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Ionization Systems for Pool Sanitization: By Tom Queen

Updated: Jul 8, 2023

Common thinking among many pool owners and pool professionals is that switching over to a chlorine alternative for pool sanitization should eliminate the need for chlorine altogether. Those who switch to salt cell systems for example, eliminate the need to add chlorine directly to their pool as long as the salt level is kept high enough. Of course, salt cell systems are actually generating chlorine; A different, milder form of chlorine but still chlorine! This all or nothing perspective can be very limiting when seeking an alternative to chlorine for pool sanitization.

The fact is indisputable that chlorine is by far the best all-around sanitizer for pool water. It kills off most germs and dangerous microbes that get into pools. It oxidizes the water to burn off and eliminate the residue of dead microbes, algae, and bacteria. It prevents the growth of most forms of green algae found in pools also. So why would someone want to choose an alternative to this chemical miracle worker? The answer of course is cost and health.

In Late 2020, just after Hurricane Laura hit Louisiana, a chemical plant that produced a very large percentage of the chlorine for swimming pools in the United States burned down. Toxic chlorine gas spilled into the air forcing people to turn off their air conditioners and seal themselves inside their homes in the immediate area of the cloud. This led to an eventual shortage of chlorine tabs (the most widely used form of chlorine in pools). The price of chlorine products for pools overall rose dramatically from that one event alone.

Aug 27th chemical plant smoldering. Photo by: (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News)

Secondly, there is the health concern of chlorine absorption through the skin. Most articles addressing this issue among the medical community dismiss chlorine absorption through the skin as a very slow process unlikely to cause any health problems. However, there is video evidence that calls this theory into question.

One alternative sanitization system for pools is known as ionization. Ionization uses electrolysis to break down copper and silver metals and disperse them into the pool water. These metals kill most all harmful bacteria and most all pool algae. In fact, copper and silver is commonly used as two of the most powerful algicides in the pool industry today. Old time pool cleaners used to attach real copper pennies to the skimmer basket to prevent algae growth. For thousands of years, people in India have used copper containers to purify their drinking water.

Copper has proven itself time and again to be a healthy way to clean microbes from water. However, neither copper nor silver have the ability to oxidize the water and eliminate or burn off the dead microbes. This still makes chlorine necessary, but in significantly less amounts. Another drawback of using copper is its ability to stain the surface of the pool. However, If kept at a level below .05 ppm copper does its job with virtually no staining.

The ionization system shown below is easy to install and maintain. It only requires changing the copper/silver electrodes about once per year at a cost of around $125 and reduces the need for chlorine by about 90%. This means that if you can tolerate a sanitization system that does not entirely eliminate the need for chlorine but greatly reduces it, Ionization may be the right system for you.

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