Above Ground Pool Ionizers: Good or Bad?

Above Ground Pool Ionizers: Good or Bad?

Every year manufacturers come out with a ton of new products. Pool retailers get bombarded with new toys, better pumps, filters, liners, chemicals, tiles, building products, and of course, new equipment add-ons. During the twenty-nine years that I have been in the pool business I’ve seen new products promise great things, especially  the area of swimming pool water chemistry.

The promises that come with a new product don’t get any sillier than the promises made by pool chemistry helper products. Promises such as “just add this frog-shaped pill to your pool and you’ll never have to add anything else” or “plumb in this electronic device and always have perfect pool water” are just two examples of the ridiculousness pool professionals have to endure. These notions are completely inaccurate, but who is the average innocent pool owner going to believe – the ponytailed pool guy with holes in his shorts that are caused by chlorine or the supercool new 3-D store display with a picture of a smiling dolphin swimming with a happy family?

It seems like every year I have to defend my knowledge of water maintenance against these million-dollar marketing ploys and I often lose. People will buy into this stuff anyway and I can’t blame them. How can they know any better? Usually a couple years later they know better as these expensive items will show their uselessness. This is no exception in the above ground sector of the pool industry. I recall many years ago this new item called an ionizer became popular with the new construction of in-ground pools. About five years later, the manufacturers started making them for above ground pools and for a little while they were everywhere. Today ionizers are still around for some reason. So, since they are available to the new pool owner, I guess I should talk about them.

 

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So What Is an Ionizer and How Does It Work?

OK, I’m not a chemist and I’m not going to get into the boring details of how heavy metal ions are made and how they kill living things. This is the Internet so if you’re a nerd or don’t want to take an Ambien to sleep, look up copper ions and read away.  Here instead is the common guy’s description of ionizers for pools.

When you hear of ionizers for swimming pools, you’re hearing of copper ionizers. Little things want to live and reproduce in our swimming pools. We don’t Swimming Pool Ionizerwant those little thigs to live in the water that we swim in. When some heavy metals like copper are present in water, those little things have a harder time living. This is where a copper ionizer comes in. It introduces copper into the pool making it harder for little things to live.

An ionizer is a simple device. It’s a tube with a solid copper block inside it with a couple of wires attached to the block. The wires connect to a simple electronic device that sends an electric current to the copper block when you plug it into an electric outlet. So, this tube with the copper block is plumbed into the pool equipment after the filter and back to the pool. When the pool pump is turned on, water flows through this tube with the copper block. As the water flows through, an electrical charge is sent to the copper block causing it to break up a little and release into the water that sends copper into the pool. Over time the block gets smaller and smaller as it breaks up and is released into the pool. Every year or two the block of copper has to be replaced in the ionizer. And that’s it.

An Ionizer Does Work, but Is It Worth Having?

Many things that are designed for pools don’t work at all. At least an ionizer does kill things in the water. Is it worth spending the money on one though? My opinion is that it is not worth it. I may just be a jaded old pool guy remembering the simple days when swimming pools had only a pump and a filter, so let me explain myself just in case.

SLEEPY EXPLANATION ALERT: GRAB SOME COFFEE!

A swimming pool’s water chemistry has to accomplish two major things in order to keep the pool safe and healthy. It has to sanitize and oxidize little living Swimming Pool Ionizer Electrodethings. Now sanitize is the tree-huggers word for “killing” and oxidize is the same as the Mafia term “getting rid of”. In regular guy terms then, pool chemistry has to kill and then get rid of what’s been killed. You can’t have one without the other. You can’t kill and then not get rid of it.  The pool would then be like an episode of “The Walking Dead” and that’s clearly not healthy. And you can’t get rid of things that aren’t dead yet. That would require a massive refugee camp for microorganisms somewhere outside the pool. Not gonna happen.

An ionizer only sanitizes and doesn’t oxidize. This means that a pool needs more than just an ionizer. It cannot stand alone and must have help with at least something doing the oxidizing. Actually though, an ionizer also needs help doing the sanitizing too as the job of killing is just too great for it. What I am getting at here is a pool with an ionizer still needs something major to kill and get rid of it so at best it is just a helper for swimming pool chemistry. Whether it is a really good helper is certainly in question.

The Bottom Line

Here’s my bottom line on this. I ran a swimming pool maintenance company for thirteen years and during that time we recorded chemical usage in every pool. The pool routes had every possible variation of pool equipment add-ons including some with ionizers. In my observation and recordings, the pools with the working ionizers did not use fewer chemicals than the ones without ionizers. Also, the pools with ionizers presented no fewer problems associated with pool water chemistry.

Ionizers do provide some sanitation in swimming pools and they are safe to use with above ground pools as they cannot affect the vinyl liner. However, I don’t think they are worth the cost as a $300 dollar ionizer and a $100 every two years for a replacement block can buy a lot of chlorine.

 

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60 thoughts on “Above Ground Pool Ionizers: Good or Bad?

  1. I’m setting up a metal stock tank pool this summer and would love to use a solar powered ionizer and filter so I don’t have to install a filter, do you think this ionizer would ruin the metal pool?

  2. I have a 24 x 52 round pool. If my ionized was on number 1 will this cause the slimy feeling on the walls? I have since turned it up to # 3 again. And add liquid chlorine and brushed the walks down.

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  4. So much misinformation here!!!
    To run copper ionizer successfully, it is a MUST to prepare water BEFORE you use it.
    The best would be to drain your pool and start with fresh water and test, test, test…

    Here is what to test and bring water to correct levels:
    1. pH level 7.2 – 7.8
    2. total alkalinity 80 – 140ppm (120ppm is perfect)
    3. calcium hardness 200 – 350ppm
    4. total disolved solids 1000 – 2000ppm
    5. run ionizer until copper residual is 0.3 – 0.5ppm

    Once you reached the 0.3 – 0.5ppm, maintain all of the above and 3 times a month in
    summer and 1-2 in winter just add liquid chlorine in the evening around the pool walls.

    Following this you will never get “copper stains”, water will be crystal clear and usage
    of nasty chemicals will be minimal. No bad smell, no chlorine burning eyes, no clothes
    bleaching, and if you spill some on your lawn – no dead grass. And you will save money.

    Enjoy!!!

  5. Hi there my husband would like to not have a copper ionizer anymore. Basically because he believes it’s a ploy and that it’s too expensive. My pool has been doing awesome with putting one gallon of liquid Clorox in the pool twice a week along with it algaecide and proenzyme. Now if I stop the copper enzyme would I need to do anything different? My pools ph has been slightly high so add 2 cups muriatic acid as need usually once a week. My husband would like for me to start using a 10% chlorinating liquid twice a week instead of the gallon chlorox which is only 6%. I have an above ground 24ft pool. What is the right thing to do? Thanks Sonja

  6. My water source has an very high PH (almost 9). I have about 15000 gallons in the pool.
    I usually add a couple gallons of muratic acid to drop the PH some and I use Trichlor tablets
    My water stays pretty clear (unless we get alot of rain). With the hot summers I lose a alot of water to evaporation and I have to add that alkaline heavy water back so I can never get and keep my PH down to a neutral range. Any suggestions?

    1. I’m wondering if you have a leak. Leaking pools will have issues like this. The rate of evaporation depends on where you live but the greatest rate of evaporation is one-third of an inch per day and that’s in a super dry air place like Pheonix Arizona. Most places in the country will only have a max summer evaporation rate of maybe one-eighth of an inch per day. Make sure you don’t have a leak first because all bets are off if you have one with maintaining certain chemical levels.

      If you’re not leaking, check the TA(total alkalinity) and adjust according to directions. I usually lowered persistently high ph by adding small amounts of muriatic acid often.

  7. Hi, how do long winters (approx. 5 months of permanent snow and ice) impact your recommendation if at all? Thank you.

    1. I don’t have any experience with cold and freezing winters as I live in Florida. As far as pool products go though, I don’t think it matters much. I would suggest getting a cartridge type filter instead of a sand type so you can disconnect it during the winter and bring it inside somewhere.

      1. We live in a 3 month winter area. We used to have a sand filter and switched to a cartridge one. As far as the winter goes, the sand filter was just fine. Just make sure to drain, etc… We do take the cartridges in, of course. We have a salt system from Hayward and it seems pretty effective at keeping the pool clean. There is a new salt system called Dive, I believe, which includes an ionizer and has a built in electrical generator which works off the water flow from the pump. Neat idea but you have to make sure the flow is above a certain level. There’s Wi-Fi built in and an app. In any case am happy with a salt only system and would probably be just as content with adding chlorine.

  8. Hello

    We are looking to get am 21ft round above ground pool In Michigan..with the Perma Salt/copper system. If I’m understanding the comments. The Ionizer/Copper system works well, however it can be expensive and adding a Chorline is helpful is that correct? Also make sure we keep up with our maintenance!

    1. I have the Perma Salt system and it works excellently. You only need to use chlorine to shock the pool every couple of weeks. The copper cartridge has lasted 2 seasons with moderate pool usage and the PH/alkaline/calcium levels are very easy to maintain. Highly recommended!

  9. I bought a house with a 27″ above ground round pool which used a power ionizer. I spend $100 /year on a cartridge and float a chlorine tab in it with the smallest opening. Its been 6 years now and never had a problem. I keep PH balanced. IF and only if the pools starts to get a hint of cloudy, I will use 1 bag of shock and a couple ounces of clarifier. Will clear up over night. So, ionizer keeps algae down and hint of chlorine for sanitation. The pool is used by adults so no “accidents” in pool.

    I’m sorry I don’t see any of the problems that have been posted on here. Its common sense to me that you monitor the water but floating a tablet with balance and checking the ph has been really successful for me and my family anyway.

  10. I am a water chemist working in the industrial and commercial water treatment field. I started in 1974. My wife and I installed a 24′ above ground pool three summers back. I went with the copper ionization and UV Light as the main algae/bacteria control. I also have a chlorine tablet floater. I add about 4 tablets every two weeks. I buy a 40 lb pail of chlorine tablets every two years. That is it. My water chemistry is always excellent. I keep the Free Chlorine in the 2-3 ppm range. We don”t feel or smell the chlorine…ever. So my annual chemical cost is less than $100. In my opinion the up front cost of the UV Light and Copper Ionization Systems was well worth the money spent. Just my five cents worth. I should point out that we take the extra time to clean and vaccum the pool to remove the organic build up. We have never experienced an green algae bloom. nuf said. Scott C

    1. Hi Scott. You may have said (e)nuff about your specific situation. You have enjoyed success with one 14k gallon body of water with one bather load pattern in one area of the country with one configuration of surrounding nature over the span of a few years. I hope you don’t consider this extremely narrow field of observation as one that can make any accurate deductions or conclusions industry wide. My reasons for not being a fan of certain products or technologies are the result of more than just the swimming pool in my own back yard. I’m happy that your pool is easy to maintain though.

  11. Hi Dan, I have a 55,000 lt inground cement tiled pool with in floor cleaning, I am looking at changing to biozonic system after having to replace two salt cell in the last year and now the chlorinator after the chlorinator was short circuited by a lizard and now needs to be replaced have you ever worked with this system it has three componants. the biozonic system is a Australian company based in Qld. I have not had a easy run with local pool shops so have lost all trust in them. To his day my pool pipes are still leaking due to dodgy workmanship and I only had them come out last week when I phoned on the day I had work done to say that the pipes were still leaki
    ng I was told he would come back out but there would be another $70 – $90 call out fee . so I told him to forget it.

  12. Hi Dan,
    I came across your site checking out ionizer info. I have a spring fed pool that drains into a creek so I cannot use chlorine or shock in the pool. Further I want to open a b and b here and the natural pool is the attraction. I heard barley straw or extract is a good environmentally safe clarifier to use and I have a filter system on it now. I may have to combine several systems to make the water last longer. As it is, I spray 1 gallon of bleach on the pool walls when it is empty and plugged for refill and the water seems to last about one week before it turns emerald and we start seeing some algea production. I like to drain just before so clean up is easier. Do you have any ideas for this type of “situation”? What about the infared light I had also heard about. I thank you for any advice you may provide.

    1. I’m excited for what you have there but have no experience with your situation. You may try allowing some new water to enter and existing water to exit continuously if you can. That of course depends on your water source. That’s how some of the very first pools were. I always thought that was cool.

  13. I have a 18 foot above ground pool, and I have had to shock the pool twice a month, and we purchased an ionizer, and have not used any chlorine in a bit over a month, and the water is still clear…I happened upon this site because I was thinking that the ionizer is working great, but am wondering if I should shock the pool anyhow.
    Before the ionizer, we had cloudy algae ridden mess..and like I said, we haven’t had to worry about coudiness since adding the ionizer. I reckon I should shock the pool every often just to make sure all the “little things” die

    1. The first thing I learned in this business is that you can’t argue with success so if the ionizer is making a difference then good for you. Did you by chance come into a cooler season at that time? Don’t worry. If the water is clear, then there’s not much in it. It’s a super really good idea though to always have at least a trace amount of chlorine in the water. I would!

      1. so would it be safe and prudent to compliment the sanitizing of my pool with a chlorine tab floater in addition to my Perma-salt system? System works great but on occasion the water and pool walls tend to get slimy.

  14. I have a ionizer and I have noticed brown stains on pool liner. I have been using this system for years and this is the first time I have encountered this problem. I put a new cartridge in this spring and turned the level to 2. What can I do to get rid of this brown stain? My total alkalinity is at around 120.

    1. You are electroplating your pool with copper. That is what the brown stains are. It happened to me three years ago so I just turned the setting down on the ionizer and in a couple of weeks it disappeared.

    2. I have an ionizer system too and was having problems with brown spots. I was told to put a vitamin C tablet next to the brown spot and see if it goes away. If it goes away you need citric acid added to your pool.

  15. Dan,
    We have a 24′ above ground pool with an ionizer. We use liquid chlorine once a week to shock the pool in addition to the ionizer. Ever since we had the pool installed we have had problems with dark brown stains on the bottom of the pool. We have tried stain removers and black algae Algecide that was recommended by our local store. These did not help the stains at all. The only time the stains go away is when the water twmperature decreases. Do you think being on an ionizer system is the problem? I’m thinking of making the pool a normal chlorine pool and see if it helps the stains.

    Thanks!

    1. Stains go away with a decrease in water temperature? I don’t think that’s possible but you never know. I remember watching Mark Wahlberg’s pants (when he was with the Funky Bunch) fall down while he was singing and it wasn’t a wardrobe malfunction. He meant for his pants to fall down. I don’t know what the brown stains could be but the copper in the ionizer can make some deep red colored stains on concrete pools so you maybe right. Ionizers are kind of a joke to me anyway so yea, cut that thing out and see if the stains stop appearing.

  16. Hi Dan,
    I have a 24 foot round 52 inch tall above ground pool. It has an ionizer attached. Would it make my chlorine not readable? It doesn’t matter how much I shock it or how much chlorine I add, my pool does not read there is any chlorine in it. I even take it to the pool store and have my water checked and it shows no chlorine and they seem stumped. The water looks fine so not sure what the answer is. I thought about add chlorine tabs in floaters. Any suggestions?
    Thanks,
    Jo

    1. The ionizer shouldn’t have anything to do with your chlorine reading. Check your stabilizer level and then test for phosphates. Lawn fertilizer running into your pool can neutralize the chlorine for a long, long time.

      1. Please read up on ionizer systems. Chlorine and free chlorine should always be 0 except for right after shocking.

    2. The ionizer is made to where you don’t have chlorine. I Had mine for 18 years for the first 3 it never got green and only shocked it maybe every 2 weeks, love the ionizer.

      1. I have been using ions for 12 years with an .3 grams per hour ozone injector, perfect every year. All the same liner, pump, ionizer, hardware. I also use chlorine for startups and weekly shock. Goodluck

        1. I live in south Florida and do not have an ionizer. If I shocked my pool every week it would be fine without an ionizer. So if you are having to shock you pool weekly ionizer is not saving you any money. If you really want a chlorine free pool the only way I know to do it would be with an ozonator plumbed in with an injector on the return side that is injecting O-Zone into a UV system system that the water passes through. The ozone is an oxidizer that you inject into the water it will kill urine, break up sun tan oils and body oil. It kills bacteria and helps sanitize your pool but can’t do it alone. Once the ozone enters into the UV light it creates free radicals which kill bacteria and it does in a millisecond. What the UV system then does is change the DNA of any bacteria, algae, crypto virus which is caused from feces in the water. When it changes the DNA of what ever it attached to it can’t reproduce. I have a 15.000 gal pool and ran it for a year now and have only shocked my pool twice. My ph only changes when it rains a lot. I have only used part of a gallon of acid in a year. So in a year I have spent under $20 on chemicals.

          1. You may only shock it weekly but you are probably adding 3 inch tabs quite often. With the Ionizer we add one pound of shock weekly and thats all besides a little phos free.

      2. Hey there, you seem to have had great results with your ionizer system. When I open my pool this year, this is only the second year I’ve had it, what do I need to do specifically? as far as I know I am supposed to add preparate and then two other chemicals. Do I just add regular pool shock to the pool every two weeks? That is what I did last year.

  17. i have above ground pool 24′ by 4′ with power ionizer, i can’t seem to get chlorine and free cholorine up, can i use shock plus 4-1 to get my level up?

    1. Every pool is different but generally if you can’t keep a chlorine reading, then either add stabilizer(cyanuric acid) or use more chlorine tabs. The tabs have stabilizer in them. Read about stabilizer.

      1. Chlorine and free chlorine for an ionizing system should always be 0 except for 7-8 hours after a shock session.

  18. So, what does it take to switch from a saltwater ionized pool to regular chlorine based? I was told too that I would save a bunch of money by not having to buy the chlorine, but I continue to spend no less than $400 each season on salt water products for my above ground pool. In my opinion this whole saltwater system with ionizer has been a gigantic rip off.

      1. Can you come help us newbies? We are very frustrated! Just bought a 24 above ground Permasalt and can’t get out oh’s stable! First dangerously low yesterday! Was told to pick up 4 gallons of boric pool acid! Dumped that in last night around 9pm now today at 9 am still low! Bought ph up pods put all 8 in still nothing! The alkaline is perfect but can’t get it right! Don’t want to swim until it’s perfect and the copper is set on was told for 7 day and then bring it down to 4! We have the pump on and will not shut it off until everything is perfect! GOD help us!we would never of gotten a pool of it was this much work and money just to get the water right! We called on a pool guy but no one wants to do a Perma Salt pool

        1. My understanding is that a perma-salt system is a copper ionizer? Sorry. Ionizers will only help marginally. I say to follow a normal chlorine regimen and adjust the ph using muriatic acid to bring down, and soda ash to bring up.

          1. Dan yes I’m a newbie how do you feel about a Floatron? My friends have it in their in gfound pools Would it be useful in an above ground pool?

  19. Thank you, Dan! This is good info! We’re going to try not changing out the copper ionizer his year & see what happens.

    1. I found this site while researching pools and treatment options. I was wondering if you have found any differences at this time. Thanks, Christine

  20. I am allergic to chlorine. Is their an alternative for an above ground pool? I am told salt is not an option as it will damage the metal supports, and reading this article it seems copper may not be a viable option either. Thank in advance for any help on this.

    1. I’ve got good news for you. You are not allergic to chlorine! Our bodies make chlorine and we couldn’t even be born if we were allergic to it. More than likely your body reacts to excessive combined chlorine which means the pool is not being maintained well. And just so you know, “salt pools” usually have a higher free chlorine content than non-salt pools.

      As a pool guy, I don’t like using chlorine alternatives because they don’t work as well, are less forgiving, and costs more to maintain. I would say to just learn how to treat your pool better but if that’s not the answer, then try Baquacil or another hydrogen peroxide based product. It’ll cost more but some people are happy using it.

  21. Thanks for the info. I’ve had my pool for about 25 years and in my opinion “Phos Free” is one of the best concoctions for keeping a pool looking great. It beats using all those expensive algaecides. Which if the EPA ever found in a body of water there would be another Love Canal.

  22. So, Dan
    I’ve got a Perma Salt above ground 24 ft. Dia. Pool. I do not like spending so much money on the Copper assembly every year; however, I must say, I have not had any problems. Water has always been clear during the summer and even after the winter, it is crystal clear. Of course, I have to add certain of “their” products to the water every couple weeks or so during the summer to maintain balance and clarity, so that is added cost too. I’ve had my pool for 6 summers. What would it take to run my pool successfully without the Copper Ionizer?
    Thank You in advanced for your input.
    Regards, Doug

    1. Hey Doug,
      Dan was out in the field so he shot me a reply to post for him:

      Hi Doug. One of the first lessons I learned when I started a pool service business was that you can’t argue with success. With that said, my instinct is to say to keep doing what you are doing even if it’s probably more expensive.

      If you want to be adventurous, I would do everything you are doing except turn the ionizer off and see if anything changes. You may not see any difference. If you don’t then eliminate adding “their” products and see the differences.

      I only monitor chlorine and ph levels/readings for my pool and have little issues. But that’s with a ton of chlorine management experience so you may need more. I hope this helps and good luck with experimenting.

      Dan Dougher

    2. Hi doug, i have a question, when you first open the pool with the ionizer do i have to add chlorine or salt to the water? I shocked the pool,put the clarifying and the one for the algae. But my alkaline still low and so is my ph, i also added a ph increaser but still everything is low. My copper is at .5 and my ph under 6.2 and my alkaline is yellow instead of the green. What and i doing wrong. Thank you in advance.

      1. WE had a 27′ , 17,000 gallon above ground installed two months ago. Pool company did furnish us with 40 lb pool salt, 18 lb. Alkaline, 32 lb of calcium Hardness and l bottle Algimycin to be added to pool when full. Set ionizer at 8 for 5 days then adjust back down to 3 or 4. Our water is crystal clear. We add two capfulls of Sonic Shock every couple of weeks at a cost of $20 every 2 months. We have been very satisfied with the ionizer.

        1. Same here. We have the clearest pool on the street. We keep a chlorine tab in the pool basket. Have no problems and no algae. To be fair it’s a small in ground pool and only used by 2 adults.

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