We know that people like to pee and defecate in the ocean like it’s their toilet. However, their waste contribution is like a drop in the world’s largest bucket, and it quickly gets diluted and becomes a non-issue.
However, if you scale things down to the size of a swimming pool or even your own residential pool, suddenly peeing in it becomes more of an issue. There’s much less water and therefore less dilution (and defecating is strictly not allowed). Each time you’re in the pool, you’re lounging and swimming in who knows how much urine.
It’s not surprising, then, that public swimming pools are sometimes referred to as cesspools because of how rampant peeing in the pool is. Even the world’s greatest Olympian, Michael Phelps, admits to peeing in the pool because “everybody pees in the pool.” The oft-cited claim is that “chlorine kills urine”, but does it really?
You wouldn’t swim in toilet water, so why would you swim in a pool that has pee in it? For many people, the answer “because chlorine makes it safe” is not satisfying because the thought of swimming in urine is disgusting. Also, too much urine in the pool can cause problems even if chlorine is present.
So here are some practical ways to deal with urine in pool water. First, limit how much enters your pool by going to the bathroom and showering before entering the pool. Next, you will have to deal with urine already in the pool water. That requires a balance of chemistry, filtration, and circulation. Furthermore, you can enhance chlorine’s effectiveness with enzymes and secondary disinfection systems.
In this article, we will discuss how you can keep your pool water clean so that you can remain safe, as well as how you can better deal with any urine that is already in the pool water.
Does chlorine kill urine?
No, chlorine does not kill urine. It has become common knowledge that chlorine kills bacteria and keeps the pool sanitized. Because of this, the assumption is that chlorine also kills urine. That is not technically true.
First off, while urine is not sterile as many people mistakenly assume, it is safe enough for you to drink it as Bear Grylls famously demonstrated. That’s because it is about 95% water, and only the remaining 5% is comprised of waste products like calcium, nitrogen, and potassium.
It is these 5% of waste products that, when consumed in high concentrations, can cause problems. These same waste products can also cause an interesting chemical reaction with chlorine in the pool.
Chlorine’s chemical reaction with urine
When someone pees in the pool and introduces urine to the pool water, what does the chlorine do exactly?
Chlorine will combine with urine, and instead of killing it or removing it, a chemical reaction will occur and the resulting product is unhealthy to us.
One of the waste products in urine is urea which, when combined with chlorine, produces cyanogen chloride. Cyanogen chloride works like tear gas, which wreaks havoc on one’s eyes, nose, and lungs, to the point that it’s even classified as an agent of chemical warfare. Think about that the next time you open your eyes underwater without swimming goggles on.
As scary as this sounds, why are people so accepting of this reality to the point that peeing in the pool has become the standard thing many people do? That’s because the concentrations of cyanogen chloride are so low that it is basically a non-issue.
For cyanogen chloride to become lethal, you would literally need millions of people to pee into the pool until there’s more pee than pool water before it comes fatal to a human.
Does that mean it’s ok to pee in the pool? Yes, you can pee in the pool, but you won’t find anybody recommending that you pee in the pool. Peeing in the pool still uses up chlorine which is essential for keeping the pool water bacteria free. Plus, swimming in pee is not hygienic and is pretty gross, so try not to pee in the pool.
How to reduce urine in the pool
They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that’s true in this context as well. Here are some tips on how you can reduce the amount of urine found in the pool.
- Shower before entering the pool. At swimming pools this is basic etiquette, but you may forget to do this at your own pool. The reason this works is because sweat contains uric acid which, when combined with chlorine, causes a similar chemical reaction to urine. So, we are not technically getting rid of urine but the end result is similar.
- Use the bathroom before getting into the pool. Did you know that cold water makes you more likely to pee? This is due to a phenomenon called immersion diuresis and it is something all humans are subjected to. By emptying your bladder beforehand, you are less likely to feel the urge to pee while in the pool.
- Tell your friends that chlorine doesn’t kill urine. Perhaps this is wishful thinking, but perhaps you can convince them that peeing in the pool is not as safe as they think it is. That way, the next time you host a pool party, you won’t have to deal with as much urine.
How to deal with urine in the pool water
Just to be clear, once the urine is in the pool, there isn’t a way to “remove the urine” via extracting it out with a filter or something like that. The best thing we can do is neutralize it and break it down so it’s as if there were no urine in the pool. Here is what else can help:
- A proper balance of chemicals, circulation, and filtration. This is easier said than done, but doing them can go a long way in keeping the problem at bay. Make sure your pump and filter is up to date and functioning correctly, and that you have a pool water test kit to monitor the concentration of chemicals in the water and replenish any that are on the low end.
- Add enzymes. Specialty chemicals like enzymes can be used with chlorine to enhance its effectiveness. Enzymes will break down organic matter like urea much better than chlorine and your pool water will gain a significant boost in quality.
- Use secondary disinfection systems. A couple of popular ones are Ozone and UV which can further support chlorine with sanitizing your pool.
As you can probably tell, preventing this problem in the first place is significantly easier than dealing with the aftermath. Otherwise, you will be forced to use a lot more chlorine than you’d like, along with several other “boosters” to enhance chlorine’s effectiveness. Adding in all of these extra chemicals costs extra time and money which we all don’t have enough of already.
The common myth that peeing in the pool is fine has encouraged many pool owners to have a lackadaisical approach to their pool maintenance. This general attitude has caused many people to frequently pee in pools, whether it is their own or a public one. Unfortunately, this is unsanitary and can cause the chloramines to be used up rapidly which can be a risk, so keep the peeing in the pool to a minimum.