Are Public Swimming Pools Really That Dirty?

By Delialah Falcon. May 7th 2016

In the ongoing debate about the cleanliness of public swimming pools, ask yourself this question: Have I ever peed in the pool? Sure, some of you are grossed out by just the thought of such an act, but others are quietly answering yes. Believe it or not, peeing in the pool is more common than you might think. But does that mean that the water is dirty? And what about all of the chlorine in the pool? Isn’t that enough to keep the pool’s disgustingness to a minimum? Read on to find out.

Are They Really Used As Toilets?

You might not be ready to hear the answer to that question, so go ahead and get ready to be grossed out. Reports published in April 2012 regarding a survey that was organized by the Water Quality and Health Council confirms your worst fears, that yes, people do pee in the pool. In fact, when questioned, one in five adults readily admitted to using the pool as their own personal toilet.

While that is certainly disgusting, what about the others who have done it but won’t admit to it? And let’s not forget about all the little tots that don’t think twice about letting it go in the water. Pretty nauseating, huh? So the next time you’re in the pool with four other people, try to guess which one of you is about to go potty.

Public Pools And RWI

RWI stands for Recreational Water Illness. RWI is contracted by the inhaling, swallowing or having other contact with germs that thrive in contaminated water. This can happen at many water-related areas including:

  • Swimming pools
  • Water parks
  • Fountains
  • Rivers
  • Lakes
  • Oceans
  • Hot tubs

RWI’s may also be linked to chemicals in the water or chemicals that vaporize and lead to poor air quality at indoor pool areas. Diarrhea is the most commonly reported recreational water illness, although RWI’s can lead to many other infections and conditions, including:

  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Skin infections
  • Eye infections
  • Ear infections
  • Respiratory issues
  • Wound infections

Precautionary Measures

While 1 in 5 adults admitted to peeing in the pool, 7 out of every 10 adults surveyed said they didn’t shower before entering the pool for a swim. You may be thinking that it’s not necessary to shower before swimming. You may think you should only shower after going swimming.

Unfortunately, that is the belief of many swimmers, but the truth is that our skin (no matter how clean you think you are) is not only sweaty, but it also contains bacteria, and even trace amounts of fecal matter. Yes, that’s right, fecal matter. Showering before we swim is just one way to keep the spread of RWI’s to a minimum. Here are some additional measures to consider:

  • Do not use the pool if you have diarrhea. This goes for kids as well as adults.
  • Do not swallow water in the pool.
  • Always maintain good hygiene practices. That includes no nose picking or spitting in the pool.
  • Always take frequent trips to the bathroom, especially with small children.
  • Never Change your baby’s diaper poolside, please retreat to the restroom.
  • Always wash yourself and your child (especially the rear end) with soapy water before swimming.

Chlorine And Pool Maintenance

It is the pool operator’s job to maintain a clean pool and there are very specific guidelines for chlorine and pH levels. You can bet that your public pool is being disinfected with chlorine, but sometimes the chlorine by-products themselves can cause irritations to the eyes and poor air quality, especially in indoor pools.

Chlorine by-products are formed when the chlorine properties bind with all of the gross stuff: sweat, urine and fecal matter. If you notice a strong odor of chlorine when swimming, or if you are experiencing irritations to your eyes or respiratory tract, your pool may be being used as a toilet. Although the chlorine is acting as it should to disinfect the water, the strong odor and irritants could mean that your pool is actually getting dirtier and kicking the chlorine into overdrive.

The Bottom Line

The truth is that chlorine works well to disinfect the water. Chlorine can kill bacteria like E. Coli in less than one minute. Other bacteria are more resistant to chlorine and can take anywhere from 15 minutes to several days to be killed off. You should always be smart when entering the pool. If you can see the bottom and the water is clear, then the pool is probably clean. If the water looks cloudy or feels slimy, then there is a good chance that the water is not so clean and perhaps may be contaminated with bacteria. Your best bet is to follow these simple pool rules:

  • Do not urinate in the pool.
  • Always shower off before entering the pool area.
  • Get out of the water if you have any burning or stinging of the eyes or skin irritation. This could be a sign of elevated pH levels.

Unfortunately, it is a hard truth that people do pee in the pool. Most pools are regulated and disinfected properly, but if you suspect otherwise, choose another pool to swim in.

Remember to leave the water if your eyes or skin become irritated or if you begin to cough from the irritants in the air, as this could mean that the pool is dirty and that the chlorine by-products bound with germs and grossness are causing you to feel this way. And perhaps the most important thing to remember: Don’t pee in the pool. It may sound inviting to let it flow in the comfort of the surrounding water, but the truth is it’s nasty and is contaminating the water for everyone else.


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