For many families, the return of summer means spending quality time enjoying an afternoon at the pool.

Before you dive into summer swimming, it’s important to remember that a dip in the pool should be sharing fun – not cooties.

To help you out, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has produced a free brochure that offers an honest and scientific look at how germs in the water can spread from sick swimmers – and why good hygiene matters. Here are some of the highlights:

The Importance of Good Hygiene

Most swimming-related outbreaks of disease are caused by germs in the water like Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Shigella and Cryptosporidium. These germs can spread when someone who has diarrhea swims in the pool. Other swimmers can get sick if they swallow contaminated water, even if it’s just a mouthful.

Don’t Chemicals Keep the Water Germ-Free?

Chemicals like chlorine are added to swimming pools to kill germs. But when pee, poop and sweat get into pool water, the chlorine is used up in reacting with these contaminants instead of doing their intended job – killing germs.

Four Tips for Healthy Swimming:

  1. Stay out of the water if you have diarrhea.
  2. Shower before you get in the water.
  3. Don’t pee or poop in the water.
  4. Don’t swallow the water.

Did you know? Showering for just one minute helps remove dirt and grime that deplete the effectiveness of pool chemicals.

Taking your toddler to the pool? Remember that swim diapers are not leak-proof and don’t stop germs from contaminating pool water.

Use Your Senses

The brochure also notes that healthy pools don’t smell. When people think they smell chlorine, they are really smelling the chemicals that form when pee, poop and sweat mix with chlorine.

To be safe, if you’re at the pool for the day, the CDC recommends that you and your family take breaks every hour or so to use the restroom, get a drink or reapply sunscreen.

Are You Swimming in a Healthy Pool?

Moms can monitor the pH and chlorine level of pools, too. The Water Quality & Health Council is offering free pool test kits (one per household). The kit includes color-coded test strips and instructions on how to interpret the results.

If the readings indicate improper pool chemistry, you can check with the pool manager and stay out of the pool until it is corrected. If the levels continue to be a problem, contact your local public health department, which should regulate public pools.

Even properly treated pool water can spread germs. That’s why it’s so critical to maintain good hygiene while swimming, and encourage others to do the same. We all want good hygiene for healthy pools – and healthy families.