Natural Swimming Pools 101

Written by Michael Dean
February 27, 2024

natural swimming pool and light bulb

There’s nothing as refreshing as taking a dip in a natural water source like a lake or river on a scorching summer day. A couple of decades ago, you would have needed to live near a body of water to experience this feeling.

However, with natural swimming pools, you can now create a natural water source in your backyard – one that’s free of chemicals like chlorine that can wreak havoc on your eyes and skin.

In this article, I will go over what a natural pool is, its benefits, and some maintenance tips.

Main Takeaways

  • Natural pools are a beautiful holistic answer to the chemically cleaned chlorine alternative.
  • Natural pools require some maintenance, but they are much easier to maintain in the long run.
  • Although they are more expensive, they will save money over time due to the lack of chemicals needed to clean them.

What is a Natural Pool?

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At first glance, a natural pool might look a lot like any other ordinary backyard pond with plants and vegetation growing near the surface. Take a closer look, and you’ll discover these pools are more than just eye-catching.

The trend to switch out chlorine and heavy-duty construction materials for plant life began in the 1980s with a team of Austrian researchers. The team wanted to re-imagine the experience of swimming in mountain streams as children in a much more sustainable way. Instead of chemicals, natural pools rely on the organic properties of plants to keep the water healthy and clean.

Depending on the construction, these pools can vary in appearance. While some might resemble ponds or mountain streams with growing plant life, others use traditional pool tiles that look almost crystal clear. Be sure to read my complete guide on natural swimming pool designs to look for inspiration.

How and Why Do Natural Swimming Pools Work?

Most people will worry that natural pools are less safe due to the lack of chemicals sanitizing the water. However, this isn’t the case. Even if natural pools don’t use chemicals, they still have self-cleaning properties like any pond or mountain stream would.

Natural pools usually have two separate zones: one swimming zone and one for water purification (often called the “regeneration zone”). Depending on the specific pool, these zones might split the space fifty-fifty, but the swimming area could take up to seventy percent of the total area.

Here’s a diagram to follow along.

The regeneration zone is usually chock-full of plant life to keep the water healthy and clean. Just like a traditional swimming pool that uses a filtration system to funnel out the debris, a natural swimming pool uses aquatic plants and vegetation for the same thing.

Using nature’s cleaning properties has its perks but is not without maintenance. Natural swimming pools must stay within a specific pH level so the plants remain healthy and continue doing what they should.

Another thing you’ll notice is that natural swimming pools tend to be larger than traditional pools. Not only does this have to do with separating the space into two zones, but also to help prevent algae issues.

However, even with checking the pH level semi-regularly and monitoring any potential algae growth, many homeowners find that natural swimming pools still require less maintenance than traditional pools and work well in their backyard.

Benefits of a Natural Swimming Pool

Natural pools can look intimidating at first glance, but there’s a lot to love about these eye-catching structures. If you decide to install one of these pools on your property, you can expect a few added perks.

Swimming Among Wildlife

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Many people hike or travel miles just to swim in a creek or river, while others pay money to relax on the shores of a lake for a day. When you have a natural pool, the only distance you’ll need to travel is to your backyard.

Relaxing in nature feels more personal and inviting than swimming in a traditional pool. Some of the most common wildlife you’ll find in a natural pool include snails, amphibians, and insects.

Daphnia, a microscopic creature you’ll find in many lakes and ponds, helps regulate a lot of the crucial biological processes in your natural pool. You probably won’t even notice these little critters while you’re swimming, but their role in your pool’s ecosystem is vital.

As far as plants go, you’ll find that natural pools usually contain three types: biological filters, oxygenating plants, and floating plants. Floating plants like water lilies will protect crucial microorganisms from UV rays. At the same time, biological filters will ensure the water stays clear. I’ll cover more information on plants a little later.

A Chlorine-Free Experience

If you’ve ever spent a day in a traditional swimming pool, you’ve probably dealt with red or stinging eyes as the result of chlorine. Chlorine might not always be a concern, but chlorine can contribute to infections like pink eye for frequent swimmers. Not to mention, it can damage your hair and leave you with a chemical smell that lingers for days.

With a natural pool, you can forego chemicals like chlorine altogether. People who enjoy swimming as a form of regular exercise won’t have to worry about the harm that chlorine could cause.

Less Maintenance

I’ll get into the nitty-gritty details of how much maintenance you can expect with a natural pool later on, but you can almost always expect it to be less than a conventional pool. On top of cleaning them every few months, traditional pools also require that you keep an eye on chemical filtration, pH and chemical balances, and the water filtration system.

The benefit of a natural pool is that the plant life in the water does a lot of those things for you. Rather than adding chemicals like chlorine to keep the water looking crystal-clear, certain plants and microorganisms will automatically regulate the self-cleaning processes.

That isn’t to say you won’t ever have to fish out some debris from your natural pool, but you shouldn’t have to spend hours every keeping up with your pool.

The Drawbacks of a Natural Swimming Pool

Like anything, a natural swimming pool can also come with a few drawbacks. These cons aren’t necessarily dealbreakers, but as a homeowner, it’s up to you to determine whether or not they’ll stop you from taking the plunge.

You Could Attract More Mosquitos

Swimming among wildlife can feel exciting and natural, but it can also mean you end up with a few itchy bug bites. Unfortunately, a small body of water like a pond or natural swimming pool is a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. Floating plants like water lilies can help protect microorganisms from UV rays but can also serve as the ideal spot for mosquitoes to lay their eggs.

Although an increase in your mosquito population could be bothersome, there are steps to ensure your beautiful swimming pool doesn’t become a mosquito hotspot. There are plenty of fish and other wildlife that feed on mosquitoes. If you introduce some of these species into your pool, you can prevent the pests from taking over.

If you’re worried about mosquitoes laying eggs and ending up with a full-blown infestation on your hands, you can always check for mosquito larvae when you’re doing pool maintenance or swimming. If specific stones or plants seem to attract mosquitoes, do away with them.

For more on these pesky insects, read my guide on how to keep mosquitoes away from your pool.

You’ve Got to Watch Out For Algae

If you’ve ever been in a natural pool or even just seen one up close, you’ll probably notice that these pools tend to be larger. While conventional pools can vary in size from Olympic-size lap pools to shallow kiddy pools, the same cannot be said for natural pools.

Small natural pools are claustrophobic and can be a permanent residence for algae. Algae can affect the health of your water, and some types, like blue-green algae, can be harmful if you are exposed to it long-term.

Generally, I recommend that your natural pool is at least around forty-five square meters to reduce the risk of an algae infestation.

Depending on the type (and color) of algae in your pool, some kinds are easier to eradicate than others. Ultimately, if you can stop an algae problem before it even starts, you’ll be saving yourself a lot of trouble down the road.

It’s Usually More Expensive (Initially)

One reason some homeowners choose to go with a natural pool, on top of the other benefits, is that it’s likely to save them money in the long run. However, natural swimming pools tend to have a higher initial cost.

Since you’re essentially building a tiny wildlife habitat in your backyard, you can expect there to be a high initial investment. You’ll need to purchase construction materials, pay for labor, and buy a variety of different plant and animal life for your pool.

While you’re likely to save money on chemicals and cleaning products over time, spending so much money at the beginning of the process can be a drawback for some people.

For a complete cost breakdown, read my natural pool price study.

Maintenance for Natural Pools vs. Traditional Pools

One thing you’ll often hear natural pool owners boast about is the lack of regular maintenance. Although you should expect to do some maintenance with your natural pool, it’s likely to be a lot less than you’d expect with a conventional one.

Traditional Pool Maintenance

As the owner of a chlorinated pool, it is your job to ensure your pool water’s health is up to par and that there is no excessive mold or algae growth.

You’ll be in charge of making sure the pool filter is working properly, the chlorine level is balanced, and the water is circulating as well as it should be. You have to keep your pool pump running several hours a day too. If you have a heater, you’ll need to maintain that as well.

On top of making sure the filtration and circulation system is always working, you may also need to clean your pool with a vacuum, brush, or net skimmer. Even with an excellent filtration system, debris and dirt can still muddy your water.

The list of chores can add up with a traditional pool, and it’s not uncommon that you’ll need to perform regular maintenance tasks every week, if not more.

Natural Pool Maintenance

A natural pool still comes with a few to-do tasks, but instead of having to do it all yourself, you’ve got plenty of plant life willing to help shoulder the burden. While the maintenance level can vary with different types of natural pools, most owners have to worry less about regular cleaning.

You’ll always want to keep an eye on your pool to ensure the plant life is doing its job, but besides fishing out unwanted debris or checking pH levels occasionally, there’s not an endless to-do list to worry about.

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Can you Retrofit a Chlorine Pool into a Natural Pool?

The short answer is yes. However, it does require a comprehensive conversion plan. Natural pools use biofilters, so you need to figure out where to put the tubing and filter gravel needed for this type of filter.

It’s important to ensure your existing pool is large enough for the regeneration zone a natural pool requires. And it should be deep enough to prevent overgrown algae because the swimming area will be reduced by about 50% after the conversion.

In many cases, it’s often easier to use the current hole for a natural pool after taking out the existing pool. This way, you can shape the pool more naturally to fit your aesthetic and add in the features you want or increase the size of your swimming area if you have space.

Converting a traditional chlorine pool to a natural pool can be done with a detailed conversion plan of action.

Things to Consider When Constructing a Natural Pool

Since you’re essentially putting a pond in your backyard, it’s safe to say that you’ll want to carefully map out all the construction details beforehand. Here are a few things to consider about the design of your pool:

  • Bigger is better. Since small natural pools can end up causing algae and mold growth, it’s better to be generous with the space you give your natural pool.
  • Think about depth. Although a deeper pool might mean that your pond stays colder even in the summer, it could go a long way in protecting vital microorganisms. Some microorganisms shouldn’t grow too close to the surface, or you risk damage from UV rays. Your pool doesn’t need to be bottomless, but three to six feet is a good range to shoot for.
  • Aim for less sun exposure. If you can find a shady spot to put your pool, you could be saving yourself a lot of trouble. Not only will it help prevent UV damage to microorganisms, but less sun exposure can also slow algae growth.

There’s plenty to think about when it comes to natural pools. These beautiful pools can yield many benefits, but ultimately, you’re the only person who can decide if a natural swimming pool is right for you, and if so, choosing between a DIY build or hiring a professional pool builder.

Common Plants Used in Natural Swimming Pools

Here are a few common plants pool owners will put in their natural pools.

Water lilies: Lily pads are the most commonly seen water plants. They survive well in temperate climates and are great filtration tools.

Plankton: Perhaps the most important plant life in any body of water, plankton are a breath of life for a living body of water. Plankton are kept under control in natural swimming pools by the other larger plants in the water ecosystem.

Duckweed: Duckweed is a tiny flowering plant that is sturdy and can survive in most climates in the USA. It helps to reduce the algae in the natural pools.

Natural Pool Designs

Unlike traditional round or rectangular pools, the design options for a natural pool come in greater variety. Check out my guide for inspiration on your natural pool design. From various shapes and plants to rock formations, there are many things you can decide to incorporate into a natural pool, making the options endless.

Questions about natural pools? Let me know, and I’ll be glad to help.

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