The "smell" of chlorine? It just may be pee.
I used to smell like the pool itself by the time I was done with swim practice as a child. As a competitive swimmer, I smelled like chlorine all the time, actually. Or did I? Did I smell like chlorine ... or something else?
I never put much thought to it until reading an article last night from the Water Quality Health Counsel titled Before Swimming, Be Sure to Shower. According to the article, a clean pool does not smell of chlorine; rather it smells of nothing. The smell we associate with chlorine comes from "irritants produced when the chlorine reacts with impurities." This means that the pool is not clean. No, my dear friend, you are not swimming in a clean pool. You are swimming in soup of sweat, skin cells, anti-deodorants, perfumes, hair sprays, boogers, saliva, and pee. Lots and lots of pee, most likely. I know that I peed in the pool a few times during my childhood because the bathrooms were down a large flight of stairs and at the end of a long hallway. I just wasn't going to walk that far when I could let it go in the deep end.
The article does not mention exactly what happens to make the chlorine smell we all associate with cleanliness, but anyone with a bit of aquarium experience can fill in the blanks (me). Chloramines are what you are smelling. When nitrogen-containing stuff is introduced to a pool, chlorine reacts with it to form chloramines. Specifically, trichloramines, which are triple-saturated chloramines, cause the smell ... and the eye-burning irritation many of us remember from our childhood. The chlorine is free and floating in the pool until it needs to be called to duty, of course. We want it to be there, in case little Johnny drank too much Sunny D earlier in the day and is as lazy as I was... . If anyone is interested in reading a fantastic and well-written article breaking down the science of de-pooping a pool, it can be found here at HowStuffWorks: "Pool Chemicals."
What does all of this tell me? It tells me that the home-town pool I used to swim in three times a week for close to ten years was full of pee. If I did not wear goggles, my eyes burned terribly. The smell hung in my clothes. You could smell the pool at the bottom of the stairs, thirty feet away from the entrance. Usually I am happy to learn things; in fact, I relish learning. On this particular occasion, however, I think ignorance was bliss. Or piss.