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The Harsh Truth About Public Pools: NOT As Clean As You Think

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clean public pools

Although a public pool’s clear blue water might lead you to believe it’s clean, a more in-depth analysis might unnerve you.

Research by the CDC and other health organizations has consistently shown that various hazards lurk under the water surface.

It turns out you were right to doubt your community pool’s hygiene standards.

Dangers lurking in public pools


Disinfectants in pool water

Disinfectants and body excretions are the two main causes of health scares in public pools.

When pool cleaning chemicals mix with urine, sweat, and beauty products, they create harmful disinfection byproducts (DBPs).

The most popular pool, disinfectant is chlorine. Although smelling it might reassure you that the pool is being cleaned, this is not always a good sign. The stronger the odor, the more likely the pool is poorly maintained.

What you smell is not pure chlorine, but chloramines. They’re byproducts formed when parts of chlorine combine with sweat, urine, and other excretions.

Other dangers lurking in public pools include:

  • Urine and feces

This mainly affects children because they’re more likely to be poorly potty trained. They’re also more likely to relieve themselves in the water if they feel pressed. Adults also pee in pools, as well as transferring small amounts of feces.

  • Bacteria

The most prevalent is E. Coli, which is caused by fecal matter.

  • Parasites

These include cryptosporidium, also known as crypto, and giardia. The two diarrhea-causing parasites are ingested by swallowing pool water. They have a protective outer shell which enables them to survive for days even in chlorine-treated pools.

Effects of poor pool maintenance

public pools

Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) are caused by swallowing contaminated water. The most common is diarrhea, caused by germs such as E. Coli. Cryptosporidiosis, caused by crypto, is the biggest cause of diarrhea outbreaks linked to swimming pools.

Trichloramine is a dangerous DBP that occurs when chlorine and urine mix. It’s recognized as a respiratory irritant capable of becoming airborne. If ingested in significant quantities, it causes problems ranging from colds to severe asthma complications.

There are more than 100 known DBPs. These have been linked to serious conditions such as bladder cancer. Although the research is not yet conclusive, some scientists have also claimed that DBPs can damage or mutate cells.

To avoid contracting RWIs, you might be tempted to use more than the recommended amount of disinfectants.

This is not advisable because it also has adverse health effects.

While chlorine does an excellent job of killing bacteria and parasites, it also triggers or aggravates respiratory problems. Indoor pools are especially likely to be polluted by chlorinated air.

Prolonged exposure to chlorinated water has also been linked to colorectal and bladder cancer.

From these observations, it is found that, poor pool disinfection leads to RWIs, while excess disinfection causes health problems.

Keeping your pool clean and avoiding RWIs

public pools

Of course, the best way to prevent recreational water illnesses is to stay away from public pools. But that’s unreasonable for most people, and anyway, many recreational centers do make an effort to keep the pool clean.

To reduce health risks, here are some precautions to take when swimming in a public pool.

  • Take a shower before swimming. This significantly reduces the chances of transferring germs to the pool. You should also wash your hands regularly.
  • Avoid relieving yourself in the pool. It’s also important to take children for regular bathroom breaks. Change their diapers in designated zones because doing so near the pool might still contaminate it.
  • Don’t go swimming if you’re suffering from diarrhea and other infectious illnesses. Even after recovery take a one or two week break from swimming to ensure you’re completely recovered.
  • Avoid drinking pool water when swimming. You should also keep an eye out for any signs of poor hygiene standards. In a clean pool, the floor should be visible. The pool walls should also be smooth and slime-free.

These precautions also apply to your home swimming pool. Since you have more control over your pool, make sure you keep it clean and healthy.

Scrub and vacuum the pool regularly or use a robotic pool cleaner. One of the best is the Dolphin Nautilus Plus (read review). It’s a plug-and-play cleaner with wall climbing ability, smart navigation, and dual filtration.

Also, make sure you test and balance pool chemicals at least once a week.

About the author

Vicky Nicholls is the Sr. Researcher and Writer for

Vicky is a full-time professional writer who spends most of her time covering the real-world impact of the latest technologies on consumers' lives around the world. She writes full-time for a number of leading review and editorial publications on the web.

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