Monday, November 5, 2012

Lessons Learned with Calcium Hypochlorite

One of our neighbors is starting to be interested in prepping. The other day, he was asking questions about water storage. The hubster told him about calcium hypochlorite. This is usually marketed in swimming pool stores as high-test hypochlorite (HTH), or  "pool shock." I remember my Papa using this stuff to clean out his pool every year after winter. He would "shock" the pool, and we weren't allowed to swim in it for three days afterward. That's a long time when you're ten years old and you want to go swimming.

Some preppers keep calcium hypochlorite around for water purification purposes. Here and here are some good articles about it. The only thing is, it's a pretty serious chemical. It's an oxidizer and when a large amount of it mixes with a small amount of water, it can be highly reactive, generating high temperatures. HTH is self-reactive anyway, and produces chlorine gas as it decomposes. The fumes can be deadly if a person breathes too much of it. As an oxidizer, it's also corrosive, so calcium hypochlorite - and its vapors - need to be kept from contact with anything metal. It's probably not a good idea to store it around electronics either. Lastly, keep it away from other chemicals. If a spill were to occur and calcium hypochlorite accidentally mixed with another chemical, a fire could result.


We had several bags of HTH, and the hubster decided to give one to The Neighbor. The photo above is not the actual stuff we bought, but what we did buy was packaged in the same style - a sort of plastic, one-pound bag. (I've since learned that calcium hypochlorite is packaged in breathable containers to avoid pressure buildup while in storage). When we originally bought the calcium hypochlorite, the hubster put the bags inside a bucket, labeled the bucket with all kinds of warnings, and then placed the bucket inside a large, rubberized trash can we use for newspaper recycling. The idea was that the newspaper would soak up any humidity (or other moisture), hopefully keeping the HTH safe.

When the hubster opened the bucket to pull a bag out for The Neighbor, he found a surprise. Firstly, the fumes had built up in the bucket more than he anticipated, and he had to quickly step away to avoid breathing the chlorine gas. Once the fumes dissipated, he found that inside the bucket, the bags had grown brittle, and all but disintegrated in his hand when he tried to pick them up. He had also stored some instructions for use along with the store receipt inside a ziploc bag inside the bucket. The papers had turned a dull grey, making it unreadable, and came apart at the folds when I tried to take them out of the bag.  

So, what have we learned here?
  1. HTH is no joke. It's a very strong, very deadly chemical. 
  2. Don't leave HTH in the cheap plastic bag it's sold in. It doesn't take long for the bag to become brittle and fall apart. 
  3. While it needs to be stored in such a way that there's little, if any, chance that it could come into contact with moisture or with metal, one still has to be aware of chlorine gas buildup when opening the storage container. It's best to open the container outdoors or in a very-well-ventilated area. Be prepared to step away in order to avoid breathing deadly fumes.
  4. The bucket we have our calcium hypochlorite stored in, is probably not a full-proof, long-term storage solution. Eventually the bucket will probably become brittle and crack. We will continue researching better storage methods. I read at least one suggestion online to keep HTH in glass reagent bottles with a ground glass stopper. In the meantime, our plan is to check on the bucket about every three months or so to ensure its integrity.
Needless to say, we weren't able to give The Neighbor a bag of HTH. We did share the story with him, for informational purposes, and passed on some notes about using calcium hypochlorite for water purification. Make sure you do your homework before using, handling or storing dangerous chemicals.


19 comments:

  1. I was going to put it into glass canning jars, but now I suppose I will not. I was going to mail some to my daughter. Can this be mailed?

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    1. PP, that's a good question but unfortunately I don't know the answer. I believe you can order HTH online and have it shipped to you, so it's capable of being mailed, but I don't know if there are laws regulating sending it through the mail or not.

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    2. Easily gotten at pool supply stores--I bought it twice for my storage needs.
      $4 both times per 1 lb. bag.

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  2. How long did you have this stored in a bucket? I wonder if that is why it deteriorated? We buy a box of the pouches every year for the pool. It sits in the cardboard box in the shed. Sometimes there are leftover pouches at the end of the year and they sit in the same box until the next swim season. I've never had one to fall apart. I wonder if it needs to "breathe"?

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    1. Mamma Bear we were thinking that that had something to do with it. Trapping in all the off-gases, maybe? I did read in several places online that the plastic pouches are meant for temporary containment. We had it stored in the bucket for about six months, I think...less than a year for sure, anyway.

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  3. We use the shock stuff for our pool. they come in handy plastic buckets made specially for this. It keeps it dry and safe and last a very long time. If you are going to have a good size amount of bags, think of buying the bucket. They come in small, medium and large sizes and of course the price is based on the size you decide to buy.

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    1. Thanks Marcela. We're keeping ours in the same bucket we were already using, but plan to check on it more often just to make sure it's still safe.

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  4. Cal Hypo will clog any filter you run your water through. Dissolve a tablet in a gallon or two of water and then filter it through a thin piece of cotton. What you'll be left with is a sludge mass the same size as the tablet. Now look at the "filtered" bleach. Whatever isn't stopped by whatever method you use for filtering, you're drinking. Boil and filter is what I recommend. Sodium hypo then filter only in emergencies.

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    1. That's good to know. Maybe I will try this and see what kind of results I get.

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  5. This is important information. We also have some HTH stored in the original bags. I'll better check on them. It's also a good idea to have a water filter as a backup. We got a water filter kit from www.shelfreliancesanantonio.com. It was only about $70 and will filter 1 Million gallons. All you need is a food grade 5 gallon bucket and your good to go. It takes about 5 minutes to set it up. Filter all your rain water or any other type of water you can find in a SHTF situation.

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    1. That's a good deal on a filter. We have some ceramic filters as well. HTH will be a last-resort kind of thing.

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  6. Do not store in canning/mason jars. I stored some and the lid rusted in about a year. I also stored some in glass jars inside of ammo cans. Agains got rust and when I opened the lid it was under a lot of pressure from off gassing. I would not store it in ammo cans. I am now storing it two ways to see what works best. Some is in glass jars with glass lids. This seems to work the best. Some is in glass jars with plastic lids. So far it doesn't seem to affect the plastic lid. Also if you have anything metal near the storage container it does off gas which will rust anything metal close by.

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    1. That's right, I didn't think about the lids being metal. Good to know about the gas build-up. There seems to always be the choice between securely storing it away from anything that it could react with and thus dealing with gas build-up, or storing it in a way that it can off-gas (without causing rust or other reactions) so you don't have to worry about pressure build-up.

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  7. What percentage did you buy? I haven't been able to find the 78% recommended in the article.

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    1. Chris, we got 73%. I'm confident that's strong enough.

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    2. Ok. What I wouldn't know is what ratio to mix if I got less than the article states. Where did you get it?

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    3. We got it at a swimming pool supply store called Leslie's Pool Supplies. If you wanted to add a tiny bit more per gallon since it's slightly less strong, that would be okay. we'll probably just mix ours the same as we would if it were 78%.

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    4. True. I guess my other concern for the lesser concentrations is what is the filler? What is the other percentage made of? But that's not realistic, for there's also filler in the 78%.

      By the way, your website was on PrepperWebsite.com but has been moved to inactive status because of no posts in over two months. Just FYI.

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  8. Phones are used everywhere in a business environment. If you are still sticking to traditional tone phones in your day to day operations then you are well behind of modern technology. Are you looking for the right small business phone system Business Phone Service

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