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Published on July 7th, 2008 | by Stephanie Evans


Greener Pool Cleaners

Swimming is a great way to stay in shape: it’s a very low-impact, total-body workout.  Unfortunately, the chlorine-based cleaning systems we’ve been using in our pools for years have some very bad side effects, including acute respiratory problems.  Also, these systems are not effective against all of the nastiest things you can pick up from a swimming pool.

If you’re building or remodeling a pool at your home, or if you just want the facts so you can speak with the people in charge of your gym or community pool, here is the dirt on the latest in people- and earth-friendly aquatic fitness technologies…

Natural Pools with Plant-based Cleaning Systems are the Way to Go

Chemical-free Pools

A variety of alternatives to chlorine are being used to keep pools clean.  Salt is probably the most common today, but salt systems have their downside along with their upside.  They do evaporate slower, so you save some water.  And they do cut the amount of chemicals in your pool, so they’re definitely a step in the right direction.

But salt systems still use chlorine—in fact, the salt itself is turned into chlorine, albeit in much smaller concentrations than a chlorine system.  But you still have many of the same health risks as you do with chlorine, and you’re still contaminating the ground and surface water sources with chlorine when you backwash your pool.

There are completely chemical-free pool cleaning systems out there, however.  ECOsmarte makes systems that use copper ionization and liquid oxidation to sanitize pool water, using no dangerous chemicals in the process.  Meanwhile, the company’s Filter Glass technology uses 100% recycled, post-consumer waste glass.  Better yet, ECOsmarte contributes 5% of its profits to a non-profit organization (of your choosing) that works toward cleaner water and a healthier environment.

There are also clean pools known as “natural pools,” such as those made by Terravita Gardens, which use plants to keep your pool clean.  Not only are they chemical free, they also use natural materials to build the pools, giving you something quite close to a naturally occurring swimming hole in your backyard.  The plants can either be in the pool, out of the pool, or both, and even conventional swimming pools can be transformed into natural pools.

Save Water and Energy

No matter what kind of pool you have, there are a number of things you can do to lessen its impact on the environment and your health.  Here are a few handy suggestions:

  • Pool covers save water, decrease energy expenditures, and can help to keep your pool from polluting the air.  In hot, arid areas, pools can lose more than 5 feet of water a year to evaporation.  That water must be replaced from limited resources that are already in high demand.

    Worse yet, as pool water evaporates, it carries the harmful chemicals in your pool into the atmosphere.  Installing a pool cover therefore not only saves water, it prevents pollution.  Installing a pool cover can also help to retain heat in colder areas, saving energy that would have been spent heating your pool.

    For the lowest impact, look for pool covers made of recyclable or organic material.  A company called Flexible Solutions has developed a product called HeatSavr, which acts as a liquid pool cover: when added to your pool, it forms a layer one molecule thick on top of the water that does not need to be removed before swimming and will reform itself when the pool’s water is still.

  • Chlorine becomes toxic and even carcinogenic when it combines with organic matter—like dirt, leaves, skin, or hair, for instance.  Showering before you get into the pool helps to reduce the amount of organic matter present in your pool that reacts with the chlorine.
  • If possible, set your pool’s filter and sweeper systems to run only during off-peak hours.  When demand gets too high during peak hours, energy companies can be forced to use backup generators that are not as efficient as their main generators, and they’ll probably charge you more for the privilege, too.
  • Don’t run your filter and sweeper as long during the fall and winter months when you will not be using your pool anyway.  A pool cover will help to keep it clean enough, and you’ll save on energy costs.
  • Getting creative with the landscaping around your pool can have aesthetic benefits and keep your pool cool in the summer and warm in the winter.  When designed as a windbreak, landscaping can even help to prevent evaporation.
  • If your pool needs a professional cleaning—wherein the entire pool is drained and the sides scrubbed with acid—make sure to use a green pool service that recycles your old pool water.  This can save as much as 30,000 gallons of water!

If you live near an unpolluted lake, pond, or swimming hole, you’re one of the lucky ones because you get to swim in a pure, self-cleaning body of water.  For now, city-dwelling swimmers will often have to settle for man-made pools, and hopefully these will all be as clean and clear as pristine mountain lakes some day.  And if that’s what we hope for in the future, the future is already within our grasp…

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