Facts about peeing in the pool that will piss you off

two people in a pool Peeing in pools (Image: Sandhya Raghavan)

Character is what you do when no one’s watching. I am looking at you pool pissers. Everyone knows that peeing in the pool is an egregious social practice. But there lurk covert pee-ers who may censure it publically, but do it privately in the cover of pool water. Don’t know who needs to read this, it is NEVER ok to pee in the pool!

And looks like there are plenty of them. According to a 2012 survey by Pool Hot Tub Alliance, one in five people admitted to doing it at least once. The American Chemical Society says that there are anywhere between one and three ounces of pee per person in any given pool.

The practice is obviously unhygienic and may subject unsuspecting swimmers to various health risks. But science says that by peeing in pools, perpetrators could risk their own lives let alone others’.

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Pee and chlorine don’t go well

Chlorine is a disinfectant, which is often added to pool waters to kill germs. But when it mixes with organic material like sweat, skin cells and pee (of course), chlorine gets depleted. Worse still, it can create chemical irritants called chloramines which turns into gas.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when swimmers and those around the pool come in contact with chloramines, they experience respiratory problems like nasal irritation, wheezing and coughing. Those with asthma need to be particularly careful. In swimmers, chloramines can cause red eyes and skin irritation.

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Peeing in the pool can affect the heart, lungs

If you thought relieving yourself in the pool is a harmless little infraction at the cost of others, think again. It can turn potentially dangerous — for YOU!

In 2014, the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science & Technology journal published a study on the origins of pool byproducts Cyanogen chloride (CNCl) and trichloramine (NCl3).

The study found that these pool chemicals were being created in the pool when uric acid in pee came in contact with chlorine.

Analysis of swimming pool water samples, combined with the results of experiments involving chlorination of uric acid, and chlorination of body fluid analog mixtures, indicated that uric acid chlorination may account for a large fraction of CNCl formation in swimming pools.

2014 study by Lushi Lian, Yue E, Jing Li, and Ernest R. Blatchley

What’s so bad about cyanogen chloride and trichloramine you ask? The former, if inhaled, can impact the heart, lungs and nervous system. A 2019 study noted that the latter is connected to asthma in personnel working in indoor pools.

What precautions can you take?

Avoiding pools might seem like a good idea since one can’t trust the hygiene practices of fellow pool-goers. Surveys don’t paint a good picture either. A good, clean pool doesn’t have the chlorine-y smell that hints at chloramines in the air. A good whiff test can help you decide whether you want to stay or skip.

CDC also has a list of dos for swimmers who want to reduce the formation of these noxious gases.

The first rule is to skip going to the pool if you have diarrhoea. Using the toilet before swimming can reduce the urge to urinate if you are in the pool. Since sweat and skin cells can also produce chloramines, showering for a full minute before getting into the pool can be useful. Wear a bathing cap and, very importantly, DON’T PEE IN THE POOL!