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As an alternative to chlorine or salt-water pools, an ionizer system emits positively charged copper and other heavy-metal ions into the pool water. These ions are said to kill bacteria, viruses and algae.

Electric pool ionizers charge metals with electricity, so that the ions are released into the water. With cartridge ionizers, a mineral pack releases the ions.

Pool ionizers cannot oxidize pool water. Plus the metal ions do not act quickly, taking several hours to attack pathogens. Although ionizer manufacturers and retailers claim that these systems can replace chemical sanitation, there are some concerns about their use. The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that when pathogens are not killed quickly, outbreaks of disease or infection can occur.

It is recommended that a chlorine be used in conjunction with ionizers. This is often required for commercial facilities. With an ionizer, a pool can use less chlorine, making the water less irritating and reducing chemical costs. I can be challenging to get copper levels high enough to kill algae. If algae is a problem at the pool opening, it’s recommended that an algaecide also be added to the water.

Proponents claim that using an ionizer can boost the filtering system’s effectiveness. That’s because the ions bind with debris, making it easier to trap in the filter. In addition, with the elimination or reduction of chemicals like chlorine, there is less chance of corrosion or other chemical interactions with pool components.