Healthy Swimming Behaviors
Although chlorine and other disinfectants are an effective way to kill germs found in recreational water, they do not work instantly. Despite the use of disinfectants, many people have become sick with recreational water illnesses (RWIs), which are caused by germs spread by swallowing, breathing in mists or aerosols of, or having contact with contaminated water from swimming pools, hot tubs/spas, lakes, rivers, or oceans. RWIs include gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and wound infections. The most commonly reported RWI is diarrhea, caused by germs like Cryptosporidium ("Crypto") and E. coli 0157:H7.
In the past two decades, there has been an increase in the number of RWI outbreaks. Remember, chlorine and other disinfectants don’t kill germs instantly. Additionally, the mixing of chlorine with pee and sweat uses up the chlorine in the pool, which would otherwise kill germs.
We all share the water we swim in, and each us needs to do our part to help keep ourselves, our families, and our friends healthy. You can help prevent the spread of germs that cause RWIs by learning more about Swimmer Protection.
To help protect yourself and other swimmers 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/spas: 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.
For more information on Healthy Swimming behaviors and RWIs, please visit the Recreational Water Illnesses (RWIs) page.