Before Swimming, Be Sure to Shower

As the weather heats up and thoughts turn to swimming and cooling off in the pool, the Water Quality & Health Council is highlighting a contradictory finding from our recent swimmer hygiene survey. We discovered that although the vast majority of American adults (93 percent) would never reuse someone else’s bath water, over 40 percent skip the shower before entering the swimming pool. Can you say “communal bathing”?

Showering before swimming helps keep swimming healthy for everyone in the pool.
Showering before swimming helps keep swimming healthy for everyone in the pool.

For decades, public health authorities have recommended the pre-swim shower. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges people to shower with soap before swimming as part of Three Steps for All Swimmers to Protect Against Recreational Water Illnesses. Yet, our survey found 44 percent of people do not believe it is necessary to shower before going in the pool. Only 32 percent of respondents surveyed say they always shower before swimming. We want to help “connect the dots” on this issue for swimmers.

Why Shower before Swimming?

A thorough shower with soap helps remove perspiration, body oils, cosmetics and traces of urine and fecal matter on the body. Sending those substances down the shower drain goes a long way toward reducing the “yuck factor” for everyone who shares the pool, but there is much more to consider.

The pre-swim shower helps minimize the irritating, smelly substances formed in pool water when impurities introduced on the bodies of swimmers combine with chlorine. Many people identify that smell as the smell of chlorine. The survey found 38 percent of people believe the characteristic chemical odor of some swimming pools in an indicator of a clean pool. In fact, that stringent odor is not from chlorine, but from irritants produced when chlorine reacts with impurities. A well-managed pool has no strong chemical smell.

When swimmers shower away impurities (and focus on the perianal area) they help reduce the risk of waterborne illnesses, such as diarrhea, swimmer’s ear and skin infections. Fecal matter, in particular, contains germs that may be ingested when swimmers swallow contaminated water. Chlorine and other swimming pool disinfectants help protect swimmers from waterborne germs, but germ destruction is not instantaneous. Additionally, if chlorine is chemically bound to high levels of impurities in the pool, it may be unavailable to carry out its intended task of destroying germs in the water, especially if the pool chemistry is not being carefully adjusted.

According to the survey, a large majority, 95 percent, of the public believe swimmers have an important role to play in maintaining a Healthy Pool. That’s positive news. The next step swimmers can take to help achieve healthier pools is one that takes them into the shower.