Natural pool at luxury home.

What Is A Natural Pool And How Does It Work?

Hanna Kielar7-minute read
June 29, 2022

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If you’ve always wanted a summertime sanctuary in your backyard but have been wary of installing a pool because of the negative effects chemicals could have on yourself and the environment, you might be able to finally bring your outdoor oasis to life with a natural pool.

Natural swimming pools don’t use chemicals or saltwater to function. They’re an eco-friendly alternative to traditional swimming pools, and they create a peaceful, serene sight that’s pleasing to the eye and neighboring wildlife.

If you’re looking to escape the sun this summer, read on to learn more about natural swimming pools and why you should consider getting one.

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What Is A Natural Pool?

Natural swimming pools use a pump to move the water through a biological filter to remove harmful microorganisms and debris. They’re constructed from concrete or stone and use a membrane barrier to stop soil from leaching into the water. Natural pools can be built from scratch or made out of an existing pool.

Because they’re chemical-free, natural pools use bacteria and plants to make an organic filter to remove unwanted elements from the swimming area, instead of relying on a traditional pool filter and chlorine tablets.

This design was created in the 1980s by Austrian researchers to replicate the experience of swimming in mountain lakes while adding a domestic feel. Natural swimming pools were popular because they left out damaging chemicals.

Chlorinated swimming pools were replaced by natural swimming pools in Germany and across Europe before the trend slowly moved to North America. Nowadays, natural pools are seen more regularly in places from backyards to eco-resorts.

How Do Natural Swimming Pools Work?

Natural pools have two parts: the swimming area and the regeneration zone. The regeneration zone has aquatic plants that feed hydroponically on the water. This zone also has aerobic and anaerobic bacteria inside of a filter (made of vegetation and gravel or pebbles) which cleanses the water of unwanted elements.

The swimming area is a deeper part of the pool that doesn't contain plants or sediment. It’s the usable area you and your family will swim and play in.

Depending on your natural pool's design, the regeneration zone may be adjacent to the swimming area, separate from it or even hidden underground.

The purification process begins when water is pumped through the filter in the regeneration zone and ends when clean pool water reenters the swimming area.

You might think that the pool’s water isn’t safe to swim in because it’s not treated or sterilized by chemicals or salt. However, a natural pool is designed to mimic larger bodies of water and creates a small ecosystem inside of its planted area. The water remains clean because it passes through the filter in the pool’s regeneration zone where plants and bacteria remove harmful contaminants, creating clear water that is safe for swimmers.

How Much Does A Natural Pool Cost?

The cost of your natural pool can vary depending on its size, design and complexity. Typically, natural pool construction costs about $70,000 on average, depending on your location and the contractor you use. For comparison, an in-ground pool costs anywhere from $38,000 to $70,000. 

You can also expect to pay more for your natural swimming pool if you add water features, such as waterfalls or decorative stonework. However, one advantage of a natural pool is that even though it may cost more money upfront, you’ll save a lot of money in the long run because maintenance costs are very low.

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Natural Pool Designs

When designing your natural pool, you’ll have more freedom than you would for a traditional in-ground pool. Here are some design ideas you can use to find your own inspiration!

Rock Garden Pool

If you live in a dry climate and don’t want extra maintenance to upkeep the landscaping around your pool, you can always create a rock garden around it.

This type of design won’t require much effort and mainly contains different types of stones and pebbles that help protect the edge of your swimming pool. And if you decide to add some color, you can plant low-maintenance flowers, like phlox, hostas or shasta daisies. 

Meadow Swimming Hole

Do you like the idea of a natural swimming pond hidden in a rolling green pasture? Then you can recreate this look by landscaping your pool with summer flowers, pampas grass, and northern sea oats.

You can also add local varieties of wildflowers to attract friendly pollinators to your garden, like butterflies and hummingbirds. Just make sure your landscaping and garden beds are well maintained to avoid adding leaves and petals to your pool water.

Lily Pond

Common plants that many natural pool owners like to use in their regeneration zone are lily pads, but there are a variety of emergent plants that can add beauty to your backyard’s eco-friendly landscaping.

To capture the feeling of a lily pond, opt for smaller rocks and more plant life around the border of the pool. You can use marsh marigolds, water hyacinth, frogbit and of course, water lilies. This type of vegetation will encourage dragonflies and frogs to visit your pool.

Wild Wetland

When researching possible pool designs, you will probably see many with steep sides, like a traditional pool. But, you don’t have to use that layout if you would like your natural swimming pool to gradually get deeper.

Wetlands are shallow ponds filled with plants, so if you want to incorporate a similar look into your own design, you can make your swimming area shallower and longer and create a regeneration zone encircling it. You can also use aquatic plants like reeds, dwarf cattails or royal ferns. You can also plant other rain garden flowers that can withstand extra moisture.

Natural Pool FAQs

If you’re still not sure about getting a natural pool versus a traditional one, you might want to learn more about them by reading the common questions homeowners often have.

What should I think about before installing a natural pool?

Before you decide to install a natural pool, there are many factors you should consider besides cost.

Maintenance

The maintenance of a natural pool can be compared to gardening. Rather than the traditional upkeep of a chlorinated pool, you’ll need to trim plants and use a skimmer to remove leaves and debris from the water’s surface. You might also need to drain and take apart the filtration system once in a while. Of course, different natural pools will require a varying level of maintenance.

Laws

Like any swimming pool, a natural pool might be subject to municipal regulations. Read up on local laws and regulations before installing a natural pool, as it may require safety fencing depending on its depth.

Appearance

If you want your swimming pool to be crystal clear, you might not want to get a natural pool. Sometimes organic water can have a brownish tint depending on the amount of algae in it. While the water is safe to swim in, it might not have the chemically created blue look you’re hoping for.

Can I make my chemical pool into a natural pool?

Yes, it’s possible to turn your chemical pool into a natural pool. But before you switch over, make sure there’s enough space for the regeneration zone which should be about equal size to the swimming area. You’ll also need to modify the pool’s plumbing to handle the water’s movement from zone to zone.

How much space do I need for a natural pool?

To ensure that your natural pool can properly clean itself, it should be at least 322 square feet. If you have a small backyard and won’t have enough space, you might have to forgo this type of pool.

Can I build a natural pool without professional help?

A do-it-yourself (DIY) natural pool is a cost-saver, but it’s a tremendous feat. If you want to try to tackle it by yourself, it’ll require plenty of research, time and effort. However, it’s recommended that you find a local pool builder or an experienced landscape architect to plan and build the natural pool and garden.

The Bottom Line

Even though a natural pool may be a significant investment, it could save you thousands of dollars in the long run. Traditional pools require a lot of maintenance to keep them clean. On the other hand, natural pools only need to be skimmed and their water pump serviced.

If you’re looking for ways to finance a professional natural pool installation, you might want to consider a cash-out refinance. It’s a popular option for home renovations because the equity you take out of your home for the loan is going right back into the dwelling itself in the form of value-enhancing features. A loan that functions as a reinvestment can be a financially savvy choice. If you’re interested, why not start the process to get a cash-out-refinance today?

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Hanna Kielar

Hanna Kielar is a Section Editor for Rocket Auto℠, RocketHQ℠, and Rocket Loans® with a focus on personal finance, automotive, and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.