Can You Swim in Cotton Shorts?

can you swim in cotton shorts

Another year has gone by and once again, it’s time for beach season. The problem is, you unzip your swimming bag and find that your swim trunks are worn down and maybe even have black dots on them. To the bin it goes. You dread having to go shopping for yet another pair because that’s more time and money wasted.

You think to yourself: can’t I just swim in regular shorts? Good question. You probably have a drawer full of shorts, more than you know what to do with. Why not just use these as your swim trunks from now on?

Wearing regular shorts to the swimming pool sounds logical, but it’s actually a terrible idea. The fact is, there’s a huge difference in material, design, and construction between regular shorts and swim trunks.

Regular shorts are not designed to be worn in the water and will lead to a variety of problems. For instance, regular clothes are often made with cotton (or some blend of it). Cotton is extremely absorbent and non-porous. That means it will absorb plenty of water and trap air, slowing you down and restricting your movement. Cotton will also get damaged by chlorine and salt, and will release plenty of lint that will end up in pool filters. For these reasons, the dress code at swimming pools forbid you from wearing cotton clothes in general; you must wear the appropriate swim attire.

In this article, we will discuss in more detail the various reasons why wearing cotton shorts while swimming is a bad idea. We also discuss why you should wear appropriate swimwear when swimming for the best experience. Let’s dive in.

Why you shouldn’t wear cotton shorts for swimming

Look, the only place where you are explicitly banned from wearing cotton shorts while swimming is in a swimming pool. Other than that, you are free to wear cotton shorts while swimming if you want to. However, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. We’ve already given you a brief explanation as to why, but in this section we will flesh those reasons out.

Cotton isn’t designed for swimming

Swimsuits are made with porous, stretchy, and resistant fabrics to allow water to flow through easily, to not absorb so much water, and to withstand the damage that chlorine and salt can cause.

When it comes to regular clothing, particularly cotton shorts, you will get none of those benefits. Cotton will absorb water and weigh you down. It will trap air, making you inflate like a balloon.

Chlorine and saltwater will cause cotton to deteriorate quickly. Your shorts will not last very long and the deteriorated material can break off, forming lint which pollutes the water and clogs the pool filtration system.

You will also be drenched when you leave the water and you’ll remain soaked all day because of how long it takes cotton to dry.

The biggest issue here is not the discomfort, but rather the safety concerns. When soaked, cotton becomes much heavier and will cling to your skin, restricting your movement. You’ll find that it’s much harder to stay afloat with regular clothes on, and it will waste your energy very quickly.

To put it bluntly, you are more likely to drown wearing clothes made of cotton, shorts included.

The colors will fade

A pair of quality swim trunks will hold up fine to frequent exposure to saltwater or chlorinated water. As mentioned, the same cannot be said for cotton shorts. Aside from wearing down the integrity of the fabric, it will also cause it to fade and become discolored. Very quickly your cotton shorts will become faded rags if you wear them to the pool too often.

Cotton can become see-through

If your shorts are white or some other light color, it may become see-through when wet. One purpose of swimsuits is to conceal your private parts, otherwise we would all just be swimming naked instead.

Unfortunately, cotton shorts cannot guarantee the same modesty that swimsuits can. On top of that, when the fabric is wet, it will cling closely to your skin, so your entire body may become very visible when wearing cotton clothes.

Insufficient sun protection

Did you know that most swimsuits have a UPF rating – that stands for ultraviolet protection factor – which indicates how much of the sun’s UV rays it can block? Some swimsuits have a UPF rating of 30, but you can get swimsuits with a UPF rating of 50 or more.

That UPF number represents how many UV rays it can block before it lets one UV ray through. Thus, a UPF 50 swimsuit can block 50 UV rays before letting one through, meaning it blocks 98% of all UV rays from reaching your skin.

Unfortunately, regular clothes don’t have a UPF rating. It technically still has a number, but anything less than UPF 15 doesn’t get a rating. If regular clothes were given a rating, it would be something like UPF 5. That means 1 in 5 rays will reach your skin, or that only 80% of the UV rays are being blocked.

If you are pasty white or have very sensitive skin, that 80% number is actually not good enough. In comparison, a UPF 50 swimsuit blocks 10 times the amount of UV rays.

Workout clothes are better in this regard because many of them have a decent UPF rating. However, workout clothes otherwise have the same issues that regular clothes have with regards to soaking up a bunch of water, weighing you down, and deteriorating quickly when exposed to chlorine and salt.

Since cotton shorts are not allowed in public pools, chances are that you’re wearing them outdoors somewhere. If you’re outside, you need to protect your skin from UV rays, which can cause rapid aging, sunburn, and skin cancer. You’ll find that cotton shorts fail in this regard.

It doesn’t save you any money

If the reason you even entertained the idea of wearing cotton shorts to go swimming was to save money, unfortunately it fails in that regard as well.

Since chlorine and salt will very rapidly eat away at the material, you can expect your shorts to wear down quickly. You will need to replace them at a much faster pace than regular swim trunks. Therefore, any short term money savings will be lost once you replace your cotton shorts multiple times in the same time period that one swim trunk would still be in use.

Parting words

At the end of the day, there is a laundry list of problems when it comes to wearing clothes made with cotton, be they shorts or T-shirts, into the swimming pool or ocean.

Aside from discomfort, the biggest issue is the safety and health issues it can cause. When you wear street clothes to the pool, you can bring airborne and waterborne contaminants into the pool. This means that the pool needs to use even more chlorine just to keep the water sanitary.

Cotton also becomes very heavy and clingy when wet, which will obstruct your movement and make it hard to stay afloat. The cotton materials can also break down in the water, and the fibers can clog pool filters.

Financially, you are worse off wearing cotton shorts because you will have to replace them so often. You might as well just eat the cost of getting a new pair of swim trunks and focus on making this pair last a long time. By thoroughly rinsing your swimwear after every use, you can ensure they last for months or even years.