All-natural. Biodegradable. Non-toxic.
By now, pool professionals have heard the hype over the latest
environmentally friendly purification and filtration alternatives.
And many are finding a captive audience among pool owners who seek
“green” solutions to their service needs.
But green, in many cases, is a concept that resides in the eye of
the beholder. Fewer chemicals up front could mean greater toxicity
or increased energy use on the back end.
“Of the 80,000-plus chemicals that are in the stream at the
moment, only a small handful have been studied for their health and
safety impacts,” says Maziar Movassaghi, Acting Director of
the California Department of Toxic Substances Control in
Sacramento. “So there are many claims, but the efficacy of
those claims is really unknown in a lot of cases.
“The point is that claims of being greener may in fact raise
more questions than answers right now,” he says, “so
you have to be careful.”
That said, following are some technologies or systems with swimming
pool service applications that could be considered environmentally
friendly, accompanied by thoughts from professionals on their own
experiences. Note: This is not an endorsement of any particular
product or methodology.
These hybrid water-purification systems typically involve a pair of
sanitizing agents that are used in conjunction with low levels of
One such system supplies a dual stream of sanitizing metallic ions
— often copper and zinc — to the pool water. The copper
ions work as an algaecide, while the zinc ions act to kill
bacteria. Another set of electrodes produces active oxygen, which
also seeks to eradicate organics, algae and waste matter.
Weekly testing of pH and copper levels is required. And chemicals
such as muriatic acid or baking soda may need to be added to
But manufacturers maintain the amount of metals dispensed into the
pool is low — typically much less than what might cause
staining. And benefits may include smoother-feeling water and less
corrosion of pool surfaces.
“One of their claims to fame is that you can actually drink
up to two gallons of the water, and it still only produces the
equivalent copper as you’d get in a multivitamin,” says
Dale Given, owner of Brite Pool Service in Arcadia, Calif.
“Plus you avoid the bleaching of the skin and bathing suits
that you might get with [more] chlorine,” he adds. “And
they use around 10 percent of the energy as a salt cell
Given has been testing the product in his own pool for some time,
and he’s been pleased with the results thus far. Plus, he
says about half-a-dozen of his route customers have requested the
Though he’s taking it slowly, Given is nonetheless impressed
with his own personal experience. “So far it’s
working,” he says. “And environmentally it’s very
sound — there’s no eye burn, no chloramines, and
it’s cheaper to run. The pool is very swimmable and very
Catalytic enzyme/phosphate remover
These systems use natural enzymes to break up contaminants and
remove bacteria. And weekly maintenance is said to be sufficient to
prevent future algae growth and maintain clear water.
Manufacturers claim the product, which is added straight to the
water or circulation system, is non-allergenic and nonflammable,
carries a lengthy shelf life, and is non-corrosive to decks and
Service techs have found the systems create reduced chlorine usage,
little to no recurrence of algae, increased water clarity and
stabilized chlorine levels.
In spring, Todd Starner began converting about one-third of his 100
Tampa, Fla.-area pools to enzyme sanitizers. In the first 30 days,
he says, chlorine levels increased slightly. But soon after the
enzymes became active and those levels steadied.
“It will give you the clearest water you’ve ever
seen,” says Starner, regional director of the Independent
Pool and Spa Service Association’s Region 11 covering Florida
“You can also manage your TDS levels better with it,”
he adds, “and you can knock down the bleach you’re
using. It’s been my method for satisfying customers who want
to go green.”
They do tend to run more expensive than traditional bleach
sanitizers (about $.50 an ounce vs. around $.92 a gallon in some
markets), according to Starner, who uses 5 ounces per pool, give or
“The green concept always has a price,” he says.
“But so far I’ve been very happy with it.”
Cellulose fiber filtration media
Non-toxic when backwashed, natural cellulose fibers are becoming
popular replacements for diatomaceous earth (DE) filtration. They
also work as filter aids and can help boost water clarity when used
in cartridge and sand filters.
Cellulose fibers, which may resemble crushed paper, actually come
from trees, so they’re a non-silica-based renewable resource
that’s also biodegradable. And because of their makeup, they
filter particles down to 2 microns in some cases — finer than
even DE, according to manufacturers.
Most types of cellulose fiber are very low in density, meaning much
less is required to achieve a similar filtration rate as DE. A
shorter backwashing/recharging cycle may occur following the
initial application. But once the water has been stabilized, those
cycle times typically increase to at least twice those of DE
In Ramsey, N.J., Bob Baron has been experimenting with cellulose
fiber filtration for some time. In fact, about two- to three years
ago, he used the fiber media on every pool along his residential
And though Baron did note cost was a concern among customers,
making it more difficult to distribute on the retail side, he still
speaks highly of the technology.
“I don’t have to breathe in the DE,” says the
owner of Baron Pool Service. “And it’s not clogging
things up when we dump it into the waste lines. It’s a better
product for the environment — we use it in a lot of
Sonic waves and metal removers
In the past few years, the service marketplace has seen even more
purportedly greener products emerge to address persistent problems
like algae and heavy metals in pool water.
Though still a relatively unproven technology for recreational
aquatics use, sound waves have been shown to kill algae and
contaminants. These sonic systems can be used in concert with
aeration systems or UV filtration.
Much like a high-pitched shriek causes glass to shatter, these
cleaning systems emit complex sound waves to vibrate and allegedly
break up algae cells. Still, at this point they may be better
suited for pond settings — or large commercial vessels
— than residential pools.
In contrast to traditional metal eliminators, another technology
uses a powdered chelating agent to quickly attach to heavy metals
like iron and manganese. The material acts as a sponge to absorb
the dissolved metals, and traps them in a bag that is immersed in
the skimmer basket.
Also billed as nontoxic and biodegradable, this system is
engineered for fresh and saltwater pools, and does not interact
with other pool chemicals, proponents say.