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Natural and Living Pools: An Alternative to Chlorine

Natural and Living Pools: An Alternative to Chlorine

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
Aug 22, 2018

There are over 10 million residential pools and more than 300,000 public swimming pools across the United States. The vast majority of these pools rely on huge amounts of chlorine and other pool chemicals to keep the water clean and supposedly safe. However, the problems associated with chlorinated pools go far beyond the burning sensation in your eyes after a long summer swim.

Below, we take a look at the problems with conventional chlorinated pools and offer some natural alternatives for a healthier, more beautiful, and more ecologically friendly way to cool down during the next summer heatwave.

Biotop Living Pool
Biotop Living Pool. Photo Credit: Bitop

Health and Ecological Risks of Chlorinated Pools

A typical residential pool will most likely rely on a concoction of pool chemicals that might include: 

  • Sanitizer such as Chlorine, Bromine, Biguanide
  • Algaecides such as Quaternary Ammonia, Polyquats, Metallic, Borates, and Bromine
  • Oxidizers that destroy all organic compounds such as Sodium Di-Chlor, Calcium-Hypochlorite, Lithium Hypochlorite, Sodium Hypochlorite, Monopersulfate, MPS, and Potassium Peroxymonosulfate.

That’s an awful lot of chemicals to maintain a small body of water. While the chlorine and other chemicals will kill off large amounts of bacteria and other pathogens that could proliferate in the water of your pool, they might also lead to serious health problems. One recent study that evaluated 49 adults who swam in an indoor chlorinated pool for 40 minutes found increased cancer risk markers. (The study’s researches emphasized that it does not mean swimmers have a higher likelihood of getting cancer or that they should stop swimming; more research is still being called for.) Highly chlorinated pools have also been linked to an increased likelihood of childhood allergies such as asthma and hay fever. 

Chlorine and other pool chemicals are known to be environmental toxins. In the same way that chlorine kills off bacteria in pool water, it can also negatively affect the immune system, the blood, the heart, and the respiratory system of animals, especially organisms and animals living in the water and the soil. Pool chemicals can damage rivers and creeks if the chemical-infused water is disposed of improperly. Evaporated pool chemicals also contribute greenhouse gasses to the environment. Traditional pools use enormous amounts of energy, as one study finds that homes with pools use 49 percent more electricity than those without. 

The ecological footprint associated with traditional pools is considerable. So, what to do? Instead of forsaking pools altogether, what if it were possible to replicate a pristine mountain lake in your backyard?

What is a Natural Pool? 

Natural pools (also known as natural swimming ponds) are built bodies of water contained by isolating membranes where no chemicals or devices are used to sterilize or disinfect the water. Instead, the pool's water is purified and sanitized through biological filters and aquatic plants rooted in the pool system. Unlike chlorine and other “sanitizing” pool chemicals, the cleansing and filtering agents in natural pools have biological counterparts in the natural world. In essence, natural pools take their cue from nature with water purification methods.

Webber Natural Swimming Pool
Webber Natural Swimming Pool. Photo Credit: Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

Where Was the First Natural Pool?

Natural swimming pools first began in Austria and spread through Europe, where today, there are thousands of residential natural pools on the continent. In the United States, natural pools are slowly beginning to gain acceptance. The first public natural swimming pool was opened by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board earlier this year. The swimming area's 20,000 square feet at the Webber Natural Swimming Pool holds 500,000 gallons of water recycled every 12 hours through biological filters of 7,000 aquatic plants rooted in limestone and granite layers.

What Is a Natural Pool Regeneration Area?

Natural pools contain a regeneration area, mostly contained within a smaller, separate body of water. In this regeneration area, the water is cleaned, filtered, and oxygenated by aquatic plants such as cattails, water lilies, reeds, etc. A small solar pump is used to circulate the water from the swimming area to the regeneration zone. In some cases, the water is also passed through a gravel filter to ensure all bacteria and potential pathogens are purified before reentering the swimming area.

What Are the Benefits of Natural Pools?

Natural pools provide a refreshing dip in the pool without having to worry about swimming through potentially dangerous chemicals that dry out your skin and hair. The aquatic plants in the regeneration zone attract beneficial water bugs, dragonflies, and other natural predators of mosquitoes, meaning that you won’t have to worry about your natural pool breeding ground for bugs.

While conventional pools need to be drained every year before winter and release thousands of gallons of chlorinated water into the surrounding environment, natural pools can freeze over—making them much easier to maintain while also reducing negative environmental impacts.

Companies Offering Natural Pools

While designing and building a natural pool could be a DIY project that you spend years implementing, several companies specialize in building beautiful, wholesome natural pools.

BioTop Natural Living Pool
BioTop Natural Living Pool. Photo Credit: BioTop


Biotop was one of the pioneering companies in starting up commercially available natural and living pools. During the past three decades, they have designed and built over 5,000 natural pools across the world. They offer two main types of pools: a living pool and a natural pool. While their Natural Pool has a filter function carried out by plants and microorganisms, the Living Pool contains a special phosphate filter with granules that bind phosphorus and help eliminate any algae growth. While this company is based out of Austria, where the natural pool movement began, they do have partners working in North America that you can find here.

Reflections Water Gardens
Water Gardens. Photo Credit: Reflections Water Gardens

Reflections Water Gardens

Reflections Water Gardens is based out of Illinois and offers all sorts of water features for your property. From fountains and waterfalls to Koi ponds and natural pools, Reflections Water Gardens has many water feature products. Their natural pools utilize bacteria, microbes, and constructed wetlands to keep water pure, clean, and healthy for swimming. If your home already has a conventional pool, this company can also help you convert and restore existing chemically-treated swimming pools into natural pools.

BioNova Natural Pools
Natural Pool. Photo Credit: BioNova Natural Pools

BioNova Natural Pools

BioNova Natural Pools is a US-based company that builds natural swimming pools. Their patented biological filtration system is used by the massive Webber natural swimming pool in Minneapolis mentioned above. They also offer a broad range of design options, from traditional rectangular pools to completely naturalistic swim ponds that will fit your landscape layout. BioNova can design and build a natural pool anywhere in the United States, and you can search for local dealers here.

The Bottom Line

Enjoying a swim during the heat waves of summer is refreshing and rejuvenating. Besides allowing you a safe and healthy way to enjoy the water, natural swimming pools can also become a beautiful part of a property that connects your home to the local landscape.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-10T05:00:39+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.