect at the Emergency Room
Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.
The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure.
Tests that may be done include:
- Blood and urine tests
- Bronchoscopy -- camera down the throat to look for burns in the airways and lungs
- Chest x-ray
- ECG (electrocardiogram), or heart tracing
- Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to look for burns in the esophagus and the stomach
Treatment may include:
- Fluids through a vein (by IV)
- Medicine to treat symptoms
- Tube through the mouth into the stomach to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage)
- Washing of the skin (irrigation), perhaps every few hours for several days
- Surgery to remove burned skin
- Breathing support, including tube through the mouth into the lungs, and breathing machine (ventilator)
How well someone does depends on how severe the poisoning is and how quickly treatment is received. The faster medical help is given, the better the chance for recovery.
Swallowing such poisons can have severe effects on many parts of the body. Burns in the airway or gastrointestinal tract can lead to tissue necrosis, resulting in infection, shock, and death, even several months after the substance was first swallowed. Scars may form in these tissues, leading to long-term difficulties with breathing, swallowing, and digestion.
Opening a large bucket of chlorine tablets can expose you to a powerful chlorine gas that can be very poisonous. Always open the container outdoors. Keep your face as far away from the open container as possible.
Hoyte C. Caustics. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 148.
Nelson LS, Hoffman RS. Inhaled toxins. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 153.
Review Date 9/28/2019
Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Emeritus, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.