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Healthy Swimming Year-Round

Even though it is frequently associated with summer, swimming is a physical activity many people enjoy all year long. Indoor pools, hot tubs, and even outdoor pools in warm climates are popular year-round.

Photo: A man and woman in a hot tub.Swimming is a fun activity for people of all ages and offers many health benefits; however, recreational water (water from pools and hot tubs) can also spread germs that cause recreational water illnesses (RWIs). The germs that cause RWIs are spread by swallowing, breathing in the mists or aerosols of, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, hot tubs, water parks, water play areas, interactive fountains, lakes, rivers, or oceans. RWIs can also be caused by chemicals in the water or chemicals that off gas from the water and cause indoor air quality problems.

Stay Healthy in the Pool

The best way to prevent RWIs is to take an active role in stopping the spread of germs by following the steps of healthy swimming.

To help protect yourself and your family and friends from germs, here are a few easy and effective steps all swimmers can take each time we swim:

  • Keep the poop, germs, and pee out of the water.
    • Don't swim when you have diarrhea.
    • Shower with soap before you start swimming.
      • Take a rinse shower before you get back into the water.
    • Take bathroom breaks every 60 minutes.
    • Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.
  • Check the free chlorine level and pH before getting into the water.
    • Pools: Proper free chlorine level (1–3 mg/L or parts per million [ppm]) and pH (7.2–7.8) maximize germ-killing power.
    • Hot tubs: Proper disinfectant level (chlorine [2–4 parts per million or ppm] or bromine [4–6 ppm] and pH [7.2–7.8]) maximize germ-killing power.
    • Most superstores, hardware stores, and pool-supply stores sell pool test strips.
  • Don't swallow the water you swim in.

Parents of young children should take a few extra steps:

  • Take children on bathroom breaks every 60 minutes or check diapers** every 30–60 minutes.
    • Change diapers in the bathroom or diaper-changing area and not at poolside where germs can rinse into the water.

**Remember that swim diapers and swim pants, even if required at a pool, are not a replacement for frequent diaper changing and regular trips to the bathroom. Swim diapers and swim pants are not designed to keep diarrhea (the most serious water contaminant) from leaking into the pool. Parents should never allow their children to enter the water when they are ill with diarrhea, even if they are wearing swim diapers or swim pants.

For more information, check out the Triple A's of Healthy Swimming: Awareness, Action, and Advocacy.

Stay Healthy in the Hot Tub

The germs that cause RWIs can also be spread in hot tubs. To stay healthy while soaking in the hot tub, follow these HOT steps!

Heed… rules for safe and healthy use.

  • Exclude children less than 5 years of age from using hot tubs.
  • If pregnant, consult a healthcare provider before using hot tubs, particularly in the first 3 months of pregnancy.

Observe... the hot tub and its surroundings.

  • Hot tub temperature should not exceed 104°F (40°C).
  • Check hot tub water; CDC recommends maintaining free chlorine at 2–4 parts per million [ppm] or bromine at 4–6 ppm, and pH at 7.2–7.8. Pool and hot tub test strips are available at local home improvement stores, discount retailers, and pool–supply stores. If you want to practice using them at home, check out our Pool & Spa (Hot Tub) Test Strips Home Test Instructions.

Talk…to hot tub owners/staff and other hot tub users.

  • Are chlorine or bromine levels and pH checked at least 2 times per day?
  • Are they checked during times when the hot tub is most heavily used?
  • Talk to hot tub staff and users about RWIs and share these tips with them.

Helpful Resources

To help spread the message about RWI prevention, CDC's Healthy Swimming Program has developed a variety of health promotion materials, including:

  • Healthy swimming brochures, available for free in English and Spanish
  • Fact sheets on frequently-asked RWI questions in English and Spanish
  • Videos that remind swimmers to play it safe and stay out of the water when ill with diarrhea
  • Podcasts on preventing illness and injury while swimming
  • Posters on preventing RWIs and chemical injuries
  • A mobile app for healthy swimming information on the go

For more in-depth information on healthy swimming, go to the Healthy Swimming website.

Remember, healthy swimming is no accident. Think Healthy. Swim Healthy. Be Healthy.

CDC works 24/7 saving lives and protecting people from health threats to have a more secure nation. A US federal agency, CDC helps make the healthy choice the easy choice by putting science and prevention into action. CDC works to help people live longer, healthier and more productive lives.

  • Page last reviewed: May 6, 2013
  • Page last updated: September 3, 2013
  • Content source:
    • Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
    • Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
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