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.  

Ionization-oxidation sanitizers

These hybrid water-purification systems typically involve a pair of sanitizing agents that are used in conjunction with low levels of chlorine.

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 neutralize pH.

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 system.”

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 systems.

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 fresh.”

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 coping.

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 and Georgia.

“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 take.

“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 cycles.      

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 route.

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 places.”

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.