Do you shower before taking a dip in the public swimming pool? 

While this idea may sound counterintuitive, a pre-swim shower is one of the best ways to help keep swimming at the public pool healthy and enjoyable for your family and others.

No One Wants to Swim in a Communal Bathtub …

According to a 2019 Water Quality & Health Council survey, 93% of swimmers say they’d never reuse someone else’s bathwater. Unfortunately, when swimmers skip a pre-swim shower they essentially turn the pool into one big communal bathtub, adding dirt, sweat, makeup, body oils, and even pee or poop … YUCK! 

If that’s the case, why do so many swimmers not shower before going for a swim?

Chances are it’s because they consider chlorinated pool water to be a safe substitute for washing with soap. But pool water chemistry goes much deeper than that…

Smell Chlorine? Here’s What It Really Means

Don’t be fooled by a strong smell of chlorine in public pools. Despite the popular myth, this smell actually means the pool chemistry is off…

When swimmers introduce contaminants into pool water, “free” chlorine reacts with these impurities, creating smelly “combined chlorine” compounds. As these compounds build up, less “free” chlorine is available to actually do its job – destroying pathogens – and this puts swimmers at greater risk of waterborne illness. 

Combined chlorine compounds are called “chloramines.” These are formed by a chemical reaction between free chlorine and compounds in contaminants like sweat and pee. Chloramines are the real culprits behind the infamous eye, throat, and skin irritations that lead swimmers to complain of “too much chlorine” in the pool. 

It’s a good idea to toss a few pool test kits in your bag to ensure that the pool is healthy for you and your family to swim in. Use a pool test kit to check the pool water pH and free chlorine level to ensure they are in the proper range1. If your readings are out of the range, and especially if there is no free chlorine in the water or if the pH is high (over 8), you should bring this to the attention of pool staff. Say out of the water until the chemical levels have been corrected.  

Shower Before Swimming … The Right Way

Not all pre-swim showers are alike. While rinse showers – taken with your bathing suit on – are better than no shower at all, a “cleansing,” naked shower with soap is the best way to get rid of any fecal matter or other less-desirable gunk that might otherwise sneak into the pool with you. 

And no one wants to swim in a pool with poop! In fact, a pool containing 15 unshowered adults and 30 unshowered kids could hold a third of a pound of fecal matter! One study concluded that even a 30- to 60-second shower with warm water could significantly lower the number of contaminants added to the pool by swimmers.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, experts recommend taking a pre-swim shower at home or in your hotel room, if you’re traveling, in order to avoid communal areas at the pool. This could be good news for swimmer hygiene as home and hotel room showers are likely to be cleansing and not just a quick rinse. In addition, practice social distancing and wear a face mask when you’re not in the water.  

Remember: Before you head to the pool, hop in the shower and encourage your children to do the same. It’s something we can all do to help keep ourselves AND our fellow swimmers safe!

1The proper range for free chlorine in pool water is 1-4 parts per million (ppm); the proper range for pH is 7.2-7.8.