There are few experiences so freeing and therapeutic as bathing in natural water.
Unfortunately, not everyone is lucky enough to live by the water or a lake that’s safe for swimming, which is why more and more people are choosing to construct natural swimming pools in their own backyards.
If you’ve been dreaming of enjoying a swim without the smell of chlorine or the stress of constant pool maintenance, a natural swimming pool will definitely appeal to you.
Before you go ahead and start planning, though, there’s a lot to learn.
We’re going to explain what a natural swimming pool actually is, how these pools work, and all the pros and cons in this comprehensive guide.
We’re also going to be delving into the differences in maintenance between natural swimming pools and traditional pools as well as what you need to consider during the design process.
Without further ado, let’s take the plunge and explore the exciting world of natural swimming pools (see also ‘The Best Pool Slides‘)!
What Are Natural Swimming Pools?
If you’re still not clear on what a natural swimming pool is, don’t worry – admittedly, it’s a fairly new concept for a lot of people.
A natural swimming pool looks a lot like a pond, (see pond sealer) but in reality, it’s so much more than that.
Back in the 1980s, some Austrian researchers began to examine the possibility of creating swimming pools that were sustainable, did not use chlorine, and that allowed people to experience swimming in a more natural way.
They concluded that the use of certain plant species could keep freshwater clean and safe for swimming without any harsh or toxic chemicals.
Natural pools can look very different from one another, and that’s part of the beauty of this type of pool.
Some have more modern features despite not being traditional pools, such as tiled flooring, while others could easily be mistaken for a naturally-occurring body of water.
But how is this possible? Read on to find out!
How Does A Natural Swimming Pool Work?
A natural pool is basically a self-cleaning pool that keeps the water inside it clean and safe without the use of chlorine and other chemicals.
Many people worry about using natural pools because they believe that they are not clean and could lead to infections, but natural pools are just as safe to swim in as any mountain stream or lake that is declared safe for swimming.
Natural pools are able to stay clean thanks to something called a regeneration zone.
This is a zone in the pool that is separate to the swimming area and is dedicated to purifying the water.
Regeneration zones in natural swimming pools usually take up between 30% and 50% of the pool. They contain many plants with purifying properties.
This is basically the natural equivalent of a traditional pool’s filtration system.
In order to function properly, a natural pool needs to be significantly larger than your average traditional swimming pool.
This is because you need to allocate a lot of space for a regeneration zone, whereas traditional pools have much smaller filtration systems.
Natural Swimming Pool Advantages
There are several advantages to swimming in a natural pool over a traditional swimming pool.
Here are just 3 of the benefits you can expect when you switch from a traditional pool to a natural one:
Probably the biggest benefit of having a natural swimming pool is that you don’t have to swim in chlorinated water.
While chlorine is, of course, beneficial and necessary for keeping pool water clean when it comes to traditional pools, there are several health risks associated with chlorine.
To be clear, if you currently swim in a chlorinated pool, you shouldn’t panic – as long as you keep the chlorine at the right level, you shouldn’t experience any adverse effects.
However, there is a risk that you or whoever is responsible for filling the pool could over-chlorinate the water, and this can be a dangerous situation.
Over-chlorination in pools has been linked to several serious health issues, including bladder cancer, tooth decay, and asthma.
Even though these conditions only arise when there is too much chlorine in a pool, many people prefer to err on the side of caution and avoid chlorinated water altogether.
Proximity To Wildlife
Another great thing about natural swimming pools is the fact that they enable swimmers to swim in close proximity to the natural world and its wildlife.
Of course, a natural pool will probably attract insects with all its purifying plants, and for some people, this isn’t exactly an advantage.
However, your natural swimming pool will also attract other creatures, including amphibians and snails.
Amazingly, you’ll be sharing your natural swimming pool with animals that you can’t even see!
Daphnia, for example, is a microscopic, water-dwelling creature that plays a crucial role in regulating water-based ecosystems despite their tiny size.
There are also 3 types of plants you can observe in a natural swimming pool: floating plants, biological filters, and oxygenating plants.
The floating plants serve the very important purpose of providing shade for the wildlife in your pool and keeping them safe from the harmful effects of UV rays.
Biological filters help to purify the water and keep it clean, while oxygenating plants do exactly what you’d expect – they distribute oxygen throughout the water.
Fewer Maintenance Requirements
Anyone who has ever owned a traditional swimming pool will know how overwhelming the maintenance process can be sometimes.
You need to change the water on a regular basis, check all the filters, and ensure that you add the correct amount of chlorine to the water on top of fishing out all the leaves and bugs (see also ‘How To Get Rid Of Water Bugs In Your Pool‘) that inevitably make their way into the pool.
With a natural pool, however, the maintenance requirements are minimal.
This is because the plants in your regeneration zone help to keep the water clean and oxygenated, so you don’t need to add any chemicals.
Obviously, with a natural pool, you will still need to do minor maintenance tasks like fishing debris out of the water, but apart from that, most of the maintenance is done by the plant life!
Downsides Of Natural Swimming Pools
Natural swimming pools are better than traditional pools in many ways, but there are also some drawbacks.
Before you decide to construct a natural swimming pool in your backyard, you should be aware of some risks and inconveniences.
Algae can sometimes grow in natural pools, and it’s important to stay on top of the growth because algae can damage the health of your pool’s ecosystem or even be damaging for you if you’re exposed to it over a long time.
This is especially true of blue-green algae.
While you don’t have to do as much maintenance with a natural pool compared to a traditional pool, you will need to check your pool for algae regularly and remove it before too much accumulates.
We mentioned that you can expect to see some insects flying around your natural swimming pool.
Many of these will be completely harmless, but depending on where in the world you live, you might have to deal with your local mosquito populations.
Water lilies, which are some of the most popular plants for natural swimming pools, are actually some of the mosquitos’ favorite plants for egg-laying.
Luckily, though, there are steps you can take to keep mosquitos at bay, so you don’t have to risk getting bitten every time you go for a swim.
Aside from wearing bug-repellant spray, you could introduce some fish into your pool that feed on these insects.
Part of the maintenance process for natural swimming pools involves looking for mosquito larvae and removing it before it can hatch in your pool.
Higher Initial Costs
This might come as a surprise to some readers, but creating a natural swimming pool is more expensive (at least, initially) than building a traditional swimming pool.
The reason for the higher initial cost of a natural swimming pool is that in addition to purchasing materials for construction, you’ll need to invest money in plant life and maybe even fish species, and this can be very expensive.
With that being said, the cost of maintaining a traditional swimming pool over time is generally more than natural pool maintenance because with a traditional pool, you end up spending a lot of money on chemicals for cleaning. So, the cost does eventually even out.
Natural Vs. Traditional Pool Maintenance
We’ve already discussed some differences between natural and traditional pool maintenance in earlier sections of this guide, but if you want to be able to compare the processes side by side, here’s a direct comparison:
Maintenance For Natural Pools
You don’t need to physically change and clean the water of your natural swimming pool with chemicals because the plant life in your regeneration zone will do most of the cleaning for you.
However, you will need to inspect the pool on a regular basis for things like algae and, if you live in an area with mosquitos, larvae.
If you find these, you will need to remove them from your pool because algae can be damaging to the ecosystem and sometimes your own health, and mosquitos are obviously not something you want to deal with when you’re trying to have a relaxing swim.
Other than that, the only maintenance you need to do with a natural pool is scoop out any fallen leaves or debris using a net and check the pH level every so often to make sure the water is healthy.
Maintenance For Traditional Pools
Traditional pools come with a strict maintenance schedule that you need to adhere to if you want to keep your pool clean, safe, and pleasant to swim in.
In order to maintain a traditional pool, you need to add chemicals to the water to help kill bacteria and other harmful organisms.
If you fail to add the right chemicals to the water, even with the best filtration system, harmful mold and algae can begin to accumulate.
You’ll need to test the water filter on a regular basis too because, if it stops working, your pool will become unsanitary very quickly.
It’s also important to remember to run the pool pump for at least a few hours every single day.
The water in a traditional pool needs to be changed every few months despite the water being automatically filtered, and on top of that, you will be responsible for manually cleaning your pool using nets or pool vacuums to remove any debris.
This is a lot of work, so it’s not surprising that more and more people today are willing to pay the higher upfront costs for a natural swimming pool.
Designing A Natural Pool
We talked earlier about how a natural swimming pool needs to be bigger than the average traditional pool because you need to allocate space for the regeneration zone.
Some people make their regeneration zones very large, taking up half of the total space of the pool, but you can get away with having a regeneration zone that’s only 30% of the total area.
Because your natural pool will need to be quite big, you will have to consider how much space you have to work with before starting construction.
You should make your natural pool as large as you possibly can to ensure that you have as much space as possible to swim freely.
A natural pool should be at least 3 feet deep, but 6 feet is more of an ideal depth.
The reason for this is not only to ensure that you can swim unrestricted, but because some of the organisms that live in natural swimming pools can be harmed by UV rays from the sun.
To protect themselves, they like to live far below the surface of the water, which isn’t possible if your pool is too shallow.
Additionally, if you live somewhere very hot, a deeper pool will be more likely to stay cool even on the sunniest days.
Sun Vs. Shade
Many people instinctively plan to put their natural swimming pool in a sunny area, but this isn’t actually a good idea.
Again, UV rays can be harmful to some of the organisms that make up a natural pool’s ecosystem, so it’s better to put your pool in a shaded area if you can.
Algae also needs sun to grow, so if you want to avoid algae accumulation in your natural pool, you should construct it somewhere with plenty of shade.
Before you can start using your natural pool, you will need to fill the regeneration zone with plant life.
When you’re planning the construction of your natural pool, you should make a list of the plants you will be including.
The best plants to put in your natural pool’s regeneration zone are plankton, water lilies, and duckweed.
Plankton removes carbon dioxide from water, allowing for photosynthesis and regulating the pH of the water.
If you remember, checking the pH of your natural pool is one of the few maintenance tasks you’ll need to do regularly, but if you have plankton in the pool, the pH should hopefully stay at an acceptable level.
Water lilies are purifying plants that filter the pool water, keeping it clean and fresh.
Finally, duckweed is the perfect plant to keep in your regeneration zone to stop algae from accumulating.
Turning A Traditional Pool Into A Natural Pool
If you already have a traditional pool and were wondering whether you can turn it into a natural pool, the answer is yes!
This process is called retrofitting and while it’s not necessarily easy, it’s definitely possible if you can draw up a good enough conversion plan.
The first thing to consider is where you will put the filter gravel and tubes required to construct the biofilter for your natural pool.
You will also need to measure your traditional pool to ensure that it’s big enough for a regeneration zone as well as a sizable swimming area.
Remember, depending on the shape and size of the pool, your regeneration zone might take up as much as 50% of the total area.
Many people prefer to actually take out the traditional pool and use the hole left behind to create a natural pool as opposed to turning the original construction into a natural pool.
This way, you have more room to get creative aesthetically.
Natural swimming pools are great because they require less maintenance than a traditional pool and allow you to enjoy the beauty of nature while swimming.
If you want to build a natural pool for your home, you’ll need to think carefully about space and depth as well as the plants you’ll introduce to filter the water naturally.
Be prepared to pay more for construction than you would for a traditional pool, but know that the price difference will equalize over time because of the lower maintenance costs.
You can also turn an old traditional pool into a natural pool, but this requires a lot of planning.