Swimming Surprise: Why That “Pool Smell” Isn’t What Pools Should Smell Like

swimming pool

That warning sign asking you to take a shower before you hop in the pool isn’t just hot air.

In fact, if we choose not to shower before we test our fins, we end up bringing whatever’s on our skin right on in with us, warns says Michele Hlavsa, RN, MPH. That means natural oils, sweat, makeup and other personal care products– not to mention fecal matter, in the more extreme cases.

The one thing these substances have in common is nitrogen, Hlavsa says, and when nitrogen combines with chemicals in the pool (namely chlorine), chemicals contrary to good health known as chloramines are created. This means that some of the important chlorine becomes hung up in chloramine instead of keeping us safe from pool germs like it’s supposed to.

But that’s not all: the chloramines are responsible for making pools smell the way they usually do. “A good, healthy pool does not smell,” says Hlavsa, whose further qualifications include epidemiologist and the chief of Healthy Swimming and Waterborne Disease Prevention at the CDC. That’s right: that very “clean pool” smell we think we know is actually the smell of chloramines that redden your eyes and even initiate asthma attacks on some occasions. In fact, these crappy chemicals can cause significant skin irritation, Hlavsa says.

Chlorine first gained favor in the public eye when it was found to help prevent polio from spreading. That being said, researchers are still arguing about whether the risks of chloramines– particularly in regards to asthma– are worth it at all. “We’ve forgotten how important chlorine is in keeping us safe from germs in the water,” Hlavsa says, before reminding us how important it is to shower prior to hopping in the pool so we allow more chlorine in the water to stave off germs.

Even though a full-on shower is your best bet for safety, a study from 2012 realized that just one full-minute rinse provides big benefits. That being said, remember that the stuff rinsing off your body is stuff we share with other pool-dwellers when you consider skipping your pre-swim wash-off, Hlavsa says, before admitting: “In some ways, it’s like getting into a big bathtub together.”

Always remember to consult your physician or chiropractor before taking any health advice.

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Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Steve Parker

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