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Pool Ionizers: Do They Deliver?

For many pool owners, using chlorine and other sanitizers presents a problem because of their effect on those with sensitive skin. Pool ionizers are becoming popular as an alternative method of maintaining clean and clear water as, using the power of ions to sanitize swimming pools, they reduce the need for traditional chlorine-based chemicals. The question is, do pool ionizers really work?

There is evidence that pool ionizers do work and effectively help eliminate bacteria and harmful pathogens in addition to preventing algae. A study has concluded that, in combination with low levels of chlorine, ionizers were even more effective than higher levels of chlorine alone.

Pool ionizers are also known as pool mineral sanitizers, which is a more understandable description. They typically use silver and copper ions to sanitize the water, with silver effective in eliminating bacteria, while copper prevents algae growth. As with any product, there are pros and cons, which I’ll detail in this article and explain how ionizers work.

How Do Pool Ionizers Work and How Well?

Before looking at how effective a pool ionizer is, it’s interesting to understand precisely what they are designed to do.

How Do Pool Ionizers Work?

Pool ionizers operate by releasing positively charged metal ions into the water, typically copper or silver ions. These ions have antimicrobial properties, which help control and eliminate bacteria, algae, and other microorganisms in the pool.

The ionizer unit is installed in the pool’s circulation system and works by passing a small electric current through a set of metal electrodes that causes the release of copper or silver ions into the water. Most pool ionizer electrodes contain about 90% copper and 10% silver.

The ions that are released are attracted to negatively charged contaminants in the pool, such as bacteria and algae. Once the ions come into contact with these contaminants, they disrupt their cellular structure, rendering them incapable of reproduction and growth.

Your pool ionizer is typically an electric in-line device connected to the pump and filter system. It may have an internal cell producing the ions through electrolysis or utilize mineral cartridges that release the ions into the water. 

Apart from these electric ionizers, there are also solar pool ionizers that float in the pool like a chlorine dispenser.

How Well Do Pool Ionizers Really Work? 

Pool ionizers have gained in popularity due to their potential to provide a more natural and eco-friendlier alternative to traditional sanitizing methods. However, their effectiveness depends on several factors.

1. Maintenance: Maintaining the effectiveness of pool ionizers requires maintaining the appropriate ion levels in the water. This is typically achieved by monitoring and adjusting the ionizer’s output as needed. Some ionizers have built-in sensors or control panels to simplify this process.

2. Water Chemistry and pH Balance: Proper water chemistry and pH balance play a crucial role in the effectiveness of pool ionizers. Ionizers work best in water with a pH level between 7.2 and 7.6. If the pH is too high or too low, the ionizer’s effectiveness may be reduced, and additional chemical treatments may be required.

3. Pool Size and Usage: The size of the pool and its usage can impact the effectiveness of ionizers. Small pools tend to experience higher water turnover, facilitating better distribution of ions. Heavy pool usage, or excessive debris, can place strain on the ionizer, and additional chlorine may be needed

4. Supplementary Sanitation: In some cases, pool ionizers may not be sufficient as a standalone sanitation method. They can be more effective when used in conjunction with low levels of traditional chlorine or other supplemental sanitizers. This combination may be the most effective way of providing sanitized pool water.

Pool Ionizer Pros and Cons

Pool ionizers, while they have numerous advantages, also have some negative aspects, so here are the key pros and cons of an ionizer to help you decide if it will suit you.

Pros of Pool Ionizers

Let’s take a look at the major advantages of choosing an ionizer over other sanitizers.

Chlorine Dependency Is Reduced

The most significant benefit of pool ionizers is the reduction in chlorine usage. While the ionizer, as I mentioned, may not eliminate the need for chlorine entirely, it will allow you to substantially reduce chlorine levels, resulting in reduced skin and eye irritation for swimmers.

Algae and Bacteria Are Effectively Controlled

Ionizers are effective at controlling algae and bacteria in pool water. The release of copper and silver ions helps prevent these microorganisms’ growth and spread, resulting in clearer and healthier water. It also has no smell and generally has a softer, smoother feel.

There Are Long-Term Cost Savings

Though the upfront cost of purchasing and installing a pool ionizer is considerably higher than traditional chlorination systems, the reduced use of chlorine and other chemicals can lead to cost savings in the long term.

Ionizers Are Environmentally Friendly

Pool ionizers are considered more environmentally friendly compared to traditional chlorine-based systems. By minimizing the use of harsh chemicals, ionizers have a lower impact on the environment.

There Is A Long-term Residual Effect

It was also found that copper and silver ions don’t degrade or evaporate and have long-term residual disinfecting power, keeping the pool safer even when the chlorine levels drop.

Cons of Pool Ionizers

As with any pool sanitizer, there are some disadvantages that need to be considered.

The Initial Investment Is High

Electric pool ionizers are expensive, with initial costs ranging from $750 to around $1500. Solar-powered ionizers are a lot cheaper at about $200 but are less efficient. Then there’s the cost of mineral cartridges, which must be replaced every 12 to 24 months on average.

So, while ionizers are cheaper to purchase than UV or ozone systems for sanitizing your pool, you will need to budget for the upfront costs.

You will also need to budget for a professional to install your electric ionizer, as it’s not a job for the home handyman.

Ionizers Require Maintenance And Monitoring

Maintaining the proper ion levels and water chemistry requires regular monitoring and adjustment. This can be time-consuming and may need additional testing equipment and expertise. Pool ionizers are sensitive to pH levels, and if not correctly balanced, their effectiveness can be reduced. Regular testing and adjustments are necessary to ensure optimal performance.

Supplemental Chlorine May Be Necessary

In some situations, additional chlorine may be necessary to maintain the desired water quality. Pool owners should be prepared to use a small amount of chlorine as a supplement. Because pool ionizers are slow to reach full effectiveness, particularly in large pools, additional chlorine may be required for the initial period after installation.

Ionizers Often Cause Surface Stains

If too many ions are released in relation to the volume of water, or if there is a mineral imbalance, there is a risk of staining the pool surface.

Conclusion

Pool ionizers do work and offer a promising alternative to traditional chlorination methods. They provide a more natural and eco-friendly approach to pool sanitation. Their effectiveness in controlling algae and bacteria, reducing chlorine dependency, and potential cost savings make them popular among pool owners.