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‘Urine’ for Some Bad News: Peeing in a Pool Isn’t a Good Idea

Despite unhealthy side effects, 40% of adult Americans still pee in pools

Children swimming and snorkling in a public swimming pool.

To pee or not to pee? That is the question children (and yes, even adults!) ask themselves every summer while swimming in public swimming pools.

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Chances are, if you go to a public pool, you run the risk of swimming in other people’s pee. But does that make the act of swimming any safer? And should you also add to the mix by urinating in the open water? Or are you better off finding the nearest restroom?

Urologist Neel Parekh, MD, weighs in on how safe it is to swim in public pools if other people have peed in them and whether or not you put other people at risk for health issues when you just deliberately pee in pools.

Are there risks to peeing in the pool?

If you swim, you’ve probably at some point considered whether or not to just pee in the pool. After all, when you gotta go, you gotta go. But is it safe?

For a moment, let’s consider what urine is made of. It’s 95% water, with the other 5% including byproducts of your digested food and drink, things like:

  • Urea. A compound produced in your liver that serves as a vehicle for disposing of excess ammonia and nitrogen.
  • Uric acid. This is produced when your body digests certain foods and liquids like beer. It’s an antioxidant that also helps repair damaged cells.
  • Electrolytes, like sodium, chloride, potassium and phosphorus.
  • Microscopic debris, like dead blood cells, and (depending on your lifestyle) chemical traces of tobacco, drugs, vitamins and other substances that are filtered out of your blood by your kidneys.

None of the substances mentioned above in normal urine are present in large enough amounts to be dangerous. So, if you decide to pee in the pool, or you swim in the diluted urine of someone else, it’s not necessarily harmful.

That said, an alarming number of people pee in public pools. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average swimmer brings about 1 cup of pee into a pool (and about 10 grams of poop).

A 2019 survey by Sachs Media Group also found that about 51% of Americans use swimming pools as “communal bathtubs” by swimming as a substitute for showering or swimming without a shower after exercise or yard work. And 40% of Americans admitted in the same survey they’ve peed in the pool as an adult — so you can imagine the number of adults who don’t admit to doing the dirty deed.

But why are these numbers important if urine is harmless?

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Urine from your bladder can also pick up bacteria from your urethra or your genitals on the way out. These bacteria, just like those that live on your skin or in your mouth, are generally not considered harmful, and most swimming pools are treated with chlorine and other chemicals to reduce the risk of passing any diseases to others. But that chlorine can combine with whatever comes out of or off your body, including sweat, pee, poop and the thousands of microbes living on your skin.

When this happens, a chemical reaction occurs, decreasing the amount of chlorine available to kill germs and creating chemical irritants called chloramines that cause red and itchy eyes and skin irritation. These chloramines tend to give off a chemical smell that most people associate with chlorine. But a healthy pool won’t smell like chemicals, which means if it smells highly chlorinated, chances are the water is full of chloramines, urine and other byproducts.

An increase in urine will lead to an increase in chloramines, and those chloramines can have adverse effects on your skin, eyes and, in rare cases, your ability to breathe the air around a swimming pool if you are vulnerable to asthma attacks.

“To maintain a healthy swimming environment, it’s crucial to practice good hygiene and avoid urinating in pools,” says Dr. Parekh. “When urine combines with chlorine, it forms chemical compounds that can be harmful to your eyes, skin and respiratory system.”

In virtually every instance then, it’s probably better to hold your bladder until you can use a restroom instead of peeing in a public pool.

Can you get a UTI from peeing in the pool?

If bacteria enter your urinary system, you can end up with a urinary tract infection (UTI). Characterized by pain in your abdomen or lower back, urinary incontinence, frequent urination and pain, and burning or blood in your pee, UTIs are bothersome infections that are, fortunately, easily treatable and quite common.

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And pools seem like breeding grounds for germs, especially when everyone is peeing all willy-nilly in the open. But in most public pools, there’s probably enough chlorine to kill off most bacteria that might cause a UTI to develop.

Still, if you’re worried about UTIs, make sure you shower before and after swimming, keep your hands and genitals clean, and avoid peeing in your bathing suit. A moist, bacteria-filled environment could lead to an increased risk for infection.

“While chlorine is used to disinfect pool water and reduce the risk of bacterial contamination, it does not completely eliminate the risk of UTIs,” notes Dr. Parekh. “Regular pool maintenance, adequate disinfection and proper water treatment are also crucial in ensuring a safe swimming environment.”

Is it actually harmful?

‘Urine’ luck: Aside from the potential for eye and skin irritation, urine itself isn’t dangerous. But it’s probably in everyone’s best interest (and sheer human decency) to follow the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have done unto you.

“Let’s avoid turning our pools into a biochemistry experiment gone wrong by using the designated restroom facilities, practicing good hygiene and not urinating in pools,” encourages Dr. Parekh.

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