Clear and clean: Can you maintain your pool without hurtful chemicals?

Allecia Vermillion

Cipriano Landscape Design started building custom pools in New Jersey eight years ago, but president Chris Cipriano can’t remember the last time a customer wanted a traditional chlorinated model.

Typical swimming pools rely on chlorine to keep water sanitary, preventing algae growth and the spread of germs or diseases to pool users.

And yet anyone who has taken a dip in a traditional swimming pool knows the dry skin and itchy eyes that come with chlorine. The chemical-heavy water also causes problems in your yard and in local wastewater systems.

“Any time you have a heavy rain and your pool overflows, those chemicals are going directly into the groundwater,” Cipriano says.

Several options exist for weaning your pool off chlorine. While costs vary, traditional pools can be converted to one of these new systems in just a few hours, Cipriano says.

Ozone and ionizing systems

Unlike a saltwater system, an ionized pool is truly chlorine-free. These systems use metals like copper and silver to ionize the water, or ozone to oxidize and sanitize the water.

The ionization process produces a clean and gentle swimming environment, but it also releases some metal into the water, making disposal a challenge.

Cipriano says a new system, Oxymatic, ionizes water through copper and titanium electrodes without discharging metal into the water. The system is just arriving in the U.S. but has been used in Europe for a number of years.

These newer systems can cost $2,000 to $2,500 and are far more reliable than their predecessors, Cipriano says.

Saltwater pools

This common chlorine alternative has been around for years, says Cipriano. “It’s bulletproof.”

Saltwater pools contain a generator that converts salt to chlorine. The resulting water is much softer than traditionally chlorinated water and easier on the eyes and skin. Depending on the pool and the region, this system can cost $1,200 or more.

Quick fixes

- While it won’t change your pool’s chemical makeup, installing energy-efficient pumps, cleaners, filters, lights or controls for your pool can dramatically reduce the amount of energy required to keep water clean and temperate.  

- Installing a cover can prevent evaporation and cut down on heating needs, saving energy and money. It also keeps debris out of the water.

- Pull that pool cover back if the sun is shining; outdoor pools absorb 75 to 80 percent of solar energy that strikes the surface of the water, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.