Pool filtration: Cellulose fiber gains on DE

In speaking with some of the industry's top cellulose fiber distributors, one fact is touted more often than others: its biodegradable and non-toxic makeup mark cellulose fiber filter media as a finer filter alternative. They believe that when given a choice between the more common players - cellulose, DE, sand and cartridge - cellulose will always prove to be the best bet, not only for clear, pristine water, but for the environment.

A Breath Of Fresh Air

Waterfall Opener 0810"A lot of service techs have customers who are very environmentally sensitive," says Jack Beane, president of Jack's Magic, Largo, Fla., "and there are a lot of homeowners who are seeking out a better alternative than using DE, but they don't want to give up the quality of water that they get with a DE filter because it is superior to cartridge or sand. This gives them a safe media to use and to discharge."

The ability to discharge cleanly is a growing concern, adds Zach Hansen, technical services manager for BioGuard, "As we move toward a greener society, there is an impetus toward more and more regulation of what you are allowed to discharge from your pool into sewer systems and public water works. Included in that is an impetus toward limiting the amount of DE that you are able to discharge."

With local governments increasingly concerned about DE in pool effluence, cellulose has become more attractive as a biodegradable alternative.

"It's organic nature kind of hits on the whole green message of how the industry is moving toward more environmentally sustainable products," says Hansen.

Michael Orr, executive director of the Foundation for Pool and Spa Industry Education (FPSIE), notes the hazards of backwashing DE in the backyard where children are present.

"I've gone into hundreds and hundreds of backyards and people just backwash their filters out into a junky part of their yard and let it lay there. And there are kids out there playing in the soil.

"The kids don't know any different because the parents don't know any different because usually the technicians don't know any different. Or the stores that sell it to them don't give them adequate health warnings," says Orr.

The Numbers

Cellulose proponents says its sustainability is matched by its productivity. Compared to DE's ability to filter down to 4 to 5 microns, cellulose fiber will filter to about 2, providing pool owners with "better than 100 percent finer filtration," says Gene Fields, president, Greenfield Products, Santa Ana, Calif. "It will of course give you much more clarity in the water."

In addition to super-fine particle filtration, Fields says, cellulose tends to absorb oils and suntan lotions, which are notorious for forming scum lines around the tile. (And according to Orr, this specific ability was one of the main reasons why cellulose was adopted into the pool industry in the first place.)

"Most people who have used cellulose fiber have noticed that they no longer have a scum line," adds Fields. "That's important to them. And because we are filtering to 2 microns, you no longer have the necessity or the need to use clarifiers. Cellulose will give you as clear water as you're going to get."

At that range, cellulose also has the ability to filter out algae spores, and some of the phosphates those algae feed upon, Fields says.

According to Hansen, cellulose fiber also gives the user 50 to 70 percent greater filtration run cycles, a benefit to both the homeowner and the service tech.

"Because you get an extended filtration run cycle, generally it's going to reduce the amount of work and maintenance going into the pool because there will be less frequent backwashing," says Hansen.

That's a perk service technicians enjoy, adds Beane.

"One of the biggest reasons why they like it is they are getting longer run times than they get with DE because using cellulose fiber allows you to actually hold more contaminant without the filter shutting down or losing flow," says Beane.

Cellulose also serves as what Beane refers to as a "top dressing" for cartridge or sand filters. Not only will the cellulose aid in a finer filtering process, but it will also protect the cartridge septum, "especially on a new pool start-up," he says.

"We found that normal new pool start-ups have a tendency to discolor the cartridge. So the first week they clean their new cartridge, it looks a year old. If you top dress it with cellulose, it protects that cartridge and rinses off much easier, and you don't have to use high pressure spray to clean the cartridge, which also destroys the fibers. So it prolongs the life of the cartridge, too."

Fields uses cellulose with sand filters, as well, noting that by adding cellulose fiber, you can easily take a 30- to 40-micron sand filter down to 2 microns by simply adding it to the top of the sand bin.

"It's a great marriage," says Beane, "because when they aren't quite performing, you can fool it by adding the cellulose and you don't have any harmful after effects to deal with."

Check, Please!

Everyone agrees that price has been one of the biggest deterrents for cellulose, but Beane says when all factors are considered, it's competitive with other media.

"Price is not so much of an issue as it was in the past. It used to be that fiber was considerably more expensive to use, but that's no longer an issue and again, they can get so much more coverage with so much less material."

Hansen says that BioGuard priced its cellulose fiber product "based on longevity, so if you factor that in, it's comparably priced to the amount of filtration that you get or the longevity of filtration that you get."

Despite these assertions of a reasonably priced product that outperforms other filter media, market share for cellulose remains small.

"It's probably in single digits," says Beane. "But it is growing every year. It's growing because of awareness and seminars and health departments recommending cellulose because it's better overall.

"With some of the environmental laws and regulations that are passed on a local basis, it's gaining popularity because people don't want to be fined for discharging DE."

Some service companies have taken to sending off informational mailers introducing customers to cellulose as an alternative product, while others don't give clients a choice, choosing to make cellulose their sole filter medium.

Fields relies on people like Orr and manufacturer's reps to get the word out at seminars, trade shows and educational offerings. Educating the industry takes a mass effort, but the work will pay off in the end, he says.

"Every filtration system has problems," adds Orr. "There is no perfect filtration media on the market. So the more manufacturers make their type of filtration more attractive for use out there, I think it's going to be a good thing. I think distributors and manufacturers should talk a little more about the choices the end user has for the type of media they are using. If we can make it more well known, it would be a real asset to our industry."

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

Are All Cellulose Fibers The Same?

No, says Jack Beane, president of Jack's Magic, Largo, Fla.

"There are different processes out there and different dosages and different length and diameter fibers. They all have different characteristics, so if you use one, you can't just switch to the other and follow those instructions. You need to follow the instructions of the product you are using.

"I think it's important to read the label. If you've tried using cellulose in your system and you're not happy with the performance, you should call the technical assistance number for that product so you can get some better direction.

"For example, we strongly recommend using our enzyme with our product, especially in commercial systems where the oil loading is high. By using the enzyme, it takes a tremendous load off the filter media because it does absorb so much oil.

"If used correctly, and with correct guidance starting off, people love it."


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